Case

Studies

#1

casefile True crime

WEBSITE: 
casefilepodcast.com

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When I left my job as a team leader at Pinewood Film Studios, I started doing freelance work from home. It wasn’t much, but it was a start and enough to support myself while I looked for a life direction.

Some of the jobs that I applied for were podcast production. I didn’t know much about podcasting but soon learned that this work fits perfectly into my skillset – I was a dialogue editor for the last few years.

More than that, podcasting offered creative freedom, much more than audiobooks, and it was still in its infancy, so there was a lot that could be done without restraints.

I was intrigued and got a few gigs helping out with audio production on small shows.

One of these projects was Casefile True Crime. From the start I knew this was something different; it wasn’t a standard interview-style show, it wasn’t a talk show.

The guy who started the show, Anonymous Host—as he will be known in the future—wanted to do a true-crime podcast in the style of Hardcore History – an in-depth narrative, storytelling show.

He didn’t have a plan for it; he was out of work due to injury and wanted to kill a couple of months. However, after he published a few episodes himself, he received overwhelming feedback from the listeners and knew he might have stumbled upon something bigger. The problem was, he was a novice in audio production and needed help.

We’ve met through the online advert, and I started helping out with production, and soon I’ve also started to compose the music for the show.

However, there were several issues from the start. Working at the professional movie studio meant working in a state of the art edit and mixing rooms. At home, I had an old audio interface, laptop and no immediate funds to upgrade it. The host was funding the show from his savings, and we worked on a shoestring budget. 

Most of my plugins were demo versions or borrowed as he worked from a spare bedroom with a simple microphone.

The first episodes of Casefile have an average quality, but we were doing our best given the circumstances. With time as the show grew, we invested in a better microphone, audio interface, then a recording booth for the host. On my side, I purchased an iMac, the plugins needed to do editing, mixing, mastering as well as composing and other necessary equipment.

It took time, but the improvement is reflected in Casefile episodes, and noticeable for listeners who check listened from the beginning.

Setup

I learned to keep my set up simple but up to date. I’ve also learned that it is better to master a few plugins and get most out of them rather than chase a new plugin every week.

There are only a handful of companies that I use for my production, and these are

– Avid Pro Tools as my audio workstation

– iZotope plugins

– Spectrasonics synths

Plus additional software from Spitfire and Eventide.

I have ADAM A5X monitors, M-Audio Hammer MIDI Keyboard for composing, Sony MDR -7506 headphones for editing and AKG712 headphones for mixing.

My work is based on templates – something that I’ve learned when working at the movie studio.

I designed a Pro Tools template, a session that has all of the tracks that I need in different work scenarios.

It’s set up for music composition, editing, mixing and mastering. I hide the tracks that I don’t need and save the session at every step of the production.

When working on Casefile, there are two goals that I have on my mind – quality and consistency.

With three episodes a month, it means that the work has to be streamlined, hence why templating is so vital in achieving these aims.

Production

Casefile is a project that as for now, has just one producer – myself. I have extra help for scoring, but the editing, mixing and mastering are still on my shoulders.

For music, my style is to have continuous music in the background that is not intrusive but adds the emotional feel to the show and builds the picture around the narration.

I want to have bespoke music for every episode; however, with tight deadlines and the dialogue production on top, I also had to streamline the process of the composition and scoring.

First of all, Andrew Joslyn is the 2nd composer on the show, and he usually scores around 40% of the episodes.

The way it works is that after the initial edit of the narration, I cut it into cues or scenes and send them out to Andrew – he sends me back stereo files of already mixed music that I have to mix with the narration.

I tend to write a couple of original themes per episode. I then create 3 or 4 variations of the same theme but with different textures.

In the end, I end up with 8 or 9 cues that I can mix in any way I need to. I also keep the instrument stems separate, and during scoring, I mix in whatever I feel is necessary in the moment – using automated small mixing desk.

Even though the process is streamlined and templated, it still means that every episode sounds different and the music is made to work with the story.

Because of my goals and aims always to improve, not only the work keeps me on my toes but allows me to keep learning. 

It also gives me confidence in leading other types of audio projects.

#2

From the Files

WEBSITE: 
fromthefiles.com

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From the Files started as a bonus content that we provided for Casefile’s Patreon supporters. 

Patreon.com is a crowdfunding membership platform where creators run subscription content service and paying members or ‘patrons’ often get extra experiences and exclusives.

On Casefile Patreon page we do things like ask-me-anything with the team and behind the scenes of the show, and From the Files was one of these extras.

The premise was quite simple; every month we would record an episode that would list updates on the cases that we’ve released on Casefile in the past. True crime stories don’t end with the theme music; there are ongoing trials, investigations and developments, both in the lives of victims, families and offenders. 

Our patrons enjoyed the show, and after some time we decided to improve its format, take it from behind the paywall and release it on public feed, as the first show on Casefile Presents platform.

The new format is as follows: the episode starts with our anonymous host listing latest case updates, but he also invites a person involved in true crime world for an interview. It can be an author, detective, researcher or someone connected to the case we’ve covered in the past.

Production

This meant that my workflow had to change from the usual Casefile-way.

The first thing is the addition of the interviews. The case updates from the host are easy, even though he uses a different microphone (SM7B) and takes a more casual tone, I still use the same Pro Tools plugin set up as with Casefile – adjusted to the new sound.

However, the interviews are a bit more problematic. Some of them are recorded over the phone, some over Skype. Some people are better speakers than others too.

On top of that, some questions that we asked during the recording are kept, and others are added later.

His set up is also different as for Casefile the host uses Apogee audio interface to record the narration, but for From the Files we use Rodecaster for the updates and the interviews.

So the most significant change is in editing and the way I treat the audio from interviews.

I still use the same plugins from iZotope, but can’t use the same settings every time.

The other thing is background music. For Casefile, background music is the emotional link, building the whole picture around the narrator’s voice, and I spend a lot of time making it work.

With From The Files I don’t need to do this; however, I still want the continuous background music playing as it often fills the low-frequency space that is lacking in these over-the-phone interviews.

So I’ve created a few templates with background music that runs for about an hour that I rotate, so it doesn’t repeat every episode.

The episodes are much less frequent – only one every month. However, sometimes they need a lot more attention because of the variables – and because there can be technical hiccups, especially when you are recording an interview over the phone and not in a controlled environment!

#3

silent waves

WEBSITE: 
silentwavespodcast.com

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Silent Waves was the first original project for our platform Casefile Presents. It wasn’t developed for us; the show was already out in public. However, when the team stumbled upon Silent Waves, we knew it would be the perfect show for Casefile Presents.

Not only the story was compelling and real, but also it didn’t reach that many people – we knew we could help it to get more listeners.

Issues

When I first listened to the show from the QC (Quality Control) perspective, straight away, I noticed several problems with the sound.

The loudness wasn’t correctly set, and the show was louder than even the loudest recommendations from Apple and Spotify. The LUFS also varied from episode to episode.

The second problem was the editing on the music and dialogues as well as general issues such as noise, lip smacks and plosives.

General mix was something that I’ve also looked at – the music at some moments felt out of place and overshadowed the dialogues, same with sound effects.

Immediately I offered to re-mix the show as long as the creators were happy to send me the stems.

There was a problem though, after back and forth with the creators it became clear that stems and original audio files were nowhere to be found, and the only thing I had was the MP3 files released on the RSS feed.

There was my dilemma, I wanted to show to sound better, but without the access to the original files, my options were severely limited.

Production

Nevertheless, it was a challenge.  

I decided to pick up the gauntlet and iZotope would be my best friend throughout the journey. My process would be unconventional, and I guess borderline offensive to standard audio production work.

I knew I would work in phases.

STAGE 1

The first phase was to do the general edit and make the episodes flow a little bit better.

It meant cutting out and clearing a few edits and in some places, cutting short the sound effects and music. I was clear that I would not change the overall structure of the show though, I wanted to improve the flow.

STAGE 2

The second stage was about music, and it was the one that I worried about the most. 

I felt that in places the background music was too loud and was overshading the dialogue, the question was – how to make it better with only a stereo mix file.

The tool that came in handy was Dialogue Isolate from my Rx6. The module helps to bring the dialogue up front, making everything else quieter. Of course, it is a destructive process that changes the structure of the audio. I had to go through the music spots individually and make sure it still sounds ok.

STAGE 3

The third stage was about the dialogue. I could not run global processes because every recording was a different one, made in a different environment.

So I treated each one separately using tools such as De-click, Denoise, De-ess.

There was a lot of music underneath, so I had to be very careful about what processes to use.

STAGE 4

The fourth stage that I did several times was the mix and eventually, the master.

Running Neutron 3 and Ozone plugins as I listened to the episodes several times – on my AKG K712 mixing headphones as well as cheap mobile earbuds.

With each listen, I spotted something new to fix. It was at the same time as I was making sure that the show was at a constant volume.

RESULT

In the end, I was happy with my work – it was something that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with doing, changing the already mixed stereo audio file. However, I had no choice.

At the end of the project, I stopped being objective to it, but after sending it out to the creators as well as several other people, the feedback was good, and it helped to ease my anxiety.

Overall, I’m glad I had a chance to work and help to re-release the podcast. Ideally, I would like to re-mix if from scratch, but unusual problems require unusual solutions, and this was one of these moments!

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