We have come across a series of free training courses from NPR’s Rob Byers. This third course is a step-by-step guide outlining a straightforward way to mix podcasts and audio stories. As you explore the process, you can play along as there are downloadable files so you can try out the techniques in your own audio production software.
Podcast mixing — in fact, mixing audio stories of any kind — can be tedious some and engaging for others. It’s the part of the production process where you create balance, consistency, and clarity with all of the audio elements in your story. But for many, it’s the least understood and most overlooked part.
These are the 8 steps to the perfect mix which Rob recommends you follow this order every time for an efficient workflow…
Organise - The first step in mixing is to organise your mixing session. The goal is to create a project that looks organized, is properly labeled and has similar audio grouped on individual tracks.
Rough In Levels - Take a moment to adjust the level of your tracks so that every voice track is roughly at the same level. We are about to assess whether any voices need fixing with equalisation (commonly called EQ) and compression. To do that, all of the voices need to be at a similar level, because our brains generally perceive louder sounds as “better.”
Determine If You Need To EQ - Now we’re going to check whether any of the tracks has a tonal issue that can be improved with equalisation.
Determine If You Need To Use Compression - Ask yourself these questions: Does the person speak in an even and consistent way? Does the speaker sound strong and present? If you turn the listening level down halfway, can you still hear and understand every word?
Check Edits And Fades - Now do a quick check of all the edits in the piece to ensure they are distraction-free and natural. You want to avoid doubled breaths, unnatural edits and the like.
Fine-tune Levels - Fine-tuning levels is called “balancing.” Each audio clip needs to match the clip preceding it — not too loud, not too soft. Ambience and music should be audible, but not compete.
Balance Ambience And Music - This is a tricky step! The ambience and music should not compete with the voice tracks, nor should they be so low that it’s not audible when listening in a car or noisy environment.
Listen To The Mix! - Listen to the entire mix, top to tail, on headphones. Listen for anything unnatural, and pay close attention to transitions and balances of voice over ambience or music.
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.