Unveiling Audio Best Practices: The Room Tone Radio Podcast

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What adventures can your audio passion lead you to?

William Garrett is making a move with his Room Tone podcast.

William Garrett is making a move with his Room Tone podcast.

In a perfect world, our obsessions are satisfied simultaneously with building up our communities. By that measure, the podcast known as Room Tone is produced in absolutely optimal conditions. Created by William Garrett, a longtime audio professional and owner of the NYC/LA studios Electracraft Music Works, this is a program made specifically for those who care deeply about recording and mixing better sound.

As the star interviews add up, Garrett’s audience is growing. Guests on his show have included Tony Maserati, Al Schmitt, Rob Fusari, Aimee Mann, Jesse Harris, and many more. A big part of the appeal is interviews that go beyond gear, that get into his subjects’ life path and unique sources of inspiration.

And of course, Room Tone sounds very, very good. While “adequate” is the audio quality objective for most podcast producers, Garrett can’t help but apply his sonic expertise to the recording and editing of his show.

What mic preamps, microphones, and Pro Tool techniques are applied when clarity really matters? How is producing a podcast just like concocting a hit song? And what’s the positive impact that giving back with this show has had on his own engineering career? Pick up on Garrett’s successful methods below.

The Inspiration: The inspiration for my Room Tone podcast came from a long time interest in NPR-style radio interviews by the likes of Terry Gross and also television interviews by Charlie Rose and others. I often found myself in very interesting conversations with people I met through my involvement in the music business as well as my involvement in visual arts, culinary arts and politics.

As a way to bring more attention to my studios, I came up with the idea of doing an interview series based at my studio locations in Los Angeles and New York City. A podcast seemed the perfect outlet for the interviews, since I was voracious podcast listener myself.

What at first was just a promotional idea for the studios has turned in to an incredible learning experience and a very exciting and satisfying creative outlet.

Being in the music business, my early interview subjects were music business folks (the first interview being singer/songwriter Sasha Dobson). As opposed to talking about recording gear and recording techniques, I wanted to know more about their choice of a creative life, their path into the business and their emotional and intellectual connection to making music.

In the studio with Al Schmitt.

In the studio with Al Schmitt.

Stats: The Room Tone podcast launched in March 2015 and I have 23 interviews posted as well as 3 Room Tone “Extras,” which are shorter pieces that talk about specific subjects such as the Grammys, HBO’s “Vinyl” and David Bowie. I have 16 interviews yet to be edited, so lots of work to do!

Subjectivity: The folks that I choose to interview are generally friends or associates that have a compelling origins story and career path. I am also seeking guests from beyond my own circle.

One thing that’s lucky about what I do is that I meet new and interesting people all the time! I met the producer/engineer Jim Scott (seven Grammys, Rick Rubin, Californacation, Dixe Chicks) for the first time at a party in LA on a Saturday night and was interviewing him at his studio the next day!!

Pre Pro: I do minimal historical research via the Internet before I do the interview. While I need to know a general timeline and highlights of the person’s career path, I also want to leave room to discover more in-depth information about their path and decision-making process. It keeps the conversation interesting for me and sends my curiosity down different paths depending on what the interviewee has to say.

Lots of interviewers seem to tell their guest’s story in the questions that they ask. I like to keep the questions a bit simple and curious and let the guests tell me their story. In my interviews you’ll hear me say “Wow!” and “Amazing!” a lot because I always learn things I didn’t know about my guests, even when I thought I knew them very well!

The Studio: The best place for me to record of the interviews are my studios, Electracraft EAST and WEST, in New York or Los Angeles respectively.

I place the interview subject in the vocal booth with a perfect sight line to me in the control room. I like to be alone with my subjects, so me being in the control room gives me access to monitor the Pro Tools and recording levels as we record. The separation between the two voices enhances the sound quality as well as gives me options for editing later on.

I use the same signal path and microphones I would as if I were recording vocals for a musical project. That gear includes vintage Neve mic preamp’s, API Mic Pre’s, Universal Audio 1176 compressor, Retro Tube Compressor, Neumann Tube M146, Neumann U87, AKG 414, Shure SM7.

Due to some subjects not being able to make it to the studio, I record on location using a Tascam DR–40 PCM recorder with two Audio-Technica AT803 clip on condenser mics or a Pro Tools rig at that location.

The Recording: I wasn’t previously trained or experienced as an interviewer before I started doing Room Tone but I find that, just like in a recording session, the vibe is very important in getting a comfortable, insightful and interesting conversation.

It seems the most important part of the recording set up is that the guest is comfortable, has good sight lines and a comfortable headphone mix. Guests that are not involved in the recording industry are new to the process of recording and are excited to hear their voices (and mine) so clear and precise.

Some of my guests come in twos (EDM Duo Peking Duk, chef and restaurateur  partners Johanne Killeen and George Germon of Il Forno and Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis of M Wells) so I’ve tried several techniques including a single mic in a figure 8 pattern with the guests facing one another, a single mic in a cardioid  pattern with the guests facing me, and recently using two clip-on lavaliere type mics.

Dedicated facilities: Recording Lisa Burns & Sal Maida

Dedicated facilities: Recording Lisa Burns & Sal Maida

Editorial: I record and edit the podcast interviews in Pro Tools. If I recorded interviews on location with the Tascam DR–40, I transfer those files into Pro Tools for editing. I add an intro and outro to each interview with voiceover and music and Pro Tools works well for that as well.

I’ve been using Pro Tools for music production since it first came out so am very comfortable working in that platform. I find shuffle mode very helpful (if not a bit dangerous!) when editing the interviews. Working with the two tracks of the conversation, shuffle mode helps me edit without throwing the tracks out of alignment.

Editing a conversation needs to be very precise as you don’t have thundering drums or loud guitars to cover your bad edits! Breaths, background noise and talking over one another makes things interesting.

I found to keep an interview interesting, I think of it just as if I was producing a great song. You create a comfortable flow, take out some boring bits and keep it interesting and exciting throughout, building to a satisfying end. A lot of those things happen during the interview itself and depend on the guest, but postproduction editing helps as well.

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