How do you make sure your events and recordings sound good?
Marcus dePaula, audio expert and producer of Big Duck’s podcast, gives insight into the right audio professional for your team, the best mics to use, how to present your sound, and how to make people listen in to your content. Hear how you can up your recording game.
Sarah Durham: I’m Sarah Durham and I’m here today with our podcast producer Marcus dePaula. Hi, Marcus.
Marcus dePaula: Hey Sarah. Thanks for having me on.
Sarah Durham: I feel like we should cue some fancy special effect here because today we’re talking about sound. We’re talking about audio. And Marcus, you’re a content creator and an audio expert par excellence. Tell us a little bit about what you do and your background.
Marcus dePaula: Well, I began my career as a live sound engineer in the music industry here in the Nashville area where I live. I toured with dozens of bands back in the mid-nineties to 2000s and after spending about a decade on the road, I retired from the road and I did professional recording studio installations for a while and then after that I found work building websites and started a small business with my wife providing book marketing services for authors. And lately I’ve been fortunate to be able to meld my website experience with my first passion of audio and I’m producing podcasts for some nonprofits and also some creative firms like Big Duck, which is a lot of fun.
Sarah Durham: I thought it would be interesting today to pick your brain about audio because, to be honest, in my 20-something years at Big Duck, we have done all kinds of stuff, all kinds of communications and really it wasn’t until we started podcasting then I started to really think about sound and how important sound can be in communications. And sound comes up in meetings, it comes up at galas, at events and conferences, video. There are all kinds of places where the sound experience becomes really important. So I thought it’d be interesting to kind of toss that around today and think about how sound can be made better to improve the experience of events both live and recorded. So maybe let’s start with live events. For most nonprofits. Live events are either galas or things like that, or they might be things like a walk or a run or a ride where somebody’s miked, but it’s kind of on the fly. And I’m curious what you recommend. How do you recommend a nonprofit go about tackling that?
Marcus dePaula: I hear a lot of people focusing on audio equipment first, but for me, when it comes down to it, the sound engineer or operator is the most important part of getting a good sound. No matter what type of sound you’re creating, no matter what setting you’re in, a really experienced sound person who has a great ear can take pretty much any equipment and any acoustic environment, no matter how bad and use whatever is available to them to get a good sound.
Sarah Durham: So for me, I found you because you produce a podcast that I listened to called 2Bobs, and I know the people who do the 2Bobs podcast. It’s actually a podcast for creative service agencies, not for nonprofits, but the sound quality is great. It sounds really professional. And so I reached out to the people who do the podcast and they highly recommended you. Is that the best way to go find your operators? Should you notice who does the sound for the events that you attend? How do you find the right fit for your organization?
Marcus dePaula: Yeah. Obviously asking friends at other organizations who they’ve had good experience with and who they would recommend can be a great place to start. Being able to recognize good sound yourself and appreciating what actually goes into achieving great sound can also definitely help you find the best person for the job. Most people only notice the audio production when it’s bad and when things go wrong, especially at events. And for me as the audio engineer, I feel like I’ve done a good job when no one notices I was even there. No news is good news, right? If you’re planning an event or recording session, it helps to pay attention and notice when there is actual good sound and who was actually involved in making that good sound, but being mindful of good audio when you hear it can actually be harder than you think. Whether it’s at an event or especially in a podcast and also in video. Good sound to me when it comes to speech means that the voice sounds natural and is crystal clear. Clarity and audio fidelity is my priority when producing speech audio like in podcasts or at events. I want to make sure as the audio engineer that the listener isn’t distracted by any noises and that the listener is able to be completely engrossed in what is being said so that they receive that message that’s being communicated to them.
Sarah Durham: Yeah. One of my biggest audio pet peeves is actually hotel audio teams. And at conferences. If I’m attending a conference or I’m speaking at a conference, if the audio is not well done, well engineered, you really can’t hear the speakers and it has such an impact on that. And in my experience, the best audio engineers at conferences are third party audio people. They’re not usually the hotel people. So one of the recommendations I would make is not only hire a pro, but go outside of the AV team that is likely to be staffing the hotel or the venue that you’re doing unless you’ve heard that they do great work and experienced that.
Marcus dePaula: Yeah, bringing in someone you can trust can definitely help things go more smoothly. And if you’re the speaker or event coordinator, having someone handling the technical requirements that you have complete faith in can be worth their weight in gold because they can help take some of that pressure off of you when it comes to the technical stuff, especially if you are the speaker. Because if you’re going into your presentation with peace of mind and not having to worry about the technical aspect of what you’re doing without any distractions, you will be able to, as the speaker, deliver the best message possible. So that’s really important to have someone there behind the sound board that you can trust. But, since in many situations we actually don’t have a choice in who’s running sound, it can then really help if you know how to communicate with the audio visual staff.
Marcus dePaula: So trying to get some of the lingo production people use and understand it and be able to use that to speak their language when you’re trying to communicate with them, to let them know what you need at an event and even when producing a podcast. Again, it all comes down to communication, so find production people you can trust and establish a good rapport with them. This obviously also applies to podcast recording and editing and I’ve got to say that I’m really grateful that my clients appreciate good audio quality that I provide for them. Unfortunately, I see so many organizations putting a lot of time and effort into podcasts that sound much worse than they need to. And besides making it harder to get your message across to listeners, having a podcast that sounds bad tells your listeners you don’t know what you’re doing or that you don’t care about them as a listener and if they’re receiving that message from you that could actually damage that trust that you want to establish with them as a supporter of your cause or your organization.
Sarah Durham: I think a lot of podcasts are recorded via Skype or using handheld tools and in our case you helped us set up microphones and sound muffling, things like that.
Marcus dePaula: Acoustic panels. Yeah.
Sarah Durham: I think that making a little bit of an investment in professional tools can make a really big difference.
Marcus dePaula: Absolutely. Good tools definitely make the job a lot easier, which ultimately saves time. And with podcast audio, that means reducing the editing time. To me, time is a much more valuable resource than money, so I encourage clients to spend a little bit more money on good tools when it can actually save them time.
Sarah Durham: Although I would recommend if somebody in a nonprofit is thinking about starting a podcast or launching something that is heavily reliant on good audio to maybe start by creating a sort of minimum viable product, try to do it down dirty first and then once you’re clear that you’re committed to doing it, then you ramp up, then you invest in good equipment. Do you agree?
Marcus dePaula: Yes, definitely. Any one can start a podcast with just one $60 USB microphone and a computer and I actually recommend the Samson Q2u as the best affordable podcasting mic to start with. It sounds really, really good for the money and it’s also versatile because it’s both a USB and an XLR microphone, so you can start out using it on its own, just plug straight into your computer and then later on you can use the XLR connection to use it with a multiple input audio interface or a digital recorder like what you guys use there at Big Duck and you can upgrade and get more mics or you can upgrade and get better mics down the road. One of the many things I love about audio production is that if you start with the right microphone that’s of good quality, you can always upgrade the other components of your recording system.
Marcus dePaula: So one piece at a time, adding a nicer audio interface, more microphones, and then also for people that are doing it themselves, the software and plugins that you use, those cost money too, so being able to upgrade those as you go. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing over these years. So start small and then grow from there at your own ability and with your own budget. Like I mentioned before, the most important thing is understanding actually how to use the tools that you have. So I recommend consulting with a professional whenever possible. There is way too much bad advice out there online when it comes to recording audio. So again, find someone who knows what they’re doing and that you can trust to help you get what you need.
Sarah Durham: Great. Hire pros and get good equipment. What else? Any parting recommendations?
Marcus dePaula: Yeah, I’d just like to ask your listeners that if you are ever talking into a microphone, whether for a podcast or at an event, please get as close as possible to it. With most mics, the closer you are to it, the better. Being close to the mic should make your voice sound clearer and fuller and it will pick up less of the room echo and that ambient noise that you don’t want captured on your recording or sent through the speakers to the event space. Plus, when it comes to events, getting closer to the microphone on a stage will help minimize feedback. So getting closer to the microphone is the easiest way anyone can improve their audio quality in any situation and having great audio will make sure that your message is delivered in the best way possible no matter what form of communication you’re using.
Sarah Durham: Great. Marcus, thanks for joining me today.
Marcus dePaula: It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on.