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Master the arts of creating and performing talks

Adding music to your podcast? Don’t.

NO, YOUR PODCAST DOES NOT NEED MUSIC.

We have all been misled. We have all seen examples of sound added to words:

  • Sportscasters are sitting around a desk discussing today’s best players. One commentator says, “Let me show you why I think Arenado is the best defensive third baseman.” We cut from the desk to video highlights. Energetic music starts playing as the commentator talks about the plays.
  • The show’s host announces that every audience member will get a gift. Rock music starts playing as the show’s announcer describes the features of the patio furniture.
  • The commercial describes the plight of abandoned pets. Sad music plays as we look at neglected dogs and cats.

These examples make us believe that words must be accompanied with sound. That belief plus podcast creation tools with libraries of audio clips make all of us think we must be multi-media pros. Drag and drop and voila! We are now as slick as the examples from big-time television shows!

Except we have all been misled. Musical additions are not necessary. Often, they diminish the message. I made a ninety-second video to demonstrate this. The first 45 seconds is the original clip made by ATD. That clip is duplicated but with sound I added from Garage Band’s sound library. Listen the video here. Which version allows you to focus more on the point being made? Does the music enhance or distract? Of course, if the message is poor, listeners may appreciate the distraction, but I’ll assume you aren’t making podcasts with poor messages.

I have run into many examples recently of people adding sound unnecessarily and poorly. If you feel you must add sound—a big if—then consider these tips:

Think about the big picture.

I watched a half-hour instructional video. The video creator found a twenty-second music clip and added it to the video. The clip was set to loop over and over for the entire video. Do the math. That means we heard that “song” ninety times. I’m sure it seemed like a pleasant jingle when it was chosen, but after the fifteenth time or so it became decidedly unpleasant.

Think about the mood.

Don’t randomly select audio or simply select music you like. Music can set a mood. Maybe smooth jazz doesn’t fit the mood you are trying to create. The sad music fit the pictures of poor puppies and the description of their plight in the commercial I mentioned above. What type of music will add to your message? Is your message inspiring? Cautionary? Humorous? Select music very carefully.

Think about the volume.

As I mentioned, it is easy to drag and drop a soundtrack. Unfortunately, the dropped soundtrack has a default volume level. Most often, that volume is quite loud. In many videos I see, loud music makes it difficult to concentrate on or even hear the speaker’s words. Even professional podcast creators get this wrong as you can see here. For whatever podcast creation tool you use, find the volume control for each track. Lower the volume for the music until it becomes background music—way-in-the-background music.

Think about no music.

You don’t have to add music. Listeners won’t be disappointed. If you have a tight, well-created message, it will stand on its own. You have a great tip about how to improve presentations? A two-minute message? We can listen for two minutes. If you are making a feature film, then sure, use music to help enhance certain scenes. But notice that even Academy Award-winning movies do not have non-stop music. Sometimes, we are supposed to focus on just the dialogue. Trust your speaking ability. (If you don’t, you aren’t ready to record a podcast.)

Bottom line: never value style over substance, the trendy over the tried-and-true. Speak well and your words will impress without help.