How to soundscape and sound design for any podcast (branded or otherwise)
Though often an afterthought, soundscaping and sound design can make or break your relationship with podcast listeners. In this piece, Emma Spellacy (Acast creative designer for the Americas) shares four things creators and brands alike should keep in mind as they look to enhance their storytelling through sound.
I’ve been working as a multidisciplinary designer since I graduated, dipping my toes in the many fields that design can encompass: branding, graphic design, websites, UI, you name it. So when opportunities to hone my sound design and soundscaping skills arise, I’m all in.
Working on projects for the likes of Square and now Roundabout — an Acast Creative podcast presented by State Farm — I’ve been able to learn and expand my knowledge while doing hands-on work with experienced collaborators.
Below are some quick tips I live by that can help you take your branded podcast — or any podcast, for that matter — from good to great.
1. Know (and use) your audience
Knowing your audience is crucial when creating a podcast, and sometimes you have to dig deeper to get to know them. Sound design elevates your podcast by defining the genre and ambiance, so being aware of your audience is crucial to your podcasts’ success.
With Roundabout, there were moments where the team was completely split on our musical approach. But, with the help of Tommy Walters, insights manager for the Americas here at Acast, we were able to test different songs with our audience to see what resonated most.
Using first-party data to inform our decision helped resolve a very friendly debate but, more importantly, it gave us clarity into what our listeners like — and that’s informed every decision moving forward.
2. Put yourself in the room
Most podcasts aren’t accompanied by visuals, which means the use of sound effects in audio storytelling has more weight than it does in movies and television. Sound can help paint a picture, contextualizing and visualizing the content you’re covering.
Recently, I was working on a story for Square featuring Chef Thai Dang of HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen, where he shared childhood memories of his mother cooking. The sounds of chopping and frying at key, climatic parts of the story helped to enhance listeners’ experience and welcome them into his childhood kitchen.
3. Hearing is believing
When adding sound, it can be tricky finding samples that sound precisely like how you imagine them in your head. But remember, we aren’t using any visuals, so you can use unexpected sources that evoke strong emotions and correlate with things beyond themselves.
That rainfall you hear? That may just be bacon frying in the pan, but who’s to say? Your listener brings their own memory and associations with sound.
4. Less is more
When you first begin adding sounds and music to your podcast, it can be easy to get carried away. But having too many auditory elements often means your story gets lost in the blur, leaving listeners confused and overwhelmed. You have to know when to let the story speak for itself, literally.
When working with DCP Entertainment senior producer Ryan Woodhall to perfect each episode of Roundabout, it was beneficial to have multiple team members lend fresh ears for edits before making final cuts. Through this process, we often found that pulling back on sound and music allowed us to bring a deeper focus to certain points of our guests’ stories.
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For example, at the end of the episode 01, Seventeen Going on Eighteen, we faded out our sentimental music as the story transitioned from Lety’s and Ashley’s heartwarming memories traveling together to the comedic relief of curbside bathroom breaks.
5. Silence is your friend
Don’t forget to utilize silence as you would other sounds. Ryan summarizes this perfectly: “Removing a sonic element at the perfect point in a dramatic sentence, can highlight the emotional qualities of the moment.”
Silence provides listeners with a moment to reflect and process.
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