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Podcasting in the Key of C

When I was young, I really wanted to play piano.  I have never taken lessons.  I have never learned to read for piano.  For many years I did not own a piano.  Since that time, I now own an excellent digital piano that my son and I pluck at, but I’m only really treated to when a competent piano-playing friend comes over, or when I plug into the MIDI input and listen to the performance of one of many competent players repeated note for note through an instrument that I’m only mildly okay at so long as we stay in the keys of C or G. 

But not everything is in the key of C or G.  Not every voice sounds best in the same key.  Not every song has the same life in the key of C.  Sometimes a vocalist is stronger in A.  Sometimes that horn sounds better in B-flat. So why on earth would an instrument like the human voice be any different?  

Some Articles You May Have Seen

I was recently compiling some of my old articles for a portfolio when I noticed something funny about them.  All of my articles had lengthy paragraphs added to them endorsing a one-button recording solution that I outspokenly would not and cannot endorse.

Additionally, multiple articles now contain endorsements for products that I either would not recommend or just don’t use, which isn’t how I roll. I firmly believe the audio engineering mantra, “It’s the ear, not the gear.” As such, I endeavor to teach in the simplest possible manner the skills to use just about any tools and gear to achieve professional results.

This isn’t meant to antagonize those who don’t have the technical expertise to produce a podcast.  It’s to say that these skills aren’t really that difficult to learn, and that if you’re serious about podcasting, and you’re serious about your sound, there is no quick-fix, one-button prescription, mainly because there is no universal situation in which podcasts, especially, are recorded.

Context Matters

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Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Podcasts are recorded in different rooms, sometimes a studio, a home studio, the garage, out on the streets of the city, in the car while driving, in a shack with a donkey braying every few minutes (true story). 

In addition, you have a wide array of microphones with different responses and nuances.  You have music you want to play in stereo and a voice you want to be in mono.  Compression affects voices differently, driving a bassy bottom-end voice, or over accentuating harsh sibilance from a speaker who hasn’t learned to pull their S’s and T’s.  And software forcing you to a ubiquitous loudness standard (when in truth there are only recommended standards and they vary from platform to platform) just limits your flexibility in controlling the nuances of your sound.

Disce Aut Discede

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I get that there are people who don’t want to have to learn.  But I don’t accept it.  Because in my experience, I have learned that what makes a good podcast varies to some degree, but typically lies in the attention folks put into every detail of the podcast.  There’s no shortcutting it.  You have to take the time to do it well or reach out to someone who can help you do well what you cannot. 

There is nothing about podcasting that is difficult to learn.  I try to write my articles in a way that takes the mystery out of the craft.  And there is certainly no reason to pay a monthly fee for something you could easily automate yourself on the cheap.  If you’re willing to invest the money, it’s at least worth investing in someone who puts their actual ears on your mix.

So what are my takeaways here?  

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

One.  Don’t let anybody sell you something you can easily learn to do yourself.  

Two.  Record.  Edit.  Upload.  Repeat.  It’s that simple.  You can learn this and it doesn’t require a monthly subscription or a blue pill that fixes all of your audio.

Three.  There are tons of audio professionals looking for work right now.  If you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, at least pay someone who is actually going to listen to your audio.

And on a personal note, if you read an article by me that is endorsing a product without a very specific reason, you’ve probably read too far.  I endorse products that I use, especially if they are inexpensive and accessible to folks who are starting out like I did, without a lot of money to spend on gear and software.  I almost never endorse subscription services, especially automated ones.  

The key to good audio is driving interest and emotion, whether that’s a song mix, a sound design, or an important interview.  That requires human ears with taste and the ability to make strong choices to not just standardize, but enhance.  To remove distraction.  To ensure clarity.

Otherwise, we’re just talking to ourselves.  And unable to play outside the key of C.

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