Award-winning composer and sound designer Benbrick takes us through his creative process for podcast sound design.
Benbrick is a multi-million selling songwriter, composer, and Peabody Award-winning producer. His work ranges from the heartbreaking Sakura Nagashi by Japanese Grammy-winning Fantôme, to his stirring and ethereal original scores and production for George The Poet’s 7x British Podcast Award-winning Have You Heard George’s Podcast? He recently received awards for Best Podcast Producer, Best Arts Producer, and Best Sound Designer at the 2020 Audio Production Awards.
In our latest video collaboration, he breaks down his review process, appraising his technical and creative choices in sculpting the sound of an episode from Season 3 of Have You Heard George’s Podcast? – a critically acclaimed podcast from George the Poet that artfully blends the storytelling devices of spoken word, music and sound design. For this season, they worked with the BBC Concert Orchestra in Abbey Road, and the series has also been nominated for the 2021 Rose d’Or Award for Audio Entertainment.
Watch as Benbrick demonstrates how he cleans up his final mix session, and how he edits and processes podcast audio to achieve his award winning sound.
Organization is an important step which should be tackled towards the beginning of your mix if it isn't something you actively practice throughout your edit. Benbrick suggests to tidy up your session during your first run through, deleting empty tracks & consolidating clips so they take up less space. Organization is important so you can keep track of your work and find things easier whenever you need to go back to edit something. As Benbrick moves through an episode, he keeps an ear out for anything which may have been missed in every category – dialogue, sound design, & music.
With dialogue, it is important to catch any unrealistic breaths, especially those which take a listener out of their suspension of disbelief. However, sometimes other sounds such as ambiences can mask unwanted sounds so that listeners will not notice, so it's not always necessary to delete every little mistake. Benbrick recommends to keep dialogue focused on each scene's primary character. Playing with focus and panning can transform a podcast into a sonic journey. Lastly, play with the dialogue's ambience to make sure the recording does not sound like it came straight out of a Voice Over recording booth. You want to give your voices body and life within the space of the story.
3. Sound Design
Add sound effects that embellish the story. Include background sound effects which add more life to the setting, but remember to keep them in-theme with the time and place. Continue to pan your sounds – Benbrick suggests to set your panning in relation to your characters movement. This can add life and movement to your sound, making it more realistic. His most important advice: Reverb. Not only will reverb help to focus your effects, but it will also fit them into the space of the story.
Keeping your tracks organized is key – you never know when you'll need to add or deduct a layer of music. When building an episode, you might want to have reoccurring themes throughout – keeping your tracks organized will make your workflow quicker to try new things. Also, don't be afraid to process your music with reverb and EQ, playing with diegetic and non-diegetic situations throughout your story. Processing your melodies with plug-ins can create unique sounds which awaken the memory of a theme, but act as sound design rather than a score.
To sum up, a reappearing constant throughout Benbrick's video is consistency. Remaining consistent in your characters processing, focus, and quality throughout a podcast series, is key to leave a memorable impression on your listener.
Want to hear more? Check out Benbrick's first video in this series, Creativity in Podcast Sound Design Part 1, where he demonstrates more techniques to edit audio for a podcast and highlights some of the most important factors that have helped achieve his award-winning work.