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Tell a Better Story with Effective Podcast Sound Mixing

Robbie Janney

Effective sound design is one of the best ways to raise the production value of your podcast. Improve the soundscape of your podcasts with a few simple tricks.

What makes your favorite podcast truly suck you into the show? 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. Combining the use of music, sound effects, and natural sound can place a listener into the headspace to consume your podcast the way you intended it to. 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.

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.

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.

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 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 telling 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.

Thankfully here at PremiumBeat, we’ve got an entire audio library to fit any type of feeling you need to convey. Take a look at our podcast playlist to get some ideas.

Selling Your Story with Foley and Natural Sounds

If you are 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.

Let’s take a lesson from my favorite episodic podcasts, Limetown. It’s the story of how a town disappeared overnight, and it is presented as a journalistic take as one reporter journeys into what happened to this mysterious town. Take a listen to the episode above. See how they use sound effects to transport you to a new world? When they are outside, take note of how they use natural sound to sell the fact that they are outdoors. Sounds of cars rushing by, the whistle of birds in the air, and wind subtly rushing by convinces you that they are 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.

Humans have a very 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 is 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.

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?

Well, it’s honestly quite simple if you have experience in any type of editing. When I edit podcasts, I tend to use Adobe Audition since I’m familiar with the Adobe suite of products. 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.

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 again has easy tools for you to use to introduce fading with a simple drag of the edge of your track.

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 are looking for.

Want to learn even more about audio editing and podcasts? Check these out.