Once Over Isn’t Enough

Once, long ago, I was subscribed to a podcast. This podcast was a rather prominent member of The Sci-Fi Podcast Network. So at the start of each file, it began with a TSFPN audio tag: “This is TSFPN.com. You’ve found the best podcasts in the universe.

Which is all wonderful. Except that where the podcast itself sounded smooth and high-quality, the audio tag sounded like Alvin the Android Chipmunk. It was too fast and too high-pitched.

Half of you are nodding now: you’ve seen this happen before. There are a lot of ways to make this mistake, but one of the most common is to combine two sound files of different sample rates in the same Audacity track. It’s easily done, and easily fixed. Just put them in different tracks and then mix down.

But here’s the kicker. I listened to this podcast, and heard the exact same chipmunked tag, every week for four months. It was the very first thing you heard. It sounded terrible, and it was never caught. I eventually lost interest in the subject material and unsubscribed, but for all I know it’s still going on.

That was definitive proof to me that the guy never listened to his own podcast. If he did, he’d have noticed and fixed this easy bug. He didn’t, and he started off on the wrong foot every week, and never knew it. And that’s today’s lesson:

First, you should always listen to your MP3 file before you upload it. If it’s a long podcast, at least skip through it to make sure all the pieces are there and sound like they should. Never skip this, or you’ll be sure to embarrass yourself with some technical gaffe sooner or later. Even if it’s 6 AM by the time I upload, I always take at least a minute or two to jump through my podcast beginning, section transitions, and ending. Those are where mistakes are likeliest to happen.

If you can, it’s also helpful to have someone that you know to listen to your podcast before you upload it. This is an extremely valuable habit that will provide you with an outside prospective. I usually have my brother Paul check out my podcast before going public with it. Whenever he isn’t busy cutting and trimming trees, he’s always willing to give my podcast a critical review.  That brotherly love can be tough sometimes but is very helpful. [Shameless Plug: If you’re in the Seattle area and need a professional tree service give my brother Paul Z. a call or better yet, check out his website here]

Second, you should subscribe to your own podcast feed and listen to it with all your other podcasts. This means you’ll catch any RSS screw-ups without having to have your audience tell you about them; but more than that, it gives you the opportunity to evaluate yourself as a listener and decide if there’s anything from week to week that needs improvement. Are your levels uneven when you listen on your car stereo? Great, now you know. Did you drone on too long about something unexciting? It’s easier to notice that a couple days later, and you’ll be more conscious about it next time. Continuous improvement means continually evaluating your work, and the best way to do that is to listen to yourself the same way everybody else does.

This will seem like common sense to a lot of you. Some of you will find it inconceivable not to listen to your own stuff — after all, if you didn’t like to hear your own voice, why podcast? But in practice it’s very, very common to skip these steps.

You do so at your peril. If not the peril of losing audience and reputation, at least the peril that someday some smartass like me will make a blog post about you. And who wants that?

  1. Which, if you click on the link, you will see has lately dissolved into a cheerful puddle of brightly colored goo. But that’s another story.
  2. Should I have dropped him a friendly e-mail? Probably, and in most cases I would have. But there were some personality factors, too, and… Well, I didn’t. So.

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