When I interviewed Bill Crow about HD Photo, he talked about how the efforts of the Windows photo team — and more broadly the efforts of the whole digital photography ecosystem — were directed toward a persona called the Happy Snapper. Earlier generations of Happy Snappers used Brownie cameras, and later Polaroids, to achieve decent results without much skill. Our generation of Happy Snappers uses digital cameras in the same way. It makes sense to take care of the Happy Snapper because there are so many of them. So far, it hasn’t made sense to invest the same effort in the Happy Caster — that is, the Happy Snapper’s audio counterpart.
I doubt that podcasting alone will turn the tide. Although lots of people are discovering the possibilities of the medium, there will always be more interest in creating pictures than in creating sounds. But video of course includes sound, so maybe video will tip things in favor of the Happy Caster. That’d be good, because I’ve been doing a lot of audio recording lately, and it turns out to be harder to get decent results than I had imagined.
I was amused to note, in the credits for my latest ITConversations show, that my name appears as the audio engineer. That’s the moral equivalent of listing Alan Smithee as the director of a film. It’s what happens when things get screwed up and the real director doesn’t want his own name to appear. In this case I was the one who screwed up, and Paul Figgiani — ITC’s highly-experienced professional audio engineer — was the one who quite rightly declined to appear in the credits.
What happened was that I recorded the show using a new software/hardware combo and, although the levels looked OK, they were really too high. You can never really recover from a mistake like that, but I had to try. Thanks to the power of Adobe Audition the results were at least passable, albeit decidedly sketchy.
That’s an extreme example, but in general I’ve found that in the digital audio domain there are lots of ways to screw up, and that it takes a lot of specialized expert knowledge to avoid screwing up. I’m learning, but there’s still a lot to learn.
When I’m interviewing people on the phone, over the Internet, or in person, I’d rather spend less time worrying about gear and software settings and more time focusing on the conversation. I”m not a Happy Caster yet, but I’d sure like to be.
The question is whether there are (or will be) enough of us would-be Happy Casters to warrant the creation of the same kind of ecosystem in which the Happy Snappers flourish. I hope so!