When the mic fails: Deciding to scrap a podcast episode

Posted by Terri Lydon | Aug 07, 2023

We're here because we love podcasting. It gives you a one-on-one connection with a global or niche audience. And when it works, it’s great. But not every recording session goes as planned. Technical glitches, uninspiring discussions or unforeseen circumstances can lead to a podcast episode that simply falls short of expectations. 

That’s when you have to make a tough decision – Should you scrap the episode? 

Vision vs. reality

As podcasters, we embark on recording sessions with a clear vision of what we hope to achieve. Whether it's an engaging conversation with a guest you’ve been wanting to get to know better, an in-depth analysis of a topic or a storytelling adventure, we set high expectations for ourselves and our episode. But the reality is that not every recording will align with that vision. Technical glitches, prolonged awkward pauses or a lack of chemistry between you and your guest can quickly derail an episode and send listeners elsewhere.

Recognize the signs

One of the first steps in deciding to scrap a podcast episode is recognizing the signs that things aren't going well. These could include:

  • Lack of flow: The conversation feels forced.

  • Low energy: Your guest or you sound disengaged—just not captivating. (If you run into this problem more than once, you might revisit your guest selection process to be sure you’re picking the right guests.) 

  • Rambling: The discussion becomes unfocused, with far-flung tangents and a disorganized structure. (You can avoid that by scripting much of your part in advance.)

  • Technical issues: Poor audio quality or unexpected background noise can ruin the listening experience. You can avoid these by optimizing your recording space

  • Uninspiring content: The episode fails to offer valuable insights, entertainment or new information.

  • Editing: Can the episode be salvaged through editing? Sometimes, with skillful—aggressive—editing, you can trim or rearrange content to improve the flow and coherence.

  • Guest considerations: If the episode involves a guest, communicate openly with them about the challenges faced during the recording.  They might have valuable input on whether to proceed, and may be open to rerecording the episode.

The decision-making process

Scrapping an episode can be emotionally challenging, especially when you've invested time and effort in planning, recording and maybe even some editing. But it's crucial to prioritize the overall quality of your podcast and the experience of your listeners. Consider these factors when making the decision:

  • Listener experience and long-term impact: Put yourself in the shoes of your listeners—especially listeners for whom this might be their first exposure to your series. (And if you’re growing your audience—as you should aim to do—every episode will be someone’s first.). Will they enjoy and/or benefit from the episode, or will it likely lead to disinterest or disappointment? Which may then lead to you losing a subscriber. Consider the potential long-term impact of including a subpar episode. Could it affect your podcast's or brand’s reputation or listener retention?

  • Brand alignment: Does the episode align with the overall tone, theme and values of your podcast? If not, it might be worth reconsidering its inclusion.

Lessons learned

It can be disheartening to scrap an episode, but it can make you a better podcaster:

  • Preparation is key: Adequate preparation, research and rehearsal can help prevent lackluster recording sessions.

  • Technical readiness: Ensure that all technical aspects, such as equipment, software and recording environment are optimized.

  • Flexibility and adaptability: Be ready to pivot if the conversation isn't going as planned.

  • Communication: If issues arise during recording, don't hesitate to address them in the moment. That can save your episode.

  • Quality over quantity: Prioritize quality over the quantity of episodes. It's better to have fewer episodes of high quality than numerous episodes that fail to meet your standards.

Deciding to scrap a podcast episode that didn't go well is a tough call, but it's a testament to your commitment to delivering valuable, engaging content to your listeners. 

Even the most seasoned podcasters encounter challenges, and these experiences can serve as valuable learning opportunities. By recognizing problems early, making thoughtful decisions, and embracing the lessons learned, you'll continue to refine your podcasting skills and create content that delights listeners.