Well this is new and different!
This morning, Naked Radio posted their latest podcast, episode 606, Bilal's Birthday, which is my first-ever sound design and mix for a podcast. This collaboration began about two months ago, when producers Liz Carlson and Alex Grubbs approached me about the episode. Having just listened to episode 605, which is primarily a Skype conversation between two people, I thought "hey, that doesn't seem too hard."
And then I read the script. Bilal's Birthday has about 7 different specific locations (both indoor and outdoor), a host of characters, and even a few dream sequences, just for good measure. Not nearly as simple as I'd so fool-heartily assumed.
Achieving the "sense of space" for the various locations was the biggest challenge on this piece. As I mentioned, I used Space Designer and Altiverb extensively (there's reverb on, I think, every single moment of the show) and I feel that minute amounts of reverb really take the dialog recordings out of the studio and put them into the world. Then it's just trial and error (and error and error and then maybe success) - finding a good short, tight room verb for inside a house and then a longer verb with a long pre-delay for a city street (the sound bouncing off the buildings takes a little time to get back to your ears) plus maybe a high-pass to thin out the vocals just a touch. Inside-to-outside is an easier transition than outside in a park to outside on a city street. There are so many more clues that you've gone from inside to outside, not just in terms of reverb/EQ, but also the muffled, distant street noises are now far more apparent, maybe there are even some birds chirping. But, park to city street is a much more nuanced shift. The change in reverb is slight, change in EQ is minimal if it exists at all, and I relied heavily on the ambiences: a clip-clop of horse hooves, plus joggers and birds, with a more distant traffic ambience, all to signal that we were in Central Park. Transitioning to a city street, the horses disappear, the joggers disappear, the traffic ambience becomes a little more present, with some car horns and sirens added in for good measure. Perhaps an occasional rumble from a passing MTA train (given that it's the MTA, it's always a VERY occasional train, amirite??)
The end result is 50 tracks, dozens of markers, and almost a hundred plug-ins. I've had Logic projects on other shows for editing of sound effects with more tracks, more plug-ins, but never a single seamless, cohesive project of this size. Honestly, the next project like this I do will end up with more tracks for better organization and control.
At first, I began with a single track for the dialog and began to add on tracks for effects or music as needed. The project slowly grew as I got further along into the story and deeper into the events of the story, but in attempt to keep track-count down, I would sometimes re-use tracks for, say, multiple sound effects that didn't require a specific EQ or plug-in or dialog sections that were a continuous take, not requiring any additional editing. As I went back into the project to refine and finalize the piece, I often found myself needing to create new tracks for effects or dialog that previously didn't need any processing.
I also found that Logic would tend to make decisions for me that would end up negatively impacting my productivity on the piece. Specifically, when selecting a track, Logic selects all the regions on that track. So, if you aren't careful, you can end up slicing up not just the region that you want to edit, but every single region on that track. No bueno. After watching a series of videos on the Avid website about mixing and mastering the audio for a short film, I revamped my project's organization, making use of track stacks (folders of tracks) and colour-coding so that I could quickly expand or collapse sections of the piece and speed up my editing. It is tempting to switch to Pro Tools for the editing of projects of this size, after watching those videos, but there are a few Logic-only tools that I make extensive use of: Logic's Space Designer reverb plug-in, Logic's EXS24 sampler instrument, and Logic's Alchemy, the new sample-manipulation synthesizer, which is a seriously powerful sound design tool with a deep, deep set of controls for tweaking and manipulating. It's almost as good as Native Instrument's Absynth 5. Almost. Regardless, these few tools, along with my years of Logic use make the prospect of switching to Pro Tools a daunting task.
In addition to my extensive use of Space Designer (and also Audio Ease's Altiverb) to create a sense of space and location, I use Audio Ease's Speakerphone for anything that needs to sound like it's coming out of a speaker - any speaker, any size. Well, if I was trying to recreate a stadium concert, I'd probably just use Space Designer, but for anything from an iPhone speaker up to a small PA system, I use Speakerphone. Music playing in a coffee shop? Speakerphone. Neighbour's TV set? Speakerphone. Outdoor party ambience with someone playing music on a boom box? Speakerphone. It works so well that it sometimes feels like cheating.
I had a great time putting together Bilal's Birthday; I really hope everyone enjoys listening to it. When I got the email last night saying it would be posted this morning, I had a very immediate, gut-reaction - "Wait! No! Let me go over it once more!" My work in theater is all about putting it up in front of an audience, then seeing how it works, how it lands, and adjusting from there. Much like recording a band, once this episode posts, there's no going back. Terrifying. At least bands get to play the songs live and change it if they want.
But, it's already time for me to move on to the next episode. No time to worry about Bilal anymore. I've already got the next script, and it's going to be great! Very different, but still great. And who knows, maybe I'll try it on Pro Tools, see how I fare...