Producing Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #6
Once your character's voices have been brought to life by your cast, it's time to start building your episode.
This process has a few different names, most commonly 'mixing', 'editing', and 'post-production'. Regardless of what you call it, the task remains the same - you'll be using the wonders of digital audio editing to build a world around the voices of your characters.
What Do I Need?
There are a few things needed to produce a fiction podcast or audio drama. Some you might have experience with and some you might not. You can source everything you need for free, or you might choose to buy certain things.
This stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and simply means the editing software you'll use to mix your shows together. A commonly used DAW in the world of podcasting is Audacity which is absolutely free. Though limited in some respects, it's still a great tool if you're new to audio editing or on a tight budget. We have a video course on Audacity right here.
An increasingly popular DAW is Reaper, which is powerful and heavily customisable. You can get Reaper for a one-off payment of $60. My personal favourite is Adobe Audition - however, there's a monthly cost of around $25 to use this DAW which puts many people off.
Sound Effects & Ambience
You might choose a minimalistic approach for these, which is absolutely fine. But regardless of how much or how few additional sounds you plan on using, you still need to source or create them.
Recording your own sounds can be fun and rewarding, but also time consuming. With something like a Zoom H1 or H5 you can record everything you'll ever need, and with the most unlikely of everyday items.
I cannot recommend The Sound Effects Bible enough if that's something that interests you.
To source free sounds for your podcast, have a look at Freesound.org. This is an excellent resource with many great audio tracks, although there's also a lot of very poor stuff on there so it does take some time to look out what you need and do a bit of quality control.
There are a variety of licensing options too, so always check the individual permissions that are tied to each effect.
Without visuals, you need to come up with creative ways to paint pictures in the mind of your listener. Music is a powerful tool here. One of the most popular resources on the web is Incompetech, where you can score your show with music of the highest quality for absolutely free (proving you credit and link to the site).
I've expanded on this and offered a few more options in the article How to Find Podcast Music, so take a look at that if it's an area that interests you.
Even if you think your show isn't exactly a complex piece, things can quickly become confusing if you don't organise yourself from the start. Good use of folders and sub-folders for each of your elements is handy here (Music, SFX, Voices) as well as a consistent system for naming files.
Be sure to keep a note of everything you're using that you need to credit too. Backing everything up is also extremely important. I heard a saying recently that "if a file doesn't exist in 3 places, then it doesn't exist at all". If you lost your laptop, or if your computer crashed and wiped everything, would you have a plan B in a cloud or external storage drive?
Cleaning & Blending Voices
This might not be so much of an issue of you recorded all your cast in the same environment and with the same gear. If you have a remote cast, however, you'll be faced with the task of making all the different lines sound like they are together in the same place.
Inside your DAW's 'Effects' menu you'll find noise reduction processes that can help minimise some of the background hiss that might be present in some files. The danger with any restoration process like this is that it can reduce the quality of the vocals however.
Recording and layering in some room tone can be a great way of masking the differences in audio quality, as the background noise is then constant and less noticeable than if it was jumping up and down all the time.
You can also apply EQ and various effects to the character's voices to further blend them in. That might include putting a little reverb on everyone if it's an indoor scene, or using things like phone and radio filters for anyone with less than desirable audio quality.
I don't want to get too technical here, talking about loudness standards and suchlike. At this stage, just try to keep volume levels fairly consistent.
You don't want your listener to be constantly adjusting their volume when they're listening to your show,so make sure your loud bits aren't deafening, and your quiet bits aren't inaudible.
Volume consistency is the most important thing here; you also want the volume to be similar to most other podcasts. If your listener had your show in a playlist and it came on after another podcast finished, would it blow your eardrums off, or would it be barely audible?
Stick your finished episode on your phone or iPod and listen back to it walking down a busy street, or on a bus or train. If it's a clear and comfortable listen at around 80% of your device's volume, then you've nailed it.
Once you've put your show together, you'll want to mix it down as an mp3 for distribution online.
Unless you're doing an Old Time Radio style show, or a 'docudrama' made up of narration and interviews, you'll probably want your show to be in stereo. When you create an MP3 you'll be asked to choose a bit rate.
With spoken word podcasting, we'd say it's absolutely fine to release your show at 96 or even 64kpbs. If you're looking for a highly produced show that does all your production work justice however, go for 128kbps. Remember to keep a source material copy in WAV form too!
Before you Upload
I've already mentioned this in the volume section, but take one last listen to your show away from the computer screen. Go out for a walk with your headphones in. If there's anything in there that you're still not happy with, it'll jump out at you, and you can fix it.
Better to hear that now, and not after you've released your show to the world.
Never do your final listen whilst sitting staring at your DAW, this can lead to you editing with your eyes as opposed to your ears.
Hopefully that's been helpful as we tick off another stage of creating a fiction podcast. Remember you can check out our five previous chapters in this series if you haven't done so already. If you're looking for inspiration for your show, I've handpicked some of my favourites here.