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My guest this week is professional audio engineer Ryan Monette.
Ryan graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in Music Production & Engineering. For the last 5 years he’s been the Post-Production Audio Engineer on staff at Elevation Church (in Charlotte, NC) where he mixes their global TV show and has many other responsibilities (boom operator, field recorder, sound designer, audio editor, etc.).
You may have heard some of his work as he sound-designed and mixed the opener video for the Circles conference for the past two years. He even had his own podcast for a short while (TheQueuecast.com).
I asked Ryan to come on the show to share his journey towards becoming a professional audio engineer (a job that I’ve always wanted) and to get him to share some tips for anyone interested in working in audio/video professionally.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- Think long term and dream big.
- If you want to do anything with audio, start by getting a cheap USB microphone.
- Take advantage of free online courses to learn more about audio engineering.
- Get started with whatever you have.
- The Rode NT1A is a nice beginner mic that works and sounds great.
- Your mix may sound completely different in a different environment, so listen with different headphones/speakers in different locations.
- Master the basics and keep going back to them.
- If you’re mixing a podcast, make sure your levels are consistent.
- When mixing, always use a reference track.
- 00:41 Aaron: You graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in music production and engineering. For the last five years, you’ve been the post production audio engineer for Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. You have a lot of jobs there: boom operator, field recorder, sound designer, audio editor, and you mix their global TV show. Do you mix that live?
- 01:18 Ryan: Not necessarily. We can get into that later. There’s a process for that.
- 01:25 Aaron: Some of the creative people here might have heard of some of your work. You sound designed and mixed the opening videos for the past two years of Circles Conference, which I was at. Have you been there for the past two years?
- 01:44 Ryan: I haven’t been personally, no. I have wanted to go. I love it from afar, and I want to go in person.
- 01:58 Aaron: I wanted you to come on this show because when I first got started, I had dreams of being a professional audio engineer. I thought, “How cool would it be to work in audio and get paid for it? That’d be awesome!”
- 02:36 I fell backwards into it by doing podcast editing as a hobby first, then for money, then I met Sean McCabe and ended up working for him full time. I edit podcasts and help out with a ton of other stuff. I asked you to come on the show to share your advice for anyone who’s interested in working in audio/video professionally, and to talk about how you got there yourself. So tell me a little bit about how you got into audio. When did you first realize that this was something you wanted to do?
Ryan’s Journey to Becoming a Professional Audio Engineer
- 04:29 Ryan: I love listening to your podcast, Aaron, and what I love about it is I feel like you and I have a lot of similarities in our backgrounds. You’re a musician, a drummer, and I’m also a musician. I play several things. My primary instrument is bass, but along with that, I started on piano. I picked up bass, and with the bass I picked up guitar. I took some drum lessons here and there as well.
- 05:05 I sing as well. I dabbled in a little bit of everything. I’m kind of a jack of all trades, master of none. I’m okay at a lot of things, but I’m not superb at one thing. Anyway, right around junior high or high school, I started playing the bass. I started playing in little bands here and there. When it came time for college, I had no clue what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved music.
- 05:35 Aaron: Dude, same here!
- 05:38 Ryan: I was living in Las Vegas at the time, so I decided, well, everyone has to have that college experience, and I didn’t want to go to college in the same city, so I decided that I needed that “being away from home” experience. I went to the University of Nevada, Reno. I took your basic, general classes, not knowing what I wanted to do. At this time, for my high school graduation, I had received a graduation present of a Macbook Pro.
- 06:18 With that, of course, you get the wonderful iLife suite, including Garageband. As a musician, a whole new world was opened up to me. When I was in a band in high school, I was the gear head—I loved the PA and putting cables together.
- 06:36 I was drawn to that. Once I had this Macbook Pro with Garageband and I had my bass and my guitar in my dorm, I was like, “I can create music!” I figured out how to work it and record myself. I bought a USB microphone, and that world was opened up. When I was there, I had a friend, and her brother went to this school where all they learned about was music. I was like, “Wait, you can do that? You can go to school for just music?”
- 07:12 That’s how I found out about Berklee School of Music. I applied, and you have to audition as well. I applied and auditioned, and the first time I tried, I actually didn’t get into the music school I wanted to go to.
- 07:26 Aaron: This sparks something in my mind. I feel like I might have read an article about Berklee or looked into it and thought, “No, they’re really strict on who they accept, based on your performance.” That was intimidating to me at the time, because I never felt like I was that good of a drummer.
- 07:43 Ryan: It was intimidating for me, too. Clearly, I wasn’t up to par.
- 07:50 Aaron: Yet you went for it. That’s more than a lot of people would do.
- 07:56 Ryan: Yeah. After I finished my first year at UNR, I moved back to Vegas and went to UNLV, the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I took all music classes, forgetting the general ed stuff you need to get a degree. I took all music classes—music theory, because I had never had actual music theory classes, so I thought I needed that. With that, there were some audio classes that I took as well. I was like, “Hey, I like this audio thing.”
- 08:43 At the University of Nevada Las Vegas, I had my first exposure to a formal audio class, where I learned all the proper techniques. Later on that year, I applied and auditioned again for Berklee. I got accepted, and the next year, I moved to Boston and went to Berklee for about three and a half years. Then I graduated. When I went to Berklee, the only thing that drew me as a major was Music Production and Engineering. I naturally loved the gear side of things. I fell in love with recording. I was like, “This is what I want to do.”
- 09:13 Aaron: You got to spend three and a half years there, studying and learning?
- 09:23 Ryan: It is non-stop, 24/7, music, audio, and to be honest, I miss being in that environment so much.
- 09:34 Aaron: That sounds fantastic. I always love setting aside time to take online classes, read books, and listen to interviews about audio.
- 09:57 Aaron: You were drawn to the audio engineering stuff, and then you graduated.
- 10:04 Ryan: I can remember a specific time in my life, and I’m pretty sure it was my last semester at Berklee. They went by semesters instead of years. It was in one of my capstone classes. Our instructor asked us the typical, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question.
- 10:26 Aaron: I love that question now. I hated it when I was 22.
- 10:30 Ryan: Exactly. I love Sean’s approach, which is 20 years.
- 10:37 Aaron: He did a podcast episode recently about that (Related: e291 How to Actually Become the Person You Say You’ll Be in 20 Years).
- 10:47 Ryan: I’m all for seanwes airlines, by the way.
- 10:52 Aaron: I don’t know. I was listening to an audiobook about Warren Buffet’s life, and he was talking about how he always regretted investing in airlines. Maybe it’s not a good business.
Think long term and dream big.
- 11:03 Plan out where you want to be, because if you can envision it, then you can figure out how to get there. But you have to start by saying, “I want to do this thing someday.” For me, it was, “I want to do work from a laptop. How do I get there?” Now I’m there. So you were 22 and someone asked you, “Ryan, where do you want to be? Where do you see yourself in five years?”
- 11:43 Ryan: At this moment, I was trying to figure that out, naturally, as you do when you’re approaching the end of college. While I was at Berklee, I loved music. I loved recording music, but my absolute favorite class—they only had one of them, but it was the class I yearned for, that I wanted to take and put in all these extra hours for—was audio for visual media, audio for video.
- 12:17 By far, that was my favorite class. The whole class, we were working toward our final project. You choose a five to seven minute clip from a well known movie, and all the audio is completely stripped. You have to recreate everything. That’s all the dialogue, all the foley, all the ambient background, all the hard effects, and so on. You have to connect with a film scoring student there at Berklee, and they have to provide the score. I absolutely loved every aspect of that project and the process. When it came time to decide what I wanted to do with my life, it was between audio engineering at a recording studio, working at Disney as an Imagineer, or doing audio at a church.
- 13:14 I have always been involved with church, playing on worship teams and whatnot, so I also saw myself doing audio for a church. Long story short, I was really privileged to dip my feet in all of those things after college. After I graduated, I moved back to Las Vegas. Eventually, I found an incredible recording studio, probably one of the top two recording studios in Las Vegas, and I landed an internship.
First Audio Engineering Jobs
- 13:53 Ryan: I say “internship” loosely, because your typical studio internship is all the stereotypical grunt work—taking out the trash, doing the coffee, and whatnot. I showed up, and they were like, “You went to Berklee? Berklee guys are cool. Here, hop in this session and help us out.” It was open to me, thrown at me, and next thing I knew, I was assisting on sessions with huge clients, I won’t name drop.
- 14:23 Aaron: You can drop a couple of names if you want.
- 14:26 Ryan: I had a pretty fun time helping out with a session with the famous engineer Eddie Kramer, who is engineering for Carlos Santana.
- 14:35 Aaron: Dang, man! That’s awesome.
- 14:39 Ryan: That was pretty incredible. But while I was there, I had this gut feeling inside of me saying, “This isn’t it.”
- 14:48 Aaron: It’s fine, but it’s not quite right?
- 14:51 Ryan: I could see myself staying there and working my way up, but it didn’t feel right. A few months after I realized that I didn’t want to stay at the studio, I applied and was offered a job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
- 15:07 I packed my bags, moved to Orlando, and I was working as a stage technician at the Epcot park. There, they found out that I was an audio guy, so they pushed me toward the live audio side of things. I was mixing shows and bands at Epcot and what was at the time Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs, area. Same thing. Almost as soon as I got there, the same gut feeling came in.
- 15:39 I was like, “This isn’t it. I’m more of a studio engineer. I definitely don’t want to do live stuff.” Although I love Disney, it just wasn’t sitting right. I was only there three months before the next great opportunity came up, which is where I am right now. One of my friends told me about a job opening for this church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Elevation Church. I had actually been following them because of their podcast.
- 16:14 At the time, I was kind of like, “I’ve got a job, whatever.” For some reason, I ended up on their website, looking at the job. I was reading, and I was like, “Wait a minute, they’re looking for someone to do audio for video. That’s what I really want to do!” On a whim, I threw out my resume. Next thing you know, I’ve been here going on five years.
- 16:45 Aaron: Did you mention that you were a podcast listener when you sent in your resume?
- 16:52 Ryan: Yeah.
- 16:55 Aaron: The connections you can make through podcasting is really incredible.
- 17:00 Ryan: It is. And I’ve been working there for 5 years now.
How to Get Into Audio Engineering
- 17:32 Aaron: I want to jump into what you do at your job at Elevation, but let’s pause and do a section on what advice you would tell someone who’s wanting to get started. I wrote a couple of things down here. I think it’s hilarious that you got a Macbook and your first microphone was a USB microphone.
- 17:54 Ryan: Which was the Blue Snowball, by the way.
- 17:57 Aaron: That’s the worst microphone!
- 18:00 Ryan: I had no idea how to use it, either. If I find some of the earliest recordings I did, there are times I’m clipping to the max, square waves.
- 18:12 Aaron: Probably bad mic technique, too. But hey; it got you started!
If you want to do anything with audio, start by getting a cheap USB microphone.
- 18:24 Any USB mics will work for getting started. I like the Blue Yeti, but it’s like $100. The ATR-2100 is fine, too. You just have to get something that can record some audio and start playing with it.
- 18:36 Start playing with Garageband. Start playing with the free programs. Learn how to enable recording on a track, how to set your input device to the microphone, how to set your output device to wherever your headphones are plugged into, whether that’s your mic or your computer. It took me so long to figure that stuff out. I was like, “Why can’t I hear the audio in my headphones? What is going on?”
- 19:00 Ryan: Same here.
- 19:00 Aaron: You have to set input and output, then you have to record enable or do the input monitoring, all that stuff. But start with the USB microphone. Take some basic classes. There are so many great online classes. If you don’t have any money at all, if you’re super broke like I was when I started, watch some free YouTube videos. Read a book.
- 19:22 Ryan: If you go to Coursera.org, they’re a website where you can pay to take online courses and get certifications and whatnot, but they also offer free online courses. They even offer free online courses from Berklee. I’ve seen a music production class there. I’ve taken a free online song writing class.
Check out free online courses, because they can be a pool of incredible knowledge.
- 19:57 I took a photography class on there. Coursera is a great place. They’re great if you want to take free online courses.
- 20:12 Aaron: There are places where you can learn all this stuff. You just have to invest some time. You really just have to start: Don’t wait until you have $500 for an interface and $200 for some professional headphones and microphone. Whether you want to start a podcast, start recording audio for a video, or record and mix a demo for a band, start doing something.
- 20:41 Stop spending all your time thinking about how you can’t do anything because you don’t have certain gear or you’re not in the right place. You’ll learn as you do, especially in audio. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes.
- 20:55 Ryan: That’s how you learn, though! That’s one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in life. You learn from your mistakes.
- 21:03 Aaron: You don’t really learn when everything goes well.
- 21:10 Aaron: Any other advice you would give somebody, thinking back on how you got to where you are right now?
- 21:14 Ryan: Honestly, you hit the nail on the head with “just start.” It’s as simple and cliche as Nike, “Just do it.” There is always going to be the next latest craze, the gear, and we’ve all been susceptible to that. We say, “Oh, well, I could do this if I had X.” It starts with the drive and determination, wanting to do it. There’s knowledge out there everywhere. You just have to dig for it.
Chances are, you have at least something you can start with.
Record something on your phone.
- 22:02 Aaron: I have a friend who makes some awesome music on his iPhone.
- 22:06 Ryan: Oh, totally. It’s as simple as getting an adapter. You can plug your guitar or whatever into your phone.
- 22:14 Aaron: Kids these days have it so easy!
- 22:16 Ryan: You have Garageband on your phone. I remember when I was figuring this out in high school, and we actually had a four track tape recorder. That was my first start. Get started with whatever you have.
- 22:40 Aaron: What kind of stuff do you do at the church? What’s your day to day life like? Are you there every day, or is it just a couple of days a week?
- 22:45 Ryan: Oh no, I’m definitely there every day. It has been a whirlwind for sure. In the past five years, I have probably played every audio role that there is to be played here. My main thing now is audio for broadcasts, pretty much anything that leaves the church. Our biggest output is the sermon, which goes to a lot of places.
- 23:17 It also goes in the TV episode, which we talked about, which goes locally, nationally, and, I believe, globally as well. That’s a lot of what I’ve done. We also create a lot of films, short films, for our worship experiences, anything you can imagine that’s video and audio related. Audio post production, like we talk about. I’m constantly on video shoots using field recorders, the boom op, anything you can think of. Audio for video, I’ve done it.
The Gear Ryan Uses
- 23:56 Aaron: Let’s talk about your gear a little bit. What kind of stuff are you using most in everyday life? I’ll do a quick recap: I have the Shure Beta 87A Mic as my main podcasting microphone. It’s attached to a Scarlett 18i20 USB Interface (update: I’m now using my Zoom H6 exclusively), which is plugged into a quadcore iMac that’s a couple years old.
- 24:18 Nothing super fancy, but I’m really happy with where I am. I remember wanting all this stuff back in 2011, thinking how awesome it would be to have it. I have a Zoom H6 portable recorder and a couple of SM58 microphones. I’ve been pairing down my gear collection because I’m planning on moving in the spring.
- 24:40 What kind of stuff are you working with? I use Logic Pro X for editing, and then Izotope iZotope RX 5 for cleaning up background noise or fixing clipping. What about you? What’s your day to day favorite gear?
- 24:55 Ryan: We use a lot. There’s a bunch of gear for field recording and then in my office, which is where I’m at right now. I’ll start with my office. Right now, I’m talking into my personal mic, which is a Rode NT1A. It’s very affordable.
The Rode NT1A is a nice beginner mic which works and sounds great, and I use it for a lot of voiceover projects.
- 25:28 Aaron: I like those mics.
- 25:29 Ryan: I’m talking into that right now. We also use the Shure SM7B. We have a nice Neumann that we’ll use for bigger projects. We like to use Universal Audio Interfaces, so I’ve got one of those. They’re great. They’re rock solid.
- 25:56 You really can’t beat them. At our main recording/editing audio work station, we use Pro Tools. That’s very standard, and I’ve been using that for years and years. I use a lot of plugins. I use a lot of the Waves Plugins. I do use RX as well, and that’s the bulk of it. I do a lot of processing, depending on the project.
- 26:25 I have a really huge sound library for if I’m doing narrative pieces that involve sound design, sound effects. I have a great app called Audio Finder, which a lot of electronic musicians use to help them find sounds. I use it to help me find sounds. It’s a nice way to catalogue sounds if you’re a sound designer or anything like that.
- 26:49 You can basically tag all these audio files with meta data, and you can search for sounds by their title. Or, if you type in a word in the search bar, it can pull up things based off the the metadata. If you have notes on something, it can find it.
Audio Finder is a great way to find sounds.
- 27:17 I have some other things in here. I have the Artist Mix Controller made by Avid. I use those if I’m automating stuff. I use those a lot, actually, when I’m mixing the sermons. I do a lot of automation for that. If I’m mixing a piece with a music bed or something, I like to automate the music by hand.
- 27:40 It feels more natural, as opposed to clicking and making little dots. That’s the bulk of it here in the office. All of our audio engineers have a nice pair of Focal monitors. I also have another set of monitors I built myself. When I mix TV episodes, I have an output routed to a TV here in my office so I can hear how it translates on TV speakers.
Recording Audio for Video
- 28:14 Ryan: On the front end of things, if we’re doing shoots for videos, we use Sound Devices field recorders. We have three different models: the Sound Devices 788T 8 Channel Recorder, a 702 2 Channel Recorder, and then a 633 6 Channel Recorder. That last one is one of their newer models, which is great.
Sound Devices are steep in price, but they are rock solid.
- 28:54 One of the most trustworthy, well known field recorder brands on the market. That’s what you’ll see on pretty much every big budget shoot in some way. I do a lot of freelance on the side, which gives me the opportunity EPK shoots or BTS shoots for, recently, a show on HBO called Outcast.
- 29:35 Aaron: Outcast? I’ve been seeing that (I watch Westworld).
- 29:39 Ryan: I’m pretty sure it’s the same writers or producers or something. I know it’s the same writer as The Walking Dead. They shoot here in North Carolina, so with a local production company, we’ve done some interviews with some of the cast and crew. It’s been really neat to be on set and see what they’re using. It’s cool to see how similar their world is to what we’re doing day to day, just with more money and more resources.
- 30:12 It’s the same thing. Most of their audio guys have some sort of Sound Devices. A lot of them use the 788 as a backup recording rig, and they’ve got larger multitrack recorders as well, that are also made by Sound Devices. Sound Devices is a great brand. They’re crazy expensive, but when you buy that, you know you’ve basically got it for life.
- 30:34 Aaron: Yeah, I’m looking at the Sound Devices 788T SSD 8 Channel Portable Solid State Audio Recorder. It’s almost $7,000. I love that! So fancy.
- 30:54 Ryan: That SSD does have an internal hard drive. Ours has a hard drive as well, so it’s great, because it has the internal hard drive, but you can also use CF cards. You can record on two different mediums. In case something runs out of space, you have it in two places.
- 31:09 Aaron: This is super professional stuff.
- 31:12 Ryan: Yeah. It is. It’s top of the line.
- 31:16 Aaron: Fantastic. For all the rest of you, just go with the Zoom H4N or the H6.
- 31:21 Ryan: Hey, we do have a Zoom H4N, and we do use that every now and then.
Before I came on staff, our first field recorder was the Zoom H4N.
- 31:33 Aaron: If I could start over and go back to before I had any kind of interface at all, I think I would buy myself an H4N or an H6. Not only are they portable field recorders so you can walk around with them—they have little stereo condensor mics on them—but they work as audio interfaces, too. You can plug it into your computer with a USB cable and record straight to your computer if you do any kind of podcasting or stuff like that.
- 31:56 It’s good for the price. Otherwise, the little two channel interfaces are great. They’re about $100 for a good one, but they aren’t portable. You can’t take them to a show or out to a video shoot the way you can an H4N or an H6 or something.
- 32:15 Ryan: Speaking of Zoom, they’ve recently come into the more professional field recording market. About a year ago, they releases the F8, I believe, which is an 8 channel field recorder with 8 mic pres. It’s $999 for something very comparable to a Sound Device. It’s not quite as high-fidelity, but for anyone starting out, you’re really not going to notice the difference.
Mixing On Expensive Headphones or Monitors
- 32:53 Aaron: I was going to ask you this earlier. You mentioned that you had Focal monitors. Did you listen to the episode I did a few episodes back where I talked about mixing on headphones (e069 Do You Need Expensive Headphones to Mix a Podcast?)?
- 33:08 Ryan: Yes, I did.
- 33:08 Aaron: I mix on $10 Panasonics. What do you think about that? You can be totally honest with me. You can tell me that it’s a stupid idea or that it’s okay.
- 33:21 Ryan: I agree to a certain extent. I agree that you should be listening to what you’re making on whatever the majority of people are going to be listening to it on. For a lot of audio engineers mixing music, that’s iPod earbuds, those standard earbuds you get. Something like that. When I mix TV, I have an output routed to a TV in my office, so I can hear it on TV speakers.
- 33:56 I do also believe in mixing on something with some sort of higher fidelity type of monitoring environment, whether that’s nicer speakers or nicer headphones. Naturally, you’re going to hear things differently. The main thing to take away is how things translate.
If you’re listening to something on one source and you make it sound good there, that’s great, but in a different environment, it may sound completely different.
- 34:29 iPhone earbuds may not have the bass that a car stereo has. You want to hear how it translates from one thing to another. That’s why it’s good to at least listen to it on two different sources and not just narrow yourself down to one cruddy thing. That’s good in theory, but again, the key takeaway is translation.
- 34:57 Aaron: Maybe it’s a little bit different for me and I can get away with it because of the consistency of the microphones and the recording environment set we use.
- 35:04 Ryan: Yeah, totally.
- 35:07 Aaron: I think if I was doing more stuff like you are, with videos and clients and all that kind of stuff, I would absolutely be using my higher fidelity headphones.
- 35:17 Ryan: Very true. The bulk of your work is dialogue, podcasts.
- 35:24 Aaron: Yeah, that’s really it. Just dudes talking into a microphone.
- 35:29 Ryan: Yeah. I have done a lot of work here where I’m working in a small studio, but a lot of my mixes have played in auditoriums and arenas.
If you’re working on projects like music or film that have different audio frequencies and spectrums, remember that sound will be perceived differently in different places.
- 35:59 Aaron: How do you even test for that?
- 36:01 Ryan: Here, I at least have a sense of how our auditorium sounds, so I’ve trained my ear to hear in advance and understand how it’s going to translate. For something like when we did a live recording in the biggest arena here in Charlotte, we had a video opener piece. I was on point for mixing that, so basically, I had to work with tech and production to find a time after setup where I can bring my session, copy it onto a laptop, and play it through the PA.
- 36:46 Then I can make any final mix tweaks there in the auditorium or the arena. I perfected it in my studio, and any small tweaks I was able to do in that actual environment. Granted, a lot of the times, we may not have that luxury. There are also great plugins you can buy that simulate different monitoring environments, like Sonarworks.
- 37:16 If you have certain pairs of headphones, you can tell the program, “I have these headphones, now make my mix sound like it’s coming through these headphones or these speakers,” so you can hear how it might translate. In that program, they have a final output like the Beats headphones. You can hear how it might sound on there, super bass heavy.
- 37:43 Aaron: I hear they’re getting better, but I still have never bought any Beats headphones. I probably should (just for testing purposes).
- 37:48 Ryan: There are definitely programs out there to help you see how things translate to different monitors.
On Location Gear
- 38:01 Ryan: We were talking about the gear we use for on location recording. Sound Devices would be our main recorders. For our mics, we use Schoeps. It’s a shotgun microphone, so it’s a narrow polar pattern with good off axis rejection. Schoeps is a great brand. Again, you’ll see this on professional movie sets.
- 38:33 That’s the mic we use. We have some Sennheiser shotguns as well, the ME66, we have a couple of those, which is more their entry shotgun mics. Recently, I rented some of the MKH416.
- 39:00 Aaron: I would like one of those.
The Sennheiser 416 is well known as the classic TV shotgun mic.
- 39:06 Ryan: Exactly. I rented those out because I wanted to try it out for that reason. The Schoeps is very good and very well known on set as well, but so is the 416. I rented it to try it out. It’s a trusted mic that a lot of people use for these professional things, and it doesn’t really break the bank for what it is.
- 39:26 Aaron: They’re like $1,000, I think.
- 39:28 Ryan: Yeah, and it sounded great.
- 39:32 Aaron: The next mic I get is either going to be that or the Rode NTG 3.
- 39:38 Ryan: I’ve heard a lot of great things about that. I haven’t tried one myself.
- 39:42 Aaron: That’s the shotgun mics we shot my podcasting courses with.
- 39:46 Ryan: Yeah, I know that Sean uses that for all of his videos.
- 39:53 Aaron: I’m excited about getting to go work with those (I’m moving to San Antonio in March or April).
Master the Basics
- 40:10 Aaron: That’s a pretty good run through of your gear. I’m sure you could keep going and discuss a lot more, but I don’t think we need to go into that. It seems like you guys are at a super professional, high quality. You have made big investments in professional gear, which is fantastic. I encourage everyone to strive for that, to aim for that, but like we said earlier, use what you have right now. I don’t have anything close to what you guys have, but I’m still doing my podcast. I’m doing the best I can with what I have.
- 40:46 Ryan: It still sounds great.
- 40:48 Aaron: Thanks! It’s mostly just knowing how to set gain levels and not having a noisy room.
It’s crazy how far the basics will get you— everything else is just icing on the cake.
- 41:02 I’ve been watching this video course called Zen and the Art of Work, which I really recommend to everybody. It’s mindfulness training mixed with productivity training, which is such a great combination.
- 41:17 In this course, he says, “So many of the masters continually revisit the basics.” Mastery is staying on a path. It’s not reaching some final goal, it’s more about being with the work and investing in getting better, but also revisiting the basics. He was talking about playing piano. He was like, “A lot of times, I just start by touching the keys, pressing the keys, and then doing basic scales over and over again.”
- 41:49 It’s true. When you get so good at the basics that you don’t have to think about it, that’s when you start to expand and get to that level where people say, “Wow, you’re so good at that. How did you get so good?” You’re like, “That was just doing the basics. It’s not anything fancy.”
It’s so important to master the basics and keep going back to them.
- 42:15 Aaron: What’s next for you? How do you invest in yourself and improve? Or are you working so much that you always have more learning opportunities? Do you buy books or courses or follow any websites to learn more about this audio stuff?
- 42:37 Ryan: Honestly? We had a shift at work to where my role has shifted to mainly just broadcasts. That has enabled me to have a little bit more flexibility and free time, so I’ve been doing a lot more freelance work. That’s great, because it energizes me and keeps me engaged. It keeps me from routine. Routine is great.
I love routine, that’s very much my personality, but freelance work keeps things interesting.
- 43:09 For me, it’s all about where and how I can get inspired and constantly feeding that. It’s about feeding my desire for creativity. We’re all creatives. We like to create. We were designed to be creators, really. Everything I try to do is about how I can become a better creator and what I can create next. It’s about finding things that inspire me, really. We touched lightly on a few of the resources that I like, things I’ve learned and places I’ve picked things up.
- 43:49 If you’re interested in audio for post production, there are a couple of great books by Ric Viers. I have two books by him that are really great. The first one is The Sound Effects Bible, and it’s not just sound effects in there. He talks about everything from gear to microphones, basics, setting proper gains, compression, some mixing techniques, etc. He also has The Location Sound Bible.
- 44:29 There are a lot of similarities, but there’s also a lot of talk about gear, shotgun mics, lop mics, recorders, and then he also dives into some of the basics when it comes to mixing, proper gain staging, and so on. Those are a really great pool of knowledge in book form. There are a lot of other books out there, but I have found those two to be really helpful.
- 44:58 Other than that, when it comes to audio for video, it’s a very small, niche field. There isn’t a crazy amount of stuff out there, like there might be for mixing music. For that, you’ve got tons. You’ve got Pensado’s Place, all these people on YouTube putting out channels on mixing, mixing from home, mixing on a budget, etc. There’s plenty of that.
- 45:28 Aaron: Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder are pretty awesome resources for anyone who wants to start a home studio.
- 45:34 Ryan: YouTube can be a pool of knowledge for anything and everything, too. You have to dig a little bit and do some searching. On the inspiration side, for me, since I love audio for video, Sound Works Collection is a great place. They’ll do mini videos interviewing the sound people that did sound for X movie. Whether it was the last Harry Potter or anything and everything, big budget films, they’ll sit down with the recording people, the sound designers, the mixers…
- 46:17 It’s really cool, because they’ll show footage of them doing stuff on location or the foley artists. It’s cool to see their process. For me, that helps me stay inspired. It gives me ideas to do other things. They have a podcast as well, and that’s great. The videos can be kind of short, maybe 10 minutes or so, but the podcast will go on at length, talking to the audio guys who have made sound for videos possible.
- 46:58 It will also be music composers for movies as well. That’s really great. I found that great not only as inspiration, but to know what and how audio professionals for big budget films get inside their minds, how they’re thinking, and what their process looks like.
It’s neat to see stuff about sound engineers for big movies and realize that we’re not so different.
Dealing With a Broad Loudness Spectrum (Dynamics)
- 50:54 Aaron: I have a nerdy question here. This is about normalizing and compression, I think. Aiya had asked, “I’m so torn about normalizing sound clips. If I’m working on a longer project in segments, would it be better to adjust my peaks manually for the sake of consistency? It’s for a video project.” I’m hearing that there are differences in video volumes. How do you deal with that? Do you do compression? Do you do automation for the different parts? How do you deal with dynamics?
- 51:38 Ryan: It depends on the project. I’ll talk about how I would mix a sermon, because that’s very dynamic. Our pastor will go from whispering, holding his handheld mic close to his stomach, to screaming, holding the microphone, cupping the capsule. Power and respect to him, because it creates a certain atmosphere, which has a powerful effect. That’s what I’m dealing with on a weekly basis.
- 52:23 That dynamic range is tremendous. Keep in mind, this is going to TV eventually. TV has very strict restrictions. It’s not so much on level, but on perceived level. There’s a difference between what you see meter and what you’re hearing. I can talk at length about that, too.
- 52:53 Aaron: Could you give us a super short version? I’m kind of aware of that, but since I just mix in Logic, I’m not sure how to measure it. Is there a way to measure it in Logic? Do you know? Is there a plugin you use?
- 53:06 Ryan: I use a plugin from Waves. It’s a loudness meter, and its just that. It has a lot of presets, so I’ll use the TV standard preset. I’ll use it for ATSE85, and I’ll use it for a dialogue bus. They’ve also got one for a master bus. The standard right there is your average level around -24 dB LUFS, so that’s full scale. If you have a classic meters, your peak would be zero, so that would average metering right around -10. At least for TV, I’ve got a hard limiter at -10 dB, to where nothing can go above that.
The difference between levels on a meter vs. perceived loudness is the differences between what we hear and the actual energy.
- 54:17 In our TV program, we’ll have the sermon, but we’ll also have a talking heads segments, which is dialogue and a music bed. We’ll also go into segments where they’ll go into worship from our live album, which had been mixed and mastered as an album. That thing is slammed. If you look at the wave form, it’s a sausage. If I’m setting all that by the meters alone and they’re all hitting -10, it may look right, but if I look at my loudness meter, that worship segment is going to be off the charts.
- 54:54 There’s so much more content in there. There’s so much going on with all the different frequency ranges as opposed to a dialogue track, which is a narrow field in the frequency spectrum. That’s the gist of it. When it comes to my technique for controlling dynamics, for something like mixing a sermon, if I’m going down my plugin chain, the first thing I naturally have is a high pass filter. I’m rolling off those unnecessary lows that are hogging energy.
- 55:35 The next thing I’ll do is use a compressor, and I’ll set the attack to right in the middle, so not fast or slow, and I’ll have the release time at fast. We don’t want to hear it pumping, letting go. That’s catching my peaks. It’s not doing a crazy amount, but it kind of is. That’s helping do a lot of the bulk compression. Before anything really hits the compressor, I will go through, and as I work my way through the mix, I will clip gain the wave form, so that, say, if he’s whispering somewhere, I might keep that, depending on how I have my compressor set.
- 56:25 Then, if we go up to a part where he’s screaming and my wave form is huge, I will take that down and create those nodes, those dots in the wave form, and drag the actual clip volume down, that gain down. That way, it’s not going into the compressor at this high gain level. It’s hitting the compressor evenly as the rest of it would. That way, it’s not driving the compressor crazy. Then I’ll go through and do some EQ and DSing and whatnot. I might add some more compressors in there, just to grab some of those little things coming through. After that, it’s subtle, just smoothing it out.
- 57:17 Aaron: It is a little bit of both. If she has access to an audio editing program—I don’t know what she’s using for editing. If you can put a compressor on the track, do that. It’s not exactly the same, but I did a YouTube video about how I process podcast vocals, and it’s very similar.
For podcast vocals, I start with a Logic noise removal plugin.
- 57:58 Ryan: I actually have my noise suppressor, and I’ll use that later on down in my signal chain. My way of thinking is that if I’ve got all this compression going on, the compression is narrowing that dynamic range, so it’s bringing up that noise floor. I tend to do my noise suppression after the bulk of that compression, because the noise floor is higher and it’s easier to work on a supressor. If that makes sense.
- 58:40 Aaron: I’ve thought a lot about whether you should do the noise removal before or after you add a bunch of gain with a compressor or something, and I can’t think of a good reason that it matters. You can take out the noise before you add a bunch of gain, or you can add a bunch of gain and take out the noise afterwards. Which is better? I don’t know. Anyways, after the noise removal plugin, I put an EQ with a high pass filter, a peak compressor, an RMS or an average level compressor, and then a limiter.
- 59:28 Ryan: Like I mentioned earlier, before I had my long-winded answer, it also depends on what it is you’re mixing—whether it’s music, or a podcast, or something for film.
When it comes to dialogue for film, you want it to sound as natural as possible, but you also want to be able to hear if someone is whispering.
- 59:48 When it comes to that, I’ll still use a compressor, but it will be very, very light. If there’s anything I need to do to meet loudness, that I will automate the volume on my dialogue bus. I’ll bring that up. That way, it sounds a little bit more natural, instead of solely relying on a compressor to do all the work for you.
- 01:00:13 Aaron: That makes sense. For podcasts, if I notice that there’s a section where someone was talking much quieter, like if a guest backed away and talked like that for four or five minutes and then went back to the normal distance from the microphone, in Logic, I’ll turn that into its own clip. I make a cut on either side of the quiet part, and then, in Logic, you can double click on it and change gain by hitting Control G. Then you can add 3, 4, or 5 dB to it.
- 01:00:51 That works out pretty well. If it’s every five seconds or I have to do it more than five or six times in an episode, I won’t do the clip gain changes, I’ll just use a compressor.
Look at the overall audio file and see if there are long stretches where you can use automation to change the gain, or change the clip gain.
Common Audio Mistakes Podcasters Make
- 01:01:18 Ryan: You asked a question that I think would be good to talk about in regards to podcasting. You had asked, “What do you like about podcasts? What common mistakes do you hear people make?” Initially, I read this and thought, “I don’t know,” but I spent some time thinking about it. This is great, because it piggybacks off the loudness thing.
- 01:01:50 A lot of the mistakes that I hear when it comes to podcasts in regards to audio is the levels and loudness aspect. I’ll listen to some podcasts that sound great, and I’ll put on another podcast where the whole thing is super quiet. Then they start laughing, and it’s really loud. There are some, like mine, where they have a music bed underneath the entire thing, and then sometimes the music bed is so quiet that you hardly know it’s there.
- 01:02:22 You’re like, “What the heck is that noise in the background?” Sometimes, it’s the opposite. Sometimes, the music bed is way too loud. That’s a few of the things I’ve noticed. A lot of the fixes relate to what we just talked about. It helps to have knowledge of levels and perceived loudness.
If you’re mixing a podcast, make sure your levels are consistent.
- 01:02:58 One of the biggest things I can recommend for anyone mixing anything, whether it’s music, movies, a podcast, is the importance of having a reference track.
- 01:03:11 Aaron: Yeah, I don’t talk about that enough.
- 01:03:13 Ryan: That is huge. Professional audio engineers who mix platinum records still do this. They will pull in a track from a different song that is mixed well and is mixed how they want theirs to sound, and they’ll have it muted in their session. When they want to have a reference to listen to or train their ear, they’ll un-mute it, and they’ll go, “Oh, okay.”
- 01:03:41 I’m sure you’ve done the same thing as me, where you’ll be so involved in a mix, you’re in it, and you think it sounds great, and then maybe you go away. You go home, sleep, and maybe you come back, and you open it up and you go, “Woah! What was I thinking!” You can get so involved in it that the blinders go up. You get tunnel vision, and you’re not aware to some things.
It’s good to have a reference track or get an outsider’s opinion on a mix.
- 01:04:22 The main takeaway here is the reference track. That would help with anything, whether it’s the timbre, how you’re EQing, or the loudness. You pull in their track and it’s far louder than yours, and you automatically know that you need to do something about it.
- 01:04:43 Aaron: That’s a great idea. You can kind of do this before or after. You go through and you edit your whole podcast, get everything set up the way you want, create an extra track, and then find a podcast that sounds really good—This American Life or pretty much anything by NPR—download an episode, drop it into your editing program, and play it, mute it, and see what the difference is. Maybe you need to add some gain with an adaptive limiter or with a compressor, or maybe you can tell that your track sounds way sharper or harsher.
- 01:05:34 Are there are too many high frequencies or too much bass compared to your reference track? You can adjust those things. I’m so glad you mentioned that. I’ve never thought of that before, and that’s such a good idea.
- 01:05:48 Ryan: It’s one of those things you don’t think of much, but once you do it, you’re like, “Oh my gosh!” It’s really eye opening and really helpful.