According to Kim Kardashian, Kanye West shot the photo for his new album ye “on his iPhone on the way to the album listening party” Thursday night.
While The Life of Pablo’s album art evoked MS Paint, ye evokes an Instagram Story. The album art is fine. It’s good enough.
Lately, in my free time, I’ve been listening to a podcast called “The Podcast Engineering Show.” In the show, host Chris Curran talks to podcast producers about their engineering processes. I’m doing this because I’ve recently (re)started hosting and producing our podcast, Radio Motherboard. I record the show in my bedroom using a consumer-grade USB audio interface, a microphone I bought for $80, Skype, and a hardware mixer that cost $150. I’m editing it in Adobe Audition. Most of this feels like overkill.
I am not an audio engineer (I’m learning!), but we’ve released six episodes in the last three weeks. They don’t sound perfect. There is clipping, and there are vocal pops, and sometimes there’s static because Skype drops. The levels aren’t always perfect. But it sounds good enough.
These are all things that can be fixed with time, care, expertise, better equipment. Broadly speaking, this is the conceit of The Podcast Engineering School and many thousands of YouTube videos, articles, and podcast programs on the internet. I’ve read/listened to/watched many of them.
There are many fantastic-sounding podcasts out there; some build soundscapes and use sound as a narrative device to transport listeners into the story. That is not the goal with Radio Motherboard. We want to talk about the news, interview the people making news, and discuss the stories that we’re writing about. We want it to sound good, but it doesn’t need to sound perfect.
It’s possible, at least according to the interviews I’ve heard on the Podcast Engineering School, to spend many hours removing “uhhs” and “umms” and to condense time to remove natural breaths that hosts or interview subjects take. There are many hundreds of different plugins you can use to manipulate sound, and audio engineers fight over which Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) they should use or which microphone is best for which situation. Again, this is fine. Audio engineering is difficult, it’s a profession, and it can be an art, if you want it to be.
But consumer technology that everyone has is often good enough to make something you can release to the world without embarrassing yourself. Skype has noise reduction; Adobe Audition can fix audio levels with one click; you can record decent audio on an iPhone in a pinch.
For years, we released Radio Motherboard episodes only intermittently because we were worried about making the audio and the editing sound perfect. As a result, we released very few podcasts. I wish we had just recorded and released more, because I enjoy making them, and because, if we had just recorded and released them, we’d be better at it now.
In the last few years, high production value media has been eaten alive by a bunch of randos on the internet who decided that content, voice, and personality matter more than making sure the production is perfect. Some of the most popular YouTubers—in fact, some of the most popular entertainers in the world—are people who literally sit in a room, talk to a camera, and put it on the internet. Others are vloggers who make a video every single day on consumer-grade technology with limited editing and audio production expertise or talent. Instagram and Vine have created a class of celebrities and influencers who shot stuff that was good enough on their iPhones. Millions of people watch Twitch streamers who take bathroom breaks in the middle of their streams without logging off, and continue watching an empty chair while they do.
And so I think Kanye West’s DIY album art ethos is a good one. He took a photo with his phone and put it on the internet. It’s good enough.