Sound design is a key aspect of podcast worldbuilding. It breathes life into the universe you’ve created for the listener, heightens dramatic tension and builds immersive aural environments your audience will be eager to explore for seasons to come.
In this article, we’ll show you how to make your podcast sound more professional with the best tips and tricks for creating sound effects, mixing with effects such as reverb and delay, and other ways to take your podcast to the top of the chart.
How to Make Your Podcast Sound Professional
The elements that make a podcast “sound professional” vary based on your audience’s expectations and the type of show you’re producing. A scripted drama will naturally have different requirements than an on-air interview sports show. For our purposes, we’re going to say that a “professional sounding podcast” is one where listeners can listen and engage with your content without being distracted by behind-the-scenes production.
Great podcast sound design combines microphone technique and creative audio production with a storyteller’s instinct to establish an aural space where listeners can lose themselves in the characters and worlds you’ve created. Let’s get started.
6 Tips for Sound Designing a Podcast
1. Good Sound Design Starts at the Source
Before you start browsing your sample library or take your field recorder for a trip, have a chat with your podcast’s director to set the direction and tone. Review the podcast script or style guide and take notes. Here are a few ideas to get the conversation started:
- Find out their sound design philosophy— do they prefer an abstract soundscape, or is gritty realism the goal?
- What sounds are required to tell the stories of each character?
- How about locations? How much information should come from the sound design? What’s left to the listener’s imagination?
2. Good Mic Technique is Everything
When you’re recording dialogue, common podcast audio problems like harsh sibilance, muddy low end rumble or distracting pops can be avoided with proper microphone placement.
Sibilance is the brittle treble spike that happens when “S” sounds cause microphones to record an unpleasant hissing noise. To avoid this, simply rotate the microphone a few degrees off-axis to capture fewer of these unruly frequencies.
Muddy low end is usually the result of a speaker being too close to the microphone. Try placing the mic six inches away from the speaker and tilted slightly upwards for a polished and coherent sound.
Pops occur when the gust of air behind “P” and “B” sounds distort the microphone capsule. Check out our article about pop filters to learn how to prevent pops before they happen.
3. Get Organized
Before you start clicking through your plug-in folder, take a few minutes to organize your DAW session. Experienced podcast mixers and sound designers keep templates for each podcasting genre so they can work quickly and efficiently.
Prior to mixing, take a few minutes to create busses (or groups) for Vocals, Ambience, Sound FX, and Music. Having the ability to raise or lower the volume of all the dialogue tracks at once will save you hours of clicking around the mix window.
If you handle a lot of Skype or other conference call audio, a dedicated track for call-in guests with noise reduction and equalization will help fix digital artifacts and other audio issues.
Sound design heightens dramatic tension and builds immersive aural environments for your audience.
4. Build a World with Sound Effects
Sound effects are where the “design” part kicks in. With your audio production abilities and storyteller’s instinct, you get to set the stage for the action that’s about to unfold in the audience’s earbuds.
Give characters and locations a unique sonic signature to help listeners visualize your podcast world. Use musical cues to convey information about a character’s state of being.
Try automating the panning of sounds like footsteps, doors opening and closing or ambient traffic noises to create the sensation of characters moving across the soundstage.
If your sound library isn’t cutting it, record your own unique foley sounds to bring characters, locations or background activity to life.
5. Go Easy on the Noise Reduction
Noise reduction is a podcaster’s best friend—until it isn’t. Too much noise reduction introduces bizarre digital artifacts that break the listener’s concentration. Use too little noise reduction and your audience might switch to a better sounding podcast.
When you’re denoising tracks, it’s best to adjust your noise reduction plug-in until it sounds right, then back off just a bit to avoid artifacts. To learn more about noise reduction, check out our blog.
6. Build Immersion with Reverb and Delay
A dry podcast mix built from disparate elements like field recordings, in-studio dialogue, foley and sound effects can feel disjointed and unnatural. Effects like reverb and delay provide the audio “glue” that holds the mix together. Or they can be a creative tool to craft psychedelic alien landscapes. It all depends on the project.
For interior scenes, sending tracks to a short room reverb provides just enough ambience to make it sound like your characters (and listener) are occupying the same building.
Elsewhere, using longer reverbs or delay as “special effects” can recreate the sensation of standing on the edge of a cliff or touching down on an unexplored intergalactic alien homeworld. Experiment with automating the controls of your favorite reverb and delay plug-ins to discover what they have to offer.
If you’re in a creative rut, try printing your reverbs and delays to their own audio track and continue processing the audio to create ambience like you’ve never heard before. Reversing the audio of the printed reverb and delay track(s) and nudging them slightly ahead of the dry signal is a fun and easy way to break out of your old creative routine and explore new sounds.
Looking for more expert podcasting advice? Check out our Ultimate Podcast Guide.