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Do You Need A Producer Or An Engineer?

· Time to read: ~3 min

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(By Tim O’Brien) The question is more rhetorical than anything because, if you’re like most podcasters, your titles include host, producer, engineer, and IT tech.

That said, the question remains and it centers mostly on how you view the production process for your podcast. Is it a matter of simple editing and engineering to you, or are you really “producing” creative content?

To illustrate with a little compare-and-contrast, I’ll provide two examples.

There’s a good chance you’ve listened to the Serial podcast. Like so many other preeminent podcasts, it contains all of the earmarks of that distinctive NPR sound and the highest production values. The podcast features a smart host, interesting interviews often done-face-to-face all over the country, representing hundreds of hours of raw audio that was edited down into this interesting story, complete with narrative, good writing, and that trademark atmospheric sound.

To be sure, not many of us can afford over our whole podcasting careers to invest what they do in terms of time and money for a single episode, but it does provide a benchmark. Yet in the end, it’s a podcast, just like yours and mine in terms of labeling.

On the flip side, there are some who have done podcasting almost since its very inception but still insist on following the more primitive model of content creation, which at times involves sticking a condenser mic on a podium at a trade show or meeting, recording the raw feed and then posting it, almost unedited, as a podcast. The production values are horrendous. The speakers sound like they’re talking into a Pringles can, and you can’t identify one speaker from the next because there is no narration to help.

At the same time, this too is a podcast. Then there are literally hundreds of thousands that fall in between.

For the purposes of our discussion, Serial is a highly produced podcast. The latter example is editing (if that), and simple engineering, but not very good.

So, what do you want to create: a produced podcast or an engineered one? If you choose the former, then it’s worth it to start thinking about your podcast through the ears of the listener. Think about spending more time planning and more time in post-production. Get rid of shared mics. Spend more time editing and thinking about what kind of high-quality sound you really want to create.

Tim O’Brien is the producer and host of the Shaping Opinion podcast and the founder of the Pittsburgh-based communications consultancy O’Brien Communications.  He can be reached at 412.854.8845 or

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