Professional sound design is one of the best ways to raise the production value of your podcast. Improve yours with these simple tricks.
What was it that hooked you about your favorite podcast? Whether it be something from RadioLab or something episodic like Limetown, the common thread between some of the best podcasts out there is effective sound mixing.
Let’s take some notes from podcasts that do it well, and find out how you can implement solid sound design into your own show.
If you’re interested in more insights into starting and creating an effective podcast, be sure to check out all of our podcast-specific tutorials at the bottom of this article!
Taking Lessons from the Classic Radio Show
Where podcasts really got their gusto from is radio shows from the Golden Age of Radio in the mid-20th century. These broadcasts didn’t have the saving grace of a visual medium to tell a story, like we do now with TV and film, so they relied on sound effects and music to sell a scene and transport you to a different world.
Shows like the Lone Ranger Radio Hour or The Shadow used sound effects like gunshots or emotional music to create a soundscape that helped listeners picture the scene. Without visuals, your audio can provide context and exposition without any dialogue.
Some of these shows were so effective that one of them, such as the famous War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938, actually convinced listeners that there was an alien invasion actually going on.
This short above documents the huge amount of work it took to create one of these shows. Some of them didn’t have the resources to insert prerecorded sound effects to sell the soundscape, so they actually created foley sound effects in real time to add depth to the scene. Think of it like theater but with only sounds.
With modern technology, you don’t have to go through this incredible amount of effort to add sound effects into your work, but it’s important to take notes from this era of radio. This style of storytelling is coming back with podcasting, and it’s all about learning how to create an effective soundscape to help your listener to suspend their disbelief and become an avid follower of your content.
The Bread and Butter of an Effective Podcast: Music
Music is one of the best utilities at your disposal to create a unique identity for your podcast. You probably can think of your favorite podcast’s intro song right now. It lets you know the show is starting after the cold open, and gets you prepared to listen in to the content.
Now think about what type of vibe you want your podcast to emit. Is it a chill, conversation-centric podcast about a specific topic? Or maybe a storytelling podcast relating spooky tales?
Think about what music will prepare your listeners to soak in the content. I’ve followed 99% Invisible for a long time and, in my opinion, the show integrates music into their podcast extremely well.
If you listen to the episode above, you can see how they use music to separate different sections of their podcast. Since you don’t have the visual help of transitions like you do with video, a music change can signify a shift in tone, or the start of a new section of the story. Think of it as an audio queue to start a new chapter in a book.
Selling Your Story with Foley and Natural Sounds
Let’s take a lesson from my favorite episodic podcasts, Limetown. It’s the story of how a town disappeared overnight, and it’s presented as a journalistic take as one reporter’s journey into what happened to this mysterious town.
While listening, recognize how they use sound effects to transport you to a new world. When they’re outside, take note of how they use natural sound to sell the fact that they’re outdoors. Sounds of cars rushing by, the whistle of birds in the air, and wind subtly rushing by convinces you that they’re in a different space.
The actual recording could have easily been recorded in a studio. You can also record natural sound outside, and layer it within your project to change the location for the listener.
If you’re telling a story with your podcast, it’s incredibly important to enhance your story with the use of sound effects, foley, and atmospheric sound to create a full soundscape.
If you want another solid example of how sounds can give your audience information, check out our tutorial below from Zach Ramelan.
Humans have an active imagination when stimulated by audio. It’s important to utilize atmospheric tone and sound effects to prod listeners in the right direction. Help them imagine the visuals within their own head.
So, where do you get these sound effects from? Well, there’s obviously sound effects available to you on the internet, but your best bet is to record them yourself to get tailored sounds for your project.
Take some notes from our foley video above to see how you can record your own effects with household items.
Also, if you want to look at a massive library of free sound effects, check out our freebies below.
Combining All of These in Adobe Audition
Alright, so you’ve recorded your audio, you’ve got your music tracks, and maybe a nice collection of sound effects ready to go. How do you put them all together?
Whatever DAW (Digital Audio Workspace) you choose to use, there are two main things you should focus on when editing your audio—fading and volume control.
It’s important to control the volume of the tracks so nothing is overpowering anything else. You don’t want your music to limit what your listeners hear from your recorded vocal track. But, you also want your listeners to be able to hear and appreciate the music and sound effects underneath the vocal track.
Audition makes this easy. Each track has a band along it that controls the volume level. By creating pins with the pen tool, you can raise or lower tracks at certain levels. And, when you lower and raise audio levels, or even introduce new tracks into your soundscape, you need to utilize fading.
A hard jump into music or a sound effect will jolt a listener. As you can see from the tutorial above, Audition has easy tools for you to use to introduce fading with a simple drag of the edge of your track.
Using OBS to Record Your Audio
Another method for recording your podcasts is OBS software. This is basically just a recording program much like QuickTime.
But, I figured it’d be best to at least go over how to use OBS in case you want to (it’s free, by the way).
In the tutorial above, Andrew from over at Deity breaks down the first steps you need to take once you open up OBS, as well as how to navigate the interface.
From there, we see the various tools and limiters used to ensure a solid recording that’s free of clipping, background noise, or distortion.
Actually, speaking of removing background noise, check out the tutorial below for removing unwanted noise in Adobe Audition.
So, remember that all of these tools are vital for creating a convincing soundscape for your podcast. And, if you ever need any music to accompany your podcast, we’ve always got you here at PremiumBeat, no matter what type of genre you’re looking for.
Want to learn even more about audio editing and podcasts? Check these out:
Cover image via spaxiax.