Download: MP3 (56.2 MB)

My guest this week is Dan Powell. Dan is one half of Dead Signals Production, creator of the popular Archive 81 and Deep Vault found sound, radio drama podcast.

In this episode, we talk about his recording process, how he designs sound, and his editing process. He shares some of the hurdles he overcame while producing the podcasts and what advice he’d give to anyone interested in making a modern radio drama.

Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
  • Don’t buy your gear new—if you buy the best gear used, it’ll last you forever.
  • The hardest part of any narrative creative medium is the transition between two parts.
  • Make sure you understand what’s happening in your environment before you choose a space to record in.
  • What you make should be in conversation with your audience, but don’t make something just because it’ll get a lot of downloads.
  • Find people who are established in your field, reach out to them, and ask for some direct advice.
  • Think about how the ambience and background noise where you’re recording can contribute to the story and the feel of your whole piece.
Show Notes
  • 03:30 Aaron: Hey Dan; tell me a little bit about yourself—where you’re from and where you are now. Maybe a little bit about what your path to audio and podcasting has looked like over the course of your life.
  • 03:48 Dan: I was born in Rome, Georgia and I was there until I was about 18. It was a medium/small size town in the middle of the woods. I spent a lot of time by myself alone with my thoughts, which is probably what caused me to gravitate to sci-fi, horror, and secular fiction. I began making radio dramas at the age of eight or nine. I used Window 95 Sound Recorder to make these one-man shows.
  • 04:29 Sometimes it would be me and sometimes it would be my friends, and we would get in front of a microphone and see what happened. That’s really what introduced me to audio editing and creative sound design. From an early age, I was interested in what would happen if you slowed down, sped up, or changed the pitch of your voice.
  • 04:49 I went to Syracuse University for college and majored in English. I loved reading and still really do, but I realized I was spending all my free time in studios recording my friend’s bands (or recording myself), and that working with audio might be a good career path. I’d always been interested in creative writing, but I thought it might be good to develop a more technical skill or trade that I could have on the side while writing.
  • Soundsnap”>05:21 I ended up really enjoying working with audio and I decided to make that my primary creative and career pursuit. After school I moved to New York City. I interned, I did some odd jobs, I worked at an Apple store, and I eventually got my first job in the sound industry at Soundsnap, a commercial sound effects library. I did that full time for about two years and then transitioned to working there part time while making more time for freelance work, sound engineering, and working on my own podcast on the side. That’s where I’m at now.
  • 06:08 Aaron: You met Marc (the other half of Dead Signals) in college?
  • 06:14 Dan: Yeah, Marc and I met his senior year and my post-senior year. I stayed after I graduated to do a fellowship in audio engineering and sound design. One of the cool things about Syracuse is they have this program where if you get to the end of your four years and you decide you want to do something different than what you studied, you can apply for a fellowship that will let you stay an extra year. You basically get a free year of credits that you can do what you want with. I did that after I finished studying English so I could build up my portfolio and get some more one-on-one mentoring strictly with audio stuff. That’s where Marc and I met.
  • 06:52 Aaron: Then you guys formed Dead Signals Productions.
  • 06:56 Dan: We formed Dead Signals this time last year. Marc came and visited me in New York and we were talking about ideas we had. The project we worked on together in college was Marc’s senior thesis project, a radio play he wrote and produced. I was just acting in it, playing the lead. More recently, starting last year, was when we started collaborating and both giving equal input for the project.

The Recording Process

  • 07:36 Aaron: Let’s talk about Archive 81 and Deep Vault; the recording process and the tools you use to handle the editing. Marc said you guys recorded Archive 81 in a bedroom. Do you remember which mic you used for that?
  • Sennheiser MKH30″>Sennheiser MKH 8040. I got this mic because it’s a really good all-purpose sound design mic. It’s good for all-purpose folio recording, like footsteps, fabric movements, and every day objects you want to record. It’s also really good for ambient field recording. We recorded the dialog with this mic and another mic called a Sennheiser MKH30, which is a bi-directional stereo mic. The two of these things together form a really good pair for mid-side stereo recording.
  • 08:51 What I was really interested in when I bought these mics was, one, it was the best deal I found on eBay, and two, I was interested in doing more ambient field recording. Living in New York City there’s so many interesting sounds everywhere. There are neighborhoods, parks, and subways. You can turn a corner and be in an entirely different sonic landscape than you were just in.
  • 09:17 I wanted something that was good for capturing my environment, but when it came down to produce Archive 81, after doing some tests, we realized that these mics would work just as well for dialog recording. I personally would have liked to use a wider diaphragm AKG microphone, but I still think the mics we used worked well for recording dialog. It’s good gear and it’s what we had available at the time.
  • 09:50 Aaron: I know a lot of podcasters who use $60 or $70 USB mics and there’s a big difference in quality between those and the MKH. What do they run used, close to $1,000?
  • 10:09 Dan: Close to $1,000. The mic I’m on right now goes for about $1,200 new, but I’m a big Craigslist and eBay deal-hunter. When I was first getting into audio, one of the best pieces of advice I got was when I was talking to someone five years my senior who’s successful and established in the music production scene here in New York. He said:

Don’t buy your gear new.

Even if you buy the best gear used, it’ll still last you forever.

  • 10:43 He told me, “I’ve made a spreadsheet of every piece of equipment I’ve purchased from when I first started out. Collectively I’ve saved about $30,000.” That really stuck with me, so now I only buy used gear. I got the mic I’m talking on now for about half of what it would cost new.
  • Shure BETA 87A”>SM7B dynamic mic and I’m currently on a Shure BETA 87A, which costs $250 new and I think I paid $110 for it used at Guitar Center and it’s an awesome sounding mic for podcasting.
  • 11:32 Dan: I like the richness of it. In general, I really like dynamic mics for podcasts. I like the rich low end and the proximity effect you can get. I use the mics I use because I want to have a lot of applications for things like sound design and field recording, but I don’t want to make it seem like you have to buy a $700 or $1,000 microphone. I’ve seen people get fantastic results with an SM58, which I use when I do event recording gigs. You can get one of those used on Craigslist for $50 in most cases. In many cases, it’s probably more ideal if you’re at home instead of a treated acoustic space because dynamic microphones do a better job of isolating the sound source and not picking up your refrigerator, your roommate, or your neighbors yelling at each other.
  • Here’s a clip of episode one of Deep Vault”>12:30 Aaron: I agree. I love the large diaphragm condensers, but you do need a quiet, treated room to make them sound good and not pick up a bunch of sound. Alright; let’s talk about sound design. Here’s a clip of episode one of Deep Vault, which has some dialog with some reverb on. I wanted to ask you about that, and about the part in the music where the footsteps transition into the beat of the song.
  • 15:27 First, let’s talk about the ambience and reverb you used. As I’m listening to it, there’s some kind of ambient sound in that. I’m not sure if it’s reverb in the space you recorded it in or if it’s reverb you added afterward. There’s also an air conditioning kind of “swoosh” background ambience. Can you describe how you achieved those effects?
  • impulse response reverb”>15:58 Dan: None of that reverb is natural. It’s all added in post. I exclusively use impulse response reverb, which is basically the ability to capture the sonic snapshot of a real, indoor space by going in and blasting a sign wave or white noise in it and then recording the echo that comes afterwards, then notching out the original sign wave in post. This gives a ghost emanation of what a space actually sounds like.
  • 16:56 There’s two reverbs fading out and in. There’s the outdoor reverb, which I have a light touch on. It’s meant to evoke the sense that the space is outdoors and then there’s the echo-y underground reverb of the vault they’re about to go into. If you listen prior to them entering the vault, you can hear how it evolves from one space to another. I think very visually when I’m working on it. I’ve said this a lot in various interviews, but because I’m working with Marc on the scripts from the beginning, I don’t really think of this as post production.

I’m always thinking about space and sonics as I’m reading the first draft of a show.

  • 17:44 I usually visually map out or make a flow chart of what the space looks like and how things need to transition from one stage to another. That helps me focus better. In the background, we have a desert ambient sound. It’s a field recording of a desert that’s near an urban area. You have some wind and outdoor air atmosphere, called the air tone, which is the outdoor equivalent of a room tone. If you search Soundsnap for air tone, you’ll find a bunch of ambient recordings of outdoor air spaces that don’t have crowds, people, or traffic.
  • 18:44 It’s more a general wash like you hear in that clip. There’s the air tone and then there’s the vault sounds—the ambient sounds of the space they’re going into, which is a field recording by a field recordist named Stephan March. I think it’s some recordings of some abandoned bomb shelters on the Danish coast. It’s some industrial room tones with some distant waves, but they have an underground low-fi industrial roominess to them. Those things blend together to create the atmosphere of the vault.
  • 19:38 Aaron: I’m embarrassed to say it now, but I was thinking these were effects you could achieve with something like the reverbs that come with ProTools or Logic Pro X. What program do you use to do all this stuff with?
  • 19:54 Dan: I use ProTools for editing, mixing, and basic sound effect placement. For what’s referred to as composite sound effects design—designing a sound effect that needs a lot more depth to it than what you can pull from a library as is—I use Logic. I do that for two reasons. One, I think it’s good to have separation between sound effect editing and show editing. I like to be in two different programs when I’m creating the sound of a robot or a door and when I’m editing the show. Having the different software environment helps to streamline that.
  • 20:35 The other reason is, though I do think ProTools is great, I think it’s very flawed for making things creatively from scratch. I would never write a song or demo a song in ProTools because I don’t think the user experience is tailored toward composition, whether that’s composing a song or compositing a sound effect from scratch.
  • 20:57 It’s great for editing and taking material that’s aesthetically already done—like you recording a guitar through an amp—but if you’re trying to dial in the tone of a guitar, I prefer to use Logic, something a little more built for making music from scratch. For this scene, I used pretty much all ProTools because I wasn’t designing anything beyond simply layering things together and the reverb that goes along with that. I wrote the music in Logic.

Dan’s Favorite Editing Programs & Plugins

  • 21:33 Aaron: Are there any stock plugins you use inside of Logic or do you have any favorites?
  • 21:43 Dan: I use Logic’s modular synth plugin, the ES2, a lot because I know it really well. It has a very particular sound but I’ve been using it for many years, and I can dial in the sound I want pretty quickly with it. I probably should learn some more synth plugins so I don’t get set in my ways.
  • 22:10 Aaron: What about reverb or special effects? I know there’s like 50 stock plugins inside Logic.
  • Space Designer Plugin for Logic Pro X”>22:25 Dan: Space Designer Plugin for Logic Pro X is incredible. It’s a great impulse response reverb plugin. I use Waves IR1 for the reverb in this scene, but it could have as easily been achieved with the stock Logic Space Designer plugin, probably easier even, because they have a larger native sample library. Any sound designer you talk to will say that Space Designer is the best free stock plugin of anything. That’s a big one. There aren’t a lot of other stock Logic plugins I use for sound design in terms of compositing. Although I do really like the basic Chorus and Phaser modulation stuff for voice processing for robot voices.
  • 23:22 Aaron: You wrote the music for the show. Is the music going to be available somewhere else later?
  • 23:31 Dan: Marc and I would really like to release an album of the music from our shows. It’s something we want to do and there’s a few reasons we haven’t done it yet. One reason is time. I’m very skittish about making sure everything is mixed properly. I wouldn’t want to release the music stand alone unless I was absolutely sure it was put together well. The other reason is that I write most of the music for our shows, but we do have some songs that are done with side collaborators and I would want to make sure it’s done legally and copywrite-wise we were in the clear. I want to sign some kind of licensing or formal distribution agreement to make sure everyone is happy money-wise. The song from episode one was me ripping off Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I’m a big fan of their scoring work.

Music & Sound Effect Creation

  • 24:55 Aaron: Let’s talk about how you achieved that effect for the song in the sample clip I played earlier. I’m guessing you had the sound of the footsteps on a ladder. Is that something you recorded yourself or is that something you got out of the sound library?
  • 25:13 Dan: I used several different libraries for that. There’s a mixture of some simulated ladder movement in there, like arms reaching and hands grabbing the rungs of the ladder. There’s also some pure metal footsteps in there. When I was originally putting that together, there were six or seven tracks, three of which were cloth movements and body motions and three of which were footsteps.
  • 25:55 Some were more foregrounded, like when one character named Jeremy is counting his steps. His footsteps are louder because he’s drawing attention to the fact that he’s counting them. The others are more off to the side to evoke the sense of space and depth, because presumably, they’re going down a circular enclosure to a vault. That was a real pain to put together.
  • 26:24 Aaron: I can’t believe you recorded clothes rustling to make this realistic.
  • 26:30 Dan: I can’t speak to film, tv, or video, but part of what makes the footsteps convincing in audio dramas is the footsteps being good, but also having cloth movement and fabric rustling.
  • 27:01 Aaron: With headphones and soundscapes, you have left and right channels, obviously. What do you do when you’re trying to make something seem like it’s coming from above or below. Is there any way to achieve that affect?
  • 27:17 Dan: In episode two of Deep Vault, where two characters crash through the floor of the room their in, they’re down there for a bit, and then you hear them crawling up through the crash hole to the other characters that are above them. I think it worked pretty well. I think the sequence of the narrative and that you hear them crash through the floor first and the space change around them helps to establish that.
  • 27:48 It’s just a matter of having more reverb and/or more delay on the voices that are further away than the voices that are close to you. I’m still figuring out what my philosophy on panning things is for the Deep Vault. It’s an ensemble cast with four actors talking at once, I have them panned around the clock—some are hard left, some are hard right, and some are close to the center.
  • 28:16 Usually if characters are interrogating or trying to get information from another character or recording, I’ll try to have whatever recording or character they’re talking to in the center to give the sense that they’re gathered around this new source of information they’re trying to learn. As far as making things sound far away or from above or below, it’s a matter of adding more reverb to the things that are farther away and hoping the sense of space translates.
  • 28:45 Aaron: I think it does most of the time, but it’s something I’m curious about. I’m thinking about the future with virtual reality and how they’re going to handle the different angles of sound. Have you had a chance to try VR yet?
  • 29:00 Dan: No, but I have some friends who told me I need to do it and I really want to. I have some friends who say Google Cardboard alone is incredible. I’m curious what that technology is like, but also what it’s going to mean for sound. I’m curious what sound for VR is going to be like and how it’s going to differ from the old guard, but also how it’s going to use some of the same techniques to make a realistic experience.
  • 29:30 Aaron: I used the equivalent to Google Cardboard, not even one of the great ones, and it blew my mind. It’s going to be a game-changer. Maybe we’ll both have future careers in sound design for VR applications.
  • 29:58 Dan: I’m just trying to stay ahead with what’s new for sound design because I’m afraid of being replaced by robots. It’s something I think about regularly. Am I doing something that will still be done by a human in 20 years? I feel ok about it most of the time, but you never know.
  • 30:21 Aaron: I like to think that you’ll still have a job because you’re being creative and you’re doing things that take a human. I guess we’ll see.
  • 31:02 Let’s talk about then music a little more. You did this transition where you have this music playing over the sound of the footsteps, and the footsteps blend into the beat of the music. Did you write the beat first? Were you listening to the pattern of the footsteps or did you go back and match those things up later?
  • 31:22 Dan: They were matched up later, but my choice of percussion samples definitely made them more easily blendable. With the exception of the kick drum, which is more of a classic, electronic bass-pulse kick drum, everything else is found percussion—everyday objects being tapped on. Things like chairs, bags, or plastic silverware. I like working with low-fi sound percussion samples. I think the fact the percussion track in the song isn’t a real snare drum recorded in a studio helps serve as the connective tissue between the footsteps and their percussiveness and the song’s percussion, and it’s driving the melody forward.

The hardest part of any narrative creative medium is the transition between two parts.

  • 32:22 It glues two things together that work well on their own. Sonically, that could be a good example of choosing the right percussion sample in the context of this being a score rather than a stand alone song. Perhaps if this was just a song released on an EP and it wasn’t meant to score anything, it would sound better with a non-found percussion or some other type of sound.

Sound Proofing vs. Sound Treatment

  • 33:21 Aaron: Let’s jump into some mistakes or hard times you came across when you started doing Archive 81 and the Deep Vault. What are some of the things you struggled with?
  • 33:33 Dan: I do have one thing about recording in a bedroom. The bedroom we recorded in sounded really good as far as bedrooms go, but we had only ever tested the sound in the room at night when everyone else in the house was really quiet.
  • 34:05 When it came to production time, we were recording during the three most blizzardy weeks in January when every person was holed up in their apartment in New York City. Above my friend’s bedroom is a family with five teenagers, so we had to pause all the time because there were so many footsteps, running water, and cooking sounds. We didn’t plan for all of that.
  • 34:38 I realized that, even though acoustically the room sounded very good, there was no isolation from what’s above and outside. That was definitely an error I made in trying to plan the space. The next time, we paid for a real studio, because as cool as it is to record in a good-sounding bedroom for free, it’s worth that money to not have to stop every take for outside noise.
  • 35:09 When you’re pausing takes like that for noise coming from upstairs or outside, you’re losing the groove you have with the actors. The actors might move around if you have to wait for 10 minutes between a scene and you might have to reset levels, which makes it harder to set levels in post and mix. That was a real learning experience.

Make sure you understand what’s happening in your environment before you choose a space to record in.

  • seanwes Community”>35:45 Aaron: That applies to regular podcasting too. Someone asked me in the seanwes Community the other day, “How do I soundproof my room?” They’re actually asking two different questions: “How do I make the sound of my room less noisy?” and, “How do I keep outside noise from coming in?” First, you have to stop noise from computers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and the sound of your voice from bouncing off the walls and being recorded by your mic. Then you have to soundproof the room so that the external sounds aren’t picked up by your mic. For me, I have three windows directly in front of me and it’s an old house, so the windows aren’t soundproof at all. If someone was running a lawn mower outside of my window, everyone would hear it.

Soundproofing is making sure noises from outside don’t come in.

Sound treatment is making sure there aren’t noises inside your room causing problems in your audio.

Know Your Limits

  • 36:59 Aaron: Any other mistakes or things that stood out throughout this process?
  • 37:07 Dan: There are so many. The question is what’s a useful mistake to talk about, and what’s one I perpetually torture myself about at night? I’ll talk about casting. With Archive 81, we didn’t have a system for how we went about casting it. We put the character notices out on Craigslist one at a time and auditioned and chose people piecemeal. It worked out for the most part, but there were some characters where we were in a real bind because we didn’t have enough people in time, so we had to choose the best option. I would have liked to have more options.
  • 37:45 I pretty much did all the casting for the first season and I didn’t go about it systematically, so for the Deep Vault, I wanted to make sure I did it more systematically. I spent a whole weekend auditioning people and planned in advance the characters they were auditioning for and allot time slots throughout the day so I could do it all at once. That was good and it was organized, but I packed too many people in one weekend, so by Sunday afternoon it was too much.
  • 38:24 I’m pretty introverted by nature and I think I chose my line of work in the technical side of audio production because a lot of times, it’s just you and the machine. You do need other skills and to be able to talk to people professionally, but you also spend a lot of time alone, which I’m fine with. I definitely love socialising, like on this interview, but I’ll be glad to go back to my little audio hole.
  • 39:05 That Sunday after three eight-hour days of auditioning and reading lines in character for these people, I was totally depleted. I think I’ve learned I need to be more systematic about it, but that I also need to spread it out over a few weekends in advance as opposed to trying to do it all in one weekend.
  • planning out my days and making sure I have stuff to do.”>39:39 Aaron: I’m a productivity nerd when it comes to planning out my days and making sure I have stuff to do. There’s a lot I want to accomplish, but when you first get into that, you tend to overestimate what you can accomplish. You think you can do meaningful work for 12 or 14 hours and you don’t realize that you can take on too much and say yes to too many things.
  • 40:12 Half way through, you’ve given it all you have for six hours and you’re worn out and you feel guilty because you didn’t do all the things you said you were going to do. It’s good to plan and try that stuff so that you know next time not to plan 12 hours of work for both Saturday and Sunday. Maybe you can do that, but you don’t know until you try. Start by planning and make notes about how it goes and you’ll have a better understanding about yourself and your stamina for the next time.
  • 40:52 Dan: That speaks to the more general philosophy that doing it is the only way you’ll know what your own patterns are, what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you. Be open to some trial and error for your own personal workflow. It’s easy to look up to certain human accomplishments and think, “This great musician practiced for 12 hours a day, so I must have to do that to be the Rachmaninoff of podcasting,” but at the same time, there are successful and accomplished people who have more human and normal working hour regimens. Trent Reznor is one of those people and it’s obvious from his output that he’s someone who never stops working. That works for him, but some people need more time to unwind and not get burnt out on things.

Dan’s Advice for Aspiring Podcasters

  • 42:05 Aaron: What kind of advice or tips would you give to someone who’s interested in doing something like Archive 81 or Deep Vault—a found sound or radio drama podcast? I’ve noticed in the last year or two they’re skyrocketing in terms of popularity. I think there’s a lot of people who might be turning the idea over in their mind. What would you say to those people?
  • 42:31 Dan: The first thing is the writing and acting has to be really good. Have people you can trust give you feedback and critique who you can run things by. If the source material and story doesn’t work, then everything that follows isn’t going to work either. If you’ve never done a podcast before, be prepared for many ours of sedentary work. Doing this kind of work takes a lot time and it’s a lot of time you have to spend alone in front of a computer.
  • 43:23 I lost count of the number of times this summer my friends said, “Hey, we’re going to the beach. Want to come?” or other things I wanted to do and I had to blow them off because I was editing or doing revisions. Be prepared for that and make sure you’re ok with that.
  • 43:41 If you need a lot of time outside of the house and you really need a social life, maybe this particular kind of podcasting isn’t right for you. Interviewing is a very different thing. I don’t like to be preachy about exercise, but I do think it’s good to exercise if you’re doing sedentary creative work because it makes the mind work better and for me, it puts me more at ease.
  • 44:27 Aaron: I’m with you on that, so two out of two podcasters recommend exercise and good sleep.
  • 44:39 Dan: Go out there and do it. Work hard and tell the story you want to tell. Don’t make anything because you think it’ll sell or bring an audience. Marc and I made Archive 81 because we thought it was a cool idea.

What you make should be in conversation with your audience, but don’t make something just because you think it’ll get a lot of downloads.

  • 45:17 I still feel like I’m learning a lot and trying to figure all this stuff out. Keep an open mind and stay open to learning new things as you go along. I still study sound design with a mentor because there’s always new levels I can push myself towards and I don’t want to get too comfortable.

Sound Design Resources

  • 45:43 Aaron: Are there any books, websites, or online courses for someone who’s a total beginner, or someone like me who is relatively familiar with recording, mixing, and producing music and podcasts but hasn’t really gotten into sound design?
  • Transom.org”>46:12 Dan: Transom.org is a great resource. Although it is geared towards beginners in radio and podcasting, I still find articles on there I can learn from. I think it has a good intro overview to things like sound design. I can’t name anything specific, but for a few years now, when I want to learn more about a subject, I find someone I like and relate to who’s established in that field and I reach out to them asking for some one-on-one mentoring lessons. That’s something I think is worth paying for. Most people will take $50 for a few hours to talk about it.

No matter what artistic discipline you’re in, it’s helpful to find people who are established in your field, reach out to them, and ask for some direct advice.

  • 46:59 That’s what’s been the most helpful for me. If there’s a sound designer, composer, or radio producer you admire, reach out and see if that’s an option. I don’t think Ira Glass is capable of doing private lessons with as busy as he is, but I’m sure there are other people who are really good at what they do who are capable.
  • 47:31 Aaron: There’s people at all different levels on this journey. We’re talking about audio specifically, but it’s true for anything. There are famous people you’ve heard of and then there’s people in the middle who have more experience than you but maybe aren’t quite so famous yet. Surrounding yourself with people who share your passion and interests on your skill level is great, but try reaching out and offering to pay for some consulting.
  • 48:03 Chances are they like talking about that stuff, but it is good to pay people for their time. That makes sure they’re invested and they’re not feeling like you’re taking advantage of their time. Audio engineers have to make money to buy gear!

Field Recording

  • 52:22 Aaron: Diana asks, “What’s your setup for mobile recording?” She’s about to start a podcast and will be doing some traveling. I know there are times where you take microphones out into the real world to do field recordings. What’s your setup? Is it the same mics and a portable recording device?
  • Shure SM58″>Sennheiser MD421 or a Shure SM58, will work just as well because some dynamic microphones are really good at sound isolation.
  • Sennheiser ME66 Shotgun Mic”>53:53 Another good option to consider would be the Sennheiser ME66 Shotgun Mic, which is a great short shotgun microphone. That’s good for both ambient sound and interview recordings in a live setting. It’s in the $200 to $300 range and you can find it on eBay, Craigslist, Guitar Center, or Reverb.com for much cheaper.
  • 54:00 Aaron: What device do you record into?
  • H6″>Zoom H5 or H6 is a fantastic piece of recording equipment. You can find that new for $300 or used for way less. It’s a solid improvement over the H4N in many ways. There’s less handling noise, it’s less noisy, and the majority of people looking into podcasting would do great with one of those.
  • 55:32 Aaron: Do you have any general advice for Diana? I know she’s going to be out and about recording, and I think this is a situation a lot of people will get in. When you’re about and about and recording, you have to think about the noise in the room and the ambient noise, and if there’s a possibility of a lot of noise where you are.
  • 56:04 Coffee shops and crowded restaurants aren’t going to be good for getting clean audio. Set levels correctly, so you can be sure the levels coming into the microphone doesn’t hit zero. You want to keep the highest peaks coming in around -12 DB. What’s your thought on that? What do you aim for?
  • 56:29 Dan: I aim for -12 to -6 at absolute highest for both studio and in the field. I always stuck by that as universal truth of audio, but when I was doing some sound design training this summer with the person I was mentoring under, for sound effects recording, he was advising me to capture things at as high of a signal level as possible without clipping. Being able to focus and isolate the sound source that way really is much more beneficial when you’re trying to make a sound effect at non-dialog level.
  • 57:18 Aaron: Did you have limiters on in that situation?
  • 57:21 Dan: I usually keep the limiters on, but I try not to hit them. I record on my rooftop a lot. Sometimes I get up at 6am and record the morning rush as it starts to unfold and I usually need the limiters to catch a truck horn or a plane that flies overhead. If you’re in a noisy environment, that’s another good case for using a dynamic microphone because it does isolate the sound source pretty well.
  • 57:55 When I was in school, I did a student radio project for a radio podcast production class where I was riding the campus buses and I was on one of those buses on a Friday night when it was filled with drunk kids going from one frat house to another. You can imagine how quiet that was. I was using a dynamic mic and it worked pretty well when I was cutting the interviews together. It had that loud, crazy ambience in the background, but if I held it pretty close to the speaker, I could still isolate them in a way that worked for the final product.

Think about how the ambience and background noise where you’re recording can contribute to the story and the feel of your whole piece.

  • 58:47 Dan: With all the woes that came with recording Archive 81 in a bedroom with loud upstairs neighbors, I do think the fact that it felt like an apartment helped the actors get the vibe. I’m not sure how much of that translated sonically, because it’s hard for me to be objective about it at this point, but I do think that background worked for that piece. In theory, I would like to do more location recording for audio dramas.
  • 59:15 If something takes place on a busy street corner, I’d like to get out there with a more formal production sound rig and record it, but Marc and I work at a pretty intense pace and it’s not always easy to coordinate that. Many times it makes the most sense to do it in the studio and create the atmosphere after the fact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
  • 59:39 Aaron: Do what your gut says and plan for it. Last week, Marc said one of the hardest thing for him is the time constraints. I definitely feel that too. My podcast isn’t anything complicated but it still takes a few hours to produce. When you have a full-time job, other projects, and people you want to hang out with, you really have to focus on what you want to say yes to and what you have to say no to.

Huge thanks to Dan and Marc for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. If you’ve enjoyed these interviews, head over to their Patreon page and support these guys.