Audio Recording & Sound Design
So another obviously important part of podcasting is audio recording. And even if you're not an audio engineer, a producer, or anything, and you wanna be the talent or the host, these are really good things to be conscious of when you're making a podcast. So, one is, the thing we do, unplug the fridge. I love the sounds of the kitchen, But I don't need to hear a fridge fan, and like I think wherever you are, like I always unplug peoples' fridges and then, so that I don't ruin all their groceries, I put my car keys inside the fridge, and so then when I'm trying to drive away, then I remember and go plug our guest's fridge back in.
Good pro-tip, cuz the guest gets mad if you leave and then everything defrosts.
Yeah, you don't wanna be that person. But, so like whatever "unplug the fridge" is for you, like turn off the ceiling fan, shut all the windows, For Alexander's interview, it was 90 degrees in L.A. And they made him shut all the windows in their house and we were sweaty, and it...
was kinda messy but I wanted--
We just started drinking more and more wine and then everything loosened up and so it was kinda good in that other way.
Another thing is get your levels, and always have your interviewee introduce herself. Even if you're gonna write a host intro, you wanna hear them say their own name, so you can hear how they pronounce it, how they say their name, and you want them to, it's kinda like the official start of the interview. For them, it feels like "we're starting now, "we're doing this thing."
Although, often, we don't often don't do it at the start.
Sometimes I do it at the very end because their energy is higher at the end, and they've loosened up, and that seems like they're more their natural selves.
Or sometimes we show up and we just dive right in with a subject, and we just go off on this conversation, and you don't need to like stop and say "Wait a minute. "You didn't introduce yourself." So, it can happen at any point.
Yeah, and while you're doing that, you can get your levels for the rest of the day. So like how you want your volume and the recording to sound. The next thing is get close, and we're doing one-on-one interviews. I'm like right here with people, if we're sitting down, my knees might be touching them. I always tell them that's gonna happen before it happens or like see if they're comfortable with that. So just don't be afraid to get what you need to do with their permission to get the good sound. And along with getting close, is like kinda getting awkward, This is when you aren't really a human, you're really more of a sound-maker. And that is just, like, if somebody says something, and you wanna like internal reference this, like if you were like "Mise en place, bechamel, roux" or all these chef-y terms that I didn't know, I'm gonna stop you and be like "Can you back up and explain what those things are?" And sometimes I do that with our interviewees.
Or, if, you know... A firetruck goes by right while they're saying something really great, even though it might break the flow a little bit, if you feel like it's worth it, don't be afraid to just say, "sorry," wait til the firetruck goes by, "Can you say that again?" The first time that happened, I felt like "this is weird," but actually it's not that weird and people are cool with it and they'll say it again. Cuz pretty much people want to tell their story, so.
Yeah, and you want people to sound good and they're gonna appreciate that you don't have a fire engine going through when they're telling you about their relationship with their mom or something. And this is just a very basic thing, get room tone which is the sound of the room when nobody is talking, so when you're editing, you have sort of a sound bed underneath when you make edits and you can't hear the sound drop out
Right, you can use it as this kind of glue that goes between mortar that's between the bricks of delight.
That's exactly right, Cal And also, you might be like "whatever," but when you don't get room tone, you're very sorry that you didn't get it, so that's sort of the cardinal rule And then our last thing is always be recording. I always, I turn on my microphone when we're getting out of the car, and I turn it off when we're driving away from someone's house. And I have my headphones on, so they know I'm recording. I'm not trying to sort of do any sort of surveillance on this person, or catch things that they don't have consent to. It's just about catching the things that you might have not expected in the interview. Like these magic moments that happen sometimes right at the beginning and you don't want to be caught off-guard.
And we had one when we did our very first episode. We went to Frances' house It was a rainy winter, we made it through floods,
And we got to Fran's house and luckily we were rolling.
We just saw your deer
It really belongs to him
Keeping an eye on things
There's like a nine of them they come through the yard every day at five for cocktails. They kinda munch at the cactus like they're fucking canapes.
You have snacks ready for them?
Yeah, it's their cocktail hour. Come on in! Come on in. Get out of the wet, get out of the wet. (man and woman laughing) (overlapping voices)
Come on in! Woohoo! And we're gonna get cozy
Tell me your name again.
Kristina, William, Fran, Cal, okay. We got it all set. Do you want slippers?
I think I'm alright.
Aw, come on, you can have--
I love that moment cuz you like see Frances McDormand as a very nurturing human person outside of like maybe her character. It's like a mix, it's like a mix of her like cussing characters, who are like "Let's do this!" And also like Frances McDormand as a nice mom. Like "Put your slippers on when you're inside the house."
I thought I was being polite, like "No, no. I don't want slippers," And she's like "You need slippers." I got to wear Joel Coen's slippers. (laughter)
Since her husband's a director.
May that happen to you one day.
It's nice to include, I liked that opening moment. Then you get a sense of like she lives in the woods somewhere with these deer.
I just realized that maybe Joel doesn't know I wore his slippers. (laughter)
He's probably burning them right now. (laughter)
The next thing that's so crucial to our show is sound design. Sound design is like our teaching tool. So we use sounds to be like more of like a map. We use sound design as a signpost in a way. I don't wanna say signpost cuz it's not visual but it's a soundpost in some way.
Yeah, but it takes you through the journey, right? It's kind of the the points that you hit along the journey and to think about sound in that way, it probably is natural, more natural for you, but it's kinda hard for me to get to that place like I couldn't at first understand how we were gonna make this happen.
Yeah, so if we're having someone chop their onions, sometimes I have the noises of chopping the onions so just so people will be like "Oh yeah, I am doing the right thing." And then we switch it to "now we're at the stove, "and the sizzle is at the stove." Also stuff like that is really helpful for, I have a lot of recorded sounds that I put-- if we have part of our interview where we're sitting at the table, and I wanna move that section to where we when we were cooking the spaghetti, then I'm gonna put sizzling sounds under that, so a little bit of sonic trickery that we do.
And it's also remembering of course that you're not video. You're audio, and so to play with your strength there. Like what can we get, what's special about audio, what can we evoke with audio that you wouldn't quite get with video? And so, finding those really beautiful sounds, sounds that take you into the kitchen with us is really important.
So that goes like sound-first storytelling. We're finding out, we're listening to a lot of food podcasts Specifically, they don't really highlight the amazing sounds that happen in the kitchen. If you stop and just listen to like-- I'm kind of like a geek on these sort of things, but I like hearing a good pepper grinder. I appreciate that. I can tell the difference between different sizzles. I've learned a lot of new sizzles now from doing this show. Spaghetti sounds very different than a wilted onion.
Also one of the things that Kristina maybe you already know, or that we learned, was that because sometimes there would be this great sound happening, and I'd be like "I'm getting this sound!" And Kristina was smart enough to know that we can recreate that sound and add that in later, right? So if there's a great sound happening but at the same time our guest is saying something poignant or important or instructional, it's okay to let that sound go, we can get that later. So you have to prioritize on the fly.
Right. And that goes into we're creating a sonic kitchen, essentially. With sound design, I could totally make the room be like "Does it feel like we're in a kitchen?" But then you're kinda missing the details and nuance that maybe you can't hear as a listener once it's been translated to podcast. So what we do after we've done the live interview is we go back to Cal's house, sometimes on a different day, and we do the whole recipe end to end all over again. And that's when I really focus on like this is the sound of running water over chard. This is the sound when the sizzle is lower.
But that also provides, and this is where it all started coming together for me, is that that provides this kind of like an armature, like and architecture upon which all of the audio that we got, because when we're, when we go to our guest's kitchen, we're there for like four hours. And it's rambling and yes we're cooking, but we stop because it's time for the twerk lesson, or we gotta put the dog out, or we gotta, you know, we're hungry, whatever it is, and so, you know, I was like "How are we gonna get this four hours crunched down to like 40 minutes, have it make sense, have it be interesting," and this is the thing that kind of, at least for me was a little bit of a breakthrough. Was to cook it again straight through without telling all of our stories. We bring our sound engineer in, and I teach him the dish again, and we cook it straight through. We don't stop and tell stories about our moms or anything, we do capture some of the sounds at that time, but we also get that, like, how long does it really take to make this? And importantly, not just how long does it take me to make it, because I can do it fast. I'm quick with food, choppy choppy stuff. (laughter) But how long does it take a sound engineer, for example, to make it? And that becomes the sort of template for our episode.
Right, or like a map. So, the first time, the first episode we did. The Frances McDormand episode, I was really in storyteller narrative mode, I was like "This moment is great, and this moment is great." And then like "This is our beautiful first draft." And Cal's like "So you gave everyone like four minutes "to cook rice?" Like "We need a little more time than that "to cook some rice and let the water boil." And I was like "Crap!" So then doing this using our recipe as a map, then I'm sort of plugging in between all the moments, the recipe instructions. I'm plugging in the sort of sonic gems in there of gems that we get.
Oh, and wait, your favorite sound.
Oh! I wanna play you my favorite sound cuz this is a sound.
You're gonna love it. (light, steady sizzling)
Spaghetti frying in a pan. (laughter) But it just sounds so different than regular old spaghetti.
Yeah! It's like crack-crack-crackling.
But I like to play to play with those moments because they're both a guide, but it's also really fun. And then other sonic things we try to incorporate is beside the interview aspects of our show, like Tommy reading his poetry like I said, or like we wove like Big Freedia's live show of Big Freedia to get a sense of like how she hypes up the crowd, and how energetic it is. So we'd always try to look for other things to create little scenes within our interviews so it's not just a two-way, but it adds a little more sonic texture.
And I think that's, that's it. This is one of our favorite quotes from Anthony Bourdain. One of our favorites. And we want you to go forth and get cooking and make your own art.
Yeah, and experiment!