Podcasts are one of the fastest growing media sectors. Maybe you have thought about creating one for your company or for yourself. A podcast is a great way for a company or individual to create more brand awareness or reinforce or grow a perception of industry sector expertise. For musicians it could be a good way of engaging with fans. Relevant content delivered by people with a passion for the subject can make for compelling or informative listening.
But it can be hard to know where to start – even if you have a great idea for a podcast – recordings made in an office or other work or home environment almost certainly won’t sound very professional or be that easy on the ear.
As ever increasing numbers of people consume podcasts it becomes much more and more important for a their producers to apply the same kind of high production values as the best professionally produced radio shows. You need a good quality listening experience to set your podcast apart form the ones produced on a laptop in a kitchen with someone using a USB mic.
The way people listen to podcasts is intimate – often on headphones or earbuds – and so you don’t want any imperfections in the quality of the production to irritate. You certainly don’t want distracting background noises like traffic, slamming doors or dogs barking. Voice levels and dynamic range need to be consistent and voices and other content to need to be well recorded and produced without any harshness or lack of clarity that might impede the listeners understanding.
In the near future it is likely that podcasts will be streamed like music is now in which case your podcasts need to sound as good as, or better than, the others it is listed alongside on the streaming service. These quality concerns are similar to those of audiobook production of which I also have experience.
Content is key – it is important to plan and script so that you know where the podcast is heading from the start and what ground is going to be covered. A script might actually turn out to be more of a series of bullet points rather than something to be read out verbatim – that generally doesn’t work well with those inexperienced at voice presentation.
We can help with structuring the podcast episode if needs be – or we can just focus on the technical aspects while you deliver the content! Of course I will take care of editing and post production after the recording session is finished – this might include adding music or other audio elements like intros and outros.
Using more than one presenter can make the podcast more interesting and we have space in our live room for at least 3 seated contributors so if you want a double or triple header – or maybe an interview – it’s no problem.
Radio production experience is important when producing effective podcasts – it helps to know the ways that audio can be produced to make the podcast flow in a way that works well for the listener – keeping them informed, interested and entertained.
At dVoiceBox I already produce podcasts with people like former BBC Radio 2 presenter Frank Renton – his podcast Still Listening to the Band gives his listeners an insight into the world of brass band music. I’ve been producing that for the last couple of years.
My previous experience also includes 22 years in radio which included several years producing award winning (New York Radio Festival) social action broadcasting content in the days when commercial local radio still did speech based content. My studio specialises in spoken word projects and so I know how to record voices and produce voice based audio that sounds great and which listeners will want to listen to.
Got an idea for a podcast? Give me a call and lets get started!
My studio is built around my medium format 32 channel Soundcraft Ghost mixing desk. It is almost certainly the case that if I was starting out now I would not have a desk like this but 18 years ago when I bought it new I was recording a lot of production library and TV music.
Back then I was running lots of hardware samplers, sound modules and synths and I needed to be able to mix them all at the same time. At first the studio had them all hard wired in. These days if I do music projects it’s all done “in the box” – in the computer using Logic so I wouldn’t really need 32 channels.
Nevertheless I have no plans to get rid of this desk – it’s great for tracking sessions – I love the pre-amps on voices and recently I’ve also been loving them for drums. There is also the other thing that when a client comes in to record for the first time – they walk in the door and instantly what they see visually says “professional recording studio” – it puts their mind at ease.
Because I don’t plan to get rid of the Ghost I had to decide what to do recently when the rack mounted power supply for it appeared to be on the way out: it was buzzing very ominously. I went onto ebay to look for a replacement as I know they come up from time to time.
While searching Soundcraft Ghost power supplies I found the studio systems website – run by Tim Jones.
I discovered that Tim is an analogue mixing desk guru who refurbishes and repairs all kinds of wonderful analogue conoles. But even better than that as far as I was concerned – Tim builds replacement power supplies for analogue desks under the Blue Dog Power Supply brand name.
Tim told me that he’d built lots of power supplies for Ghosts. I decided it would be better to have brand new power unit rather then buy a secondhand Soundcraft unit which might be ageing (and buzzing) like my existing one.
I ordered a Blue Dog power supply and it arrived within a few days, I put it in the rack yesterday, connected it up and fired up the Ghost. Tim claims his power supplies give a much lower noise floor on the mix buss.
I’d seen lots of people reporting this too but wondered how a new power supply could make such a difference. All I can say – it does! The noise floor is loads lower.
So far I’m very happy with the Blue Dog – Tim was very helpful and answered all my questions, the unit came quickly and it works just the way I want – Thanks Tim!
It is only relatively recently that I’ve started to get really interested in microphones. Not just the sound of them but how they look too. I think this post says quite a lot about me and microphones. It was reported this week that Bradley Wiggins is making a cameo appearance in the long running radio 4 soap The Archers.
I discovered the story when I saw a photo on the BBC website.
I suspect many people would be drawn to the image of the famous Olympic gold medalist, maybe wondering when the side burns had morphed into a full beard. But such thoughts were not for me – my first thought was “What kind of mic is that that they’re using there?” I think it’s becoming an obsession.
Anyway I was particularly struck by this microphone as it was one I’d never seen before.
I’ve listened to the Archers off and on over the years and often wondered about the practical aspects of recording it but it’s only really recently that I’ve begun to wonder about the mics they use.
Further research threw up a photo by Edward Moss taken on a recent tour of The Archers’ studio in Birmingham that clearly reveals the actual mic to be an AKG C426 B.
It has been designed for stereo recordings and is a neat solution for coincident recordings where normally you’d put up 2 mics at a fixed point in either X/Y or Mid/Side configurations. It’s basically 2 mics in 1 and they both rotate in relation to each other so you can get the optimum angle for the recording – between 0 and 270 degrees. Each mic has a LED on it so you can see the angle of each at a glance.
I discovered that the C426B is an update on the original AKG C24 which also used the 2 mics in one set up and years ago was highly regarded by many studio engineers.
I gleaned from various forums that the C426 B is apparently great for drum overheads, piano, choirs, strings – and as we know the BBC deem it suitable for radio drama recording.
Sadly I’ll almost certainly not get to road test one. Firstly they are no longer in production and secondly they cost (and I could only find a US price) around 3000 dollars secondhand.
They look great though – really eye catchingly different – it would be great to put one up in the studio just to get the “what the hell is THAT!” reactions.
More than the appearance though I like the neatness and relative compactness of this solution to X/Y and mid/side recording.
dVoiceBox recently recorded live poetry and music event Love in Leamington 2014 in the main Library in Leamington Spa. This was the second such event as Love in Leamington had happened for the first time back in February 2013.
On that occasion it was a grant funded project run in conjunction with Warwickshire Libraries that saw a number of composers and musicians composing and performing musical pieces that were produced as a response to poems by Julie Boden.
Julie is the Poet in Residence at Symphony Hall, Birmingham and at that point had lived in Leamington for 10 years. The musicians were responding to poems written during that time.
In 2013 I was invited to record the event which took place in a space in the middle of Leamington Library: the bookcases were wheeled out of the way to give an intimate auditorium. Initially I was asked for an archive recording for the Library Service but then this eventually changed to producing a CD that was made available to the public in February 2014. I also provided a PA and FOH mix on the night.
I was subsequently booked to record the Love in Leamington 2014 event. Because of the proximity to St Valentine’s Day the theme was again love. It was again set in the Library and grant funded from variety of sources but this time the conceit was slightly different. Instead of many musical ensembles this time it was the same group of musicians all night but they were responding to the compositions of 7 contemporary poets not just 1.
Once again I was asked to provide the PA and mix the FOH sound on the night as well as record the whole thing for broadcast on internet radio station Radio Wildfire.
The recordings of the poems and music are available from www.radiowildfire.com/loveinleam
In planning the recording I knew from previous experience that I would need an assistant. In 2013 Steff from Firedaze helped me and was kept busy with sorting out a multitude of radio clip mics while I tried to keep on top of the live mix and the multi track recording.
This time there were fewer mics, no clip or lavalier mics and fewer performers – but the time for setting up and breaking down was limited so I knew I’d still need another pair of hands.
Steff was not available so long time musical colleague Dunk Arrow stepped in to help out. In the end he oversaw the actual recording side of things leaving me free to concentrate on the mix on the PA.
Although there were a total of 7 poets there was only one occasion on the night when 2 performed together. So for the FOH mix and recording I needed a mic for the MC, 2 mics for poets and a mic for a singer: a total of 4.
It was originally intended to have a Q and A session at the end so the MC’s mic was an HT45 AKG radio mic which we planned to use as a roving mic for audience questions. In the event there was not time for this part of the evening. We used an AKG D3900 for one poet mic and a shure SM57 for the other – the singer had a Neumann KMS105
The musicians on the night comprised a jazz trio: piano, percussion, and vocals. As I said for the singer, Alison Simmons, I used a Neumann KMS 105. The piano/keyboard of Steve Tromans was plugged into a DI box straight into the PA mix.
I also gave Steve a Shure PG81 mic for intros to songs (it was a late request from Steve and so this is not the mic I would have planned to use – it’s really good for instruments but a bit “poppy” for voices – but by the time he asked it was the only one we had left!).
The percussion set up,with Lydia Glanville, was a cojon, snare drum and cymbals. I used a Rode NT1 positioned close behind the sound hole of the cojon, a Shure Unidyne III 545D (similar to an SM57) on the snare and an Audio Technica AT4033 as on overhead. We also provided a couple of foldback monitors primarily for the musicians and singer.
For the PA we used the Allen and Heath Mix Wizard 4 console, Studiospares multicore, a Studiomaster 700D power amp and pair of 2 way Celestion speakers with no subs. We’ve had these for a while and I think we will be replacing them later this year however on the night they performed very well. The library is not a huge space and they filled it comfortably for this kind of event where you don’t need rock gig levels of volume.
For the recording I was using a Yamaha AWS1600 8 track hard disk recorder – I wanted a multi track recording so that I would have more control when I came to mix after the event and I knew there wouldn’t be time to rig up a computer based system.
The mics in the performance space were routed through the multicore to our 16 track Allen and Heath Mix Wizard 4 which I used to mix for the PA.
On balanced lines we took prefade direct signals from the WZ4 to the 8 tracks of the AWS1600.
Each of the performer mics went down to separate tracks, as did the digital piano – the percussion I submixed live (on an ART Splitmix 4) down to one mono track.
I also took a mono feed of the FOH mix and put that down on one of the tracks on the AWS1600. As a belt and braces strategy I also took a safety recording of the FOH mix on DAT.
Unlike the previous year this time once the mics were up and checked they would not move and would be used by all performers.
The AKG HT45 radio mic is new to my mic locker and this was the first time I had used it in a live situation. To my ears it sounded a bit toppy – there didn’t seem to be much in the bass end. I used it for MC Dave Reeves – and I had to EQ it a bit to give it a fuller sound. It generally works well – but with one caveat. Watch out if you accidentally switch it “off” – when you come to switch it back “on” there’s a pause while it connects with the receiver followed by a brief but nasty feedback shriek. Thankfully this doesn’t happen when the switch only goes to the “mute” position – on the night we left it “on” all the time muting it on the desk when it wasn’t needed and changed the battery in the interval.
I’ve used the Neumann KMS 105 on quite a few occasions with different singers but I think this is the first time for me that its been partnered with a voice that really suits it very well. Alison has a great voice for jazz full of a lovely resonant quality and exploring quite a dynamic range.
On the night she brought her own mic but chose to stay using mine – and I’m glad she did as I think it demonstrated her voice brilliantly.
On the radiowildfire site you can hear this on the Julie Boden poem Love’s Masquerade.
The performances took the form of poems performed with music interspersed by songs, mostly jazz standards, from the three musicians. The first half was about 50 mins and the second just over an hour. We recorded the 2 parts of the evening.
After the event the audio files were transferred to the dVoiceBox studio Mac and then mixed in Logic to produce the radiowildfire poem master files. We also mixed the songs but at present due to licensing restrictions they are not generally available.
When I came to do the mixing I found I was using mostly the FOH mix with just a bit extra from the individual mic tracks to give them more emphasis and clarity in the mix.
It was a very interesting and enjoyable event to be involved with – the mix of poets and the interaction between their compositions and the music made for a varied and unusual evening. Lets hope there’s another one next year.
Love in Leamington 2014:
Steve Tromans – Piano
Alison Simmons – Voice
Lydia Glanville – Percussion
Photography – Joanna Ornowska (all photos used with kind permission)
Added September 2017. I recently discovered a YouTube video (see below) of one of the performances from this event featuring a poem by Julie Boden.
The sound on the video is not from my recordings but you can get an idea of the nature of the event.
As mentioned elsewhere I was invited to record the Love In Leamington 2013 event which took place in Leamington Library in the week of Valentine’s Day of that year. The event was grant funded from a number of sources and coordinated by the Warwickshire Library Service.
It featured a diverse range of musicians and composers responding to poems by Julie Boden and then performing the resultant pieces of music. Julie Boden has been the poet in residence at Symphony Hall Birmingham for 10 years and has lived in Leamington for many of those years. The poems were ones written during that time.
I’ll blog in more detail soon about the technical aspects of recording and providing the PA for the event but for the moment this is to note that a CD that we produced of performances at Love in Leamington 2013 was made available in time for the 2014 Love In Leamington event and copies are available by request from Leamington Library.
dVoiceBox was invited to record this year’s Love in Leamington event on 12th February 2014 at the library in Leamington Spa – this time it featured 7 contemporary poets and 3 musicians.
I’ll shortly be posting a report of how we set up to provide the PA mix on the night as well as recording the performances. The poems, interwoven with music can now be heard on the radio wildfire website. Here’s the link to hear what we recorded www.radiowildfire/loveinleam
Dvoicebox was asked by Atlantic Publishing to help with some audio production for the DVD documentary that accompanies the book “The Beatles are Coming”.
The DVD uses archive footage to tell the story of Beatlemania “from The Cavern to Candlestick Park” – it’s during the years when the Beatles still played live with their Vox AC 30 amplifiers continually drowned out by the screams of their fans.
Frances Hill from Atlantic Publishing had sourced a large number of archive clips from the Getty Foundation. They included TV interviews, film of live events and footage from contemporary newsreels. Most had been very rarely seen before.
The clips were from a wide variety of initial sources and recorded on a range of audio devices of varying quality. It was my job to clean up and enhance the worst sounding recordings and standardise the levels and overall sound as much as possible across the whole project.
It was a fascinating job and, as one who was too young for Beatlemania, gave me more of an insight into how it was that the Beatles became so phenomenally famous in the early 60’s.
There were also some great examples of how not to do interviews – conducted by some shockingly complacent, patronising and inane TV interviewers. I suppose they represented the stuffy establishment view at the time – No wonder the down to earth and funny young Beatles were like a breath of fresh air to young people just escaping the austerity of the 1950s.
The clips were cut together into an hour long documentary. I recorded the voiceover from a script written by Tim Hill. It was then produced as a DVD to accompany a book containing hundreds of photos from the Beatlemania era which has just been made available.
“The Beatles are Coming” book and DVD is currently exclusively available for just under a tenner from W H Smith.
DvoiceBox has been invited once again to record the Love in Leamington event on the evening of Feb 12th 2014. Once again the venue is in among the books in Leamington’s Library and we’ll be providing the PA for the event as well as recording it all for subsequent radio broadcast and podcasts.
Here’s the poster
DvoiceBox recorded the first Love in Leamington in 2013. A CD of that event is to be made available by the Warwickshire Library Service.
Love in Leamington takes place in a space in the middle of the Leamington Library itself (with the book shelves wheeled to one side). Acoustically its quite a dry space and that helps with recording – although on the night the musicians felt it made their performance feel a bit “flat”.
Last year there were a variety of musical ensembles (choirs, bands and solo performers) performing music inspired by Julie Boden‘s poetry. It was quite a challenge to know what mics to use and where to place them – especially as some performers couldn’t decide until the last moment whether they were going to perform on the stairs in the Library or not. This year the recording and PA is a bit simpler from a technical perspective with just the one band – a trio, an MC and a 7 poets performing.
I am certainly no expert on microphones – but recently I have become more and more fascinated by them. So this post is about mics – and later on I might add some more.
On my voiceover blog I’ve written a few times about my experience of using different mics for spoken word projects – on those occasions I’ve talked about mics I have used or have in my studio. This post is about a mic (actually 2 mics) I don’t have but I think it could be cool to have. Mind you the cost of one of them is even more than (double) the Neumann U87 I’ve blogged about before – so I’ll not be owning one anytime soon.
So I was recently watching videos of a band I’ve been following for a while – The Smoke Fairies. The duo are Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies. I love their folky, bluesy, kind of PJ Harvey-ish music built around simple but brilliant guitar parts with stunning vocal harmonies. Early in 2013 they released a limited edition 7″ vinyl single The Water Waits taken from a recording session recorded back in 2011.
At the time the band were touring in the US with Blitzen Trappen and they recorded a session upstairs at the United Pressing Plant, Nashville.
It seems they press the vinyl records downstairs and have a suite of rooms upstairs that have been used by recording artists for more than 50 years. The “Upstairs” series are all analogue recording sessions – recorded to quarter inch tape and then released as vinyl records.
The video I watched was shot by Luke Norby from the Blitzen Trappen crew and shows members of the band learning songs in the session to provide drums, bass and keys behind the duo as they perform six songs.
I have a background in analogue tape based recording – mostly in radio and to a lesser extent in music. The site of the vintage console and the spools of tapes spinning had me hooked: the whole session is recorded using vintage analogue mics and equipment provided by Chris Mara from the “Welcome to 1979″ recording studio in Nashville.
It’s a while since any band I’ve been in has had to record a song and nail it in a couple of takes with no overdubs allowed (the recording goes straight to quarter inch 2 track stereo tape) So I appreciated watching these musicians working through a long session to get the songs down.
On the one hand I had my musician head on – appreciating the hard work and the rewards of the players. On the other hand my studio engineer head was in gear – interested to note for example, an EV RE20 as an over-head on the drums, the amps out in the corridor with the mics on them, the vintage console – the tapes running at what looks like 15 ips – you have no idea how fascinating all of that is!
But more than the tape and the vintage console – what really caught my eye was the mic Chris used for recording the vocals. Katherine and Jessica sing together most of the time and have a great musical chemistry so it makes sense to put them head to head on a mic that does a figure of eight configuration. It’s a well established old school recording technique.
Engineer Chris Mara could have used one of his U87’s but instead goes for a real vintage looking silver mic – but what was it? I was intrigued – It was a massive silver metal object like one of those old school radio mics from the 30’s and 40’s that you might see in old black and white news reels.
Actually some research revealed to me that the mic in question is exactly that – it’s an RCA 44 velocity mic, or ribbon mic and it was widely used in broadcasting the 1930’s and for many years thereafter.
I guess these days you might not want to use it for a contemporary pop recording – nevertheless there are quite a few rock artists who rave about the modern recreation of this beast from the past (now available as the AEA R44) which is hand made and comes with a price tag to match. Ribbon mics are favoured by many engineers for stringed instruments as well as voices and you can use them for percussion and brass too.
And because it was designed to be used for musical ensembles as well as in radio broadcasts you don’t have to be right on top of it to sound great. Jessica and Katherine in the Smoke Fairies sessions are around a foot away and it sounds fabulous. I did some more on-line research on the RCA 44 (in the process discovering the Coles 4038 BBC ribbon – subject for another post perhaps).
I’d love to get my hands on an original RCA44 – or maybe the AEA R44 – but at the moment their price range puts them into the major investment category (about £3780 for the AEA) still – nice to have something to aspire to. The Coles 4038 on the other hand – while still pretty pricey – is perhaps more within reach and with a great BBC broadcast pedigree may be one to consider for future spoken word work.
You can also see the Smoke Fairies and the RCA44 in action in the video here:
I’ve just been providing ISDN radio interview services for Markettiers4DC. Children’s writer and illustrator Alex T Smith was in the dVoiceBox booth where he was joined by Melanie Goodchild, spokesperson for toy manufacturer Chad Valley.
They were lined up for a dozen radio interviews to talk about new research commissioned by Chad Valley that looked at the time of peak creativity in your life – plus the things that make adults reluctant to read or play with their children. Apparently peak imaginative creativity is at around age 4! Also adults are often reluctant to play with children, or even read stories complete with silly voices, because they feel self conscious or worry that they aren’t “doing it right”.
It was an interesting, varied and enjoyable session – with the usual chops and changes – one radio station pulled out at the last minute, another station took the interview live on-air but the presenter sounded woefully under prepared, while others were well prepared, asked good questions and got great interaction with the guests.
This kind of ISDN radio session often gives me a slight pang of nostalgia – in all my years of working as a radio presenter I did loads of ISDN interviews. Many times in the past I was like the presenters I heard in this session – checking levels, struggling with the weird echo effect you get on ISDN lines, explaining about the pre-recorded or live nature of the interview, asking the questions. Now I find it’s interesting to be at the other end of that process.
However, unlike when I was the radio interviewer, these days I certainly have much more of an appreciation of how hard it is for the interviewees: constantly answering the same questions in each interview while trying to make it sound like they’re saying it for the first time. Both Alex and Melanie did a great job.
Here's what some of our clients say "Recording is perfect. Excellent engineering yet again. Really good production. Thanks again for an excellent result.
Keith Salmon, Director of The Balmaha Bears audiobook series
"Chris was an excellent coach for my first experience of providing a voice over for our corporate telephone system messages. His professionalism and attention to detail ensured the finished result was received by my colleagues with statements of “brilliant” , both “posh and professional”. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his services."
Alison Levoguer, Scientific Affairs Manager, The Binding Site Group Ltd
“Chris has proved to be brilliant at making me sound brilliant. His skill, and professional manner have made recording our 8 CD set relatively painless. I’m sure I must have been awkward but he made it all seem so easy. The quality of the end result is undeniably great. I will be using Chris and his studio again, and can’t recommend him highly enough.”
Paul Shrimpling - MD Remarkable Practice
"Chris offers great recording services and pays close attention to quality and detail. Also, our client really appreciated being able to monitor his recording sessions by phone."
Steve Reckless, Jump (GB) Ltd
"Apart from being a very cool guy Chris' rates are excellent and he goes above and beyond. Because of the quality of his studio's output (and it's a very nice studio) I was listed with a great European VO site, and in the couple jobs I've done with him he willingly offers advice and direction and helps the work to come out much, much better. Easy to work with and a wealth of knowledge and experience being that he is also an accomplished voice over artist."
Craig Young - Voice Artist
"I cannot praise too highly the services of the studio run by Mr Chris Radley. He shows respect for the material, professional concern for the effects of the recording and responsibility for the comfort of both speaker and director. I would certainly use his facilities again"
Judy Sproxton author