Dynamic Content

what we're thinking about at SoundTrax

How Does Your Podcast Sound?

Tom Guild      3/14/20

Should you use a Podcast Studio? If you’re currently doing a podcast, and you’re using a spare room at the office (or a spare bedroom at home), it might be a good idea to take a cold, calculating comparison listen to what’s currently pulling in listeners. A good place to start might be this list from Thomas Davies.

You’ve probably heard of The Daily, Serial, Planet Money and the rest. None of these were produced in a spare room. They have the same production quality that distinguishes all great audio – clean sound, consistent levels, and efficient pacing.

Now listen to your podcast, and pretend you’re hearing it for the first time:

  • Are there distracting background noises (a/c, traffic, chairs moving?).
  • Does everybody in the podcast sound like they’re in the same place? Or if someone’s on Skype or the phone, can you hear them clearly?
  • Do folks sound like they’re across the room, or do they sound like they’re right inside the speaker?
  • Do you find yourself reaching for the volume because suddenly things got louder (or quieter)?
  • Do you ever feel as if the pace of the show is deadly slow, or too frantic?

There’s plenty of podcasts (I could stop that sentence right there, but) that are produced on a low budget and yet are appealing and listenable. Of course, content is the most important thing. If your podcast about Central American insects, or garden gnomes, or DIY dentistry has a loyal audience, that’s great. Podcasting is a wonderfully level playing field: “Gnome Talk” and “Serial” look the same on your iPhone.

But when someone clicks on a new podcast, they probably give it about 20-30 seconds before they decide whether to stick around. So, you need to sound great, right out of the gate.

If you think your podcast could use a little professional help, call us. SoundTrax has worked with podcast producers for years. We know how to make the complex stuff sound easy, and we have been Spoken Word Recording Specialists for over 40 years. That’s right: we record voices, not bands. We KNOW podcasting, and we can help your podcast reach the biggest audience possible.

Get the right tool for the job

Tom Guild      5/22/19

[Your microphone may vary]

Let’s say you’re dining out at a great vegetarian restaurant. Would you expect to see a ribeye steak on the menu? Or imagine you’ve been told you need open-heart surgery. Should your first appointment be with a psychiatrist? (depends on who told you to have the surgery, I guess). If you go to the Apple Store, are you shopping for shoes? Or a couch?

All these places share broad categories – restaurants, medical care, retail stores. But the difference is in the details. The same thing goes for recording studios. Some studios (actually, quite a few) specialize in recording music; they have pianos, drum kits, a standing order with the local pizza place, and they don’t even open until noon. And they’re usually great at what they do – record and mix music.

SoundTrax isn’t one of those studios. We’ve been specializing in voice recording for over 40 years. Compared to music recording, it’s a completely different animal. Narration, sound design, audio mixing for film and video, radio, TV, and web ads – that’s our stuff. Podcasts, Audiobooks, interviews… those jobs require someone with a very specific skill set and experience.

This all makes sense, right? Yet somehow, we still get called by folks who tried to record some v/o at their brother’s band’s recording studio, and spent all day trying to get something done that SoundTrax does in an hour.

We can patch in clients and voice actors from all over the world to listen or participate, we can coach people who’ve maybe never been in front of a microphone before, we can help you choose the right music and other elements from our vast stock music library, and we can mix everything perfectly. And when your client says that she thinks the music’s too loud, or the tag line sounds “too sad”, we’ll happily fix it and make it perfect again.

The moral of the story is this: don’t go to a pet groomer for a haircut. Don’t go to Starbucks for a beer. And don’t book a music recording studio for a voice recording job. In North Carolina, SoundTrax has been doing voice recording longer and better than anyone else. We’re the right tool for your job.

Audiobooks: an investment in time
Tom Guild      1/4/19

Audiobooks have changed a LOT from the days when they were also called “Books On Tape”. Now it’s possible to create your own private media universe, no matter where you are. Podcasts and Audiobooks are everywhere, and easier than ever to find, download and enjoy.

We discussed Podcasts in an earlier post , but if you’re thinking about recording or producing an Audiobook, we at SoundTrax can at least offer you some advice.

If you’re what’s known in the business as a “Rights-Holder” (you’ve written a book yourself and want to make an audio version, or you’re working with a publisher to create an audiobook), a great resource is something called ACX, the Audiobook Creators Exchange. It’s a joint venture between Amazon and Audible to match Rights-Holders with people who can actually record and produce your book. This includes the creation of the finished sound files and delivery of those files to the right place for them to be offered for sale by the major players, such as Audible and iTunes.

As the Rights-Holder you have a few options to monitor the progress and approve the finished product, as well as different ways to handle payment to the narrator and/or engineers. It’s a little complex, but the ACX website does a good job of explaining the various ins and outs in plain English.

If you’re a narrator looking to record an Audiobook, you can create a profile on ACX, submit auditions for titles that are accepting them (there are dozens and dozens at any given time), and if one of your auditions matches what the Rights-Holder is looking for, you can negotiate a deal and get to work.

As a narrator, there’s a few things you should know before you enter this world.

1 – Recording an Audiobook is hard work. In terms of sheer time involved, a typical Audiobook can be anywhere from 4 to 10 hours or more in finished length. Even experienced narrators take anywhere from 2 to 3 times the finished length of the book to make the initial recording. So, a 7-hour book could take you 20 hours or more just to record. But that’s just the start. Editing the sound files to remove stumbles, breaths, and remove or insert pauses where appropriate can easily double that time number. Audiobooks are fun to record, but they do take a LOT of time to get right.

2- The technical requirements are simple but are stringent. You either need to be pretty comfortable with microphones and state of the art digital recording and editing or be prepared to work with someone who is.

3- You’ll also need a place to record. Your third bedroom might seem quiet, but the first time your phone rings, or a neighbor starts mowing the lawn, or the dog gets barking at the UPS truck, you’ll realize that there’s quiet, and then there’s QUIET. If you can use a small space with soft sides and no windows (like a coat closet) and can live with turning you’re a/c or heat off while you record (because you WILL hear it running in the background), you might be able to make a home studio work. Then all you need is a great microphone, a good audio editing program on a fast computer, and lots of time to read your book.

Yes, we do record Audiobooks at SoundTrax. Because Audiobooks are a time-consuming enterprise, and because we charge by the hour, you’ll want to budget carefully if you’d like to work with us. What you’ll get in return is our first-hand expertise (we’ve produced and recorded dozens of books here) and access to an ideal recording environment and top-notch equipment. You’ll work one-on-one with an engineer throughout the process. When you’ve completed recording, we can give you the raw sound files for post-production on your own, or if you prefer, we can complete that process for you at additional cost.

About the only thing we can’t do is come over to your coat closet in person and help you figure out where to put your microphone. But if you’re looking for an Audiobook partner, get in touch with SoundTrax. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we’ll be  happy to help.

SoundTrax Holiday Classics
Tom Guild      11/22/2017
Way back in the aughts (meaning the years 2000 to 2009), SoundTrax created special Holiday recordings that we’d send to our clients and friends at the end of the year on a CD.

They were completely home made audio skits (with one exception) and were, well, a little corny. But they were great fun to make and we liked to believe that folks enjoyed receiving them. Maybe someday you’ll be able to buy mint copies of the original discs on eBay for outrageous sums, but I don’t think that has happened yet.

Anyway, I dredged the 5 original Holiday recordings out of the archives this morning, and here they are, all in one place in cyberspace!

From 2004, our first Holiday recording -“The Sound Of Snow”

In 2005, to go with our Addy Award Winning postcard campaign, we enlisted some help from Toby Roan and a cast of dozens to create the “BiggCo Christmas” (imagine a downmarket retailer that sells everything)…

In 2006, we decided to get out of the studio, for “Sound Destinations”

2007’s Holiday recording was a Thanksgiving and family-oriented piece, called “SoundBytes”

The last of the series was a sort of trip through recording history, with this “classic” from 2008

Thanks to Gary Pearce, Don Stone, Perry Cheatham and Kevin Silva for their patience and willingness to get dressed up in those silly costumes each year. And special thanks to Kaki Carl, who had the idea in the first place, and remains near and dear in our hearts. Happy Holidays from SoundTrax Recording Studios!

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 want 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.