The Value of Human (Pt 1)
A Series Reviewing the Most Popular Automated Mixing Services
08.08.19 | Podcasting | By: Pat Kicklighter
In today’s binge-minded and instant-gratification-focused culture, providing immediacy and automation is the name of the game. Let’s be honest. We want to flip on the television and have what we’re looking for up and running quickly. We want the luxury of being able to swipe or tap and have what we need ready to go and have everything be simple, clean and automated. But this is not limited to our entertainment. The same is often true about most things in life, including post-production with podcasts. As such, in this post we’re going to explore an online automated post-production service called Auphonic. This might be a new name to you but we’ve referenced them previously in another post. Right out of the gate I’ll say that Auphonic is impressive. Why? Well it does a lot of automated processing pretty quickly that would take a lot more time for a human to do. While fast work obviously doesn’t always equate to a good product, Auphonic can add some value to your project.
First let’s talk about why this is even important. If you’ve ever recorded a podcast and then compared it to one of your favorite shows available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you’ve probably noticed that your own recording was too quiet. Often times, this is something that an engineer has to address in the post-production process. Auphonic’s algorithm sort of fixes that. It will raise the volume to a reasonable level, and even attempt to balance levels between speakers. But, as mentioned previously in our initial post, we can’t simply automate all recordings to a specified number and expect them to sound equally loud to our ears. That’s not how our ears work.
In terms of volume, Auphonic does a good job of making things listenable and in the same ballpark as other content available online. So if you are making a proof of concept to pass around your production crew for notes or just want to test an idea out on your friends for some constructive criticism, this is a great tool. But there’s a flip side. If your recordings have content in them that you don’t want in the final draft of your project, Auphonic can’t help you. Why? Well, while Auphonic market themselves as an audio post-production company, post-production for podcasting is about so much more than just being loud enough to be heard. Let’s settle in here for a minute.
Post-Production in podcasting refers to basically anything that happens to your recording after you press stop. At Resonate that process can include a bunch of things like editing the content to remove mess-ups, adding in sound design elements to make the audio more lively, scoring your episodes with music, audio restoration to fix problematic audio, mixing, mastering and the list goes on. It seems like a lot of steps but to put it into perspective, most (if not all) of these processes have been done on all your favorite films, tv shows, records, radio programs, etc. Time and attention has been dedicated to making them sound great. And what’s more, these steps have been carried out by humans, with ears and hands and brains that have spent hours making creative decisions, splitting hairs to find the best possible outcome for a particular production. And while these are all critical to making the end product listenable and shine, this is obviously where automated services like Auphonic fall short.
Let’s dive into some of these processes and see what Auphonic can and cannot provide:
Auphonic cannot edit your podcast for you.
If you forget to turn your phone on silent and have to start your introduction over, or you aren’t exactly prepared before you start recording, Auphonic can’t edit out unwanted content from your audio files. You’re kind of stuck with what you have.
II. Ad Insertion
Let’s say your podcast is sponsored and you have an ad you’d like to play in the middle of your episode. Auphonic won’t be able to place that ad for you.
To be fair there is a way to do it and I’ll outline it here. There are quite a few steps though so hang on for the ride. To make this example easier to explain, I’ll assume your podcast is just you speaking and that you know how to use a DAW to edit your audio.
**If you don’t know how to make simple cuts/edits in a DAW this process is far more complicated**
- Record your episode and Import into your DAW if recorded externally.
- Go ahead and make fades at the very beginning and end of the episode as Auphonic won’t do this for you
- Cut your episode in half at the spot you want to place your ad (make fades on both sides of this edit) and move the second half of the episode so you have room to place your ad
- Record your ad
- (Import into DAW) Place your ad a second or 2 after the cut you made in the episode dialog
- Fade in and out
- Bring your episode dialog back in at a good spot after the ad ends
- Export this as one audio file
Now you are ready to upload a single track podcast, unedited to Auphonic.
At Resonate all you have to do is upload your audio and say “I’d like the ad in the middle of the episode somewhere” and we’ll take care of the rest for you, maybe even placing some sweet music bumpers on either side of the ad. We’ll also listen to the entire episode and edit out all the uhhs, dead space, repeats, stutters and other filler that can distract from the content.
III. Mixing and Mastering
Mixing and Mastering is more than just volume control. It’s about tone, intelligibility and translation. Translation is something I covered in my posts about Sonarworks Reference software and is essentially the idea of audio sounding consistent across a range of playback systems like car speakers, phone speakers, ear buds etc.
Auphonic will adjust volume based on LUFS or Loudness Units (Full Scale), the standard for measuring loudness in most production applications worldwide. However, it cannot adjust the tone of your recording. Most podcasters are not recording engineers and learning the technical aspects of recording is not high on their to-do list. Nor should it be.
Many of the recordings we get at Resonate have some sort of technical issue that can be resolved to some extent by changing the balance of frequencies. We do this by EQ’ing (or Equalizing) the frequencies of the recording. If you record too far from the mic, or with the wrong part of the mic facing your…face… we can do a bit of equalizing, moving the frequencies that are lacking into place. This is not something Auphonic offers.
IV. Noise Reduction/Audio Restoration
Auphonic does offer noise, hiss, and hum reduction. They even allow you to select the amount of decibels you wish to reduce the noise by. But is this really a good solution they are providing?
I’d bet many podcasters don’t even know what a decibel is, or at least how to estimate how many decibels they want their noise reduced by…The easy option here is to eliminate ALL noise, which can be selected. But what they don’t explain is that heavy noise reduction often sounds unnatural and can decrease intelligibility in many cases.
I will say the leaving the noise reduction on “auto” works fine for general noise reduction like slight hiss in a signal chain, but it’s likely that no one would even notice that hiss to begin with.
So there you have it. Auphonic in a nutshell. The reality is that an automated service like Auphonic has some real strengths. It provides some features and solutions that the untrained ear may not be able to pick up on or know how to even address. But the reality is that for your podcast to sound great (and isn’t that what you want?), nothing beats having a living, breathing human who has the ability to really dig in and see how to make your audio stand out and sound great. Like anything automated or artificial, Auphonic has a niche market that it meets the need for; a specified problem it can help address, but it will not replace the function of a trained engineer who knows how to resolve essentially any issue that your audio may have. If you need post-production support for your podcast I would encourage you to reach out to us at Resonate Recordings where you can speak with real people who can offer valuable insight on the best way forward for your podcast.
Resonate Recordings is a comprehensive podcast production company. Headquartered in Derby City–Louisville, Kentucky–we are committed to developing partnerships with our clients, not just performing transactions. Since 2014 it’s been our mission to make podcasting easy for businesses, brands, entrepreneurs, and individuals. We do this by providing support with podcast launch, podcast consulting, podcast editing, podcast production, and other creative podcasting services. If you have questions or are looking to start a podcast, our in-house team is available and ready to help! We would love to schedule a call with you and learn more about your podcast needs and answer any questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you soon!
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By: Pat Kicklighter
As an Audio Engineer at Resonate Recordings, Pat implements Resonate’s unique mixing and mastering services to ensure your podcast audio consistently sounds as polished and professional as possible. Pat lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, 2-year-old daughter & 4-year-old Lab.