Dynamic Content

what we're thinking about at SoundTrax

Everything old is new again: Podcasts

Tom Guild      9/25/2017

I’m still getting used to the notion that the Internet isn’t a shiny new thing anymore. After more than 20 years, we have a hard time imagining life without Internet access. And while Newsgroups and bulletin boards may be passe, one holdout from the 90s has definitely hung in there: Podcasts.

Something like Podcasting has been in existence since the 90s, first using Internet RSS feeds as a distribution method. Since the iPod itself wasn’t introduced by Apple until 2001 (providing the inspiration for the name a few years later), that’s a lot of Research & Development time. And for a long time, Podcasts were the Next Big Thing. Anyone could become a podcaster. All you needed was a microphone, an idea, and a whole lot of technical savvy.

The problem was that those three ingredients weren’t always in equal supply. The result: interesting podcasts were often poorly produced, or insufficiently distributed, or they were well-produced and well-distributed…but kind of nerdy. For example, an early award winning Podcast was “This Week In Tech” (way back in 2005).

Fast-forward to 2017, and with near-ubiquitous use of personal devices, earbuds, and high-speed mobile data, Podcasts are hot again. Apple’s iTunes store carries hundreds of thousands of different podcasts, and those feed a billion (yes, with a B) separate podcast subscriptions. Podcasts cover almost any topic imaginable, and in most cases they’re completely free to download and play (although you will hear about sponsors and/or get hit up for a donation in almost every case).

Even though this diversity of topics and producers is mind-boggling, there’s a few common traits shared by the biggest and most popular podcasts. Here’s a short list:

1. Sound quality matters. Sure, a headset with a microphone is fine for playing “Call Of Duty”, but if you want someone to actually enjoy what you’re talking about, take it off. Get a real microphone – one that sits on a tabletop (the Blue Yeti and several Audio-Technica models are affordable but good). Get and use a pop filter – and while you’re at it, learn a little mic technique. Keep it about 9-10 inches from your mouth. Also, find a quiet spot to record. And you’ll need editing software…

2. Rather than just rambling on about random topics that enter your head, do a little planning first. If you’re doing a podcast about photography, maybe choose to focus (ha ha) one show on composition, another on photographing animals, maybe a third on retouching. If your podcasts are aimed at business, perhaps choose one episode on how to manage the flood of applicants for a new opening, or on marketing mistakes, or when to expand a product line.

3. Don’t worry about length. Obviously you don’t to pad your podcast with irrelevant content, but if one day a topic catches fire, and you and your guests go 45 minutes, don’t lose a lot of sleep if the next day’s conversation is wrapped up in 10 minutes. The great thing about a podcast is that it’s only as long as it needs to be, and that can vary day to day.

4. It takes a LOT of podcast episodes to make an impact. You may not have a lot of listeners until your 30th or your 50th episode, but new listeners will check out the older shows, and gradually your audience will find you.

5. Learn how to ask for reviews on iTunes. Which is as easy as it sounds, but really important to build credibility. Real reviews (not ones you ask your family to write) make your podcast seem real, buzz-worthy, relevant. And they don’t cost anything.

6. Then there’s the nitty-gritty of actually publishing your podcast. You don’t just send it to iTunes. You’ll need a hosting service like Libsyn, where you can upload the new episodes and encode them with the keywords and other content needed to make your show stand out from the thousands of other podcasts out there. Your hosting service will take care of sending the audio to iTunes, but pay attention to their tutorials; because it’s really easy to screw it up if you don’t love the details.

SoundTrax Recording Studios has been specializing in voice recording, editing and mixing since the Sony Walkman was new. And yes, we can help you with that first item on the list above – making sure your Podcast’s sound quality is optimal. Whether you’ve got one guest sitting across the table from you, or a whole bunch of people on the phone, Skype, and in the studio, we can make it work. You’ll be recording in SoundTrax’s famously super-quiet studio, and have a professional sound engineer at the controls, so you can concentrate on being fabulous, interesting, and witty.

Also, all our microphones have pop filters.

So the moral of the story is this: if you have a great idea for a podcast, don’t be shy. You CAN do it yourself, but if you find that it doesn’t sound as good as you’d hoped – give us a call.


A Testimonial for Testimonials

Tom Guild      1/17/2017

Sometimes the best commercials are the ones that aren’t scripted.

Let’s say you have a client (a patient, an employee, you get the idea) and they have a great story to tell about your product. You want to capture that passion and fit it into a commercial. You could write a testimonial for them to read, but no matter how great your words look on paper, once your “testifier” steps in front of the microphone there’s no telling what might happen. Which is a polite way of saying that you’ll probably end up with the audio equivalent of your child reading a book report in fifth grade. Or even one of those old news clips of POWs (“they are treating us well [wink wink]”).

Something about reading words on a piece of paper can drain the life out of even the finest copy, which is why we have voice actors. But if you need a Real Person to tell a story, here’s what you should do.

Sit that person down in a nice quiet place, turn on a microphone, and ask some open-ended questions. DO NOT hand them a piece of paper to read. Let them tell you their story in their own words. Also, let them finish sentences before you come in with another question. This is a good time for awkward silences, because: 1) some of the best stuff happens after that silence, and 2) you certainly don’t want to “step on” your interview subject with a follow-up question while they’re still talking.

After about 20 or 30 minutes, you’ll probably have more than enough material to craft a great 45-second story.

Then let SoundTrax transcribe the whole recording, pauses and all. You’ll get a Word document that helps you find all of the good stuff, shows where to cut out the boring stuff, and helps you re-arrange (if needed) the sentences into the great story you always wanted.

Finally, the wizards at SoundTrax edit that story, using your transcript and script, to make it sound natural and emotional (which is almost what really happened). And voila: your fifth-grade book report has been transformed into an amazing gripping short story! You’ll be the envy of your competitors, and your radio campaign will have renewed muscle.

Testimonials work. You just have to remember: Don’t write…until you listen.


Music and Emotion

Tom Guild      10/13/2016

Every now and then we have trouble convincing a client that the narration or commercial we just recorded will really have an impact on its audience. Maybe the voice recording is just the first step in the process, and later it will be married with pictures, video content or other sound elements to make a finished product. Or perhaps we’re going to do a music search that same day and mix a finished spot before we wrap the session. But whatever the situation, you might need a little imagination to hear the solo voiceover as part of a bigger whole.

This kind of imagination is a specific skill that producers develop over time. Many of the people we work with at SoundTrax are already good at this – they can hear the finished product in their head, and know what they need from the voice actor in order to get it. But sometimes we have someone new in the edit suite, or who concentrates on another aspect of the project like client relations or print media. Those are the folks who might need a little help to see where we’re going with a voice recording.

This is a pitch for music. Not the “I’ve got a band and we need a demo” kind of music. I’m talking about well-chosen stock music, carefully edited and mixed and added to the piece of v/o. Producers sometimes dismiss stock music as a cheap way to try and put lipstick on a pig, and if they’ve really got the budget for a custom music track we’ll be happy to help make that happen. Other times a client will listen to the voice track and ask “does it really NEED music? Did we budget for music? Can we use the soundtrack to Air Force One?”

The answers are 1) usually yes, 2) you should have asked, and 3) probably not.

Let’s talk about “Need” first. The magic of good music can the added emotional impact it gives your message. Or the extra shot of energy, or the defining consistency it adds to a campaign. The effect of a good music bed on the perception of a voice recording is amazing. Your on-the-fence client or executive suddenly doesn’t have to imagine the finished product…she hears it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a perfect mix or edit (it will be soon enough), the role that the right music plays in the overall effect of an audio production can’t be overstated.

Of course, it has to be the right music, and since SoundTrax Recording Studios has access to about 200,000 individual titles you risk going down a rabbit hole of stock music if you don’t have some help. Our engineers know our library and what would work best, so it’s good to budget a little time to let us look for your best options.

That brings us to “Budget”, of course. Our music licensing fees are among the most reasonable in the market. The payoff in effectiveness is worth the small investment in licensing and search time. Ask us about music when you request an estimate.

Then there’s question 3, the one about “Air Force One”. Or Beyonce, or the Beatles. The vast majority of the tunes on your iPhone are copyrighted recordings that you’re not going to be able to put in your corporate video or radio commercial without specific licensing. If you try to get away with it, you’ll be surprised at how efficiently the attorneys that enforce Federal copyright law will get in touch with you. We could go on at length, but who needs those headaches? When you buy licensed music from SoundTrax, you’re covered.

So put a little music in the mix. Or don’t. Sometimes the absence of music makes an impact too, but that’s another topic.

And then…there’s sound effects.


Being Present

Tom Guild      9/8/16

The ability to work remotely is something that we take for granted, like getting potato chips delivered by a drone or visiting an underwater art installation. We’re famously “free” of the restraints of the old-school office, and creativity can arrive anywhere your phone has a decent signal.

In our world of audio production and voiceover, we’re used to v/o sessions with talent located literally anywhere in the world, directed and critiqued in five places at once, by people all listening on a patch of some kind – whether it’s broadband or a plain old telephone.

It’s a strange kind of collaboration: nobody occupies the same physical space; often the participants can’t even see each other. The sessions are rife with distractions. Text messages keep popping up, people keep dropping in, the UPS lady shows up and you have to sign for a package. The next thing you know, your voiceover session has been going for an hour and a half and you don’t like anything you’ve heard. And you just can’t seem to figure out why the person on the other end of the line isn’t getting it.

Sometimes the secret of a great session is simply being present. In its purest sense that means undivided attention to the job at hand. But often the easiest way to be present is to simply show up. Be there in person. Look the voice actor in the eye, shake his or her hand, bring your client with you, and listen with your eyes as well as your ears. That’s why SoundTrax works with local clients and local talent, because we have a huge creative community in the Triangle, and a great space in which to collaborate face to face.

All of a sudden, you start getting the sound you were looking for. The voice actor can see when you’re happy and when you’re not. You can tell when he or she understands your direction. You catch a non-verbal signal from the talent that lets you know you’ve been misunderstood. Meanwhile, you and your clients are relaxing in an edit suite that’s comfortable, roomy and as isolated as you want it to be. If you don’t want anyone to know where you are, we won’t tell him or her. The edit suite is just as soundproof as the studio itself, so the only distractions are the ones you invite. We’ll even hide the little sign with the wi-fi password if needed.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe”, but sometimes it seems like we all get a little lonely sitting in cubicles or whisper booths trying to make magic. Collaboration – a tribal activity, if you will – is something that’s a lot easier done face to face, in real time. At SoundTrax in Raleigh.

But we can still patch you in from the hotel in Cleveland so you can listen to the remote talent in Munich. We have all that stuff too…don’t worry.