On of the things that I found surprising when I started out in podcasting was the value that imperfection can bring towards your production. I’m about to start my yearly coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – a daily show that runs each day of the month long festival featuring news, chat, reviews and interviews. This will be the sixth year that it runs, and each year of course has lessons for the following year (be it thing to do better, and things that should never be done again.
I want to go back to my second year to illustrate a point. The first year of the Fringe, I was recording while out and about, finding quiet corners in bars, alcoves in the streets, dark alleyways just out of the volume of the street performers to do the interviews. Mostly because this was 2005 and I didn’t know better, but also because I couldn’t get a "base" to work from that I could set up equipment and get really good sound quality.
Everyone loved the shows though, and it gained popular and critical acclaim (and six years later has a crowd of people eagerly waiting for it to return and performers lining up to get on the show). And in year two I had more time to plan the show, and was doing some volunteer work at a local community radio station. Which meant I had access to an honest-to-goodness real studio. Mixing desks! Microphones! Comfy chairs! Tea and Coffee making facilities!
Perfect, I thought, and proceeded to book in the performers to the studio, rather than a bar that was close to their theatre space. The audio quality was good, the quality of the interview was better than the year before (that’ll be a year of experience talking)…
Yet after a week I got a few listener emails all saying the same thing. They loved the interviews, they loved the people that were on the show (and some were buying tickets on the strength of these spots), but they missed something. They missed the hustle and bustle in the background, they missed the feeling that they were right in the thick of the excitement that the Fringe brought to Edinburgh. They missed the moments I had to stop and let a very loud bus pass before I could ask another question.
They missed the imperfection, and it was that imperfection that created the flavour that the rest of the podcast drew its energy from.
I cancelled the studio, moved back onto the streets, and to this day have continued to do the interviews wherever I as in Edinburgh, be it a quiet coffee bar, the busy Royal Mile, or in the middle of a Bouncy Castle which is being used as a stage to put on a performance of Dracula.
It also led to a special show that I do once a year, where I literally stand on The Royal Mile, switch on the recorder, and just stop and ask people "why are you here?" for 45 minutes to bring over the spirit of the Fringe. And that’s the one I get asked about the most!
The lesson? Pay attention and talk to your listeners, and never be afraid to throw your plans out the window if you’re presented with a more appropriate option. In the long run, it will be improve you and your show.
Image Source: Leith Podcaster, Creative Commons.