We have come across a series of free training courses from NPR’s Rob Byers This second course is designed to help you improve the quality of your mixes, whether you are mixing radio news stories or podcasts.
You will find a list of essential mixing tools, tips to make adjusting levels less tedious and guidance on how to use equalization and compression. You’ll also find suggestions for solving common audio problems, like bad phone tape.
You can scroll through the entire guide, or toggle to a specific section from the list below…
What Is Mixing? - Mixing is the process of creating balance, consistency and clarity with differing audio sources. It only happens when the elements of the story are edited and arranged.
Definitions - These terms are used throughout this step-by-step guide.
The Tools - The tools you need to mix audio storytelling are headphones, audio editing software, and a loudness meter. Equalisation and compression plug-ins can be helpful, and a noise reduction plug-in can help polish your work.
Adjusting Levels - When the levels of a mix are well-balanced, it will be easy to listen to, and no one will feel the need to adjust the listening volume mid-story. Mastering your audio editor’s level controls is essential to creating a great-sounding mix.
Plug-ins - The next two sections deal with equalisation and compression. In your audio editor, you’ll likely access these functions via a plug-in.
Equalisation - Use EQ when you want to adjust tone. In audio storytelling, we come across recorded voices that sound muddy and boomy or shrill and tinny. These adjectives typically describe an excess of frequencies. Muddy, boomy audio describes audio that has too much of the lower bass frequencies. Tinny or harsh audio describes the opposite — too much high frequency.
Compression - We naturally speak with dynamics. We emphasise certain words and syllables to make points and convey emotion. In mixing, we use level automation to control the dynamics across sentences and phrases, and occasionally it’s helpful to control the peaks of words and syllables. But imagine drawing automation curves for every emphasised syllable in a 20-minute interview, it would be incredibly tedious, and it probably wouldn’t sound very natural. That’s where compression comes in.
Fixing Common Mixing Problems - This section addresses some of the more common mixing problems you’ll encounter in audio storytelling: Boomy, bassy voices, Phone audio, Plosives, Music-to-voice balance and Stereo or mono?
Assess Your Mix - Your audience will listen to your work in various ways and in all sorts of environments, so you should do the same. Music engineers do this all the time. They’ll make critical decisions about a music mix in the studio on professional speakers, then they’ll listen in their car to learn how the mix translates outside of the studio.
Rob Byers is NPR Training’s Production Specialist. He worked as an audio engineer at NPR from 2003-2008 and led the part of the audio engineering and operations team at Minnesota Public Radio | American Public Media through 2016. He wrote The Audio Producer’s Guide to Loudness and his work at MPR|APM contributed to a Pulitzer and a Peabody.