Monday, September 29, 2008

On the casting of pods

No, this isn't some crazy California bean ceremony or divination. This is about technology, specifically about the use of it to make audio files available after the manner of a radio show. There are many such shows, and many of them suffer from one or other of these problems. Let me explain the Seven Ways Your Podcast Can Suck:

1: Sixty Cycle
This is pretty self-explanatory; you can have a 60Hz hum on your podcast. This is caused by something in your setup picking up the power lines, and is incredibly annoying to anyone who has trouble picking voices out from background. European podcasts suffer from the related Fifty Cycle, as their powerlines run at 50Hz; either way, it's a hum, and it sucks. Please, please, get rid of the hum. Upgrading microphones so you use the balanced (and thus hum-rejecting) XLR plug rather than the plain ordinary jack can be enough. Many audio recording programs can automatically kill the hum. There are filters. The hum is one of those things that there's really no excuse for.

2: Wait, that was it?
Please, please, do SOMETHING to indicate "OK, that's it for this episode". Whether it be music, or simply a canned copyright statement, it's jarring to be dropped straight into silence or some other audio file. In extreme cases, your listeners will start wondering if their reader downloaded you properly.

3: Oh yeah, spoiler alert.
Self-explanatory. Yes, we know, the Dark Knight was cool, but unfortunately not all of us were able to go out and see it. Please, wait until it's on DVD before you have your nerdgasm over it. If it's on DVD, we all have Netflix or a local Blockbuster; we've nobody but ourselves to blame if we haven't seen it, so spoil away as long as you warn us, but if it's not out on DVD yet, you can't assume we've seen it.

4: Intermission
We don't need to know that you stopped recording for a couple hours so somebody could go poop. We don't need to have a minute of music to mark the gap. Transitions between segments, if you must have segments, are OK, but otherwise, try to keep it flowing. Remember, in most cases, we don't have video, so we can't see that Joe is now sitting to Bill's left.

5: Adverts
Sure, the equipment costs money. However, plugging your sponsor in the middle of the cast is jarring, and doesn't incline people like me towards checking out their offerings. Keep it to the opening blurb, and the closing boilerplate. If your sponsor won't accept that, you need to find a sponsor that doesn't suck.

6: Late This Week
If you're going to give a schedule, then please stick to it. Some casts don't have a set schedule; that's fine. Each episode of those is like a little gift. Howver, if you're going to say "every Tuesday", then you need to step up and commit to making sure it really IS every Tuesday. Once you've set a schedule, you've set your listeners' expectations, and you really can't fall back on the "It's free, so whay are you complaining?" defense. Remember, without a schedule, each episode is a little gift; with a schedule, each miss of your drop date is a little bag of flaming dog poop.

7: iTunes is coming
Really, this should go under "feed issues". Podcasts live and die by their RSS feeds; please, make sure you've set yours up correctly. First, you need to make sure that you have a podcast-only feed. Then, you need to make sure that nothing ever drops off this feed. Most feeds have a maximum number of entries; you need to set that to a LOT higher than you think necessary. Do NOT allow it to only be twenty items. That will mean your early episodes will drop off, and that is a very effective way to avoid gaining new listeners. Remember, people love going through archives; this is why so many pay-to-read-archives services for webcomics have been flops. If you want new listeners, they need to be able to download all your episodes in their reader. Speaking of readers, like it or not, iTunes is overwhelmingly dominant. You need to make iTunes support priority one; you simply cannot get away with saying "It's complicated", "we'll get to it soon", or "we're working on it" past a month. If you're not properly supporting iTunes, then you're shooting your potential listeners figure in the foot.

So, those are ways you can suck. As for ways you can be brilliant, that's up to you. There is no one path to success, but there are plenty of ways to hack people off. Avoid hitting the above seven points, and the likely reason for me not listening will be a lack of interest in your subject matter. However, there are plenty of people like me but with different interests. Of course, you may not be wanting to podcast at all, but that's fine.


  1. Gah. I hope I'm not one of those people to whom you are referring.

    I know I miss posting dates. I'm working on that.

  2. Actually, I've never listened to your podcast. Most of these are the gaming podcasts I listen to.


After some particularly vile spam showed up, I have disabled the ability to comment as a nonny-mouse.