Kristen, a member of our Point Mystic community, asked me for some podcasting advice, and I wanted to share it with you so that everyone could learn and contribute:
Hi, Chris! I’m really loving Point Mystic, from the weirdness to the incredible sound design to how precious and creative your son is. I was wondering – could I ask you for some general podcasting advice?
My brother and I have been working on one that we’re really getting into now, and I was wondering about sound design in particular. I’ve been editing D&D sessions to figure out how to use Audacity, but I could really use some tips, if you have some extra time.
(I asked her at this point if she had any specific questions, and if if could bring on another podcaster with experience in this style of show)
I’m not sure I had anything specific – we’re pretty bare-bones (I have a 50 dollar mic and Audacity). But if you had any tips on sound effects, getting clear audio from multiple people, etc, that’d be great!
Thank you so much for reaching out! Before I offer a few of my own audio tips, I wanted to bring in someone who is more of an expert than I on capturing group audio for a real-play D&D style podcast. Joining me is Joe Love of the fantastic D&D RPG podcast: Advantage. I’ll have him start out with great advice for capturing this style of audio, and jump in with things that I have learned. Take it away, Joe!
I am the DM, writer and producer of the podcast Advantage – a real-play tabletop podcast similar to the one you are inspired to start. First of all, I am inspired by your desire to podcast despite its difficulties. Like you, I had no audio editing experience going into production. A year later, I’ve gotten better, but still am aware of my novice-ness. Keep that in mind.
Our setup includes five people in five cities. We call in on Skype using $35 USB plug-and-play microphones, and record the show off of each individual computer. I then collect everyone’s audio via Google Drive, and splice it together in GarageBand. To make up for my inabilities as a sound engineer I had a custom score written; music fades in and out during scene cuts and whatnot. To be honest, my hope was that having good music would help mask my failures; I think it’s done a decent job…
This process works well for playing remotely. Our mics aren’t powerful enough to successfully capture a full tabletop session. Instead each player is at home in their bedrooms/makeshift studios, which comes with all the expected problems: sound leakage, annoying neighbors, roommates cooking, etc. But, because it’s what we have, we make it work. We aren’t professions, and we know that; we do what we can to make a decent audio experience while recognizing our physical, technological, and mental limitations. We compensate with passion and love of the game.
I only have a few tips and tricks for audio editing:
- It’s better for your final cut to be too loud than too soft. The audience can always turn it down, but they can’t always turn it up.
- Move all your raw tracks at once while editing. This will help keep the timing right.
- I still don’t know how to work GarageBand well or what a lot of audio jargon means. Do what you can with what you have. It is your passion should guide you through hard times, not your technical know-how.
Feel free to text or call me,
Thank you, Joe, for joining me on this question! I could not have done this one without you. I too knew nothing about Audio when I started Point Mystic. The first time I ever saw a multi track recording is when I opened audacity for the first time to produce episode 1.0 The Fireman. But I had spent months studying articles on audio production that sped up my learning along the way.
My first tip then is for you to dive into the mountain of free articles and tutorials that audio communities write to support each other. For Point Mystic, I was focused on creating a rich, cinematic production sound, so I focused on learning from places like Transom.org (public radio) and FilmSound.org. While the kind of audio capturing done for this kind of sound is quite different than capturing a group of actors recording together, there is a lot of great things to learn here. Public radio for one, is great at creating almost cinematic sound using simple recording techniques that require very little knowledge from the reporters that are gathering it. The advised audio production style is uncomplicated (they need to get news stories out quick) and has great tips for any kind of production. If I’ve had any failing in taking my own advice, it’s that I have ignored the part about keeping your production simple, and have swum out to the deep end of the pool (An episode of Point Mystic will often have between forty and fifty simultaneous tracks of vocals, sound effects and music. I can’t help myself — I love a rich production style.) For a real-play RPG, however you may want to go much simpler – it’s all about your characters interacting, so focus on miking your people, and maybe one track for sound effects and one for music. If you want to create more elaborate sound, you can add more tracks as you learn.
For Audacity (which is what I used for Point Mystic Season 1), try FreeAudacityTutorials.com (or the countless youtube videos on how to do any particular audacity task). For Season 2 I’m learning to mix in Reaper because, while it’s no more or less powerful than Audacity, I’d love to migrate to an audio program that does non-destructive editing. No matter what program you choose, there are free tutorials out there to help you.
Now for sound effects. This is the fun part. I do occasionally use free creative commons sound effects from places like freesound.org but mostly what I love to do is have fun chasing sounds in the real world. Many folks these days are using some kind of portable recorder like a Zoom H4 or H5 as the foundation for their podcast recording (I use a Marantz myself). If you have a portable recorder, great! Most people never use the built in microphones, but they give you everything you need to capture field recordings for special effects. Even if you aren’t using a portable recorder, it’s not hard to pick up an inexpensive hand-held recorder with stereo mics to capture sound effects. I use an ancient Olympus LS-10 for this kind of thing, though there are far more advanced ones be had cheaply these days.
Grab your stereo recorder, and start playing. The world is filled with amazing sounds. Making a french-press pot of coffee? That shlurp may perfect for a gelatinous cube sliding down the halls. Going hiking in the woods with friends? Just push record and go. Perfect background for that scene where your party goes tromping through the hills. I find I work like a Foley artist, wandering around and tapping on everyday things to see what they sound like. I find this more fun than hunting through a huge special effect library for the ‘perfect sound’.
You may be surprised that Point Mystic is more of a sibling to a real-play RPG podcasts than people realize. I ran a lot of RPG games when I was younger, and the semi-improvisational nature of the Point Mystic’s story and sound draws from my role-playing experience. If I have a last piece of advice for you and everyone else in the community: Don’t wait to start. Leap off the cliff now and build your wings on the way down.
If anyone has their own tips and resources to share, please feel free to comment on the post. Everyone please do check out Joe Love’s Advantage DnD podcast. It’s not only a good example of these kinds of audio tips in action, it’s a great real-play show to listen to.
Have a great Audio Drama Sunday!