Anatomy of a Promo – Part 3 of 3: Microphones and [studio] Magic
All SAFTAcast promos are done “in house” and by me alone. That means not just the scripting or the uploading and posting, but everything in between, including all of the voice work.
I won’t go into much about voice work here, except to say that I only know three things: I don’t know that much about it, I’m not a professional, and everything I can do is purely from growing up as a class clown and mimic.
That’s not to say I don’t think about creating characters when I sit down to record. I like each voice, each role to have a distinct style and personality. For a one-off, like the Master of Ceremonies (MC), I’ll try to pin down a personality type and then “act” it out with my voice. I envisioned the prom MC as a “slightly nervous, ineffectual High School administrator” and recorded his voice softly, with slight halting and pausing in his delivery, along with making sure to include some vocal “deadwood” such as “um” and “uh.”
Scott C’s voice needs no thought. I’ve refined that character over a decade; the voice is instinctual.*
Recording is pretty easy. On the tech side, I just use a Blu Snowball mic, with a windscreen, and Audacity. And I record the characters separately, doing two or three takes for each line of dialogue so I have the option of splicing multiple takes together.
Normally, I take the voice overs and start editing them immediately, but for this promo, I wanted to see if I could get the “battle” SFX right first. This was the key moment in the script and if it didn’t come together, the rest wouldn’t work.
I started out by pulling a bunch of SFX, editing each to be in mono and have same sample rate [44100khz] before laying them out in separate channels in Adobe Audition 3’s multitrack mode.** Doing this allows me to increase/decrease the volume of particular sounds, create custom volume envelopes, decays, and fades, and adjust the timing of when a SFX comes in.
By the way, everything I do on The SAFTAcast is in mono at 64/44 bit rate. This does lead to a small loss of audio quality, but it keeps the file sizes low for cloud storage and people on mobile devices.
After I was content with the “battle scene,” I mixed all the channels down into one, saved the file, and pulled up the voice work for editing.
But before any vocals can be used, the dry file needs to get wet.*** My recording space – and desktop system – generate a lot of ambient noise. Therefore, the first thing is always to clean the recording using an Adaptive Noise Reduction custom setting.
Then I separate all of the characters into different files, and cut, splice and paste the various takes in each one to get the recordings I need.
From here on, the process becomes all about assembly – putting the various pieces of the promo together. I open all of the components in Audition, dump them into the multitrack and begin putting things in chronological order. Just like the battle montage, doing it in multitrack allows me to see each piece as both separate and part of the whole; to adjust volume and timing.
Most of the time, I would consider the promo finished here; do a mixdown, save the file, and be done with it. But with this one, I hated the promo on playback for two reasons: Something felt “missing,” and the whole thing just didn’t sound right.
Two cups of coffee and multiple re-listens showed the answers. What was missing was an additional exchange between the MC and Scott C. The MC needed to come back in and try to take back the microphone, to reinforce the idea that “this isn’t what a prom king does.”
A quick record and edit later, that issue was solved.
[The red circle indicates the inserted lines.]
As for not sounding right, the promo was flat, lifeless. There was no sense of setting, space, or location. The world that this promo took place in was not a home office or recording studio, but a civic center ballroom.
To fix that, I took a sample of the voice overs and played with multiple reverb presets, finally deciding on “Bigger Room Ambience,” when I then applied to each clip that appeared in the “flashback” portion.
A few more re-listens and timing adjustments later, the promo was mixed down into a single track and normalized to .1dB volume.
Five minutes later, after naming the file and adding the proper metadata, the track was done and uploaded to the SAFTAcast servers, ready to be enjoyed by everyone.
From genesis to completion, “King Prom the First” – which clocks in at 2m36s – took 6.5 hours of work to make. I say that only to point out that a lot of work goes into the show that the audience never sees (or, rather, hears). Writing this blog post series, I wanted to show that process, the machinations behind the scenes.
The SAFTAcast – promos and episodes alike – is done out of love.
Love for the medium of [internet] radio.
Love for our listeners and entertainment, for breaking up the doldrums of someone’s commute, housework, or chores.
Love for our guests, each one a cool person with kick ass traits and interests.
Love for the show, its goals and aims of building bridges between writers and writing organizations. For wanting to be something different among the myriad of writing/writer based podcasts out there.
*Long story, but yes I consider “Scott C” a character and not me.
**I use Audition for editing for a couple reasons: I like their interface better than Audacity and Audition is based on Cool Edit Pro, the platform I learned on many years ago. Why I use v3 is because I grabbed it when Adobe gave away their CS6 suite for free for a very short time a few years ago. Yoinks!
***These are audio terms. “Dry” is a recording without any added effects or processing, “wet” is the opposite. Kind of like pre- and post-edited footage.