You just want to think of the mood and emotion, you want to make sure that the timing is appropriate, that you are giving people enough time to digest what just happened and then transition them emotionally into what is about to happen next so obviously music is a huge part of that and I can go into a little bit about music if you want.
|But in many cases as we know when we are editing and trying to construct this, you know life just doesn’t always fall that way because this is largely unscripted material. So we have to find a way to bridge from one to the other and in many cases what I would find, as I mentioned earlier, was that if I can’t make a bridge between two components of audio, two spoke parts but I do want to put then close together, that is a good opportunity for a narrator to jump in.
|The two tricks I can give right now are if you can get two pieces of audio to stitch together naturally without having to do any tricks, do that first and if you have to get some narration in there, put a little space, put a little music, give the narration and then narration and go back into it.
|You know each time I need to go from one part to another I think about you know, how I want to connect to the thing that happened, you know raise a new question. Like at the end of one section, you want to sort of raise a question that you are going to answer in the section following so there is that. If you are using music, music is a good way to bridge parts like that. But yeah, I mean you have cycles in a story, where you have hourglass, at least a long time ago it used to go by the 45 second rule that every 45 seconds you need to have a new little mini arc happening in the story. I think anywhere between 45 seconds to 2 minutes of time in your story, you need to be raising a question, answering a question. Starting into a new thing so you have like narration, you have a quote, you do some music, and you need to think about it in little arcs like that.
|Well you got to give expectations for your audience. In narrative podcasting, one of the keys that you have to. One of the things that is great about narrative podcasting is you can be very creative. But the one thing that you also got to do is make sure that you got a box to think out of. Okay. It is very important in narrative podcasting that you actually create a structure, a framework, a box, whatever you want to call it. But you got to have a formula in place that your listener can expect, okay.
|And what you do with that is just like I was telling you a story and you were like and then, so as soon as I tell my audience that I fell off the back of that gator and I knew that I was about to get bit, I actually go into the introduction, my normal, standard introduction that they can always expect. So they are expecting the end of the story but it is just the beginning, I am just foreshadowing what is going to happen at the end of the episode and then all of a sudden my theme music kicks in, my normal standard introduction kicks in and then they are like oh we got to wait for the rest of the story, but what it does is it engages them to the point that, “Oh, okay, this is the formula, he gives us the teaser, we know he is going to finish the story later in the episode but we got to wait for it, so here is the music, here is the into, here is another part of the story and he will get back and tell us what happened on the back of that alligator as soon as he fell off.” And that is how you can weave it in and those are the kinds of transitions I am talking about. You want to have a specific structure in mind for your narrative podcast always to go back to that way you’re listening audience, they know what to expect. Yes they want to hear the rest of the story, so they will wait even if you cut away from it in the middle of it and go to something else like your introduction or commercial.
|In some cases though, what I am looking for is a bridge that is going to be some bed music in order to give the listener what I feel is an appropriate amount of time to think about what was just said. It is pretty funny. I think there is a meme going around up out there on Sound Cloud or something about how to do air in podcasts and they do it beautifully where they have someone say something very compelling and then you are struck by a piece of audio that holds you and hangs you while you think for as long as we want you to think and then the narrator comes back in. Well there is something to be said for that because it does create that beautiful timing and it does give the listener the opportunity to not be bombarded constantly with information.
|Paul Harvey was a famous radio guy and one of this favorite things was, that guys was like the king of the dramatic pause. You thought he liked died or something, did somebody hit him over the head but all of sudden in the middle of his sentence he would just pause for no reason and you were like, did he fall asleep, is he narcoleptic or something. It was really weird. But you know something like that maybe, just a pause, just to let that idea kind of fade into the breeze as it goes out. And then maybe you start off next with a question just to trigger somebody, hey, we are moving in a new direction.
|It is really good and it is interesting too how seconds really matter, like that was really mind-blowing to me, to realize that sometimes when you start to feel oh 3 seconds was too long and you can really say that. You can really feel that. And also listening to their music transitions, I am sure that there is a magic number right, where it is either too long or too short and so they optimize for a certain amount of length and I think if you can maybe discern that for yourself to like you know my transition needs to be one second long so it needs to work this way or my transitions for these longer things need to be up to you know, 5 seconds or something like that where you can start to sense like that is part of the difference and you can then start to make decisions based upon length and maybe just the length will do what you want it to do and not the type of music you are putting in there.
|In the narrative based podcast you want to have a variety of feels to the show. So what we did was we had 3 different kinds of audio, we had interviews, we have solo segments and we have conversations between Corey and myself. And then there was also music, okay. So an episode would, you know as you are listening to an episode, you are going to hear you know and in interviews, you are going to hear a portion of an interview, you know Corey interviewing someone or me interviewing someone. And then you are going to hear a splice of where it is just me talking in the microphone and I am sure that you know this Josh, when you hear someone on a solo podcast and it is just them and the microphone, they are alone in the room, it is just them and the microphone, the sound of their voice and the tone is so much different than when they are talking in an interview. Likewise, it is also different when you are just having a conversation, like Corey and I, partners, co hosts, us talking back and forth, he wasn’t interviewing me and I was interviewing him, we would have a topic at hand, we would start with okay, DIY Podcasting. And we would just kind of talk, we would say, “Yeah, you know, I started….” And like we would just kind of give our stories and our thoughts. Again it is a different feel from an interview. So in a narrative based podcast, one of the things you can do to hook listeners is to have different kinds of vocals, right so the solo, the interviews, the conversations, the music is huge, right. So we used Corey contracted a musician to compose music for the show. Listen we talked a little bit already about the importance of having a high quality production value in a narrative show, that is one of the things that is going to set you apart from most other weekly-based interview podcasts, having really quality music is a big part of that.
|Well one thing that you want to may be sure to do is get royalty free music, that is first and foremost. You don’t want to start using, you don’t want “Another One Bites the Dust” and everything from Queen and so on when you are talking about your music because you can get in trouble. So you got to find some resources for royalty free music and you find that in a variety of places. There is some, if you have a Mac, there is some on your Mac but I would advise against using that if you can. The reason is because it has been used, people have heard it before. You want to try to get unique music that is almost exclusive to you even though it is not exclusive to you. You want to get those pieces of music that people haven’t heard all the time. So to use those, find them on YouTube or find them on a website called audioblogs.com or audiojungle.com. Find these pieces of music, these dramatic pieces and utilize them, leverage them. In other words, when we are talking about a scary story, have some creepy music in the background, enjoy it, play with it. Have some fun with it, but just don’t overuse it. You want to make sure to bring an ambiance to your narrative but you definitely don’t want to go over the top to the point that people are like, “Oh man, this is really cheesy.” You just want enough music to make your point without beating people over the head with the music.
|Okay so, (0:41) talks about, he used the term “plinky music” that This American Life uses plinky music. The biggest thing I see people do who are getting into narrative, they just use the wrong music. Music that works for transitions and for sound beds is not the same type of music that works if you are doing a, “Hey everybody, I am a cool interview podcaster,” type of intro. You know it is, you see that so many times, loud rock music or dub step and that kind of stuff. It just doesn’t work underneath, there is too much going on and it interferes with the person who is speaking, especially if you are transitioning into speech. So pick music that is very understated that is very simple and that is mood appropriate with what is going on and usually in most cases it is fairly neutral so it is not, even if you are in a sad scene, you don’t want some big sad, sappy orchestra, it is too much, you just want a simple, maybe a simple guitar pluck that is a little moody sounding underneath. So you just think much more simple with music.
|I did season one of Filmmakers Focus and I got a point where I was kind of rushing things and I found some music for free and honestly the music sucks, it just does not work for what I needed to be pushing. And it just takes it down a notch and it is not like it is playing throughout the entire thing but it is just kind of lame, doesn’t work for this. I mean it would be a great piece for something else but I mean I should have taken the time to let it, let myself find the right tunes rather than try to push a week or something ahead so I would highly recommend, especially with this format, you are going to need every bit of, every piece of help that you can get and that music is going to be key to help tone this story.
|Anytime a narrator jumps in I usually put a little bit of bed music under it and that is kind of to allow them to float, if you will, in and out of these conversations, imagining that the conversation is the sort of front facing audio that is the meat of the show and then from time to time this narrator is some guy or girl in the sky that is going to pull you out of the show and talk to you a little bit. Whenever I am pulled out of the show, I want something musical underneath to give you that sense that I am in a different space and then get dropped back into the show itself.
|So one tip that I would give people that is sort of an insider secret if you are really serious about narrative is looking to smart sound. You can actually create your own music tracks and then make them exactly what you want them to be and you can make very, very simple good bed music using smart sound and I have been happy with it. It is not cheap but it is a good resource if you are looking to create narrative for a long time.
|Another technique you could use those would be you have certain music that is saved for certain things, Gimlet, all things considered and several other NPR style productions do this kind of thing where they have the sponsored music and it loops in the background while they are talking about their sponsors or they have their opening music, they have their wrap up music, they have their music that plays when they are struggling with a thought or they have their music that plays as they are wrapping up their ideas. You can have that kind of thing and it is like your own soundtrack for the show, definitely get the license for the music, don’t just use any music but make sure you are doing it legally. And then that music can be what sets the tone so although it may be that you are recording in the exact same studio in the exact same sound quality, instead of having to say, “Now let’s transition to our sponsors,” you can have this music in the background that makes that obvious difference.
|And so as you are making that point a lot of time you can fade in music that will really set the tone of whatever it is the point you are making and then let the music fade in and fade out. You know, I have heard people kind of pause after that music because like the music comes in [humming] and then it is there to let you ponder what that person just said, right. You just said that final, you put the you know, the period at the end of the sentence, let it sink in a bit and then about the time you go, “well that is weird, nothing is playing” they will start talking again and here is the new topic. So I think music is a good way of doing that, you know, sound effects maybe in some places if you are talking about I don’t know, maybe you are talking about, you have one topic and this and that and this and that and you just pause and you start playing a sound effect and people are like why are there geese honking, well because the next topic is “I remember one time out by my grandfather’s lake there were geese.” And you know I can see something like that to just politely cue the listener, “Hey, guess what, we are going someplace else now.” This was over here without completely jarring their feelings out of their teeth, something like that might be an interesting switch. I really think, the thing I love about these, I wish I had more time to do them, is it is so creative and you can kind of, for me at least when I do these and I listen back, it just, when I just feel that natural flow without kind of like, oh what was that or I really do like that. And in some cases, a nice little jarring exit is maybe the emphasis you are going through. Maybe you are trying to get people to go, “oh, oh what was that?” You know because you are trying to get their attention, so for me it is kind of like painting with audio, you know. You might want to try a soft, music especially, I was amazed it triggers something in the mind that people knew what you are talking about, they got the joke a little quicker because the music spawned that thought. Maybe it is the musician in me but my knee-jerk reaction is what can I use music wise here to transition. I think those would be that and like I say, sound effects or a question in some cases.
|Oh yeah, to be able to make those choices based on the kind of transition that it is. I mean if it is a very poignant transition or if it something that you are talking about x and then that topic has been put to rest and then you are going to start talking about y, I feel like that merits a pretty strong transition between those because it is sort of like an audio period. You know what I mean. This is where it finishes, the sentence, period, and next scene. So it could be something like that and there are times when you can do a less one that isn’t so poignant and they can really just seem lessly integrated into the other one.
|So it is not like you would be telling this story and in the middle of this story there is suddenly background music and you are talking about your sponsor but you would need to say with language things like, “this podcast is sponsored by such and such,” or “brought to you by such and such.” So you are still making somewhat of a verbal transition without actually saying, “Let’s talk about our sponsors now” or “Let’s segue into this other thing” or “we will be right back after this brief message.” Please do not do that in a podcast, that, this is not radio, you are not going anywhere, your listener is not going anywhere, no one is going to leave and have to come back, you don’t have to say, “we will be right back after.” Just make it a smoother transition, Pet peeve, sorry about that. But your background music then can help you with that and people then can start to know as they listen to your show as the background music is starting at a certain point, maybe they know, oh the show is almost over or they start to associate certain background music with this episode is halfway through and he is doing this transition point or whatever it is, you can really set the tone and the emotion of the moment with the background music. You see that done in movies all the time and I love movie soundtracks and that is something that the soundtrack can be really good at doing, is setting the emotional tone of the moment.
|They call that tracking in the business. So tracking is cutting those little narrations in between pieces and I also struggle with the same thing you are talking about. What I found works nice is to not only just introduce the next thought but also you can do some of their talking for them. So you will see that they do this a lot in highly produced narrative shows is that instead of just saying “And then I asked so and so about such and such and this is what he had to say.” See that is a little too, it is almost like why didn’t you just do the interview them. You know but what you can is you can say “And then I was interested in what such and such’s experience was, he shared with me, so on and so forth, which got me thinking, da da da.” And then they start talking. You see so you are doing some of their talking for them so that your narrations aren’t so tight where it is just you know just literally just introducing the next idea, it is a little more complex than that and it makes is just a little tighter.
|There is a couple of ways that I do it and every producer has their own flair but for me I mean it is very, very simple. The first thing I am always looking for is when wording can match wording. When something that one person says can naturally lead to something that someone else said. When those two things can be butt together, that for me is a win, that is a victory in narrative audio. I don’t need music, I don’t need transition, I don’t need anything fancy and I certainly don’t need narration because the job is there for me and again spoken words, spoke word. Let the words tell the story.
|Well something cool that I see done with the NPR style shows they have a portion of the clip playing in the background so you know you are about to go to a clip or you are just coming off a clip. You don’t have to then say let’s play this clip but you can just play a portion of the clip and then you jump in as the narrator and say, “That is so and so and we are talking about such and such,” or you can start your clip off by saying, “On such and such day, I was talking to so and so,” and then you go into the audio clip as it has been playing silently, a little bit silently in the background. A cool little trick you can also do, especially when there is spoken work in the background and spoken word in the foreground, your voice is in the foreground and maybe you’re playing an audio clip that has spoken words in the background, is you can play with the frequencies a little bit, not to make it sound like a telephone call or something like that but reduce those frequencies in the vocal range which are roughly around the 200-400 hertz range I believe. So that way you don’t have multiple pieces of audio conflicting for the same frequency range but you have reduced it a little bit in the background but then you raise it back up when you bring that background clip back into the foreground so it is more than simply reducing the volume but reducing it on specific frequencies as well so that the foreground voice sticks out all the more.
|One of the key things in theater is pacing and changing the pace of things. As in dance, you know as in almost every art form, including music, there is a reason why you know, the iambic pentameter that Shakespeare uses stays at a specific type for many, many different lines and then all of sudden it breaks that rhythm, It is because something important is happening then. Something else is taking up that rhythm. When Shakespeare breaks that rhythm, there is a very, very important reason why. And as when you are producing something like a play, that is a Shakespeare play or you are playing it or whatever, you need to really look at that and to see that. The same thing happens with story-telling or with music. You set up a certain amount of consistency perhaps in your voice, consistency in the way that you are telling the story and then you add elements that break that pattern, that break it in some way that sometimes it is more melodic, sometimes it becomes more pleasing and sometimes it is very dissonant so that you cause the person that is listening to question or to go, “that was shocking.” And you can use different ways to do that with, because you have the voice, you have different ways to do that. There are possibilities of using speed, tempo, right, you can do it faster or slower, you can do it louder or softer, you can do it sharper and there are layers that you can build into that. What is really lovely about the narrative podcast is that you don’t have to do just with your voice, you can have aspects of sound design, which is one of the reasons that narrative podcasters are around that way, or music.
|You can learn a lot by watching expose shows like Behind the Music or 60 Minutes and watch how they make their transitions in their interviews, it is truly an art to go from one interview clip to a transition to another interview clip. And when you catalog your interviews, after you have done it for a while, you will get the hang of hearing pieces that you want to use in your story as you are doing the interview and you will catalog those, you will jot down a note that, “Oh at 3:05 of the interview, he mentioned a part about the gun and that is what I wanted.” You know, then you can go back and find that piece. You will start to recognize that piece after you have done it for a while, those pieces will jump out at you
|To study transitions, to listen not necessarily for content sometimes but listen for transitions like what transitions worked the most, what was the thing that worked about it and like questioning back again, like reverse engineering, the impact that something made on you or why something didn’t really work or why it was too jarring for you or you wish that it was this way. There is something really amazing about following your own instincts with this kind of work. And in order to develop that you have to develop your own opinions. And part of it comes from studying, to see what you like and what resonates with you.