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Mixing and Sound Design for Podcasters

Lesson 5 of 10

What to Look Out for with Archival Tape

Jim Briggs

Mixing and Sound Design for Podcasters

Jim Briggs

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Lesson Info

5. What to Look Out for with Archival Tape

Lesson Info

What to Look Out for with Archival Tape

Let's talk about archival tape. Archival tape, you're thinking about anything that's coming from an outside news agency, I would consider a YouTube clip as archival tape. That's probably the kind of stuff that you're getting the most. YouTube clips, it's compressed audio, just like an mp3, so be aware of that. It's something where you might very well be able to get your hands on a better quality copy of that if you're reaching out to whatever, NBC4 or whoever it is who originally created that tape. You might not, I'm not gonna argue that local news, especially local TV news, is gonna be the place where you're gonna find the best archival practices. But it's worth looking out, and it's also a chance to communicate with those folks. Yeah, okay, we'd like to request the opportunity to use your tapes. So source it carefully. With reveal, again, we're on a show that's on hundreds of stations. I think that regardless, it's a good idea to buy into the same practices and treat it like it's gon...

na be heard by millions of people, even though at the beginning, it's probably not. So source your tape carefully. Ask who it belongs to, understand what fair use is and what its limitations are. We used a song in the show recently, it so happened that the song pertains to 1927 flooding, so we could say, there was so much flooding that people were writing songs about it. It was working its way into pop culture, so we had a qualified fair use argument. But just if it's like, the show is about holidays so I'm gonna use Madonna's Holiday, that's not gonna pass the test of fair use. So understand the limitations. Archival tape is probably gonna be pretty well mixed in terms of balances. It's most likely something that aired on some other platform and was mixed for it. The relative balance is within it, of music, of voice, of ambience are gonna be there. Although, man, you hear some TV audio, they are not doing the slow gentle fade. They are turning it around in half the day at best. Most archival tape is gonna have some kind of degree of noise to contend with. Obviously, it's from an old 78 recording, you've got a lot of surface noise that's just by virtue of playing this record, exists. So that's something you have to worry about. It might be a city council meeting on a really crummy system where you plugged into a mult box and you've got a ground hum or something like that. You're gonna take what you can get in those scenarios, and know that maybe by having a tool like a zutopar X, you might have some shots at improving those things. But sometimes it's just so unintelligible, that the only thing that that tape can really be good at is color. But, that color could be so compelling, it's a call from inside a prison. And then you're really putting the listener in a privileged place. That's one reason serial was so huge, is I can't talk to Ednan, but she did and she did the work. And she did that over months and got into a place that not many people are gonna. Your hustle is another show that's catching fire right now, for different reasons but you're putting the listener in a space that they don't have access to. But if that tape isn't doing it for you, you may need some set up from a host or reporter. It's really hard to hear, but what you're hearing is X. So and so, pleading to the guard or something like that. Sorry, this is getting dark, let's move on. (laughing) So you can have noise from the medium, you can have environmental noise, you can have buzzes or hums, HVAC and broadband noise, like we talked about. Clicks and pops, in the digital world, you can be dealing with lord knows who's practice. So that kind of stuff can be an issue. Especially if you're dealing with highly compressed data compression media where the object is to get it to the audience as quickly as possible. And then there can be distortion, most of that stuff will be analog over modulation. If it's older tape. The digital realm, you're less likely to have that compression, it's probably gonna be your main issue, the kind of stuff that sounds like a bad mp3. So restoration software can really be a sound investment. It's the kind of thing when I was teaching classes at the new school and I had someone who was graduating, I was just like, buy iZotope RX, learn what to do with it, and then tell people you can help rescue their audio. 'Cause you'll get some gigs while you're learning some of the other stuff. But it is so good as a complete package at handling the different issues that'll come up. Those broadband issues, the global issues, and then the really granular ones like little clicks and pops or mouth clicks. So we're gonna go to a demo now. We're gonna take some of our audio into iZotope RX, out of pro tools. Okay, so let's... Let me have it here. Ah, I know what it is. Okay. Thank you for standing by. Okay, we're gonna import some audio into the session. I'll show you how to do this in pro tools 'cause it's pretty straightforward and it's a good practice to develop. So file, import audio, I just learned the shortcut for that, so I use that more frequently. I'm gonna pull in from file structure here, and I've got this audio to import. So I'm just gonna select all those things, I'm gonna hit convert, these will drop them into my audio files folder. I'm practicing good session file management here. Okay, it's gonna ask me where it wants to go. By default, it's gonna go into my audio files folder. So while we're doing that, one of the, the tape I'm gonna pull in here, it's just me on my cellphone. A little note to self, that might be the kind of thing is content that you're dealing with because you can't get a guest any other way. So you're like, okay, can you record yourself on a voice memo? And it's good to know what you're going to encounter in those situations too. Alright, so let's pull, I'm gonna make all my tracks visible here. Okay. Okay, actually this is what I was intending to use for a little look at archival. Another difficult story, I won't get too deeply into it, but it's a victim and a detective. Again, you're in a privileged space, you're in that room where they are calling another bad actor and trying to figure out what's going on here. But when you listen to this audio, you hear... (ringing) a high degree of noise in your signal to noise ratio. Hello. Hey, is this Jay? Probably recorded speakerphone in the room, which is it's own kind of problem if you have a direct copy from a program like Tape A Call or something like that. You're dealing with mobile phone quality, which sadly we've taken such a step back. By the way, if you're ever doing phone recordings and you have access to a landline, go for that, it's always the best. So we've got a mobile phone call recorded in a room, we've got a lot of noise. So I'm gonna go into iZotope RX, it's got a little client called Connect, which is the way that it sends audio to other places. It works as an insert, we covered inserts in the last class as well. But this is what's called audio suite processing. So we're doing this offline, we're gonna send it back into Pro Tools after we do a little correction on it. And it functions that way as opposed to something that you could go and tweak the setting on later on, so we're gonna commit to these changes. So I send it, I call up RX. You can see... (ringing) You're hearing those tones too. We talked about, they'll be kind of a single line through. And you see a lot of noise in the lower frequencies. This would be something where with EQ, I'll just get rid of all this low rumble. There are a couple of reasons for that but it's serving no purpose in the mix, so I'll do a little bit of filtering to help that out. So here's one tool that's called broadband noise reduction. We are taking a look at what the noise floor of this recording is. We are adjusting relative to that, how much of it do I want to suppress? And you'll hear the quality of that. So it's called... there's spectral de-noise, which is gonna work more generally, more globally, they've got a voice de-noise plugin that I usually gravitate to for these situations. But I might use spectral in an archival situation just because it's less like a studio voice recording or something like that. It's just, we're dealing with a lot of noise. So I hit preview. It's showing you consistently where that noise floor is. And then I grab a part of it where there aren't any sound events. So we'll learn that. Okay, and then you see just some really basic controls. But what we've got is a threshold that's set by that noise floor that we just learned about. And then what we're kind of saying is, if it goes over this threshold, it's good. If it's below it, suppress it a little bit. We're gonna dip it a little bit. So let's listen to the effect of that. Okay, find a cooler part to. Hello. Hey, is this Jay? Yeah it is Jay, who is this? Benny. So I'm doing something here called AB listening. I'm listening to the effect when it's in and when it's out. I'm just previewing this little section of it. And when it's out, that noise returns, and I'm just doing a little dance of how much can I do to make this better? When does it start to have a negative effect on it? So if I like what I'm doing, I will, good old command A, your Microsoft Word copy-paste, select all, all that kind of stuff translates, so go ahead and use that any time you can. I'm gonna process it, and you see that a lot of what that broadband noise that was there is gone. It didn't really kill a lot of this low frequency hum. But definitely a lot of stuff that's in the place where vocal intelligibility is really happening, we've eliminated it, and that's gonna be a big help. So I can send that back, and if you take a look, there's a send back button in Pro Tools. If you're a total dork like I am, you program a little hot key to do that. And just by undoing and redoing, you can see what that did. That makes sense? So that's one thing. And then some of the other extended tools that you have in here, you can just do all sorts of, it's almost like a Photoshop for audio. If this were a noise that I didn't want to hear or some kind of intermittent tone that was happening, a smoke alarm in somebody's room, I can just take this out. So there's a tool call spectral repair, and some of these other tools here, I'm not gonna go through every one them, but some of them are really, for processing individual offending items, and then some of them are more global like the broadband noise reduction. So this is spectral repair, attenuate is to reduce. So I'm in the attenuate section. It is interpolating from the audio above it, and below it, to say how loud is it in those frequency ranges. And what happens there is it'll actually lessen the impact of it. I don't know if it'll cut it out completely. And this is not an argument against just cutting this out, if that's what you want to do. But if there's something intruding in real time on an important fact or statement, by all means, it's a good way to go. So I just process it and it's gone. It's a very much in the background phone ring. (ringing) So that particular sound, here in this case, I want it, but it's very much in the same category of something like a smoke alarm, beep or something like that. Which I get in my tape far more often than you would think. Okay. And if you have questions about RX, and maybe what are some of the other tools in there, I use it for scrubbing out little clicks, kind of in that same way with the spectral repair tool. It's pretty genius. Those guys are making great stuff.

Class Description

To be successful at podcasting, you’ve got to have a solid understanding of the mixing process and sound design. But even experienced producers can feel overwhelmed by the intricacies of mixing and the cornucopia of tools available to them.

Taught by Jim Briggs, lead sound designer and engineer for “Reveal,” this course covers all of the basic elements of a mix from top to bottom. Students will become conversant in the language of mixing, understand the workflow and various stages of the mixing process, and be ready to explore different mix tools so they can practice on their own.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Approach equalization sculpting and compression packaging.
  • Mix artfully and think musically about your finished product.
  • Deal with all of the tools and avoid option anxiety.
  • Know what your anchor is and how to build a mix.
  • Work with studio voices to achieve consistency, continuity, and quality.
  • Work with field voices, ambient sounds, and other tapes.
  • Perform fades and crossfades.
  • Utilize music so it adds depth to your podcast.


Damian Drohan

Great instructor, knowledgeable and very clear in delivery. No jargon, all terminology explained and demonstrated. One minor niggle is that the course is really like a chapter of a larger course and it's a little too thin on content to really "stand on its own". Overall, a good course, well delivered but a little light on content

a Creativelive Student

Great course. Love the explanations accompanying the tutoring. FYI, the time stamp for class number eight is wrong. It's about nine-and-a-half minutes.