In defence of live recordings

Live podcasts are here to stay - so you may as well embrace them

Readers, I’m afraid I have a confession to make, which may well shock and appal you: up until last week, I’d never been to a live podcast recording. That may seem borderline scandalous coming from someone as invested in the podcast industry as I am, but it’s never something that I went out of my way to do - partly because many of my favourite podcasts are US-based.

You’ll be glad to know, however, that I have now rectified this oversight, and I went to my very first live podcast last Tuesday. The podcast in question was Greg Jenner’s outstanding history show You’re Dead To Me, discussing the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci with the able assistance of Dara O’Briain and professor Catherine Fletcher. It was a fantastically entertaining experience, and I’m now eagerly awaiting the next opportunity I’ll have to attend a live podcast event.

Thankfully, I probably won’t have long to wait, as live recordings are becoming more and more common. They’ve been a fixture for smaller shows for many years, but now even big names are getting in on the act, with the likes of The Rest Is Politics, That Peter Crouch Podcast and Sh*ts and Gigs running live shows and tours. The reception has been notable, with The Rest Is Politics in particular selling out the London Palladium in just seven minutes.

It’s not hard to see why live shows are so popular with podcasters; not only are they a great way to engage with fans, they also provide an excellent revenue opportunity through ticket and merch sales, as well as offering a great way to add value for paying subscribers, whether that’s through early access or dedicated subscriber-only live events. 

Indeed, some podcasts are based entirely on live recordings, with Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast being a standout example. I’ve always enjoyed listening to live episodes from my favourite podcasts, such as shows like Andy Zaltzman’s The Bugle and No Such Thing As A Fish

However, after talking to several podcast industry contacts recently, I’m starting to think I may be in the minority on this one. In fact, many of them said that they actively find live episodes off-putting from a listener’s perspective. For some, they lack the intimacy and personal connection of a normal episode, with hosts playing to the live audience rather than the at-home listeners. There’s also an unmistakable acoustic quality to most live recordings which differentiates them from regular content.

This is, of course, a very valid point; the intimate feeling of listening in on a conversation between friends is part of what makes a lot of podcasts successful, and that’s naturally impossible when you can hear the laughter of several hundred people at the same time. I can see how hearing a host riffing with an audience that you’re not part of might make some people feel somewhat excluded - like looking in at a raucous party from the wrong side of a window - but for me, that’s never been the case.

Personally, I’ve always had the opposite feeling; listening to live recordings makes me feel like I’m part of the audience, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I couldn’t physically be there. For me, the energy and enthusiasm of a live recording infuses the episode with a sort of infectious joy, particularly if it’s somewhat chaotic and ramshackle, as is the case with many live shows. 

It’s a different experience to listening to a regular episode, undoubtedly, but in a good way - it’s a refreshing change of pace in most cases, and it usually feels like the hosts are having an absolute whale of a time, which in turn puts me in a better mood. It reminds me of watching recordings of stand-up comedy: even though you’re not there, it’s still an enjoyable and entertaining experience. 

The financial and strategic benefits of live podcasts mean that they’re not going anywhere any time soon though, so it’s something we’re all going to have to learn to live with. For anyone that’s yet to come around on listening to live recordings after the fact, I’d strongly encourage them to try and embrace them. As for me, I’ll be busily scouring event listings for the next live show I can get myself along to.