Pipe Dream Theater produces immersive podcasts
During the global pandemic and under lockdown, director and stage performer Liz Muller had to find new medium to express her creative vision. Starting this new chapter, she has co-produced four immersive audio podcasts – “Three Ghosts” and the “AFTERWORDS” trilogy.
“Three Ghosts” is a musical based on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. The cast included 46 people from around the world, and they all recorded independently during the height of the pandemic. It was released on December 20, 2020.
“AFTERWORDS” is described as “touching, hilarious, scary, sad and utterly vulgar stories”. Episode 1, The Mouse and the Cat, was released on May 31, 2021.
No stranger to immersive productions in a theatrical setting, it was no effort for Muller to make the leap into audio storytelling. She already had the base with Pipe Dream Theater, the production company that she co-founded with collaborator, partner and composer CE Simon.
Live theater, immersive sound
However, it was a separate challenge to be able to take live theater productions and adapt them to immersive podcasts.
Theatrical productions often involve 40 to 50 actors speaking their lines, singers, musicians, as well as a composer and a sound designer.
As Muller explained, it was no small feat to be able to bring all of this talent together, remotely, not to mention secure recordings.
“Getting into 3D sound and deciding to make immersive podcasts of that nature was a business for sure,” Muller said. “Everyone has GarageBand, but a lot of people have never touched it, or they don’t have a microphone, or they record on their iPhone, which is crazy.”
She added, “No one is ever in a studio with me. I record the whole show, all the parts, all the vocals, everything. And then I break it up into sentences, and send it to all the members. distribution. And then they register independently. Then I get massive amounts of dialogue, and then I compile them.
Exploit the atmosphere
Muller said that because studio sessions weren’t possible, all voiceover work is recorded by the talent on USB microphones and other readily available devices. Studio treatments are encouraged and the sound is cleaned up afterwards.
“Most of our players use their own USB microphones because they’re all over the world,” Muller said. “Some people use their iPhones and I hang a blanket in a corner just to dampen the sound. And then we use effects and plugins, and we get rid of the gurgles and crackles and whatever goes on.
Muller explained that there are a lot of variables when talents record their games from a distance.
“We always get these files with this crazy ambient noise and we’re like, ‘Are you at the airport? “” said Muller. “And it’s like cleaning and repairing, so that we can create the best possible product.”
Muller said that there is also a challenge when you have so many recordings provided by talents, all with different moods to deal with.
“Dealing with 50 different room moods is crazy, then making it sound like it’s even remotely in the same place. Sometimes it’s just trickery, ”Muller said.
The theater informs the narrative
Muller said CE Simon is involved in all aspects of the production. This includes writing, sheet music, podcast sound design, sound effects, and mixing.
“He’s the songwriter, he’s writing the screenplay, he’s doing all of the final sound design for the podcast,” Muller said. “It does all of Foley’s work and it comes from libraries or subscription stuff. Or literally it’s us with a digital Tascam DR40, running around making noise and slamming doors and up the stairs, recording it all.
Muller and Simon both approach immersive audio storytelling the same way they would approach a theatrical production or musical.
“As a director, whenever I see words or hear music, I inevitably see images of what people are doing,” Muller said.
“While Simon and I are working on the audio narration of a story, we look at each scene as we would as directors. Like when there are two people in a room. They are seated at a table and then they have to get up. There must be movement. And now we’re just doing it with sound instead of visual.
She added, “What we’ve learned is that it’s very difficult to put a sound right in front of you. If there is a human being in real life right in front of you, you don’t hear that sound. You hear the sound globally, as if it is around you. Often times it’s more efficient to move it to the side or put it behind you because it’s a surprise. “
Some nuts and bolts
In terms of recording his own voiceovers, Muller uses a Shure Beta 58A mic via a Focusrite Scarlett Solo interface. The main audio work is done in Logic Pro X. All of the remote talent is merged into Logic Pro by Muller. Muller then performs the pre-mixes for each scene, which includes the “coming” of the talent’s takes.
She sets up a first pass for the timing, for the tempo and to capture the rhythm of the scenes. Then she hands it over to Simon for further mixing and scoring. Simon uses the Accusonus ERA Bundle standard for most audio repairs. Once in the closing stages, Muller and Simon compose the final mix of the podcast.
Muller said that if anyone is considering making immersive audio podcasts, especially on this scale, it’s a good idea to have others to help.
“Anyone who’s getting into 3D audio podcasts, make a team,” Muller said. “It’s not easy and it takes time. It’s really different from working in stereo sound. But it’s so worth it.
Ian Cohen covers pro audio, immersive audio, storytelling, and music creation. He is a producer / host at KBUU 99.1 FM in Malibu.