5 Mixing Mistakes to Avoid if you Want a Professional Sounding Podcast
A quality podcast consists of many factors: great guests, entertaining conversations, organic transitions – the list goes on. However, if the audio itself is hard on the ears, you’ll have a hard time retaining much of an audience despite everything else. Investing in the right recording equipment will set you off on the right foot, (read our previous blog, “5 Ways to Step Up Your Recording Game”) but careful editing and mixing after the fact separate the amateur-sounding podcasts from the professional ones.
Those unfamiliar with sound mixing might think it’s little more than adjusting levels. In reality, mixing is a complex skill that covers multiple aspects of audio manipulation. Many beginners discover just how challenging mixing can be as they try to take their podcasts to the next level. These early stages are riddled with common mixing mistakes. To help you get ahead of the curve, we’ve created a list of the top 5 mixing mistakes amateurs make that result in subpar audio.
1. Not Normalizing Your Audio
Loud noises grab more attention than quieter ones. You don’t want your podcast to blow out anyone’s ear drums, but you also want it to be plenty loud so the listener has full control over their experience and can clearly hear every word no matter where they are. Audio normalization increases the volume of a waveform to its maximum limit, just before the threshold that leads to distortion (that fuzzy, blown-up sound). All digital audio workstations (DAWs) feature normalization controls.
Failing to normalize your podcast after recording can result in quiet audio. You might be tempted to crank up the compression to compensate for this low volume, but this can cause other problems that we’ll discuss later on.
2. Improper Use of Noise Reduction
You do want to dampen some parts of your podcast’s audio, however, namely any background noise (e.g., hisses, hums, and other artifacts). These unwanted frequencies can occur even in the most treated and controlled environments. Normalizing your audio only makes these background sounds more noticeable, which is why noise reduction is such an important step in the mixing process.
If you’re not used to this tool, however, it can be easy to push noise reduction too far and begin to remove some of the sounds you want to keep (this often results in strange frequencies and audio artifacts). Therefore, it’s crucial to target the right frequencies and remain gentle when deploying noise reduction.
3. Equalization (EQ) Errors
Speaking of frequency manipulation, equalization (EQ) is all about bumping up and tamping down specific frequencies. In many ways, EQ is the heart of the mixing process, allowing you to fine-tune the audio so it's optimized for all listening conditions. Of course, this amount of power can easily be misused.
Most commonly, amateur mixers don’t utilize this tool enough, failing to reduce the low boom of deeper voices or the harshness of low-quality recordings. Alternatively, some people overuse EQ controls, removing or boosting more frequencies than they should. As is the case with mixing more broadly, balance is key for optimal EQ.
4. Using Too Much or Too Little Compression
Compression is arguably just as important as EQ when it comes to mixing audio. This tool is designed to limit the audio’s dynamic range (the difference in volume between the quietest and loudest sounds). Put simply, a compressor allows you to level the playing field so every word from every guest is heard at more or less the same level – this might sound like normalization, but rather than bring the entire recording up with a constant level of gain, compression reacts to the inputted sound, variably moving in and out to keep things even.
Compressors can be difficult to operate, especially for beginners. Taking a too-gentle approach to compression can make it difficult to suss out certain words and phrases. On the other hand, cranking compression parameters can destroy the audio’s dynamics and detail, leading to a harsh, distorted sound. Once again: balance in all things.
5. Relying Too Heavily on Plugins
Plugins are plenty of fun to play with, and they can take your audio in creative directions when deployed artfully. In addition to producing effects such as delay and reverb, plugins can do everything from reduce wet mouth sounds to cutting back those harsh sibilants (“ess” sounds) and plosives (“P” noises). And just like all the other mixing tools mentioned here, plugins can be misused in many ways.
Know from the get-go that plugins, while useful, cannot fix every issue with your audio. It’s best to minimize any errors and background noises before pressing “Record” and to amend isolated problems during the editing phase so you don’t have to rely as much on plugins when mixing.
Mix Your Podcast Like a Pro
Achieving a truly professional sound for your podcast takes practice. But with the right tools and advice like we’ve given here, anyone can take steps to improve their podcast’s sound quality. If you need more tips or simply someone to handle the mixing process for you, please get in touch!
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