I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.
A Word about the Web
There are certain realities that you should consider when you’re podcasting. Content is king online. When you put up a website and don’t change the content, don’t expect your traffic to increase. Content drives traffic. The more you change the content, the more traffic you should expect.
There’s an exception to the content rule. Content that is poor quality won’t drive traffic. Content that’s infrequent or unpredictable won’t drive traffic either. Someone said that “Content is king, but quality is queen.” Consistency is in the royal court too.
Let’s look at some strategies you can use to keep consistent, quality content on your site. Look at the chapter on blogging and you’ll see that I recommend having a blog post that goes with each episode. Don’t stop there though. Keep it to the subject, but if you find a link, write up a paragraph about it and include it.
Have guest bloggers or guest podcasters. Who says that you (or your primary host if you’re the audio or video guy) have to do all the shows? Why not have someone else create an audio post, a blog entry, an inspirational thought, etc.
Do a “best of” show once you have enough content. A great time for this is during the holiday season. You can have a year-end review show. It could be the funny moments, the poignant ones, or even the best ones.
Create episodes well in advance of when you’ll be issuing them. If you have, two, three, or even four extra weekly episodes ready to go, missing a week here or there isn’t all that big a deal. You just take time to create more a little extra later. Since podcast content is inherently time-shifted, use this to your advantage. Record evergreen content that can be used whenever needed.
When you start out in podcasting, you’ll look at those who’ve been doing it a long time and envy their set-ups. Small churches do this all the time in the area of tech. A church of 100 will look at Willow Creek and think, “If only we had multiple HD cameras, a switcher, and all the tech that they do, we could really accomplish something.” The fact is that when you’re a church of 3000, with “multiple HD cameras, a switcher, and all the tech…” it’s still easy to look more at what you don’t have than what you do.
Start with what you have and do the best you can. This should be your first rule. If you have all the equipment and don’t use it or don’t use it well, you’re wasting resources. If you don’t do a thing because of the stuff you don’t have, but you’ve got enough equipment to accomplish it on a basic level, you’re wasting time and opportunity to learn flexibility and ways to stretch.
Here are a couple of things you can do no matter what your setup from a computer and a headset to a multi-million dollar studio. First, whether it’s audio or video, the audio matters most. As a video guy this hurts me to say, but it’s true. Bad audio will make great video unwatchable. Bad video with great audio is tolerable.
Get close to the subject with the microphone. With the notable exception of a shotgun mic (which is highly directional and rejects a lot of outside noise), most microphones need to be very close to (or touching) the subject. The greater the ratio of good sound to other noise the better. So if your microphone is closer to the person, it will naturally pick up more sound than if it was further away.
Remove sound before it’s recorded, not after. The best way to do this is not to have sound to be recorded. Turn on everything and record with no one talking. Now remove everything that causes noise from the room. This might be as simple as not recording when your neighbor is cutting the grass or moving to a different place.
You can also treat the room so that sound doesn’t get in or echo in bad ways. There are ways to do this for less money. In the 1970’s, they used acoustic tile and carpet on the walls of radio studios to do this. The science of acoustics involves tons of measurements and math that’s better left to professionals, but my experience says that the more you can get sound to change speed, going through multiple mediums (air to a solid to air to a solid, etc.), the more energy it will lose and the quieter it will be. Also consider treating the room so that it sound can’t bounce back straight back to its source. An otherwise excellent recording that sounds like it was recorded in a bank vault is very difficult to listen to.
Unfortunately, properly treating a room isn’t easy. If you want it done right, you should really consider a qualified acoustic engineer and not think a paragraph I wrote makes you an expert. The raw materials are fairly cheap, but putting them where they’ll have the best effect is the hard part.
Your next line of defense is active filtering with a gate. We talked about a gate in the hardware section so I won’t repeat too much here, but please don’t overdo it. Too much gate makes audio sound unnatural because it cuts off quiet parts of normal speech.
Finally, you can filter audio during editing. Use this even more sparingly than a gate. One of the marks of a poorly edited piece is too much filtering in the post production stage. This results in audio that almost sounds mechanical in the higher end. That’s because human speech just touches the upper frequencies and these filters can remove those nuances.
For video, light it well and use the best camera shots you can. Limit transitions to the most basic ones you can. Don’t use a cross-dissolve if a cut will do. Don’t use a wipe, if a cross-dissolve will work. Never use any transition with 3D, Cube or Spin in the name (especially not the 3D Cube Spin). There are exceptions, but a beginner using this rule will have MUCH better video than one that tries to use transitions to make video “cooler” or more exciting; that’s not what they’re for.
I haven’t mentioned something else that’s important for video. God did such a good job on our brains and our eyes that we don’t see (or notice) something that’s fundamental about light. Sunlight is a different color from incandescent which is different than fluorescent which doesn’t resemble halogen. We see them all as white. Depending on the white balance or filter on the camera, video will show them all as different. Some cameras attempt to automatically compensate for this, but none are as good as doing it manually. If you can, you should have someone hold up a white card and then use the camera’s manual white balance function to tell it that the card is white.
One other rule applies. Don’t over produce whether audio or video. If it’s a Lady Gaga video, overproduction isn’t a bad thing. If it’s a class or spoken word or an interview, make it more, not less natural. If you wouldn’t remove it live, why remove it in editing just because you can. It’s better to learn not to say “um, ya, ya know” than to try to edit those out, if they annoy you.
When I worked in local television, we’d prerecord one of the morning news segments. More often than I can count, we’d have to stop because the anchor would stumble over a word. She wouldn’t have thought about it twice if it was live, but because she could change it, she wanted to. Sometimes we’d reshoot the whole segment because of a small error. People are human; we all make mistakes. If it’s a major flub, that’s one thing, but a slight mispronounced word happens to us all. Keep going. Starting over costs twice as much time as continuing on, so consider it deeply before you do it.
Don’t let any of this keep you from creating. It’s better to start and get better than to never start because you’re not good enough. Experiment. The best thing about this medium is how cheap it is. I can’t convince a national network to put me, an unknown, on for a weekly show, but now I don’t have to. You don’t either.