Producing Audio

Yesterday I slipped into the audio-director’s chair during the production of Simple Harmonic Motion, a science-fiction audio drama.

SHMCover

Burning Brigid Media is producing SHM as a free download for everyone who signs up for our mailing list, a sort of introduction to the work we’re planning for Synesthesia Theatre. In a very real way, Simple Harmonic Motion might be seen as “Episode Zero”.

It’s a new thing.

This was my first time directing audio. While I’ve done some work in film, and have produced audiobook versions of my novels, and I’ve been doing my own podcast for three months now, I’d never produced and directed an audio drama.

For the most part this consisted of me sitting at one end of a table while the actors read their lines into the mic. I had three basic jobs:

  1. Watching the audio levels to make sure they stay in the safe decibel zone.
  2. Listening and evaluating the actors’ performances.
  3. Listening for accidental outside noises, like dogs barking, cars outside, airplanes overhead.
  4. Reading the parts we weren’t recording. This was a mistake. More on this later.

How we were recording:

Since we’re only using one mic and no mixer for this project, we can only produce one audio track at a time. This isn’t a huge problem; we can fit two or three actors around the same mic, and individual scenes seldom include more characters.

In Simple Harmonic Motion, we have three characters, one of whom is a computer whose dialog is entirely made up of pre-recorded sound files.

While we could have recorded both our human characters at once, one of them is communicating with the other remotely. As such, her tracks will be heavily processed to make them seem artificial, while the “live” actor’s won’t. Thus, it made sense to record each actor separately on their own track.

However, we wanted the actors to play off of each other emotionally, so I didn’t want to just have each recording their own lines in a vacuum. Instead, we performed the script twice, once for each actor, while the other actor fed them lines to react against.

The biggest challenge here was to make sure they didn’t step on each others’ lines at all, so we’d have a “clean” set to harvest during post-processing.

My mistake

During the first read-through, I would read the lines the computer-character would be saying (as they were all pre-recorded), so my attention was flickering between the script, the audio, and the digital waveforms to make sure everything was going well.

Man.

Have you ever tried to talk while listening to yourself on a pair of headphones with a slight delay? It’s weird, man. You really start to slur your speech. And it’s super distracting.

I had enough to do splitting my focus between the visual waveform and the sound of the audio. That’s my big takeaway from this first production; know your limits when multitasking.

It was awesome.

Despite that quickly resolved error, directing Simple Harmonic Motion was a blast. I’m on to writing out more audiodrama for Synesthesia Theatre, while Kat is editing the tracks together.

I’m pleased with how the performances turned out, and we’re going to see how long it takes us to turn the raw audio footage into a complete project.

When it’s done, we’ll be sending it to everyone on our mailing list – so sign up if you want a copy.

About Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is an author and producer for the Chicago film production company Burning Brigid.

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