media Red Pennant Communications Blog Updates and Points of View

Why Do You Keep Watching that Crazy Vlogger? …Hey, don’t you use that tone with me! (Part 5)

This continues the review of vloggers and bloggers who pass scrutiny and offer information that is original, of good quality and properly attributed. The categories of vlogs and blogs I have been looking at are;

Type 2: Original team-generated contents (continued)

Do not judge them by their looks – their voices count too

To me, it is important that the host or presenter of the video Knows Whereof They Speak. I have no time or patience to listen to someone spouting nonsense or vitriol. Any kind of bias immediately makes me switch off or click away.

The team-generated vlogs reviewed here have (surprisingly) cogent and sane presenters. Joe Rogan might look like a tough guy with tattoos and a bald head, and muscles on his arms like weasels clambering on a tree, and Cody Townsend might appear to be indestructible and had the Fear Gene bred out of him, but both guys are completely sane, balanced, well-informed, quietly cool and precise, and quite conservative in their general approach. It helps that both of them sound authoritative.

Professionals at work

Behind each person, Joe Rogan of the Joe Rogan Experience, and Cody Townsend of The Fifty Project, are teams of professional producers, technicians and back-up supporters.

Joe Rogan doing a rotator kick guaranteed to take someone’s head off.

In the case of Joe Rogan, when you see him in the very well-equipped studio in Texas with his guests, his 2-i-c is seated just out of the frame and is called on every so often to trace facts on the Internet and give proof of a talking point.

Cody Townsend defying gravity on his way down a mountain. Yawning crevasse? No problem.

Cody Townsend, a professional backcountry skier and ski mountaineering athlete, is accompanied on each of his videos of skiing down extremely fear-inducing couloirs, by other skiers, climbers and mountain guides, as well as one or two people who do the filming. (And occasionally his wife, herself a ski champion.) Sometimes, they are also responsible for getting him safely back off the mountain. And then, of course, there is his production crew back in the studio, and the team of product specialists employed by his sponsors.

Their professionalism and business approach to what they love to do, make it possible for them to produce high-quality work on a regular schedule.

Despite their images, they do follow best practice when they produce podcasts and videos. Which leads me to consider, technically, what can go wrong on a podcast?

Digression – Vlogging and Podcasting 101

Features of good podcasts and video recordings

When you start podcasting or vlogging, you need to pay attention to your recording equipment and the quality of your product. This is the difference between a professional production and an amateur one. You don’t need to have every sort of equipment in the beginning, but you do need the basics like a soundproof space, a microphone, a headset, and a mixer, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone. And you do need to start getting familiar with the terminology. This all applies even if you only do videos with narration.

Image: Pierre Edwards, Rolling Stone Magazine,
How to Start a Podcast: 7 Things These Experts Say You’ll Need,
by Tim Chan, March 30, 2020

An old hand like Rogan has this down pat, of course. The good quality of JRE recordings is one of the aspects that keeps me watching the show – or listening to it. In the case of Cody Townsend and his vlog The Fifty Project, the recordings are made under very difficult circumstances, often with him in a low-oxygen zone, up a mountain, exhausted, in a howling snowstorm. Yet, you can always make out what he and his crew are saying. Sometimes, they have to resort to sub-titles with the audio. The visual quality is of course fantastic – his programs are all about skiing majestic, beautiful mountains.

The core of a podcast is audio

Rogan has a genuinely pleasant voice to listen to. He has this nice, genuine laugh. It is important to invest in at least some basic audio equipment and to train your voice (or modify it) so that listeners get the best possible experience with your podcast. Ears only hear once, remember? Too many presenters do not seem to be aware that they:

  • Normally speak too fast, or too slow (not because of the editing of the video)
  • Swallow their words,
  • Mispronounce words,
  • Stumble or hesitate,
  • Sound flat and without emotion,
  • Have too high or too low a pitch,
  • Sound tinny,
  • Do not pause or take a breath,
  • Have vocal habits or tics like vocal croak/vocal fry (when you intentionally growl or rattle when you speak) and high rising terminal /upspeak (when you make your voice go up at the end of every phrase),
  • Have speech impediments like rhotacism (cannot pronounce “r”), lisps (cannot pronounce “s”) or excessive nasality.

These vocal features can make it difficult for listeners to enjoy listening to them or understand them. Some problems can be fixed with training, speech therapy or audio software. Others, like poor sound quality from ambient noise, can be fixed with better equipment, for instance a good cardioid-type microphone. Notice that I do not include accents in the list of problems. So long as your accent does not make you incomprehensible to your audience, it’s OK.

An example of a narrator who speeds when he speaks

One narrator who speaks extremely fast, like a machine-gun rattle, with a slight lateral lisp on the fricatives, is the nameless person who does the voice-over for the Dark Skies history channel, with a focus on military airplanes, on YouTube. It seems that it’s like this on all the videos that he narrates – sometimes I can hear it’s because of clipping the sound during editing, but other times, it just sounds like a mouthful of marbles.

Dark Skies has over 145,000 subscribers to their highly specialized videos of World War II. Each video has quite high view rates – the latest one had 179,874 views after 30 days, and the average per video is 350,000 views. Dark Skies – not to be confused with various Astronomy or conspiracy theory channels – is part of the Dark Universe suite of channels, which also includes Dark5TV, Dark Footage and Dark Photos. They provide no details of who “they” are, the names of their contributors, or even a website. So it’s likely that this aspect of the videos will never improve.

You might disagree with me, but every time I listen to this narrator, it strikes me that he speaks very fast in a mono-tone voice. He especially speeds up multi-syllable or compound words. It’s really hard to listen to.

Testing, testing, testing…

The only way to find out whether that is the case, is to test it with other people who are your audience. Yes, I know listening to your own voice can be gross, but it’s a sure way to find out whether your voice is clear. If your audience is mostly people in their 20s, then probably they won’t give a hoot about your vocal fry. If they are in their 30s and 40s, it will probably drive them nuts.

Joe Rogan does a hilarious imitation of “upspeak”

“YouTube Voice” is probably a bad idea

A few years ago, a phenomenon called “YouTube Voice” started was noticed amongst vloggers. Doing the opposite to what experienced radio DJs and presenters, or trained actors would do, these presenters started using vocal tricks to grab the attention of the viewers. As opposed to speaking more clearly and in a more pleasant tone, they would over-stress vowels in words, stretch out words, add vowels where there are none, over-emphasize consonants and over-do aspiration (breathing) so that whatever they say sounds more dramatic. Ever listened to some speakers who’d emphasize unexpected words IN a sentence so THAT even the weather SOUNDS fantastic? YouTube voice is something like that.

These are affectations that do not make it easier for a viewer or listener to comprehend what you say, and moreover, doing that makes you sound unlike yourself. Remember that YouTube viewers are watching and listening to you from all over the world and American or British English may not be their first language.

“What I think you have is an Internet platform that many people are taking to, and what they’re doing is taking models they recognize from elsewhere. [They’re] dressing up their language through particular kinds of spoken emphases, gestures, and facial expressions. What’s interesting is how similar people end up sounding, rather than sounding like themselves. In an attempt to make yourself sound special, you end up sounding like this whole genre of other people.”

Naomi Baron quoted in Julie Beck, The Linguistics of ‘YouTube Voice’, The Atlantic, Dec. 7, 2015

You don’t have to be a voice actor, but you could learn from them

We are not all blessed with a wonderful voice, but many actors and singers sound so great because their voices were trained, combining natural talent with technique. These are the voices I love to hear in films:

Get the audio right, then get the interview right

Cartoon published after the death of Mike Wallace

Legendary newsman Mike Wallace coined the phrase, the “Chemistry of Confidentiality” – the thing that an interviewer has to establish to conduct a successful interview. This is exactly what Joe Rogan does in interviews, in fact, when looking again at his performance as the host of Fear Factor, you can see that is what he does with each of the contestants:

“With good research you could embarrass anybody, make anybody squirm. You could do it to me. But if you are really after illumination of an interviewee’s character — qualities, substance, texture — if you’re really after that, you can ask very pointed questions. Questions — sensible questions to get them to talk. You can establish, what you do so well, a chemistry of confidentiality. […] If the interviewee has respect for the interviewer and feels that the interviewer knows a good deal and is well prepared, you can ask anything and you’ll find that the interviewee will be a co-conspirator with you.”

Source: The secret of the perfect interview: Mike Wallace’s Chemistry of Confidentiality

Doing interviews

A good interview, particularly when it is broadcast live, requires that you do the following:

  • Plan – Which guest, which topic, how many questions, which questions? (You only have so long)
  • Practice – How to respond depending on whether the guests/interviewee says what you think they will say
  • Prepare – Study the subject, make sure you are knowledgeable – get that chemistry of confidentiality
  • Plot – Where do you want the discussion to go to? What information do you want to reveal? Which information don’t you want to reveal?
  • Prime – Decide whether you are going to give the guest your questions in advance, prime them, or whether you expect them to wing it. Decide who will be asking the questions – can the guest ask you questions (in other words is it a conversation rather than an interview)? Can you have fans tweeting questions?
  • Promote – How are you going to publicize this event? What if it turns out to be a bad interview but you have already posted information about it?

And that’s my two-cent’s worth on podcasting and audio. Go forth and make your voice heard.

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