Hi I'm Colin Gray, and this is my website, Mountain Bikes Apart. This blog is all about my adventures in mountain biking, from great trails and trips to outright fiascos and racing disasters. We're all about finding the right mountain bike for you, whether it's buying your first, your newest, or upgrading an old steed.
Audio Drama is one of the most complex types of podcast you can create.
From planning to publishing, the entire process dwarfs that of a conversational podcast.
For this reason, serialised Audio Dramas are a lot less sustainable than other types of podcast.
Few (if any) Audio Dramas run on an ongoing weekly episode schedule. Batch-creating seasons, or putting episodes out as and when they’re ready are more common approaches in this medium.
At The Podcast Host, we run a series called Hostile Worlds. This is an Audio Drama combined with space/science documentary elements.
It’s a really heavily produced show and each episode takes a lot of work to put together.
If you’ve ever thought about running your own Audio Drama series it can hard to figure out where to start, what to do, and in what order to do it.
In this article I’m going to outline my production process for you.
My way certainly isn’t the only way to do things, but I’ve gradually honed it over the years, and it works for me.
Over time you’ll develop your own workflow that suits you. But hopefully by looking through a pre-existing one this’ll at least help you towards getting started!
Like any type of podcast, the key element is the speech.
Audio Dramas tend to be fully scripted. Completed scripts will then be recorded by the voice actors, either together in a studio, online over a program like Source Connect, or independently and in isolation.
My first real post-production task is to get the dialogue into my DAW (I use Adobe Audition) and check that there’s no audio quality issues. This could be things like clipping, distortion, excessive reverb, or any other unwanted sounds.
I’m also making sure that the dialogue works and flows together, especially if it has been recorded in isolation. Sometimes I’ll need a retake on the odd line or two.
Recently, our two main voice actors (Sarah and David) have been performing the script online together, whilst recording their own audio independently.
This makes it much easier for me to sync up than if I was getting in two files of lines recorded in isolation. I’d then need to run through and select the best takes before building the dialogue from scratch.
As our voice actors record with pro-level equipment in treated environments, it isn’t necessary to do much “restoration” work to the source files.
I fade music tracks in and out, chop them up, and sometimes overlap them.
Once this musical layer is built, the rest is really the icing on the cake.
Sound Effects and Ambience
I tend to place the small “spot” sound effects first. The ones that need tinkered with and moved around a bit for timing purposes. These are things like chair creaks, button presses, and general “Foley”.
Then the bigger ambient beds can go in. These are the overall sounds of the scene environments themselves. This might be anything from simple room noise to rain, wind, or thunder.
At this stage, though everything is laid out and in order, the volume levels are still all over the place.
I run through the session a few times making adjustments as I go.
My aim is that the listener shouldn’t need to touch the volume dial when listening. Though at the same time, I want each episode to have as much dynamic range as possible.
I’ll adjust volumes either by track (which alters the volume of every clip in that track), or by using the Envelope feature to tweak individual clips.
I shoot for an overall loudness of -19LUFS (LUFS is a loudness measurement) and can run the full episode mixdown through Audition’s Match Loudness function to see when I’ve hit it.
I don’t go mad with panning nowadays, as it can be jarring for some listeners. But I do still like to use it liberally.
I separate character voices with light panning. I’ll also use the technique for effect in special scenes or transitions.
Basically, I’m just looking to give some space and dimension to the finished piece. I like Audio Drama to be as immersive as possible.
I always recommend mixing down your audio and listening to it away from the computer a few times.
This stops you staring at the multitrack view and “editing with your eyes” (as opposed to your ears).
Going out for a walk and listening through earbuds also puts you in the position of your listener. This is how most people are going to consume your show.
At this point I’m making sure I’m happy with the timing and general pacing of everything.
I’m also on the lookout (listen-out?) for anything that’s a bit too loud, or a bit too quiet.
The “final listen” (it’s actually more like 20 “final” listens) is necessary, but you need to be careful not to drive yourself mad.
In Audio Drama, it’s better to err on the side of perfectionism in my opinion. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere though. Otherwise you’ll never actually get anything finished and out there.
File Formats & Upload
I tend to opt for a bitrate of 192kbps for my Audio Dramas, prior to upload.
This is way higher than I’ll mix spoken-word shows. Usually I’d go with 96kbps for those.
I use the iTunes desktop app to enter metadata and cover art to the finished MP3, before publishing to Libsyn.
And there’s absolutely no time to kick back and enjoy the moment, because it’s immediately time to get started on the next episode!
Making Audio Drama
This type of podcasting is hard work, and can be a very steep learning curve. But it’s also extremely rewarding.
It takes years of practice to start creating anything or serious quality. But the only way to get there, is to actually start.
And when you do start, start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to learn absolutely everything at once.
At the same time though, keep one foot outside your comfort zone, seek feedback from those qualified to give it. Always seek to make your next episode better than your last one.
There’s a growing demand for good Audio Drama podcasts, and that demand is only going to keep growing.
If you’re prepared to work hard, there’s a huge audience out there waiting to hear your stories!
In this episode I’m talking to Joanna Penn of ‘The Creative Penn Podcast‘ about monetisation methods for podcasting. Joanna runs one of the UK’s longest lasting shows, alongside her hugely successful ‘self publishing’ website: The Creative Penn.
Early on she made the decision that the show had to pay for itself, to justify her time away from the main work on her blog. Joanna’s story is a great example of how a bit of creativity and purpose can lead to the ideal combination of monetisation methods for yourself. And the key word, there, is ‘combination’! Joanna shows how, even with her audience, she’s relied on a really diverse range of monetisation methods – not just a ‘one shot’ method that brings in all of her income. She’s using Patreon, sponsorship, affiliate income and product sales, such as audiobooks, really successfully.
One of the most interesting methods, and not one we’ve talked about before, are her audiobooks. Listen to the show to hear Joanna talk about how she’s using the skills she’s learned through Podcasting, to earn income through Audiobooks. And learn how it might be an ideal method for you, given that you’re already podcasting.
Monitors are probably the most important audio device in our pursuit of professional sound and audio clarity. To be effective when mixing, studio recording technicians, engineers, sound designers and producers need to be able to hear the sound represented as accurately as possible. Only then can they create a universally listenable production, whether the audience listens through earbuds, stereo speakers or in a car traveling down the highway.
So what are monitors? How do they different from speakers? What about headphones? And what do I need to know to make good monitor purchasing decisions?
Speakers versus Monitors
The best way to understand the difference between speakers and monitors is to think of “speakers” as a more generic term and “monitors” (short for studio monitors or reference monitors) as more specific. Reference monitors are speakers. However, not all speakers are reference monitors. Even more confusing is the fact that video monitors, stage monitors, computer monitors, and studio monitors are all simplified and referred to as monitors. In any given studio setting, all of these monitors are often present.
I don’t have any fast and furious tricks for knowing which monitor someone is referring to except context. Typically when we refer to monitors in the studio, we mean reference monitors. Here’s a general breakdown of the differences:
Speaker or Loudspeaker
Speakers refer to any item used to project sound from a signal source. They typically consist of a woofer at minimum, but they sometimes include a tweeter to carry high frequency sounds more accurately. They come in various sizes and degrees of quality and include the other types.
PA or Live Loudspeaker
Typically used in theatre and music reinforcement systems and for public speeches and ceremonies, a PA is simply an amplified speaker. PA’s (short for public address systems) are less concerned with accurate representation of sound and more concerned with amplification to reach the most people. In the case of theatre and music loudspeakers, there is generally an attempt to produce high-fidelity sound for audiences, but they are often sweetened to make them sound clearer and more pleasing to audiences, and therefore don’t necessarily reproduce a sound accurately.
Stage Monitor or Live Monitor
A stage monitor is simply a loudspeaker designed so performers can hear themselves while on stage. They are aimed at the musician or performer, rather than at the audience.
Studio Monitor or Reference Monitor
These are speakers specifically designed to have a flat response so they accurately represent sound.
How monitors work
Just like microphones, monitors (and speakers) are transducers, meaning they convert energy from one form to another. However, where microphones convert sound vibrations into electrical energy, speakers go the other way, converting electrical signals back to sound so we can hear what was recorded.
Headphones vs Reference Monitors
Similar to speakers, headphones are a very general term for speakers that are worn over (or just inside) the ears. And just like speakers, there are balanced varieties that are referred to as reference monitors as well. Often they are termed over-the-ear or in-ear monitors. Over-the-ear monitors are more often used in studio situations as they do not bleed sound into open microphones. They are often referred to as “cans.”
Headphone style monitors are typically used for monitoring while recording, but can also be used for basic mixing and editing. It is typically unadvised to do complete mixes through cans because they can misrepresent how the audio will sound in an acoustic space. Air and walls and different acoustic anomalies will make reverb sound harsher and eq sound more midrange and unpleasant to the ear.
Simply put, headphone monitors often make everything sound too good, and as a result, producers will use more reverb and EQ than needed, making the audio sound muddy, over-reverbed and distorted when played through other speakers and monitors. So even if you do headphone mixes to edit dialog and narration, I recommend mixing audio at least once through a set of monitors before delivering your audio to an audience to ensure things sound consistent from audio device to audio device.
This is the range of frequencies your monitor can accurately represent. The range of human hearing is from 20Hz to 20000 kHz. This range decreases over time from the moment we’re born. Typically, we want to be able to listen to our mixes at a range from 40hz to 15kHz or better. Small monitors should have a low frequency of at least 70Hz and can be paired with a subwoofer to extend the range.
Have you ever looked at a computer monitor or TV from the side and seen how the colors start looking wrong? Figures become distorted and more difficult to recognize. If so, then you’ll be familiar with the concept of off-axis response, which is similar, but with sound. Off-axis response is the shift in decibels when you’re not listening directly from the center of the listening field.
To test for off-axis response start at the center of the listening field while playing some audio. Move a small step off-center to the left or right. If there is a dramatic change in the sound (more than about 3dB), you are hearing what is referred to as a narrow off-axis response.
Typically, a good off-axis response allows two people (like a producer and engineer), sit side- by-side and listen to a mix with little change in the sound. It is for this reason that choosing monitors with a wide off-axis response (Or, simply “wide response”) is important.
Transient response deals with how the monitors shape how your sound is represented. A transient is the attack of your sound, a short, high amplitude signal at the beginning of a waveform. If you clap into a microphone. The transient is the first high peak at the instant that your hands came together.
Reference monitors need to represent our sounds in a way that they aren’t boomy or muddy and decay properly over time.
To test transient response, play a sound or music that you are familiar with. I prefer to use orchestral music or jazz, as these involve a wider range of frequencies. Listen to high notes, low notes and mid tones. Is there anything that feels or sounds “off” about the sound? Do cymbals sound harsh or uncharacteristically bright? Do basses sound unclear and lacking in definition? Typically, this is either a frequency response or a transient response problem.
Clarity and Detail
The object of selecting monitors is to find monitors in your budget that represent your recorded sound with precision. When listening through reference monitors, you should be able to pick up on small details that often aren’t heard through other speakers. Can you hear the saxophone player breathe before he plays? At the very least a good set of monitors will make subtle details more apparent than when listening through other speakers.
Other Specs to Consider
Any unwanted distortion is problematic. Look for monitors with a distortion less than 3% from 40Hz-20kHz at 90dB-SPL
This is how much power the speaker will put out in Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) at 1 watt from 1 meter away. 93dB/W/m is high. 85 is low.
Nearfield vs Midfield
Many professional studios are equipped with midfield monitors. They represent sound over a longer distance for bigger rooms. Typical home studios are equipped with nearfield monitors, which are smaller, less expensive and well-equipped to handle sound over shorter distances. Nearfield speakers also reduce problems associated with room acoustics as they are designed to be aimed directly at the listener’s ears from a shorter distance to achieve the most direct sound possible.
2-way and 3-way
This is a tricky specification. It refers to the number of speakers in a monitor and how they are arranged. In general, 3-way speakers have a potential to produce more accurate sound, with less midrange distortion at louder volumes. This is sometimes true. However, inferior components, shortcuts, and misrepresented data can make this difficult to gauge. Always listen to monitors to verify whether they are right for you.
Active vs Passive
Active, or powered monitors have a built in amplifier. You just plug them in, turn them on, and the internal amplifiers power the monitor. Passive monitors require a separate amplifier to drive the monitor. Typically, most producers will be looking for active monitors.
Monitors affect your recording technique and the quality of your productions. Careful selection, placement and leveling provides a reliable foundation to create universally listenable mixes.
Specifications aside, it is extremely important to listen to your monitors. I highly recommend going to your local music or audio equipment store and listening to several monitors. Many of these stores have listening rooms where you can listen to the same audio over several different monitor systems. Listen carefully. Step from side to side. Walk around the room to get different perspectives on what you are hearing. Monitors are the most important tools in your arsenal to great, professional sound. Make sure you trust them.
Noise reduction is great for cleaning this up. Traditionally this process works by manually taking a sample (around 20 seconds) of the type of ‘noise’ you want to remove, then applying it to the entire clip.
Audition’s Adaptive Noise Reduction process runs as a track effect in the multitrack though. Even with it’s default settings it cleans up vocal tracks brilliantly. You can then export these tracks to make a new “clean” version of the audio to work with.
This adapts to the noise level underneath the vocals as it processes. So even if you were adjusting your gain a lot during the recording, Adaptive Noise Reduction will – funnily enough – adapt to the variations.
Whilst constant hiss is one form of unwanted noise, the other is the isolated sounds of things in the background during your recording. This could be anything from a dog barking, to a phone ringing.
If such a noise happens at the same time as someone is talking, and what they’re saying is imperative to the conversation, then you can’t edit it out in the traditional ‘cut’ sense.
With spectral analysis though, you can look at the audio in frequency form, pick out the unwanted sound, and literally rub it out.
Like any type of restoration work, there’s limits, but there’s times where this process can work like magic and really help you out in a pinch.
Each clip and track inside Audition’s multitrack has “envelope” lines running through them. On the clips themselves, you can add keyframes to these envelopes, which give you complete control over volume levels and the ability to pan the audio from left to right.
Under each track there’s also a dropdown area with a “Show Envelopes” menu.
This gives you the option to do this work on the track, rather than the clip itself. Meaning you can swap out different clips and still have these volume and panning changes in place.
Here, you can also control an EQ envelope. This is great if you don’t want to apply a certain EQ setting to the entire track, but would like to spot-treat certain areas.
Most commonly in podcasting, envelopes are used to control the volume levels of music and music beds, fading out, fading in, and “ducking” under speech.
Volume levels can be problematic for podcasters. There’s the potential variations from segment to segment, episode to episode, and show to show.
The overall “loudness” of a piece of audio is commonly measured in LUFS. Unfortunately, there are about 10 different “industry standard” agreements on how loud a podcast should be, depending on who you ask.
These commonly range from -16LUFS (pretty loud) to -24LUFS (pretty quiet). I tend to compromise with -19LUFS.
Whatever you opt for though, setting your loudness couldn’t be easier in Adobe Audition. You just drag your file into the Match Loudness window, type in “-19” or whatever you decide to shoot for, hit Run, and away you go.
The Essential Sound panel has helped simplify Adobe Audition, and makes it much more accessible to beginners.
It’s basically another way of adding effects to your clips, but in a much more guided way.
It works by selecting a clip in your multitrack, and assigning a category to it. These are Dialogue, Music, SFX, and Ambience.
Once selected, each category has a plethora of effects you can choose from. In Dialogue, for example, you’ll find things like “Make Distant”, “Over the Intercom”, or even “Podcast Voice”.
And in SFX you’ll find things like “In a Large Room”, or “From Outside”.
You can also use the Essential Sound controls to adjust and set clip volume, panning, and reverb levels.
Adobe Audition Review – Summary
These are some of the main reasons I choose to subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud and use Adobe Audition for my podcast production.
I’m not the biggest fan of subscription models, but the regular updates mean I always have the most up-to-date version, with any new features they’ve rolled out.
It also means I can access things like Photoshop and Premier Pro – programs I could never afford to buy outright.
If you’re a complete beginner with no previous audio experience and looking to start your first podcast, then I’d always recommend testing the water with Audacity. It’s free, and although nowhere near as powerful and flexible as Audition, you can still manage a lot on there. See our Audacity Vs Audition comparison for more info.
But if you’re looking to step up your game, streamline your workflow, and really improve the quality of your podcast, then I’d encourage you to give Adobe Audition a try!
On the Care and Feeding of Cables: Don’t Cross the Streams.
When beginning in audio, you’re often told that cable crossing is a bad thing, and to avoid crossing power cables with audio cables. So let’s dispel some myths and talk about best practices to keep those cables from humming.
Don’t cross audio cables
This is a myth. Crossing audio cables will not cause any undue electrical or magnetic interference. The only potential problem in crossing audio cables is the mess when those suckers get wound around each other via whatever strange force causes instant cable entanglement.
Crossing power cables with audio cables
This one is not a myth, but it’s also not as big of a deal as long as you use balanced cables. For the most part, this bit of advice applies more to stagehands and musicians who use unbalanced (TS) instrument cables to plug into amplifiers.
Balanced cables, because of the way they are designed, will reject most non-signal noise. They do so by inverting the phase of the signal in one of the lines and electronically isolating any signal that moves along the ground shield by removing any signal that does not travel via both phases.
Because unbalanced cables lack a second phase, any interference traveling along the only live phase are introduced into the system with no way to compensate for it. When power cables cross an unbalanced cable, the power inside the power cable acts as an electromagnet, and creates interference along any adjoining or parallel cables.
For this reason, it is best practice to run power cables separately from unbalanced audio cables. If you must cross cables, doing so at a 90 degree (right) angle reduces the amount of cable crossing each other and reduce the chances and the amount of electromagnetic interference.
Good Cable Practices
In most studio situations, cables are typically laid out in as short a run as possible between the microphone and the jack. Because the cables are typically short and balanced, interference problems are not as likely to occur as they would in live stage applications.
In the home studio, ensuring balanced cables shorter than 10 feet are used will eliminate most interference. If you must cross an audio cable over a power cable, ensure the two cables are at a 90 degree angle to one another to prevent magnetic and RF interference.
Here’s a quick reference on cable crossing:
Audio Cables Crossing Audio Cables
Balanced Audio Cables Crossing Power Cables
Little to no interference
Unbalanced Audio cables crossing power lines
Potential interference, typically a 60Hz (50Hz, UK and EU) hum.
Solution: Run power cables away from unbalanced audio cables. If necessary, cross cables at a 90 degree angle
It’s a good idea to create a short promo trailer for your podcast, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, you can embed it on the front page of your website. That way, everyone who lands on your site can get an immediate taster of your content without the need to jump through any hoops.
Secondly, your trailer can be featured and played on other podcasts.
This might be a show that invites promo trailer submissions, like Libsyn’s The Feed. Or it might be a ‘trailer swap’ agreement between yourself and another podcast to promote each other to your respective audiences.
Having your trailer easily accessible to all means that you might get promotion without even being aware of it too. If another podcaster likes your work, then can just download the audio and play it on their own show.
The only potential downside of having a promo trailer is if you have a bad one.
The aim here is to help you make the most of the short amount of time you have to grab the attention of potential listeners.
How Long Should a Promo Trailer Be?
So the infamous podcasting “it depends” answer isn’t just as wide open here.
I’d say that having two versions of your trailer, one at 30 seconds, and one at 60 seconds, will cover most bases.
If you’re submitting your trailer to somewhere that’s requesting them, then the decision of length is usually made for you. The Feed ask for 30 second clips, whilst I’ve heard of others asking for no longer than a minute of audio.
What Should Be in Your Promo Trailer?
You’ve always got creative license in podcasting, but there are some bare essentials here. These may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many trailers leave some of this stuff out.
The Name of Your Podcast
Yeah, you’ll want to include that…
What’s It About, & Who’s It For?
Don’t rely on the name of your show to tell people this valuable info. Tell them yourself. You can nail this down to a sentence or two.
A popular approach is to open with a question, like “are you a ___ who struggles with ___?, then join us on the ___ podcast where we help you ___.”
Or “Have you ever wondered about ___?, or what about ___? Well these are just two of the topics you’ll find us discussing each week on the ___ podcast.”
Make sure your target audience knows this is the show for them, and that people who aren’t your target audience know that it isn’t for them.
Like any good call to action, send them to one single easy to remember place. Preferably your own website. Don’t say things like “look us up on Facebook” or “find us in Apple Podcasts” and run through a list of podcast directories. This is utterly redundant and a waste of valuable space.
It’s good practice on your website to have a “Subscribe” page with links to everywhere you can be found.
You should make it easy for people to find, listen, and subscribe to your show, and the best way to do that is via your own website.
The Creative Bit: Tone & Personality
So providing you’ve got the essential details in there, we don’t want this to be a rigid formula that leaves every promo trailer sounding the same.
You want yours to sound unique, and that means getting creative. That’s a challenge with such a short amount of time available, but you wouldn’t be podcasting at all if you didn’t have a creative streak in you. You’ll manage!
Your promo trailer will be many listeners first impressions of your show, so you want to set the mood right up front.
If you cover your topic in a lighthearted or comedic way, then you want to get that across to them.
Your audio quality (as well as any music or sound effects you use) will all filter into this just as much as what you actually say too.
If you run a highly-produced series, or pride yourself on your production values, then be sure to demonstrate that in your trailer.
Anything to Avoid?
I’ve already mentioned the “find us in Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Soundcloud, Overcast…” thing as a no-no. So are there any other things you might want to leave out?
Alright, I’m not saying don’t have explicit language if it’s integral to your mood or tone, but do consider that it might limit where your trailer will be played.
If you absolutely do need an explicit trailer, you might consider making an alternative clean version too.
Asking For Stuff
The only thing you want to ask people to do here is to listen to your podcast.
I’ve heard a couple of promo trailers over the years that’ve managed to start asking for things like iTunes reviews and Patreon support. That’s something you can talk to your actual listeners about, not your potential listeners.
Your trailer should be all about them, and what they’ll get from listening.
Got Your Own Promo Trailer Yet?
If so, feel free to share a link in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you’ve done with it.
And if you’d like some more tailored support with this, or any other aspect of podcasting, then you can work with us inside The Podcast Host Academy.
In there, you’ll find all our courses on planning, launching, equipment, editing, interviewing, as well as our community forum and live Q&A sessions.
It would be great to see you there!
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