What’s a Blogcast?
As some of my loyal readers know, I launched this blog more than seven years ago—on January 1, 2013, to be precise. Since the blog comes out every Friday morning, you can do the math and figure out that there must be about 400 posts by now. And you would be right. This post is #404.
Needless to say, no one, to say nothing of Your Humble Blogger, has 404 good ideas for a blog post, and so… well, the less said about that, the better.
When I started the blog I knew nothing about blogging, and I’ve chronicled my tribulations several times in these pages. Then, just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, my readers started asking for an audio version of the blog.
If I thought I knew nothing about blogging, I was actually an expert at it compared to what I know about audio blogging. So I mostly ignored requests along this line, hoping they would just go away.
But they didn’t. They only became more insistent. One reason seems to be that the phenomenon of podcasting has taken off in recent years. In addition, the number of audiobooks is now growing faster than the number of hard copy or even electronic (think Kindle) books. Since I publish roughly one hard copy book every three years, this is not an encouraging statistic.
On the other hand, it’s not difficult to understand why people sometimes prefer audio to print. Right now, if you want to read my blog you have to be sitting in front of your computer or holding your smartphone, or you have to print the thing out and read it over your Froot Loops. But with audio you can experience the blog while you’re stuck in traffic or attending the Des Moines premiere of Waiting for Godot.
So I sighed and got down to the wonky business of figuring out how to turn a written blog into an audio version of same. The first sources I found told me it was a piece of cake. All you need, these sources said, was a computer, a microphone, and a quiet room. But once I’d acquired all those things, nothing magical happened—the blog was still a written blog.
It turns out that when technical people tell you something is “a piece of cake,” they mean it would be a piece of cake if you only knew how to operate something called a “digital audio workstation,” or DAW. These fiendishly complicated gadgets include controls for playing, rewinding and recording, track controls, devices for mixing the tracks, and a waveform display that looks like your EKG on steroids.
DAWs also incorporate digital effects units that can modify a signal with distortion, resonators, equalizers, synthesizers, compressors, chorus, virtual amp, limiter, phaser, flangers, and, for all I know, coronary artery bypass grafts.
The DAW I use is called GarageBand, and you almost certainly have it on your trusty Mac. Once I’m seated in front of my Mac and ready to roll, I pretend I’m Mick Jagger and just crank it up. Except that I have no idea how to crank it up. I could operate GarageBand easily if only I had two hundred hours or so to figure it out.
Eventually an IT guy got me a copy of “The Idiot’s Guide to GarageBand” and I was off to the races.
Once the technical hurdles had been surmounted, other hurdles loomed. Have you ever had to read something that was being recorded and which would then be played back for the amusement of others? It turns out there’s an art to it.
Some of this art is technical in nature having to do with the medium you’re reading. For example, professionals who read books, converting them into audiobooks, are required by copyright laws to read every word exactly as written and not to leave out a single word.
At the opposite end of this spectrum are podcasts which, while often scripted, are more conversational in nature. If you compare the podcast script of, say, “Serial,” with the podcast audio, you will find many words left out, new words added, some words changed slightly (“cannot” to “can’t,” for example). We want our podcasts to sound conversational, like the narrator is sitting next to us at Starbucks, not rigid and stuffy, like someone with a fake British accent reading Trollope.
I picked a random blog post and, excited about my newfound technological prowess, practiced reading the post into the mic. It was awful. Some people have a natural and felicitous reading voice and they can read a three-week-old newspaper article to you and make it sound riveting. Not me. When I wasn’t cringing I was putting myself to sleep.
Reading out loud turns out to be, like so much else in life, a skill, and one that needs to be practiced—say, for 10,000 hours—before you can be good at it. So I practiced for an hour or two, to no avail. I got a better mic, I got a quieter room, I got a faster computer, nothing helped.
Then I noticed that publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have, at the beginning of certain articles, a triangle pointing to the right (like this ►) and when you click on it, a female who has been lobotomized reads you the article. These technologies, known as “text-to-speech,” seemed to be the solution to my problems, and if only I’d had $500,000 lying around all would have been well.
But since my blog is free to the reading public (how did I make that decision?), five hundred large seemed a little steep just to have someone read my own blog for me. I needed a different approach, which we’ll take a look at next week.