More from behind the scenes of “Dateline: RIT – The Podcast” . . .
My headline might be misleading. Although sound effects can be fun, oftentimes less is more (similar to the use of adjectives and exclamation marks in writing).
“Dry voice” recordings, though, can be rather bland. Depending on the circumstances, of course. Back at my college radio station, WGSU-FM, I once produced a 30-second station promo entirely in dry voice—with the aim of cutting through the clutter of noise. The concept complemented the promo’s message—“We’re easy” (hey, it was the ’80s ;~)—touting a no-frills on-air contest.
In the world of podcasting, the opposite is true. Though some podcasts use sound effects effectively (particularly for opens, closes or transitions), most are otherwise strictly dry-voice productions. Why do you suppose that is?
Answer (caution: the truth may hurt):
Many podcasts are produced by amateurs talking into their iPods (this is, of course, an origin of the word “podcast”). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The podcasting world—like the blogosphere, which is overflowing with amateur writers—could be regarded as a forum for citizen journalists (although lack of know-how or incentive tends to filter out some would-be podcasters).
That’s a primary reason why most podcasts are bare-bones productions. So, when a colleague, after listening to the “Dateline: RIT” prototype last month, challenged, “But I’ve never heard a podcast that uses sound effects all the way through” (read: “You’re not conforming”), I responded: “Exactly!”
But, even though I’m a proud non-conformist, that’s not the reason I respectfully disagreed with my friend from all the way down the hallway (and around the corner). Rather, in choosing to add production value by using sound effects, my aim was to move away from the amateurish, speaking-into-my-iPod model created by the pioneers (and, like my dry-voice “We’re easy” promo for WGSU two decades earlier, to stand out from the pack through differentiation).
To the handful of “Dateline: RIT” listeners who expressed distaste for the background sound effects, I hope you noticed that the sound level was lowered following the first episode. While your opinions are valued, you now know there was reasoning behind the decision to use a sound-effects bed for “Dateline: RIT” (more on the specific choice of the teletype sound effect another time). Be assured, not all our podcasts will use sound effects. And, even though there are no plans to scrap the “Dateline” format after only three episodes, I hope you keep listening. After all, it’s only five minutes. Pretend you’re in a newsroom.