Internet Audio: Is yours a star, or a dog? Part One

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Stay tuned next week for part two!

As they say, on the Internet nobody can tell if you’re a dog. Unfortunately, people can hear if you’re a dog. The quality of your audio should be up to the quality of your content. And, of course, your content should always be stellar.

Internet Audio takes many forms, from a website audio file to the audio component in the video stream of a live event. It encompasses everything imaginable, including:
• “explainer” videos
• corporate training
• narrated banner ads
• podcast intros
• Audio Description for the sight-impaired
• just plain entertaining program content.

As voice over talent, you may have only limited involvement in the many relevant issues, or you may be totally involved in scripting, production, recording, and delivery. For example, if a video producer hires you simply (and we use that word only in a relative sense!) to record the voice over for a video that someone else will produce, that’s a limited involvement. But if the voice over will be a demo on your own site, or if you’re a site owner contemplating producing and voicing a video yourself, there are a whole range of creative, performance and technical issues to think about.

This brief article can’t cover all of them, but whatever your role, we hope to provide some seeds for thought, understanding and exploration. As you gain experience in this area, you’re likely to encounter clients who have relatively little experience at producing the end product, and who look to you for input and guidance. One way or another, your involvement is likely to grow.

Content is still king.

For the site-owner, the one overarching question is (dare we say it), do you even need audio? On the Web, content has always triumphed over form, unless form is what you are selling. There are times to use audio, or video (A/V), and there are times to stick to text.

For example if it’s a how-to procedure, sometimes a printed step-by-step guide is easier to use, and it can be saved for later.

So as with any web content, first ask yourself: what do you want to say, and what is the visitor looking for? After you’ve answered those questions, then ask if audio or a video will get you and your user to your respective goals more quickly, clearly and easily.

If audio or A/V content will meet those goals, proceed – as long as the production will conform to at least minimum professional standards. Bad audio drives users away! If there’s any question, be sure to cover yourself with alternative presentation of key information, such as a link to the printed copy points, or even a transcript.

There are a lot of reasons to include audio or A/V. These reasons include:

• If it’s a demo recording, that’s an obvious reason. Be sure it portrays you at your best. A mediocre or technically inadequate demo can seriously hurt your career.

• In other situations, sometimes the “personalization factor” alone justifies an A/V approach. For example, in a corporate context, is the presenter a key figure that that everyone in the company should come to identify with (assuming the person is also a good presenter)? Is it a dry or sensitive subject matter that could benefit from the addition of personality or warmth via a personal presentation?

• Another reason for using audio/video is if the user is not facile at reading. For example, if English is their second language, or if the audience is children (or includes them), a verbal presentation might be more easily understood.

• Audio and/or video is most useful when there is some action or a procedure to demonstrate, and the number of procedural steps is fairly low. How long is too long? For commercial and other promotional videos, where the user might click away if they want, keep it to 1-3 minutes. A major presentation or event should be able to support 5 minutes, but keep it under 15. A podcast can be anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour, but try to keep the same length from episode to episode. If you’re distributing the content as audio files, break it up into 5 minute segments.

• The casting and staging of a video can also help to dispel social and racial stereotypes.

• Another factor influencing your decision is whether the audience expects a video. What is their age, sophistication and how do they access the Internet (in terms of both access speed and platform)? Sometimes the solution is to provide both a video and a text version.

These principles apply whether the presentation is a podcast, a video podcast (vodcast), a live-streamed meeting or event, a computer file, embedded from YouTube, or handed around on optical disc.

Audio/Video content has begun to rule

As you know, YouTube is one way to distribute A/V content, either as a link or embedded in a website or social media. YouTube itself is expanding its boundaries to include original programming and other innovations, and there are other video-hosting options.

But “traditional” video content is expanding hugely in itself.

In 2009, the global top 100 brands placed 2,000 videos on YouTube. In 2013, that number was 9,000 and climbing. The source of that count, Pixability, predicts that by 2015 these top marketers will have placed than a million new videos on YouTube. Pixability says that currently these 100 brands alone have collectively invested billions of dollars in online video creation, accounting for a total of 9.5 billion collective YouTube views.

But the 2013 Pixability study also found that a large number of these major marketers do not effectively promote their video content -- half their videos get less than 1,000 views. The research suggests that promotion, including social media, is a key factor in viewership,

The importance of professionalism.

We suggest that another significant factor in promoting A/V content is the impression given by the production itself. While less than spectacular video production quality can still yield results, there’s really no excuse for less than optimal audio production values. At some point, low production standards leave a bad taste that gets attributed to the product or company. That not only lowers sales, confidence and action, it discourages sharing.

This might seem obvious, but some companies and organizations apparently don’t realize that online quality is not just a matter of polish. Quality comes from the fundamentals on which the overall result is built. This includes voice-over and on-camera presentations; voicing them well requires training and particular skills. Audio production for the Internet also requires certain skills, knowledge and capabilities.

And while we’re thinking about it, here’s another reason for using a pro -- if company personnel are used as talent, what if next year that person no longer works for the company? A release should be standard procedure, but that’s not the issue. What if they’ve become a salesperson for the competition?

As we noted at the outset, sooner or later, you as voice over talent will probably come to need to know a bit more about this. So next week we’ll discuss some of the skills and requirements of audio voicing and production for Internet.

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