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Mixing and Sound Design for Podcasters

Lesson 3 of 10

Working With Studio Voices

Jim Briggs

Mixing and Sound Design for Podcasters

Jim Briggs

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Lesson Info

3. Working With Studio Voices

Lesson Info

Working With Studio Voices

We know that the studio is a controlled environment, it's our most controlled situation. When you're out in the field, anything can happen and a lot of that is what we want, right, we want those surprises. We want things to intrude upon the recording, with some exceptions and we also want the chance to get them right a few times if we need to, but in the studio, you are really in control, you're really, if your host or your regular voices are gonna create continuity for the listener, they're gonna create a sonic identity, there is going to be the sound of a space, so you get to choose if that space sounds like your bathroom or if it sounds really nice and tight and like you're hearing that voice directly and intimately. So for me, I developed a practice, I use the same mics every time, I use the same signal chain every time. I'm using a external interface here, so when I'm doing my home work, if I'm ever doing any recording, it's going through the same chain every time. The more dead t...

he environment, usually the better that's going to be for your voiceover, you're not gonna be dealing with reverb, that's one, distracting, two, can make editing a difficult endeavor. You're also dealing with performance and coaching, getting this person, who's a human being, to feel really comfortable delivering words that sometimes aren't even their own. So that can be a really tough nut to crack for people. I'm always, I do not consider myself any kind of guru in this matter, but if I can respond to the feeling of someone who's on mic and I can identify with them and maybe the insecurities that they might be having, maybe the things that they might be worried about or overly focused on, I'm gonna try and see what I can do to put them in the space where the only thing they have to focus on is telling a story. I might get them off the script if I need to, or my bullet point descriptive I need to, I might, I may not talk to them at all if I know that that's distracting to them, and we can set up a Slack chat or something like that along the side. So you just want to be responsive to the people that you're working with as studio voices. Important things for us, variables can be distance from the mic, two inches from the mic on day one, no, that's a long, that's more than two inches, but like this, that can have a great impact on the recording, it can have an impact on how close they sound, how warm they sound, again, how much room you are picking up versus the voice. You want the person to stay hydrated. (slight audience laughter) So you make sure that they do that. You want to make sure they're in good health and we know that Terry Gross smokes but, actually fact check that, so from the fourth wall, fact check that, don't put that up if it's not true, but I'm reasonably certain about that. (woman laughs) So anyway, people do kind of impact their own vocal health in varying degrees, so like can you get them to warm up? Can you engage them in a little conversation? Can you test levels by checking to see what they had for lunch that day? Just get them in kind of casual conversational tone, so you know what that is, for this person, especially if you've never talked to them, spoken with them before, and just kinda set yourself up for the best possible studio recording, getting a natural performance that doesn't sound scripted really does take time. There are one single take geniuses out there who can really turn it on and are great hosts, and those are usually people who are working in the live world because they're just so good at it, but for most people, it's a practice and it's something that takes practice. When you get to the session, that should never be the first time that your person is seeing their script, so you wanna talk it over with them, have them look at it. Ideally, have them read it out loud, and if you are the person writing the script for somebody else, you read it aloud too, does this sound like something a human being would say? (chuckles) You will be surprised how much a writer will fall in love with their own language to the point where they don't understand that that just sounds so unnatural. So reading it out aloud for the session is really important. Editors are gonna look out for these kinds of elements within a specific tracking date, someone's pitch, especially, are they having to match pitch in a prior recording? Pace, it's just important, we want something that I'm often asking my host to do is just to take a pause before taking the next breath, because if they're racing motormouthing through text, taking a breath after every piece, it becomes really hard to fashion an edit out of that, because that breath is something that I got to get out of there before it happens, so can you wait a beat for me? Give me a dramatic pause? When you know that you're gonna need it. It's gonna pay off later on because it'll be maybe it's a space where music can take a beat, maybe it's a space where we hear a little kind of flourish of ambience kinda popping up in the middle. And presence and closeness, these are just things that are in the studio, you have your best shot at getting those. Breaths and subtleties are gonna be more present in your voice track from the studio. Again, you are this far from the person's voice, so imagine someone speaking to you three inches from your ear, and that's what the microphone is hearing, so you want to understand that that kinda stuff is gonna be a factor, and it can also produce some kind of unpleasant noises that you'd never be clued into without having on headphones and being that close. We'll talk about equalization later, but we can use that to match tracks up. Someone's a little bit bassier on one day, we can kind of massage that and kind of make a difference there. And then, just when you're tracking a voice actor or voice talent, a forced edit is something that you do when you can't get that person anymore. It's not worth it when you have the opportunity to retrack it, so get them in there, get them doing a few takes, know that something can be a composite of multiple takes and as long as the viewer, I'm sorry, as long as the listener isn't picking up on those changes, no one else is the wiser. Multi-person recordings can introduce some issues where I'm picked up by Steve's mic, right? So there are a couple of issues that can happen there, one of them is phase, so how many people have heard of kind of phase issues? Okay, only a few. So phase is all about timing differences, so if I'm on mic one, Steve's on mic two, and there is this much difference in time of arrival from my voice to reach Steve's mic, there is going to be a little bit of kind of weird overlap in time of these audio files, and they can actually cause certain frequencies to be canceled out or it can make things sound a little thin, so positioning mics so we talk about mics that are cardioids, if you have taken some of the gear classes for this podcasting week, a cardioid mic is directional. It privileges what's in front of it. It has a rejection of what's in the back, and that's not 100%, it's not like sound can't travel through the air and reach the mic, but you give yourself a better shot, so if you have two cardioids, two people across from one another like this with this mic, directional mic facing him, this directional mic facing me, there's gonna be the least chance of bleed through into that other mic. Also, if you're working with two studio tracks, after the fact, the two tracks need to travel together. If you're not cautious about moving them around, you can end up with a situation where you are creating a phase problem by nudging something a little bit too much one way and not nudging the other. So group the editing can really help, and you can mute the other side of a recording when necessary. I find myself doing that more often than not, because the other person is sighing or they are typing or they are doing something else that distracts and as long as I'm in a highly controlled environment without a lot of noise, the audience is gonna feel the disappearance of that noise when I take that out. All right, so let's go to a little demo in Pro Tools, of what we call a two-way, two voices together in the studio. Okay, and so this is El another reporter. Hi El. Lisa is a Pulitzer Prize winning science and environmental reporter. She's gonna break it down for us, so, okay Lisa, I'm ready for my science lesson. I should warn you, science is not my thing, so please go slow. Okay, so we wanted to show. Okay, So you hear these two voices. You can see I've muted these clips where there's just kind of nothing going on on the other side. In Pro Tools that's just a quick key command, Command M and it shows up colored and visible. It grays out when it's not in use. So with this, I mean, it looks much more like the kind of checkerboard actualities in tracks mix as opposed to like us keeping and staying with this space that this person is in. You can also hear a little bit that Lisa is lower in level, so one of the things that I'm doing early on is kind of adjusting both of them to a ballpark. I mentioned that I am always working with my meters. In the broadcast world and reveal all the show that I work on is primarily, it was kinda first delivered as a broadcast, and then we've kind of thought about it as a podcast as well and maybe what's different about that experience for the listener. But in general, we are producing a broadcast first and then deriving from that the podcast. So the broadcast world, I have a mix level target to hit of minus 24 and this is loudness units is how they refer to it, but it's a reading of average levels over time, so it's kind of taking in that information and saying like, on average, how loud is this? So I know, okay, I'm trying to hit minus 24 with regularity and if I'm slipping too far in and out of that, then that can cause some issues. So one of the things that I like to use is clip gain. This is there are kind of two ways in Pro Tools, and Pro Tools, Avid are kind of of the same family, so if you've worked in video, you might understand this as well, but clip gain is a nice way to just kind of wholesale bring up the levels for, and you'll see that visible in the session too, it's nice to have that visual feedback, just undoing and redoing here. And I knew that she was quite a bit lower than El was when I was mixing this and I'm gonna call up some of my other visuals. There is a comments track section in Pro Tools, it's much kinder than the comments sections on the Internet. So I just left myself a little note to self, okay, it needs plus 13 of clip gain. And, that can be super helpful. I also leave little notes to myself up in the markers, really easy to just make these markers, and that's how I generated numbered ones for different tracking recording sessions and I'm pulling selects from, but you can also name them and kinda be strategic about that. So now you'll hear Lisa and she sounds quite a bit louder. Slow. Okay, so we wanted to show how levees actually impact rivers in flooding. The best way that we could think of. Okay, I'm gonna reset this meter reading just to. Okay, so we wanted to show how levees actually impact rivers in flooding. The best way that we could think. So studio voices are gonna be a little more dynamically regulated for the most part, so you are probably not gonna hear so much loud jumps in and out of level that's, has some exceptions. One of my favorite voices in the business is and Anna Sale from the show Death, Sex and Money. She's a terrific laugh, but you gotta watch out for it (chuckles). It can get pretty loud. So that's something that I'll kinda massage after the fact, but you want to have those moments that produce those too, because they are great radio. So now she's pretty healthy. Okay. I could probably bring her up more, I said that, I said I'm up plus 13 in my note to self, let's see how that. Okay. So we wanted to show how levees actually impact rivers in flooding. The best way that we could think of was actually to build a miniature model. So I'm just using this neat command in Pro Tools where I can triple click and select the whole track, so this is nice 'cause I haven't done any clip gain on this yet, so I can kind of do it to everything even though there are edits involved. Model. Now we're seeing the time-lapse video of them, looks like the train settings that we would make. Yeah, yeah. So I'm gonna look a little bit of voice editing later on, but these are, this is just kind of an introduction to some of the practices and pitfalls that you might have in working with studio tracks, if you have two people in conversation with one another, you just need to consider how you're getting in and out of each voice at every time and also if they are overlapping, pay attention to those areas, because those are probably places where each voice is trying to get a word in and your levels might start to quickly get hotter than this. I tried to think of like, I don't really pay a ton of attention to, this range or my long-term levels at the very beginning, because I'm just kind of in this business of setting things up, I'm really gonna be doing fine tuning and trying to keep things going, knowing what my anchor is in the mix across the entire piece, but I'll listen through and do a pass where I'm just kind of keeping more of an eye on those levels, and if I'm at minus 24 and my range is between like four and six decibels, I mean, from the loudest to the softest thing, that's pretty good, it means that the listener is not gonna have to be constantly adjusting the volume and, no but that's not fun for anybody.

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.