Author Archives: Jim Beaugez

Fox Podcast Talks Tech in 60 Seconds

FOX on Tech
Fox News Channel

New York, NY (June 21, 2021)—Podcasts, by the nature of their open-ended format, afford creators the license to define the length and pacing of the stories they tell. Episodes of the exhaustively researched Cocaine & Rhinestones: The History of Country Music, for example, routinely clock between an hour and two hours-plus in length. The aptly titled Longest Podcast in the World set the record at 36 continuous hours.

Brett Larson, editor of the FOX on Tech podcast
Brett Larson, editor of the FOX on Tech podcast

“Usually, podcasts are as long as they are interesting,” says Brett Larson, editor of the FOX on Tech podcast and morning anchor on Sirius FM’s FOX News Headlines 24/7. FOX on Tech goes the opposite direction, squeezing the tech news of the day into pithy one-minute audio shorts which are made available to listeners as a podcast and through terrestrial FOX News Radio affiliates.

“Day to day, there’s always something that’s going to happen—there’s a new phone from Apple, there’s malware you have to keep on the lookout for, there’s a massive data breach—but some of the stories are kind of tied together,” says Larson. “The podcast platform allows us to do more interesting stories in the field of technology.”

FOX on Tech began as a feature segment on FOX News Headlines 24/7 and as a download for radio affiliates throughout the U.S. The segment was so popular on radio that the network decided to add the program to the lineup on its podcast platform alongside four other new titles in March.

Story ideas begin at the FOX news desk or with Larson himself, who writes the podcast shorts and compiles audio clips to help tell each story. Timing affects every decision, not only to make the most engaging and informative use of the allotted daily minute, but also because the clips have to be exactly 60 seconds in length for radio. If a story calls for audio support, Larson gauges precisely how much is necessary and writes his script around it.

“Some stories that are more complicated take significantly longer because some of the tech subjects can be difficult to explain in just a few seconds,” says Larson. “How do you explain net neutrality in seven seconds? Because that’s all the time you’re gonna get in a 60-second feature to do it.”

Jason Bonewald, director of podcast development, news operations and political programming, and his team aim to keep production values high.
Jason Bonewald, director of podcast development, news operations and political programming, and his team aim to keep production values high.

The production process is lightning-fast as well, which Larson attributes to the “muscle memory” of researching a topic, then writing, rewriting, submitting and finally producing the podcast segment. Typically, it’s all done within an hour. Larson records at home using a Shure SM7B microphone and a Comrex Access remote-broadcast IP codec, employing an XLR splitter that sends the audio to both the Comrex and through a Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB-C interface into Adobe Audition.

Once Larson is done with the audio, he uploads the WAV files for Jason Bonewald, director of podcast development, news operations and political programming. Bonewald and his post-production team add compression and other subtle audio sweeteners if needed and review for editorial content.

“We’ll add a little bit of compression [and] tweak some if there’s any audio hiccups, if there’s anything we heard coming over his mic,” says Bonewald. “It’s mostly polishing on the final product on our end, and then just reviewing the read and doing some final checks on audio and editorial to make sure nothing that changed from when we handed the original product in to when we get the finished product back. There’s rarely any need for final polishes, but we review every single one of them anyway.”

Producing the ‘WTF with Marc Maron’ Podcast

Keeping production values high is a priority with FOX News Podcasts, he adds. “There’s no closer medium that you could get than the podcast industry, because you’re literally in someone’s ear,” says Bonewald. “We try to give our audience what we’re used to hearing in the old-fashioned radio experience. We’re trying to give them the best quality audio that we can.”

Fox on Tech Podcast •

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Producing the ‘WTF with Marc Maron’ Podcast

Throughout the pandemic, Marc Maron (left) and producer Brendan McDonald have continued to record the WTF podcast in Maron’s garage.
Throughout the pandemic, Marc Maron (left) and producer Brendan McDonald have continued to record the WTF podcast in Maron’s garage.

Los Angeles, CA (June 9, 2021)—When the popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron debuted 11 years ago, the iPhone was only on its third iteration and couldn’t muster downloads larger than 20 MB. That’s an important fact in understanding the evolution of podcasting fidelity from tinny and flangey in the early ’00s, as the podcast’s producer Brendan McDonald describes, to the comparatively crystalline audio available from podcasts today.

“When podcasts were a fairly young medium, there were a lot of data concerns about them from users,” says McDonald, “people with early data plans or devices that did not hold particularly a large amount of data and did not have cloud storage plans yet. So, you had to be very mindful.”

As MP3 compression technology progressed and the show upgraded to a server whose bit rate was 128 Kbps, he found some listeners still preferred the original 22050 Hz mono file, which was 32-bit at a constant 40 Kbps. Those longtime listeners can still find that format on the podcast’s website, while podcatchers and platforms like Spotify get a modern formatted file.

Twenty Thousand Hertz Podcast Spotlights Shure SM7

“I was like, if the default setting is [128 Kbps] and I’m compressing down, [then] we’re getting like a VHS copy of a copy here,” he says. “Now we’re using a more standard, almost stereo MP3 style setting of 44.1 stereo, 16-bit and 128 Kbps—which is a much bigger file, but in the style that people are generally listening to podcasts now.”

McDonald has been with WTF with Marc Maron for all 1,200-plus episodes and worked with the host in terrestrial radio in New York and Los Angeles before transitioning to the podcast format. While he can hear improvements in the quality of the show and audio over that time period, the equipment he used to get the show to today has changed very little. Maron, in his home studio, still tracks with a Shure SM7 microphone and a Samson MDR6 tabletop mixer with Garage Band. McDonald edits in Adobe Audition, the latest version of the Cool Edit software he used in the show’s earliest days.

The only measurable changes to the show’s production, in fact, came with COVID-19. Maron and McDonald had to ease off their policy of only taping interviews in person, but maintaining the easy, conversational vibe that comes from conducting face-to-face interviews was a top priority during the upheaval of 2020.

True Crime Sound Design on ‘Anatomy of Murder’

“These interviews, and this show in general, really connect with people because the conversations feel so intimate,” says McDonald. “Marc, over the course of a decade, has gotten very good at that—basically creating an environment for people to feel like they’re comfortable and they can share with him. It doesn’t have a lot of pretense, it doesn’t have a lot of roadblocks to actual conversation, as opposed to feeling like it’s stilted or a list of Q&A. He wanted it to be personal; he wanted it to feel like two people connecting. And so that was really important to us.”

Social distancing protocols meant that videoconferencing became a necessity. For interviews in which the subject has a home recording setup, McDonald is able to get a tape sync recording, but most audio now comes through Zoom with the Audio Hijack extraction tool by Rogue Amoeba added to the mix. In the software’s Voice Chat mode, McDonald can select Skype, Zoom or another videoconferencing platform as the audio source and tweak the audio on the fly while Maron conducts the interview.

“It’s actually brought me back to my early days of live radio production, in that now I can actually sit on the live call with Marc and I can tinker with the sound if I need to,” he says. “It’s been more work in the last year, but we’ve been able to make it work and largely have been very satisfied with the way things have sounded.”

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The Cinematic Sound of the ‘Sammy the Bull’ Podcast


Former Mafia hitman Salvatore 'Sammy The Bull' Gravano on the set of his podcast, recording through a Shure SM93 lavaliere microphone.
Former Mafia hitman Salvatore ‘Sammy The Bull’ Gravano on the set of his podcast, recording through a Shure SM93 lavaliere microphone.

Phoenix, Arizona (March 25, 2021)—Emmy-award winning sound designer and FX editor Angelo Palazzo has worked on blockbusters such as Disney’s Frozen, Stranger Things and Bridgerton, but he hit the curveball of a lifetime last year when COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill. Palazzo was working with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez on another project when the pandemic halted production one Friday afternoon in early 2020; by the following Monday, he was on board with Our Thing with Sammy the Bull, a Mafia podcast that puts his cinematic skills to use in a new format.

Emmy-award winning sound designer and FX editor Angelo Palazzo
Emmy-award winning sound designer and FX editor Angelo Palazzo

“I’m steeped in feature films and the TV world,” says Palazzo, “[and] it’s a real fine line when you’re putting sound to narration. The music is what is emotionally leading you through the story, but the sound design and sound effects root you in the reality of it. I didn’t wanna go too deep, because if you go too deep, then it can get corny.”

Instead of relying on gimmicky, on-the-nose audio cues that closely follow the action of a story—for example, the sound of a door creaking on its hinges when the protagonist walks into a dark room—Palazzo strives to put listeners in a scene without them even noticing.

“If it’s too literal, it can backfire, so when there was a major plot point, I wanted to kinda ease you into it and set you up for the big moment,” he says. “Then, slowly fade that reality out and bring you back in with just the narration with the music. If you’re nuanced about it, before they know it, you’re out of it and there was no distraction.”

Sammy the Bull with Richard Miller
Sammy the Bull (left) with podcast producer Richard Miller, the general manager of the Sammy the Bull organization.

The protagonist of Our Thing with Sammy the Bull is Salvatore Gravano, the notorious mobster whose hit list runs 19 murders deep and who served as underboss of the Gambino crime family under John Gotti.

Palazzo works with Richard Miller, the general manager of the Sammy the Bull organization, to produce each episode of Our Thing with Sammy the Bull. Miller, whose background is in seminar production, records the narration with Gravano on a Shure SM93 lavaliere microphone (Gravano’s preference over typical podcasting models) into a Zoom H6 recorder. Miller says they’ve since moved on to the Shure MX150 lavaliere, which doesn’t pick up as much ambient sound.

After a few rounds of editing in Adobe Audition, the narration tracks and archival sound clips go to Palazzo for placement and mixing with the score, which he composes and records himself using Native Instruments and vintage synths.

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“Most everything starts with a piano idea, and as I get a certain progression or vibe, piano and strings are where I usually start,” says Palazzo. “There’s these moments where there’s a lot of flutes riffing in the background that has a real ’70s vibe to it that I liked. Also, in the beginning, I went with this beat bassline thing with a Fender Rhodes, just to set the city vibe.”

Our Thing with Sammy the BullElements of Palazzo’s original score pop up in various moments throughout the podcast, including a piece he wrote for the finale that is now the signature opening and closing music for each episode of the podcast.

“They wanted a big orchestral thing—a big, sort of swelling finale,” he says. “If someone gives me a reference, I’ll check out the reference and I’ll listen, and as soon as I get into the vibe of it, I’m almost immediately off onto my own tangent. And then it becomes its own thing, which is what happened with that.”

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True Crime Sound Design on ‘Anatomy of Murder’

Dayton Cole, handles all the post-production work on Anatomy of Murder using a variety of tools, including Avid Pro Tools, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin X interface, plug-ins on an adjacent screen like Waves’ WLM Loudness Meter, and a pair of Audeze LCD-2 Classic Open-Back Over-Ear Headphones.
Dayton Cole, handles all the post-production work on Anatomy of Murder using a variety of tools, including Avid Pro Tools, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin X interface, plug-ins on an adjacent screen like Waves’ WLM Loudness Meter, and a pair of Audeze LCD-2 Classic Open-Back Over-Ear Headphones. LEAF & PINE PHOTOGRAPHY |
Anatomy of Murder executive producer Sumit David.
Anatomy of Murder executive producer Sumit David.

Indianapolis, IN (March 18, 2021)—True-crime podcasts, by the nature of the stories they tell, tend to be underlaid with tense and ominous sounds. While each episode of the Anatomy of Murder podcast, produced by Indianapolis, IN-based Audiochuck, deals with dark themes and details, there is also plenty of room for light, says executive producer Sumit David.

“If you look at the color palettes of a Star Wars movie, they always [begin] white and bright, and as the movie progresses, it gets darker,” says David. “[We were] like, ‘That’s how we should approach the sound design of this. Let’s start not so true crime. Let’s not start very heavy. Let’s ease our audience into it.’”

Dayton Cole, who handles all the post-production work on Anatomy of Murder at podcast editing service Resonate Recordings (Lousiville, KY), likens the process to building a house, with the brooding sounds serving as the basement. Once they establish that baseline, Cole attends to the “brighter, sentimental moments,” which are his favorite to highlight. “More natural sounds, strings and piano—those kind of natural elements—rather than the synthetic, electronic pulsing and droning,” he says.

Anatomy of Murder's hosts Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, an NYC homicide prosecutor, and Scott Weinberger, an investigative journalist.
Anatomy of Murder’s hosts Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, an NYC homicide prosecutor, and Scott Weinberger, an investigative journalist.

David’s background as an editor on reality television programs prepared him for his role on Anatomy of Murder, which is also unscripted. Hosts Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, an NYC homicide prosecutor, and Scott Weinberger, an investigative journalist, research the cases and keep a loose set of talking points for each episode, but otherwise the interviews and case discussions are fluid. The pair record on Blue Yeti USB microphones, while guests record locally on their own computers during video conferences with the hosts.

Before the audio files make it to Cole as an OMF, an open-source format that allows him to import David’s Adobe Premiere files into Pro Tools, David edits the interviews and compiles related archival audio collected from law enforcement sources.

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“I try and make it so that the story is all laid out, that all the bites, whether they be from Scott, Anna-Sigga, from the guests, or from archival material, are all put together in one big sequence, divided up into the four acts,” says David. “From there, it’s handed off to Dayton so he can do his magic of adding the sound design, pacing [and] music.”

David provides some creative direction, but after working together on dozens of episodes of the podcast, the pair have a largely unspoken workflow. Cole approaches each episode as a listener would, forming an outsider’s perspective on the structure and recordings David sends him. “I create blank tracks—little ‘slugs’ I call them—so I can just say, ‘This is kind of the emotion I want in this section,’” says Cole.

Many of the sounds Cole weaves into the podcast’s aural environment come from sound libraries, although he often manipulates the stems through processors like iZotope Rx to meet his needs. The main concern is to keep the music from distracting listeners away from the dialogue, so it is impactful but not overpowering. On a recent episode where he didn’t have access to stem tracks, he improvised to keep the bass and kick drum from overpowering the other instruments.

“I liked what all the other elements were doing,” so “I used the Elysia Alpha Compressor to be able to help the mids come back, and then open up the sides,” he says. “And, I was able to kind of blend that underneath so it wasn’t hitting you in the face so much.”

Transparency is key at the end of the day. Cole prefers to remain in the background and work without being detected. “My job is, don’t be noticed, but be impactful,” he says. “If people are in the story and they’re digging it and they don’t notice all the sound changes, that’s when I know I’ve done my job.”

Anatomy of Murder •

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After 500 Episodes, ‘Grumpy Old Geeks’ Has a Slick Audio Workflow

grumpy old geeksNew York, NY (March 4, 2021)—The first big lesson Jason DeFillippo learned about podcasting was a crucial one. When he and Brian Schulmeister started Grumpy Old Geeks tech podcast eight years ago, they were running two USB microphones on a glass desktop, in a hardwood-floored room, underneath an airport runway. It’s difficult to imagine a more unforgiving audio environment.

“If you go back and listen to the first episodes, it was right on the flight path to Santa Monica airport in Venice [Calif.],” laughs co-host and producer DeFillippo. “[In] the first 20 episodes or so, there’s a plane every five minutes.”

Jason DeFillippo, co-host and producer of Grumpy Old Geeks.

DeFillippo’s perfectionism and growing experience as a producer of professional podcasts like The Art of Charm, Foodist and The Jordan Harbinger Show helped accelerate his hobby podcast’s production values. These days, after nearly 500 episodes and millions of downloads, Grumpy Old Geeks has evolved into a force all its own.

“All of this stuff that I’m doing also translated to Grumpy Old Geeks,” he says. “Actually, a lot of times, I would experiment on Grumpy Old Geeks because nobody was listening to that show. We could get away with doing crazy experiments to see if they worked before we took them over to a show that anybody was actually listening to.”

His quest to make the podcast sound as smooth as radio coincided with the decision to begin recording remotely. After upgrading to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, Electro-Voice RE27N/D broadcasting mic and Rode PSA-1 boom, now he carries a pack with him all over the U.S. and maintains consistent audio quality with an Electro-Voice RE20 dynamic microphone, Sound Devices MixPre-6 preamp audio recorder and his secret weapon: a PreSonus Studio 192 interface.

“You can do all sorts of crazy cable routing with it, and I still use it to this day,” he says. “It’s sitting on my desk in a [double rack unit] with a Furman power conditioner so I can pick it up and take it anywhere in the world, like a little briefcase. I’ve actually got two of them because if one ever broke, I’d be out of business.”

While DeFillippo previously used Skype to connect with Schulmeister and guests—through a three-computer setup of one iMac and two Mac Minis, one for each Skype feed—he switched to the Zencastr platform. “Once Zencastr came out and it got somewhat decent, we switched over to that full-time and got rid of Skype altogether,” he says. “I haven’t used Skype for a podcast in years at this point.”

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Six Voices, One Podcaster, No Problem: Inside Kelcey Ayer’s One-Man Show

Creating A ‘Quest for the North Pole’ Sound Library

In their latest pivot, Grumpy Old Geeks has begun using Squadcast as well as Riverside to record audio for the podcast. The latter platform also records 4k video, which DeFillippo’s other podcast clients use to publish content to YouTube. “Riverside and Squadcast are so great because everybody’s got a browser, everybody’s got a laptop nowadays,” he says. “If you have headphones and a MacBook Pro, I can make that sound like you’re in a studio.”

There is another key benefit, particularly for DeFillippo’s outside clients: Riverside has a Co-Producer mode that allows him to set up clients and then login as a non-participating attendee. He can be “in the room” and communicate with the host and guests, but not be seen or recorded.

Still, one area remains off-limits in DeFillippo’s dedication to high-quality production values: Phone audio is not allowed.

“We’ll just reschedule the show if we have to go to a phone,” he says. “It’s just one of the conditions of any of the shows I work on: We don’t use phones. We want everything to sound like it’s in a studio. If we have to send you a mic, we’ll send you a mic and headphones. The people I usually work with, they want the best quality that you can get.”

Grumpy Old Geeks

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Six Voices, One Podcaster, No Problem: Inside Kelcey Ayer’s One-Man Show

Kelcey Ayer performs his characters into a Shure SM7 mic leading to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, run into Ableton.
Kelcey Ayer performs his characters into a Shure SM7 mic leading to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, run into Ableton.

Los Angeles, CA (February 18, 2021)—Improvising a comedy podcast with multiple characters voiced by the same person is exactly as complicated to execute as you might think. Kelcey Ayer, whose imagination and voice are the engine behind The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio from Headgum, says keeping the production running smoothly comes down to his methodical creative process.

“I’ll go back and forth and try to go kind of fast,” explains Ayer, who also plays keyboards and sings in L.A.-based indie rock band Local Natives. “I record a voice and then back up a little bit, enable a different track, and then record another person’s voice in response to that person’s voice … for 10 minutes or something, and then look over it and tighten things up and change a line here or there.”

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio is a podcast is about a fictional variety TV show that has been canceled but revived on radio. Inspired by shows like 30 Rock, The Larry Sanders Show and even The Muppet Show, which brought viewers behind the scenes to see the making of fictional variety shows, the podcast actually did begin as a radio show on Eastside Radio before Ayer retooled it as a podcast.

Creating A ‘Quest for the North Pole’ Sound Library

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“It’s interesting to call it a podcast, because it’s not really a podcast in the normal sense of a person interviewing someone else—it’s half scripted and half improv,” he says. “I’ll write out ideas with my wife and we’ll bat around story arcs and things like that, and then I’ll just go into improv mode and then kind of run with ideas. It’s a one-man show. I make the music, I engineer everything [and] I write everything with the help of my wife.

Ayer voices all six characters himself, using different speech patterns and accents, as well as the Soundtoys Little AlterBoy plug-in to manipulate pitch. To keep his improvisations moving quickly, he keeps a Shure SM7 set up at a level that works well for every voice, plugged into a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface and preamp, which he runs into Ableton; listening back is handled through over-ear Sony MDR-7506 Dynamic Stereo Headphones. He also uses this setup to record original music as well as fake commercials, which serve as intermissions between the action.

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio
Kelcey Ayer voices six different characters for the comedy podcast.

When he first produced the series for radio, Ayer sent all the audio sources through one bus to be compressed, limited and mastered for that medium; for the podcast version, all the voices run through their own mic buses, and the music is separated and less compressed, so it retains the dynamics. “When you put out music or a podcast on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever, they will either bring the volume down to their normal level or they’ll bring it up to their normal level,” he explains. “I think it’s better for it to come up to their level.”

Taking the show from radio to a podcast also gave him time to reconsider and change some artistic choices he made the first time, when he was producing a full 25-minute episode in a matter of days.

“I’ve kind of gotten some of the voices to a better place … as far as who they are in my mind [and] how it should sound,” he says. “I had to go back to a few of the earlier episodes and re-record Bronco’s voice. I changed all of that for the first three or four episodes, and then changed Sally’s voice because people thought she was a robot, and it’s understandable because she sounds like a robot, but I … tried to bring the fact home that she is using a vocoder and is just a sarcastic person.”

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio

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Creating A ‘Quest for the North Pole’ Sound Library

Building a sound library was key to creating a cohesive sonic identity for the Mental Floss and iHeartMedia podcast The Quest for the North Pole, says producer and editor Dylan Fagan. In the early stages of production, his job was to figure out how to interpret host Kat Long’s vision and what she was hearing in her mind. That mix of sounds and music would become key to the podcast’s ability to recount both how and why explorers like Sir John Franklin, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson made the first, sometimes fatal, expeditions to the Arctic.

“[Kat] gave me some notes and their scripts, and I just ran with that,” he says, taking her suggestions for “chilly” sounds and audio to represent sled dogs and other sounds that could be considered common for the Arctic.

The Quest for the North Pole recounts how numerous explorers, such as Robert Peary and his team in 1909 explored the arctic.
The podcast recounts how explorers, such as Robert Peary and his team seen here in 1909, took on the arctic. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While Fagan occasionally taps into licensed music to find the 40 to 50 tracks he’ll use in a typical season, most of the show’s audio comes from iHeartMedia’s deep in-house library. “I went through there and tried to find some ambient tracks that I thought fit the mood, and built a library out of that on my computer … to represent different moods and different shifts in storytelling.”

But instead of curating clips for the podcast’s theme, he created original music for the intro and outro clips. “I thought that was a nice way to differentiate it from using stock music for a theme song,” he says. “There’s a lot of great stock music out there, but I’ve run across podcasts that I think unknowingly end up using the same theme song [as another podcast] because they both licensed the same theme. I try to not do that on shows that I work on.”

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Kat Long, host of The Quest for the North Pole
Kat Long, host of The Quest for the North Pole

Each episode begins with the narration, which Long records in a closet with the HVAC turned off, speaking into a Shure SM7B microphone that is tethered to a Zoom H6 recorder. For interviews, Long connects her smart phone to the Zoom and uses the standard phone call feature to connect. Although not an ideal audio situation, Fagan puts in the editing work to make it gel.

“I usually just try to take out any unnecessary frequencies—since they’re phone calls, [that means] any of the low or the highs, just to see if I can get rid of any hiss,” he says. “I might run a de-clicker on it and some noise reduction [from iZotope Rx], but for the most part, I just make sure that it’s matching the levels of the voiceover so that nothing sounds too jarring or too much of a dip.”

From there, Fagan creates a fully soundscaped rough cut for Long to review to make sure the editing is moving in the right direction. A given episode usually goes through a few edits before it’s finalized and prepped for publishing to various podcasting platforms.

“I always send out everything to where I think it’s as close as it can be to what I think it would sound like in the end,” he says, “and then the rest of [the edits come from] input. By the time I send out the third version, it’s good to go—and I’d say that if I start an edit on Monday, send it out on Tuesday, we usually have it wrapped up by Friday.”

The Quest for the North Pole producer/editor Dylan Fagan
The Quest for the North Pole producer/editor Dylan Fagan

Working with eight different phone calls of guest audio for the inaugural season, each one lasting from an hour to an hour and a half, Fagan says keeping everything organized can be a challenge. To break down silos and keep everyone working from the same script, so to speak, they use the cloud.

“We have a master Dropbox, an enterprise account, that has folders that sync up our shows, and so when Kat records her voiceover, she can upload it directly to that folder,” he says. “I have all the recordings in that folder, as well as the transcripts and my folder for music and sound effects, so everything’s there. I always know where everything is, and Kat knows where to go for anything.”

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Creative Audio Mixing Powers ‘Switched On Pop’ Podcast

Switched On Pop co-hosts Nate Sloan (left) and Charlie Harding.
Switched On Pop co-hosts Nate Sloan (left) and Charlie Harding.

New York, NY (February 4 2021)—The Switched On Pop podcast lives by the motto “show, don’t tell” in its dissection of popular music and how the production team relates complex stories and concepts to listeners through audio.

“We wanted to have deeper conversations about music that could dive into some of the actual musical insights—things that are harder to write about on paper,” says Charlie Harding, who started the podcast with co-host Nate Sloan. “We knew that audio gave us the opportunity to evidence some of the deeper, more intriguing elements of music.”

Switched On Pop, which recently joined forces with New York magazine’s music outlet Vulture, goes deep into the making and meaning of popular music, juggling a mix of formats to reach entertaining and informative insights about anthems like Smash Mouth’s omnipresent hit “All Star,” artists Keith Urban and Carly Rae Jepsen, and the trends that drive the industry.

In the recent episode “D.O.C. (Death of the Chorus),” Harding and Sloan discuss how contemporary popular music has shifted away from the soaring choruses of songs like Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” towards a structure of continuous hooks without the sweeping buildup and release of a verse-chorus composition. Editor and engineer Brandon McFarland cues up clips of Franklin, Billie Holiday and Beyoncé like a DJ to illustrate their points.

Editor and engineer Brandon McFarland
Editor and engineer Brandon McFarland

“Nate starts telling us about A-A-B-A form, and he grabs an example of ‘Blue Moon’ with Billie Holiday singing it,” says Harding. “Immediately [when] he says, ‘A-section,’ the filter opens up [and] the highs in the music come in, along with the volume.” The A section crossfades into the B section, with a touch of plate reverb added to give the sound separation from Sloan’s speaking voice. “We really try to have a clear sense of 3D perspective of the music versus the voice.”

The production team is cognizant of maintaining fluidity within an episode, so transitions between clips fall naturally and in time, like beats of the same measure. “Nate and I are musicians and Brandon is a musician, so we make sure that you’re always going in on a beat, going out on a downbeat, or going out on the last beat of the measure, and that the clips themselves feel musical,” says Harding.

For their four-part miniseries on Beethoven’s fifth symphony, Switched On Pop recorded the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing the iconic composition and presented particular sections in a similar manner. To eliminate dead air between sections they talk about, McFarland “creatively fade[s] those two sections together in a way that it’s fading underneath Nate talking. You don’t even notice we’ve cut out a piece of music, then the flutes come in. [McFarland] did a really good job of finding that perfect-zero crossing point in the music, cutting it, getting a nice little reverb tail, and making it sound natural.”

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When playing actual clips of popular songs doesn’t drive home the points Harding and Sloan make, their own backgrounds as musicians come into play.

“We have music executives, producers [and] all kinds of people listen to our show, but I want us to be accessible to a general audience,” he says, “and that means I’m always trying to find a way to make it as clear as possible what we’re talking about. I can’t assume that people can, in their ear, isolate the bass guitar from the main guitar, so if I don’t have the stems of a track, it’s often easier for me to recreate something to demonstrate what we’re talking about.”Switched On Pop Podcast

Harding’s comment points to a larger challenge he and the podcast team wrestle with every episode: how to draw listeners into the story and deliver information and clips without creating fatigue or disinterest.

“Our goal is to have the show sound as genuine as possible, but not meandering,” he says. “[It’s about] threading that needle of how we can take you on a journey where something is changing every 90 seconds.”

Switched On Pop

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Perfecting the Art of the Interview on ‘Longform’

Jenelle Pifer
Jenelle Pifer, editor of Longform. Emily Evashevski

Brooklyn, NY (January 28, 2021)—It’s telling that Longform editor Jenelle Pifer spends more time perfecting the flow of the conversations on the podcast than obsessing over the audio quirks of an episode—and that’s not a knock on the latter. Longform, the long-running podcast that features authors and journalists talking about their craft, is simply all about the art of the interview and how to present it.

“My approach to editing is to make it as clean as I possibly can, and condensed as I possibly can, without ever letting people hear an edit,” says Pifer. “I do relatively little reordering of the conversation—sometimes it’s necessary, [but] a lot of times, I find that you can tell when the conversation is reordered. It’s more chipping away at the raw file to kind of make the arc of what seems to be the most meaningful themes pop up.”

Max Linsky
Max Linsky, co-founder and co-host

Co-founder and co-host Max Linsky, who also owns the podcast production company Pineapple Street Studios, hit up his friends who worked in audio for interview tips when Longform first launched in 2012. “They would always say, ‘You want it to feel like a casual, informal conversation’—but if you actually listen to a casual, informal conversation, it’s incredibly boring. And that’s part of what the editing process does to it.”

Pifer’s editing job doesn’t begin until Linsky and co-hosts Aaron Lammer and Evan Ratliff wrap their work. Each host books and interviews their own guests over Zoom, recording themselves through Shure SM7B microphones while guests like ESPN writer Wright Thompson and New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi record locally on a smart phone, which Pifer later syncs. A typical interview conversation runs 90 minutes, while the final edit clocks in around one hour.

Aaron Lammer
Aaron Lammer, co-host

“Whoever was the host that week will send me the raw tape along with some general notes about how they think the conversation went, any concerns they have, anything that I should particularly look out for while I’m editing,” says Pifer. “I’ve been doing this for about five years now, so the notes have gotten lighter as they started to trust me and know we were on the same page about how we wanted the show to sound.”

After editing the raw audio in Adobe Audition for content and pacing, as well as eliminating distracting stutters and filler words like um and uh, Pifer applies noise reduction and compression from processing built into the program.

‘Rarified Heir’ Podcast Readies for Pandemic Recording

Evan Ratliff
Evan Ratliff, co-host Jonah Green

Although Linsky says he’s proud of the work the Longform team has published since the pandemic began, there are some drawbacks to videoconferencing. “From a technical aspect, it’s hard to have it really be a back-and-forth conversation,” he says. “You do lose a lot in terms of body language, and part of that is just the rhythms of how people talk. It’s hard to know when to jump in, almost.”

One of the secrets of the podcast is the guests themselves. “Do you know who’s incredible at telling stories? Journalists. They’re great, natural talkers and storytellers, for the most part,” he says. “And one of the things that I’ve learned doing the show is that most journalists, even investigative war reporters, most people who do this work are on some level writing about themselves. The most memorable moments for me in the show are moments in which we’re able to see something, some kind of pattern or trend in someone’s work, that they haven’t totally recognized or seen themselves.”


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‘Rarified Heir’ Podcast Readies for Pandemic Recording

Shawn Kay, daughter of Steppenwolf founder John Kay (left) and Rarified Heir host Joshua Mills
Shawn Kay, daughter of Steppenwolf founder John Kay (left) and Rarified Heir host Joshua Mills

Los Angeles, CA (January 21, 2021) — Rarified Heir, a new podcast that takes listeners into the surreal lives of children of celebrities, recorded its entire seven-episode debut season before COVID-19 social distancing protocols and shutdowns went into effect in spring of 2020. While many podcasters have already tweaked their recording and production workflows during the last year, Rarified Heir’s production team is now catching up to distanced recording.

podcast producer and engineer Erik Paparozzi.
Podcast producer and engineer Erik Paparozzi.

“It worked out great to be face to face, but now obviously since the pandemic has set in, we’re reassessing how that goes,” says podcast producer and engineer Erik Paparozzi. “I’ve been really trying to make sure that we don’t lose the integrity of the sound that we’ve worked hard to achieve through the channels that are available to us now working remotely.”

On Rarified Heir, host Joshua Mills, son of actress and comedian Edie Adams, interviews other children of celebrities who grew up just out of the spotlight. Season one guests include Carnie Wilson, daughter of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson who had multi-Platinum success of her own in the ‘90s pop trio Wilson Phillips, and film producer Antonia Bogdanovich, daughter of film director Peter Bogdanovich.

Mills and Paparozzi, along with co-host Jason Klamm, recorded the entire first season at Paparozzi’s garage studio in Los Angeles. Guests sat with them in a circle in front of Shure SM7B microphones—chosen because the famed SM7 was used on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the best-selling album of all time—while Mills led the conversations. After wrapping recording sessions in March, they got their first taste of working while distanced when it came time to edit the episodes.

On a pre-pandemic recording of Rarified Heir were (l-r): co-host Jason Klamm, guest Jason Culp, son of actor Robert Culp; and host Joshua Mills, son of comedienne Edie Adams.
On a pre-pandemic recording of Rarified Heir were (l-r): co-host Jason Klamm, guest Jason Culp, son of actor Robert Culp; and host Joshua Mills, son of comedienne Edie Adams.

Beginning later that month, they met once a week on a video conference while Paparozzi edited in Pro Tools. “Josh and I would hop on a conference call and literally go over word for word and figure out what was essential and what could be trimmed down for time purposes, or for potential future Patreon episodes that we are considering,” explains Paparozzi. Then, he would send the entire episode to Mills for another review and get back time codes for further edits. “I can just go in and chop that stuff out, and that’s been a pretty effective way of working.”

The team is working through potential setups for recording season two now. “Josh has been experimenting with what works in his home office, as far as doing Zoom calls,” notes Paparozzi. “The technology is pretty plug and play these days, but Josh, who’s not a musician or a sound dude, he’s still learning [that a] room has a certain tone to it and the microphone should maybe move a little bit, or [his] face should be closer to get the best tone.”

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Gear wise, Mills is currently planning to use the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio kit, which includes a USB interface with a Scarlett preamp, a condenser microphone, headphones and cables. “When it was becoming apparent that being in a 15-by-15 studio was not realistic during this time, I did a cursory search on Amazon and sent Josh a few ideas [of gear to purchase],” he says. “Just to sort of get him started, we had him open up a GarageBand session. We did all this over FaceTime and he was getting a signal.”

They’re also considering audio quality on the opposite end of the recording from future guests in season two. “I think are going to focus on people that we know can record themselves well and see how it goes,” says Mills.

Rarified Heir •

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