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Matt Wilcox

Musing

Feb 07th 2015

Reading my posts

Some of the posts on this website will begin to have an audio version available in addition to the text. In this post I explain my thought process for doing so.

The initial idea came about while I was listening to an audiobook, and realised that I like them for two main reasons:

  1. Firstly, they let me get through a story while I'm doing some other menial task, like mowing the lawn or walking to work.
  2. Secondly, I tend to absorb more of the story when I listen compared to when I read.

The first reason is self explanatory, the second is because I've got a bad habit of skim-reading over small parts of description or minor sections that aren't as interesting as the main thread I'm following. The more I get into a story the more likely I am to want to race ahead and find out what's going on, skipping minor details in the process. With an audiobook I have no choice but to listen to it all at one steady pace.

So I thought that if I was going to start writing little bits of fiction - maybe it'd be a neat idea to narrate them. It's something I do already during the writing process anyway; I find that I catch a lot of poor structure or bad writing if I review my work by reading it aloud. So, why not record that and publish it alongside the text?

Although the initial idea was related only to the creative writing pieces, I think it's actually a neat idea for all posts - the great benefit of spoken word over printed text is that it carries tone of voice. Some of the stuff I've written in the past has been read by other people and interpreted with different inflections than I'd intended; an audio recording is one way to help eliminate some of that problem.

There's only one case where I'm not sure how an audio version can work: articles that contain computer code in them. There's no sane way to audibly describe a block of code that I can think of - so I'm not sure whether to avoid those posts altogether, or read only the non-code parts. Or perhaps there's a solution to that problem the accessibility community could weigh in with? I've not been able to find anything, but if you know of some established way of dealing with audio descriptions of code blocks please let me know via Twitter, where I am @mattwilcox.

How I'm going about this

I've no experience recording this sort of stuff so I expect the first batch of recordings to sound a bit ropey; both in my performance and technically.

I'm working this out as I go along. There's some solid advice in a podcast I listen to by Dan Benjamin called The Podcast Method, but I'm not at a point where I want to spend a couple hundred pounds on microphones and other related recording equipment and software.

For now my Samson GO Mic, tethered to my noisy 2009 era iMac, and editing in Audacity will have to do. Also, I don't have a great room to record in at the moment so I'm sure some ambient noise and the poor room acoustics are going to distract a little. I can only apologise and hope that I can improve things over time.

With regard to older posts - I'm not sure whether to record those or not. I have a reasonably large back-catalog and as you may imagine, it takes a long time to do produce an audio recording.

Possibilities for the future

The site doesn't have any RSS feed yet, but when it does I'm considering having a sort of podcast-feed available for the audio recordings in addition to RSS feed. That way people could subscribe in iTunes or Overcast or whatever and have the audio delivered to their device as and when they appear on the site.

However, I'm not sure if I've got an audience that cares about a stream of new posts, and I'm not even sure if anyone really wants to listen to me read them! If you'd be interested in such a podcast feed, I'd be grateful if you could let me know via Twitter.