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No, Your Podcast Does Not Need Music

Tuesday, June 11, 2019
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We have all been misled.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of music added to words—energetic beats accompany sportscasters sitting around a desk discussing today’s best players; melancholy tunes reinforce the haunted eyes of abandoned dogs and cats; classic rock gets viewers moving with their morning news crew.

Those examples along with the availability of podcast creation tools with libraries of audio clips make all of us think that words must be supplemented with sound and that we must be multimedia pros. Drag and drop and voila—we are now as slick as the big-time television shows!

Except that musical additions are not necessary; in fact, they often diminish the message.

I made a 90-second video to demonstrate this statement. The first 45 seconds is the original clip made by ATD; the second is the same clip modified 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?

If you feel you must add sound—and that’s a big “if”—consider the following tips.

Think about the big picture.

In a half-hour instructional video, the video creator used a 20-second music clip set to loop over and over for the entire length of the video. That means we heard the “song” 90 times. I’m sure it seemed like a pleasant jingle when it was chosen but after the fifteenth repetition it became decidedly unpleasant.

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Think about the mood.

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

Think about the volume.

As I mentioned, it is easy to drag and drop a soundtrack. Unfortunately, the dropped soundtrack has a default volume—and most often, that volume is quite loud. In many videos I have seen, 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). With 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 to your podcast. Listeners won’t be disappointed. If you have a tight, well-created message, it will stand on its own. If you are making a feature film, sure, use music to enhance certain scenes; but notice that even Academy Award–winning movies do not have a nonstop score. 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.

Check out Own Any Occasion for more ideas on how to boost your communication.

About the Author

Erik Palmer is an author, speaker, and consultant from Denver, Colorado. He focuses on improving oral communication—whether one-on-one, small group, large group, informal or formal, in-person or digital—by sharing practical, understandable ideas that help all adults become effective speakers and teachers of speaking. Erik previously spent 10 years managing an office for a prominent commodity brokerage firm, where he was the national sales leader), and trading on the floor of a Chicago commodity exchange. He also taught in one of Colorado’s premier school districts for 21 years, and was named a Teacher of the Year. A frequent presenter at conferences, Erik has given keynotes and led workshops for adults across the United States and around the world. He is the author of the ATD Press book, Own Any Occasion, as well as Well-Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students, Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology, Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking, Researching in a Digital World , and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning. Erik has a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. 

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