This is the third article in our Field Guide to Podcasting series. These posts will profile the people and roles that come together to create a podcast. In the case of Pacific Content, that includes making a podcast with a brand partner. Read the other articles on the Producer role and the Showrunner role.
Sound designers use music and sound effects to make podcasts sound their best.
This sounds like a simple task, but professional sound design truly sets a high-quality podcast apart from something your cousin put together with their friend in their basement.
Let’s break it down.
Every single podcast episode Pacific Content makes is mixed by one or more of our in-house sound designers.
An episode arrives at a sound designer’s desk as separate elements — there’s a script, a dozen audio files, and sound notes from the client. At this point, the podcast episode only exists in the production team’s imagination.
It’s the sound designer’s job to put these elements together and add their own creativity to bring the stories to life — so that by the time the episode reaches your ears, the guests sound polished, the stories inspire scenes in your mind, and everything flows smoothly.
Essentially, sound design is the step where a podcast episode goes from the theoretical, “I imagine it will sound something like this,” to the tangible, “it sounds awesome.”
Sound designers at Pacific Content also play an important production role by helping podcast guests set up their audio equipment for interviews. Many of our interviews are done remotely and sound designers help ensure guests are comfortable with the audio equipment we send.
But what is working as a sound designer at Pacific Content really like?
Pacific Content sound designer Kristie Chan shares her experience.
What does a typical work day look like?
Much of Kristie’s work day looks like this: head down, headphones on, focusing on a mix.
“In the morning when I sit down at my desk, I’m mostly going into sessions,” she said. “Whether it’s fixes or I’m actually doing a full episode that day, jumping into someone else’s session, or backing up other sessions, I’m always in sessions.”
Kristie spends very little time on Zoom calls. On average, she attends just two meetings per week.
But she does interact with her colleagues — most often her fellow sound designers. They message each other on Slack, conferring on what sound effect might work best for a particular scene, or debating whether a new plugin is worth using.
The other people she interacts with most are Showrunners, who provide feedback on the mixes she makes. Feedback like, “let’s build up the tension using music here,” or “we need an extra beat after this line to let it breathe,” or “can we try a sound effect here?”
When Kristie isn’t editing audio, she is organizing the hundreds of audio files on her hard drive.
“If I have some downtime, I’ll look through my files and make sure they’re all named properly. Also, we bounce down all our stems,” she said.
Stems are audio files that contain just one element of an episode — like just dialogue, or just sound effects, or just music.
“We do that because, in case anyone later on needs to get to that mix session, they don’t need to have all the plugins. And if we’ve moved on to different plugins or if we’ve moved on to different programs, they don’t need to have the exact same ones. They can just grab the stem.”
Who do you work with most of the time?
- By myself
- Other sound designers
What is your favourite part of the job?
“In every episode I work on, I try to do one thing that makes me happy,” said Kristie.
One time, she managed to sneak baby Yoda into a podcast.
“It was a podcast about coding. A lot of times, for the coding stuff, you don’t really get much to do. You don’t want to always do the typing or hacking noises, so I stay away from that.”
But in this particular episode, the guest briefly referenced The Mandalorian.
“I found a cue that sounded really similar to that theme and I also added a baby voice to kind of mimic baby Yoda,” she said.
“You know, it was like a two second thing, but it just made me happy.”
What is your least favourite part of the job?
“I love dialogue editing because it’s very straightforward,” she said.
But sometimes, the audio needs a lot of help to sound polished.
That means sound designers have to meticulously clean up traffic noises, phone notifications, and anything else that would distract the listener’s ear. It can become very time consuming.
“There are times when you get audio that you just have to continuously go in and fix little things. I kind of just space out and if the episode is too long too and the audio is pretty rough quality, that can really drain you,” said Kristie.
What’s something you found surprising about the job?
Straight out of school, Kristie worked as a dialogue editor for a year before coming to Pacific Content. But based on her classmates’ experiences, she said there was one particular thing at Pacific Content that really surprised her.
“I have a lot of friends that do sound design for movies, TV shows, that kind of thing,” she said.
“From what I gather, at other places — your bosses have their vision and that’s where you’re going.”
It’s a stark contrast to what Kristie says she experiences at work.
“You get a lot more say in what’s going on in the podcast at Pacific Content. Everyone’s a lot more excited to hear your opinion. ”