S2E03: Building Soundscapes with Brandon Grugle
HOSTED by Dr. Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist
Brandon Grugle is Head of Production at Multitude who has produced and sound designed absolute gems like Join the Party and Next Stop, plus many many others! You can learn more about Brandon's work on his website, brandongrugle.com. You can follow him on twitter at @BrandonGrugle.
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Hello there friends. Welcome to Exolore, the show that helps you imagine other worlds with facts and science. I am your host, Dr. Moiya McTier. I'm an astrophysicist who studied pretty much everything in space from planetary orbits to the radiation leftover from the Big Bang to star formation and black holes and Galaxy evolution. But I am especially interested in the motion of stars and how that affects the habitability of exoplanets, which are planets outside of our solar system. I am also a folklorist who specializes in building and analyzing fictional worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds and that knowledge with you. So let's get started.
I have had so many recording mishaps. I remember the first time I ever recorded a podcast. This was back like three years ago, my partner and I started a podcast, a very short lived one. And we had to record the first episode three different times. The first time I recorded it fine, but I was on Garage Band, which I wasn't used to. So I had to re-record it after accidentally deleting everything. And then the second time, we just weren't recording, and didn't notice. And then the third time was the charm.
By the third time you were just like "yeah, this is a podcast, whatever. I don't care if you're listening".
It definitely sounded very different by the third time around. Do you have any stories of like bad podcasting mistakes that you've witnessed or done?
All of them, I've done all of them. My first podcast I made was with my roommate [in] 2016, I think.
I thought you were about to say like "20 years ago", and I was like, you're not that old.
No, we recorded a show, and I've never had any tech mishaps because I've been doing tech for a long time, but every single content creative mistake you could make, I've done and learned from.
That second part is important - the learning from it.
Yeah. So now that we know that you make a lot of mistakes, I'm sure a lot of people who listen to Exolore also listened to other Multitude shows, that's probably how they found Exolore, but just in case people don't know who you are. Do you want to tell us who you are and what you do in your own words?
Yeah, hello, I'm Brandon Grugle. I am a sound designer, all around sound person, editor. I've done a little bit directing as well. At Multitude I am the head of production. And previously I've worked at places like Marvel and Sirius XM and for freelance clients like The Bright Sessions Universe, and other things like that.
You really are a sound person.
I am a sound person.
How did you become a sound person, were you born with amazing hearing? [Are you] like Batman [and have] a traumatic, but important experience with sound as a child?
I wish. I like to think that I have bad vision and colorblindness, so my eyes are just bad. No, but I've been a musician since I was like, four or five. I started playing drums when I was really young, [I] start[ed] taking drum lessons. So I've just gone from there and just played music my whole life. And that sort of just like blossomed into normal curiosity into the things around it. So when I was 15, which was technically illegal, I got a job at a water park as a lifeguard and made a couple $1,000 over the summer and bought a bunch of studio equipment and then started recording my own stuff and my friends stuff and some other folks from high school and really fell in love with the tech side of it. And then I went to college for music business because I was trying to be practical.
That doesn't work out either way.
Nope, and I kind of regret not going into more of like a hands on production role. But I learned a lot of really useful stuff I still used today like copyright law and things like that. And I realized after doing like five internships in the music industry that the music industry is broken, and anything but a meritocracy. I really wanted to do artist management because I really enjoyed that, and I worked at a company called C3 Artist Management. And they had just opened up their New York wing. [The company's] based in Austin. And I was one of three interns I think at the time all unpaid, no credit very legal. Yeah. But there was like the manager proper and then the assistant manager, [and] that was the whole office at the time. The assistant manager had worked there for [about] eight years already and he wasn't a manager - yet. It's just a nightmare. So I decided to be big fish in a little pond instead. I fell in love with podcasts and started doing that instead.
Nice, was there a particular podcast that made you fall in love with it?
Yeah, so I had a job right out of college. That's basically data entry kind of thing at Nielsen Entertainment, the TV ratings people. And so it was basically data entry and like data validation. So I would just listen to podcasts all day long while I was doing that, and the first one I found was My Brother, My Brother and Me. I think I just looked on the charts of like, top podcasts. And it was on there. I had been listening to Stuff You Should Know, which is still one of my favorite podcasts. But that's very educational, you know, so I wanted something that was just like funny and I could sort of zone out while listening to it, and I found that. I was like, "Oh, this is what podcasting can be. It doesn't have to be just like edutainment," and so from there, I just found a bunch of stuff and dug it.
That's awesome. I live almost exclusively in the educational podcast tab of Spotify. I only venture out when someone specifically recommends like a comedy or a fiction podcast to me.
I feel it. I mean, I read mostly nonfiction books [so] I'm in that same realm.
What was the first time you sound designed a podcast?
It was definitely JTP, I would say. Join the Party, which I forgot to mention somehow in my introduction. The show that we that we made that then sort of like evolved and blossomed with other podcasts into Multitude is called Join the Party. It's a D&D actual play podcast. I and Eric Silver, and Amanda sort of came together to make this show. I did the sound design, Amanda did the business, and Eric did the creative, the dming. So it was a nice, equitable split at that time. Ironically enough, my partner Lauren's podcast before we knew each other at all, The Bright Sessions...
Awww that's so cute
Yeah, I was a big fan. I'm a nerd, it's very sickening. I listened to that and Wolf 359. Those two shows were the first fiction shows I listened to. And again, [I had] another sort of brain explosion of like, "oh, podcasts can do this? That's cool". And so I wanted to do something similar for JTP to make it sort of stand out from the crowd. And so I started rough draft sound designing, because it's very much like a version one that goes out as published. Because it's so long that it's just no time to really like dig into it. But I had jobs [and] I think I was working at Sirius XM at the time, so I was getting off at, you know, like 5:30-6, like a normal time. So I had plenty of time to work on this show. It was bi weekly, so I had to do it every two weeks, and it was very much like learn by doing. So like, I just threw everything at the wall that I'd been curious about and saw what works, saw what didn't because it's fantasy. So you get to like, experiment with a whole bunch of different stuff and figure out what sounds good. And you're forced to do it for what, like three or four years now. I don't even know how long we're doing the show. And so you just get better at it inherently. Just because you're doing it so often, you know?
Yeah. Now might be a good time to maybe say what sound design is.
So I'm gonna ask for two definitions. Could you give me the most general expansive definition of what sound design is?
Yeah. So I think for the general public, [it's] everything you might hear in, fiction podcasts, or even in television, or movies, it's everything that you hear that's not the music or the dialogue that includes everything from like the sound of an environment, which often is actually taken out of microphones on films and TV and added back in. And then stuff like what we call a foley, which is like, if you hear a bone breaking, then it's usually like the sound of celery actually laid on top of it.
Love that. I used to dream about being a foley artist.
Yeah, it's really cool. Yeah. So I think that's probably a pretty good everyday definition.
And what specifically do you do? Do you do all of that?
I take a little bit of stuff from all the different buckets, I think. Podcast is sort of like its own thing in that there [are] no visuals, so it's both more expansive and more flexible, and often easier. But also, there's no place to really hide if you need to hide. So I don't do a lot of foley on my own because I'm lazy - one, but two, I don't have like a good sounding studio. I moved to LA recently so I don't have access to the Multitude studio as much as I did. So I usually do like things like environments. Those are critical to podcasting cause you need to sound like you're in the space, and the vocals are usually recorded in a closet or wherever it is. And then like what amounts to foley, but using pre-recorded, or purchased sound effects to punctuate action within a scene, and then I usually depending on the show, but most of the time included in sound design is like actually like cleaning up the audio and editing the audio and pacing, and all that kind of like regular stuff that goes into every podcast.
Got it. I know a little bit about the process, mostly from you, you have taught me a bit about the process of editing audio and what the steps are. For people who are less familiar, [and] for people who haven't made their own podcast, what would you say are the steps of creating an audio masterpiece? That's what this is, right? This is a masterpiece.
Oh, it's totally masterpiece. It's definitely worthy of a display in a museum. There's a lot more work that goes into it that I think the public at large and even some of the industry believes is either necessary or happens in order to make what I think is like a listenable and decent podcast, even with chat podcasts because podcasting has no barriers of entry really, besides, you know, financial capital and access to that, based on your systematic biases within society. There is a lot of podcasts, especially in the beginning that didn't [have] a lot of work put into it, because they came from different backgrounds and like the technical space. So they were tech reporters, or whatever it is. But now in podcasting, the threshold for like, what audiences will accept as a listenable to podcasts have definitely risen, which is nice. So now audiences expect everything from the first step [that] I do, which is audio restoration. It's basically cleaning up the audio, [and] it's all automated, thankfully. [It's the] removal [of] background noise, removing mouth clicks, removing plosives, which are when you blow air into the microphone.
Like the P sounds.
Exactly like that. So then that step just makes everything sound cleaner, and less annoying to the ears, especially since most people are wearing headphones. And then some people do it differently, but I usually edit next. So that's just editing for content and cleaning up anything that the audio software missed, any pops or smacks or whatever. And then the mixing phase, which is I think what a lot of people don't have any experience in. The goal of it in podcasting, specifically, is to make stuff sound more like itself really. So like everything from microphones to interfaces to rooms to if you're having a weird day colors the sound of a voice. So what I do or try to do in mixing is make it sound more natural, make it sound as if someone's just speaking. And then also limit the volume changes. So it doesn't like break your eardrums if someone yells. So that's through tools like equalization, which is when you pick a specific frequency and make it go louder or softer. And things like compression, which is it shaves off the loudest peaks of your voice and makes everything more level. Those are the main two and then lots of other little very esoteric, small things.
Got it. Yeah, I've struggled a lot with mixing back when I edited all of the episodes of Exolore myself. And luckily now I'm working with Mischa, an amazing editor, so I don't have to do it.
Yeah, ironically, Mischa was the sound designer for the Bright Sessions. So they are the person that got me into sound design and podcasting. So it's wonderful to get to work with them now.
Thanks, Mischa. But I remember [when] I was just getting started, [and] it would take me like six to eight hours to edit one episode of Exolore. How long would it take you typically to edit like one episode of Join the Party, although that's more fiction. Yeah, so Join the Party, and then one other more like talk-y podcast like Spirits maybe?
Yeah, so I usually quote four hours of editing time for one hour of raw audio depending. That's like if I'm doing you know, my most intense good work and I'm not feeling lazy. But also for like a show like Exolore where you're not just cutting from zero to finish. Like you're sort of rearranging and looking for the best content and stuff like that. It definitely takes more time. But for something like Meddling Adults, where I'm basically just starting at zero and then editing through and cutting things that are superfluous, but I'm rarely rearranging things. It usually takes like four hours per one hour of work. So Meddling Adults I think I can finish in a day of work - like an eight hour work day with like lunch and breaks and stuff like that. But JTP usually takes me because of the additional stuff in terms of sound design and mixing, and all that stuff, [it] usually takes me 3-4 days probably, of work.
That ratio is wild. How often do you talk about this with people and they're like, "it takes you how long?!"
Well, usually it's when I send a budget to someone and they're like, "what the fuck?" Well you're paying for this amount of time of my work. But yeah, I think the biggest thing was when I started working at Marvel, I ended up inheriting something like 4-5 podcasts, I think down the road. Originally, I was the only one on the podcast team. So they were doing the same thing that every white guy out of a basement does, which just like record for three hours and then publish it without doing anything to it. And it sounded terrible. It was basically too quiet to hear on the subway, I tried many times on the way to my interview, and it was unedited, so like, when I got there, I was like, "Oh, no, we're gonna make actual podcasts. This is ridiculous." I remember vividly, it's not that big of a deal now cause I wasn't that into this person, but I was dating someone at the time. And I remember vividly this day where it was a Friday, and I was there at like, 7ish, still editing, and I got a text from this person, basically, like, "Hey, I don't think this is gonna work, because you don't have enough free time." And then at the same time, my boss came up to me and was like, "What the hell are you still doing here?" And I was like, "You wanted me to make a good podcast? This is what it takes."
Wow, podcasting is a less majestic mistress than the sea. Wow. And then you eventually got other people on the team, right? Like you weren't always the only person working on those five Marvel shows?
I only ever got one person at my time while I was there, named Percia Verlin, who is a wonderful human being and you should hire her for every single thing. So we were a two person team for a long time, which was doable; but we were both maxed out. Definitely. And she will attest to that. But she is the most like gung ho, put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done kind of person I've ever met. So yeah, she was a lifesaver when I was there. But I think when they signed a deal with Sirius XM to make a bunch of fiction shows and stuff. So they got a whole new team after I left, which is good.
And the shows you were working on at Marvel, [were they] like examining or analyzing the movies and shows in the MCU?
Yeah, basically, they were all chat shows, there was four or five shows. And then I worked on more of like a supervisory role on one fiction show. The Wolverine podcast was basically finishd when I got there. So I didn't really get a handle on that ball. But for Marvel's -- the one that Lauren and Paul and Mischa worked on -- I worked on that one. So that took a lot of time too.
What's it like to work with other people in designing because I don't know. I do a lot of stuff on my own. And then I send it out to Mischa to edit and they take care of that side of things. I can't imagine what it would be like to have two people working on that. It's the same way I can't imagine how two people can co-write a book. Like I just don't understand how that collaboration works.
I have no idea how that works. I mean, I don't know how you are but I'm definitely like the person who in the group projects was like, "No, no, I'll just do it. And you guys can put your name on, it's fine." So yeah, that's been definitely the biggest learning curve. And I'd be curious to see what Mischa would say about this too. But like at Marvel, it was by necessity, like I functionally could not take this work all by myself. And so I was lucky enough to find Percia who was just like other me, but better. And I really had to learn how to like delegate and support someone in the way of saying like, "I'm always here for any questions or support you might need. But like, you don't need to ask me questions. You're talented. You got the job because you're good at it, you can just do it. Like you don't have to ask for my opinion on a thing. Just like, your instincts are there do it." So like really learning how to support people and not just like, force your own vision and perfect thoughts on to someone else, but like, nurture their inherent way of doing things. That's something that's really difficult and something I had to learn over time, but for In Strange Woods, which was a show that Atypical put out recently, which is a podcast musical, which is wonderful. You guys should go listen to it. I did the sound design with another guy by the name of Steven Jensen, who's this wonderful guy who I think at least when we were working on it was still in college, working on like a theater sort of tech degree. So that way, because I wasn't really his supervisor or anything, and the same thing we sort of do for JTP and a lot of Multitude stuff, before we start working, we define what we're gonna do, how we're gonna do it. And then like, you know, make any suggestions or whatever it is, but for like him and me, I was like, "What do you love to do?" And he was like, "I love doing foley in sound effects and stuff like that." I was like, "Great, I hate that, it takes so long. I love mixing, I love environments. So I'll do those things. You do the other stuff. And we'll split it up." So I'd clean up all the audio, edit anything I needed to edit, send off the files to him. And he would do all the like sound effects and stuff. And then I get them back. And I'd make any tweaks or anything if I needed to on his stuff, or add anything I needed to. But that was very rare. And then I would do environments and mixing a lot of stuff and put it all together. So yeah, I think it just sort of depends on how you're working. But I always say like the number one thing is to like, just define what you're going to do ahead of time. Set the boundaries. So there's no confusion.
Yeah. And the like, zero-th step is to hire good people that you can trust.
Yeah. And I think Multitude will continue to do this down the line. But like anyone we decide to work with, we have a very high standard for in terms of not necessarily just work quality, but [also] we want to make sure that we're not just hiring people because we need someone to do a thing, but because they're going to bring something that we don't have. And they're excited and ambitious and want to do this stuff, whether or not we're there, but we want to work together instead of alone.
That's why we like you!
I still think of that as my little Cinderella moment of podcasting fairygod family coming in, and taking me under their wing. So thank you.
No, don't thank us. Thank you.
Okay, everyone can thank everyone and everyone is welcome. That's how it works. I started listening to Next Stop in preparation for this, I was gonna save it for after the defense, but I wanted to be prepared. So one thing I noticed was that if you actually pay attention to what's happening behind the words, there's like a lot of stuff there that I usually don't pay attention to. So, since you sound designed this, how much stuff is there behind the words in a typical audio fiction? What's the ratio of words to other noise?
Um, I guess it depends on how you would define it. But if you like look at pure, just track count, I guess in your DAW of choice in Pro Tools, whatever. [In] your program of choice, I think for Next Stop, there was - depending on the episode anywhere from 4-7 or 8, we usually capped it at 8 people per episode, just for intelligibility reasons, and then somewhere in the range of 90-100 tracks total. It also depends on how you work. Like I like to put everything on distinct tracks because it's easier for me. But yeah, somewhere in that range.
So it's 8 vocal tracks and then like 82 nonvocal tracks?
Something along those lines, yeah. But I mean, when you think about one sound effect - I think there was one part in an episode where someone was like hitting a table or something. And so when you think about that one sound effect you have to think about the sound of like someone's fist, their flesh hitting something so kind of [the] splatty noise, and then you have to think about the table, so the wood of the table like a coffee table. And then you have to think about is this translating? And for me it wasn't. It didn't sound like what it was supposed to sound like so I [thought], "what else would be on a table and what else would make noise?" So I put a glass on top of the table so when you hear it, you hear the splat you hear that thump and then you hear like a glass moving up and down from vibrations. So one sound effect can if you're talking about movies, dozens of sounds underneath it. Podcasts have to move a little bit faster. [Take for example] Star Wars [which] has like you know one sound designer for seven scenes in the movie. So they can spend a ton of time on one sound effect, but yeah, so it just adds up.
Yeah, how do you decide what makes the cut for being a sound effect because you know, we're making noise in our environments all the time, but you can't possibly include all of that in a show?
Yeah, so for Next Stop and for In Strange Woods, the first step I always take is talking to the people that created it, and figuring out what you want the thing to sound like ahead of time. So are you aiming for like super realistic reality? Are you aiming for like a sort of like quasi NPR journalistic style thing? Are you aiming for, I don't know, animated, goofiness like way over the top stuff, which is things that people don't normally think about because when you do it right, you don't notice it. It just is inherent to the thing. But for Next Stop, I did a couple of things. I had everyone record on their own individual microphone like we are doing now. So I had their like raw track, but we did block everything. So like they did move around in the studio according to what they needed to do. It was really fun, and I had a binaural microphone, which people call 3D audio. It's basically just spatial. So you can sort of hear the sound move in the space. My point of view, and Eric's point of view on that, we wanted it to feel like a sitcom. We wanted it to feel like you're watching sort of a screen as opposed to being immersed in it. So there's something called "episodic" which is really all around you, but binaural is really just like, "bi" meaning 2, just your two ears. So we filmed it as if it were on a 2D screen.
That's so cool.
And so once I do that, and once I have defined what I want it to sound like, what I'm going for, the aesthetic of it, then I just started like chipping away at things almost like a rough paint job on your palate, or whatever, just really laying stuff down. And then going back and listening and seeing like, is this working? Is it effective in what it's doing? Which is most important thing. Like, is there a reason why it's there? And if not, I usually cut it because I am of the opinion that people listen to words, they don't really listen to sound effects that much. So like, if it's not doing something, then I shouldn't be there. And then if it's not working, but it needs to be there, like what can I do to fix it? So yeah, I think when stuff makes the cut, it's because it's performing a function. It is telling the story of the scene, or hopefully evoking some emotional response in the person. Whether that's like joy or laughter or scariness or whatever it is. You know, the emotion "scariness"?
I've heard of it. I've seen it on the emotion wheel, yeah. I mean, I've said earlier that I mostly just pay attention to the words. So I see where you're coming from? How do you choose the right voice actors because the way that someone says the words is almost as important as the words themselves, so you have to find the right people.
Totally, and I'm absolutely not an expert in casting. But I worked with Julia, who was our casting director to find the right people for Next Up. It's simultaneously easier and different in podcasting, because you don't have to worry about how someone looks - which in film you do, if you have a character who has to be black, they need to be black. Or if they need to be Captain America and look like every white aryan boy on the planet, they need to be Chris Evans.
He really is just like the epitome of white American aryan men, yeah.
100%. So we don't have to worry about that, thankfully. But we still are paying attention with our casting call, like any character that didn't need to be defined ethnicity wise, or race wise, we just didn't include that or even gender wise, like didn't include that. I think we only ended up with Cam needs to be a white guy, because he does a lot of things that stupid white guys do. We tried to get him to be Jewish because Eric is Jewish. And Eric sort of wrote him as Jewish. I don't think it's in the text necessarily, but it was hard to find a Jewish actor, so we ended up not being able to find one. But the thing that we looked for that's akin to looks in podcasting is voice. The most important thing is to try to find someone whose voices either complements or are separate enough from the other people's voices that you can easily distinguish them. And part of that is just how you write the character, making sure they have a point of view and a character voice. But the other part of that is like literal tonality and timbre. So we got really lucky to work with our main core group of Nick Fondulis, who was our first primary pick. We knew we wanted him to be Cam, just because his timing was wonderful. He just was Cam. I remember listening to his audition tape with Julia, and we just turned off and we're like, "yep, that's our Cam. That's right." And then we got Ian Henry Wallace, who played Samuel Clemens, who just has this wonderful, super unique voice.
Yeah, I've noticed that.
I really love it.
And we loved his voice so much. And then Yemie Sonuga, who played Ally is just like this perfect contrast to an energy and tonality and comedic delivery to both of them. Nick and Ian are two sides of the same coin kind of, and then Yemie is like another coin that makes it the right amount. I don't know.
I see where you were trying to get in that metaphor, yeah.
But then the like real magic came. We did a lot of like chemistry testing, because we want to make sure that the core cast had chemistry, especially in a sitcom. Like they carry the whole show. And all three of them are just like one - wonderful to work with, but two - just like, eager and willing to jump in and try whatever it is. They're all incredible improvisers. I don't know that ratio, but like at least 20% of the dialogue in that show is probably improvised. Yeah, they're incredible. And I ended up directing them, like, "let's get one, take that's on the page. Let's get another take if I need to do any changes. And then the third take, like, do whatever the fuck you want, like, I don't care about the words, just do whatever you want." And so yeah, it was just wonderful in that sense. So it depends on the show you're doing [and] what you're looking for. We were looking for people who could sound different and work together. And also, like, be willing to experiment and improvise and try new things.
In the casting call, did you describe types of voices that you were interested in? Like, "we want a deep voice." Or my partner has spent a lot of time singing and is a rapper, and so he will use terms like, "oh, that voice is bright" or something. And I don't really know what that means. But is that the type of language you used in your call?
Not in the call itself because I think most people like you don't know what those words really correlate to, which is very normal. And we weren't looking for any specific type for any specific character just that when brought together, [they] were distinct enough. We auditioned a woman, Sam, so she was going to be Samantha. And she was like our second pick for the role. So like, it would have done a different combination entirely of voices, but like one that still was distinct enough and interesting in the combination.
It's about picking the right team made up of strong individuals, but like the team is really important. Makes sense. Okay, we're gonna take a little break, and then come back and talk more about Brandon's process for making Next Stop.
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All right. Now, Brandon, you had a lot of control over Next Stop. What did you spend the most time doing in the sound design process for this show?
I imagine it just inherently ends up being editing because you just physically have to move through a lot of tape. And I was the director and the sound person, so I knew that I didn't need to take notes during recording because I'm a perfectionist, and I [don't] need help doing this, but like I knew I was gonna listen through every single take anyway. I know a lot of directors like Lauren will mark takes when they're recording so they can take that one, and then just work off of that [cause] it's faster. But I went through everything. I try to take as big of a chunk of a take as possible because it feels natural, but sometimes it's like this word is not sounding right. So I'll have to pop in a different word from a different take. And so that can take a long time. And getting the pacing right and all that kind of stuff. But the sound design stuff, I'd be curious to see what Mischa thinks too, but like at this point, I'm so practiced in it that like I know what I want and how to get it quickly. Which is nice when you're trying to like paint a broad brush of stuff. And then it's the like little moments where you know, you want to like push yourself and challenge yourself to do something interesting or unique there, that ends up taking a little more time to find the thing that you want. But that's the fun part.
I've heard that some sound designers spend a lot of time like collecting sounds out in the world to put into their projects. Do you do that?
I don't, because I'm lazy. I've done it a handful of times here and there. But like, there are so many higher quality than I could get sound effects that you can purchase these days that for a podcast in which are not matching sound to picture, it doesn't have to be perfect in terms of like timing. So like, for film, you have to like match the tearing of the celery stock to match a bone break in perfect time. But like, I can just go and find a bone sound because it doesn't matter. Like there's no timing. I don't want to spend all my time collecting sounds because I would like to have some downtime. But I prefer to just like pay money to solve that problem. To find a bunch of high quality stuff. And you know, Mischa does too, but any sound designer really has like a huge sound effects library at this point.
Just like on your own computer that you keep and catalog.
Yeah, I have 1.5 terabytes of sound effects right now.
For "Next Stop" though, there definitely was some stuff that I just couldn't buy. So like I had to record like the slack notification sounds, the Skype notification sounds - a lot of phone stuff. I didn't know what I wanted exactly, so I went and recorded like all the major, like alert sounds and ring tones and stuff. And the texts.
And there's no like copyright issue there?
There might be, but Apple's not going to come after me for that.
Yeah, they have bigger fish to fry, hopefully.
And it's so ubiquitous at this point, but on the foley stuff, Eric wrote a scene where Sam has a lock mechanism for his computer. It's a sci-fi, MacGuffin, that doesn't exist in real life. So in the studio, I basically gave him a keyboard and I bought a big chain - like a big metal chain so he could get the sound effect in there and then I went back and recorded like this change up close to get it sounding good.
That's so cool.
I used the door on the studio to do a lot of knocking stuff because a lot of it's like esoteric, you know, cute little knocks. I bought a gong.
And now it's just chilling in your home. You have a gong now?
I think it's in the studio, but yeah. [It's] like a hammer, laptop slamming mic handling noise. I recorded a microwave making popcorn that made the studio smell really good. And like a vacuum, which was hard to find. Yeah, I recorded myself rummaging through the studio refrigerator. That was fun. The big one that's actually hard to find, [and I know] Mischa would agree with this [is] kiss sound effects. Kissing is really hard to do in audio. Don't do this, it's gross, but if you ever listened to a kiss, it doesn't sound like a kiss. It just sounds gross. You can imagine it, but getting something that sounds like a kiss you have to like actually do it how you wouldn't do it in normal life so usually have to record those separately.
And there's so many different types of kisses too. I'm now imagining that in scripts, you have to specify is this like a wet sloppy kiss? Is this you know, like a quick cheek kiss?
Yeah, it's gross. But that's actually interesting too that you bring that up because what I like to do, if I can is find the sounds on our project before they start recording. Once the scripts are finalized, I like to do a sound designers pass, and just go through and either cross out shit that they've marked as sound effects or whatever that are not useful or add in stuff like, "Oh, hey, during production, can you do this because this is hard to imitate and the timing is important there." One of the things with Next Stop we did was one of the characters crumpling a piece of paper and like tossing it, but it was a comedic moment [and] they were like, "You don't have a script for this do you?" And she was like, *crumble, crumble toss* "No." But that's highly dependent on the actor's comedic timing. So I just gave her a piece of paper and had her do it in studio. So that's something I like to do is go through the scripts and make notes like that too.
I like that. Do you have your own little notation style, or like a shorthand that you use? Or is it not that secretive?
It's not that secretive. Me and Eric both had to learn proper scripts formatting stuff for next time because we've never really done it that way before. So we just learned the good old fashioned way.
I'm interested in the music that you choose because every music piece that I heard in Next Stop really seemed like it fit. It sounded like a sitcom, which was really cool. This was my first comedy fiction podcast experience. So how do you choose music that feels appropriate for the mood in a podcast, and this is kind of a personal request because I'm thinking of getting new music for Exolore, and I don't know how to choose.
We can figure that out. That's one of my favorite things because I am a musician. I love doing music. I don't know, there are people that are inherently sensitive, I would say to music and tonality and what the emotional aspect of it is. Eric has a really good ear for that just because he's a really big music fan. So a lot of times, like in JTP, I'll be like, "I can't find a fucking music track for this. Eric, will you help me look?" And he'll find something that works. I don't know if you remember the Momofuku training video thing or the thing that Aggie shows a videotape of, and it's like a bad infomercial. And there's just like a "bleep bleep bloop blop blop" behind it. And Eric found that and it was perfect. But for Next Stop, we knew that we wanted to hit that 90s sitcom feel. We worked with a composer named Evan Cunningham, who is wonderful. He's worked on a lot of Bright Sessions stuff. He did the theme song for Marvel's too - the Marvel fiction show. And I talked to him on the phone, and I think because I have the vocabulary of a musician, it's much easier. But you also have to learn to back off like I was talking about earlier, so they can do their own work. But yeah, I was able to tell him, "I need a variety of things. But for the theme song, we want something sort of like uplifting and friendly and very classic 90s friends style sitcom trope." But for the stingers that are in between each scenes, I was like, "I need a variety of things. I need stuff that reads neutral. I need stuff that reads sad. I need stuff that reads like get up and go kind of like heisty." You know.
I've learned that you know, Multitude people we love our heists.
We love our fucking heists. So yeah, any musician will sort of know what you're talking about when you say those things. But it's really about trying to find the like emotional core of what that thing reads as, in its most basic [form]. It's [how] a major song sounds happy, a minor song sounds sad kind of thing. So it's going off that and then learning to use different scales or different tempos to evoke different moods that way. So for JTP this season, for my own sanity reasons, I didn't do that music. But before the season, I went and downloaded 100 songs that I liked that were in very different styles of feeling so stuff from fight music, to accomplishment music, to neutral music, to sort of like dreamy, like explanation, music, you know. And then I just employ those whenever they come up.
Do you feel like working on sound design yourself influences the way you experience movies and TV shows and other podcasts where their sound design?
Definitely podcasts, I do a lot of judging. But I also learn a lot from different people's perspectives because every sound designer, if you are a sound designer, you sort of get a vibe for how they work and what they sound like. and [what] the holes in their techniques are or where they really shine. I point to Blackout, which is a fiction show by QCODE. It had Rami Malek in it, which is a a 7.5 out of 10. It was it was a fun listen so if you haven't listened that listen to it. The sound designers this guy named Brandon [Jones]. He's a film sound designer.
The other Brandon.
Yeah, there can only be one of us. He will be killed at one point. But he worked on Detective Pikachu, he's a major film sound designer. But when you listen to it, you sort of can tell that he's a film sound designer. I don't really know how to describe it except for the feel of it - everything feels sort of glossy and polished. There's a lot of really rich depth and really high highs. But from my point of view, the scripts was a TV script, not a movie. And TV has a slightly different tonal language than film does because film is glossy and dramatic, [while] TV is more raw and more organic feeling because it's made faster. So like from my point of view, that sounds like it was great, but it didn't quite match the script itself. So that kind of stuff like really pokes out in my head when I'm listening to podcasts, but for film and TV, the best thing about it is you do a picture, which like your brain will fill in what it's supposed to be hearing, if it's not there, or if it sounds slightly off, like your brain will still be like, "Yeah, that makes sense." So I don't really notice it a lot, which is good. Unless it's really fantastic that it sticks out, like in a good way. Or if it's weird, you know, like when you're matching the picture. You try to describe the scene, you're not trying to, like, make anything weird and spectacular, right? Like a footstep should sound like a footstep, and when it doesn't sound like a footstep, I notice.
Are there any movies that you just really enjoy listening to like, I loved listening to the Godzilla movie that came out last year. I liked all the deep roars and grumbles, but what's your preference?
No, that's a good one. Monster and horror films, and like Sci-Fi are always really fun because they're not sounds that come from nature, so you have more room to play. Obviously, I love Star Wars. It's the original creative sound design movie, you know?
Oh, I didn't know that.
Yeah, they did.
I've never seen it.
You've never seen Star Wars?
Any Star Wars?
I watched part of the fourth one chronologically, which I think is the first one that was ever made.
I watched part of it and walked out.
I will say I think people who are about our age or younger, like those 70s films don't hold muster very well because they don't look great.
It just looks so bad.
Yeah, but that does hurt my heart a little bit.
I'm so sorry, but it has good sound design.
Yes. So they did some like wonderfully wild things - the lightsaber sound effect itself, I think he took - and I'm gonna get this wrong, but I think he took like a wrench to like a big, like transformer spring. So it was like a big stretched out spring. And when you hit it, it sounds like boom, boom, because the sound is like going from one end to the other end.
Yeah, get that Doppler effect in there.
Exactly. And you mix that in with some other stuff. And the blaster sounds are wonderful. I actually just watched Kong Skull Island last night. Was it last night? Time is meaningless because I haven't seen that yet. I really love the modern Godzilla roar. It's got a lot of interesting animal sound effects in there.
I think there was a Spirits episode recently, where they talked about a roar. Maybe it was the Beowulf translation episode, and they were talking about the different layers that go into a roar sound., and that was pretty cool.
The roar specifically can be like a really sonic signature for a sound designer. You'd be surprised at the weird sounds that animals make when you just see them as a file, and you just hit play. Animals make really weird sounds. I'm a huge music buff, obviously. So I really love the use of music and film, especially when you have a picture, the music is the thing that's really conveying the emotion as opposed to the sound design and the acting obviously, but with something like Dunkirk. I don't know if you've seen that. It's a wonderful film. I think it's all fake continuous, but I think the whole thing is continuous,
The whole movie seems like it could be a one shot type of thing.
It's either that or I know that the score is continuous.
Like there's music playing the whole time?
Yeah, and it's wonderful. It's this beautiful score that just like, if that score wasn't there, it would be a completely different movie, you know? But the score really elevates it and makes it like a piece of art. I never saw this because I don't like horror. I can't stand gore, but the trailer I remember for the film Mother with Jennifer Lawrence, I think.
I also can't stand horror. I'm a little wimp.
Me too. I think this is kind of becoming more common now in horror, but they use a lot of orchestra sounds like violins and violas and cello, but super dry, meaning like no reverb, no room sounds just like straight up on the instrument microphone. And then they flip the bow over to use the wood side, and they use a lot of like striking techniques.
You can do that?
Yeah. So it sounds really wooden and terse and strange because you don't normally hear that, right?
So it sounds really spooky. And it was really effective in what it was trying to convey there. So I like that kind of stuff.
Awesome. I will try to pay more attention to sounds in movies, just the sounds in general. I'm wondering if you have any advice or ways that people could practice and improve their sound design skills without necessarily sitting down and just like making a whole podcast? Like little one off exercises that people could do?
Yeah, I think if you can find a film scene or a TV scene that has the audio stripped out except for the voices, just go in there and like practice designing that way. I guarantee that you'll find stuff, but if you can't just email Multitude and I'll send you some files. And I know you just said without making a whole podcast, but I do think the best thing to do for anything in terms of music tech, whether you're on the music side or podcast side or film sound design side is just do it like a lot and fail a lot and figure out why you failed and ask people what they think of your design, because unfortunately for sound design in particular, especially in podcasts, because there's no picture in front of it, [and] when something is bad, it's bad. And a lot of people can tell really easily without knowing what they're talking about. So there's no substitute for just practice. So like, as if it were a musical instrument that you would practice every day, just like sit down and do a little bit every day. Read every manual you get for every piece of software you buy, cover to cover, make sure you know exactly what you're doing. Don't buy another piece of software until you've mastered that one.
That's a good one.
Yeah, a lot of mostly straight white boys in sound - like me, they like to collect stuff, because we're weird. And so they just like buy a bunch of software without really dedicating the time to mastering that piece of software. And then you know, just listen a lot. There's no substitute for that either. Listen to things that aren't your medium. So if you're a podcast, sound designer, listen to music and figure out how they use their EQ or their compression or their delay and reverb, or whatever it is to achieve the effects that they're achieving in you like emotionally and then try to replicate that in your sound design. I think those are good places to start.
Yeah, those are great tips. One thing that I have been trying to do because my partner is working on an album, and I just am so bad at hearing the nuances in audio. And so what I'm trying to do now is listen to things multiple times and pay attention to different I guess they would be tracks each times like one listen through, I'll pay attention to the drums and then the next time to the piano if there's piano in there. And just trying to mentally separate that out has been really helpful to get me to focus on hearing the background noise.
No, noise is great. If someone called my music noise I'd be very happy. I always take for granted that because I have an instrument background that like my brain can separate those layers really easily. So if I decide whatever I want to listen to you, I can just hear it, but it's always weird to me to hear when people can't do that. Like they just hear like a wall of sound. I don't quite understand it.
We're not all as naturally gifted as you are Brandon.
No it just comes with practice, that's my point. Like if you'd learned to play an instrument you would do it too.
I played the clarinet for eight years and I still can't do this.
Well then, I take it back. But yeah, that's a great piece of advice. I don't know how you listen to music, but my first pass of music [is that] I don't listen to vocals. Like I don't listen to words. I just hear the melody line on top of the harmony and stuff. But like my partner Lauren, like she just listens to words her first listen through. I don't know everyone just listens differently.
Yeah, I almost never listen to words actually. The words just appear as sound to me.
Yeah, I can pay attention to the words if I choose to. I can memorize, I can sing along, but it's not consciously like being decoded or understood in my head.
Yeah, same. The only lyrics I know in songs are because they did some interesting, like melodic phrase or like rhythmic thing. I just attach the words to them.
All right. Anything else you want to say about sound design, particularly as it relates to worldbuilding?
Yeah, my advice for that, as always be intentional and pre plan. So don't just dive in and start throwing things at the wall, like know what you want to do and what you're trying to achieve, and then plan how you're going to achieve it and then dive in, because that's going to make for a more cohesive project. And yeah, if you're a fledgling sound designer, or established sound designer that wants critical feedback, or whatever, like you can always reach out to me, especially through the Multitude website, and if you are from an underrepresented group, you can always ask for some coffee time with Multitude folks. And if you work on sound, I'm happy to talk with you. So hit us up.
Yeah, I can vouch for Multitude as a group of people who are awesome at teaching podcasting. noobs how to actually make the thing happen. If people want to learn more about you not necessarily related to your Multitude stuff, how can they find you? How can they keep up with your work?
Yeah, I am a anti social media Stan, so I only have Twitter. But if you want to follow me, I'm @BrandonGrugle. I mostly just posts on work stuff, I'm a weirdly kind of private guy. So I will talk your ear off if you want to talk to me in person, but I am strange on the internet.
I get that, the internet's a strange place.
Thank you so much for being on the show. And for you know, helping make the show happen.
Hell yeah. Thank you for having me. Let's go find some new music for the show.
Yes, please. Nothing against the old theme song, but I feel like maybe it's time for a little bit of a touch up.
Yeah, I love it.
Alright, well, thanks again, Brandon. And that's a wrap. This episode of Exolore was edited by Mischa Stanton. The cover art is by Steven J. Reisig. The transcript is by Iesir Moss, and the music is from purple-planet.com. Exolore is a member of Multitude Productions, an independent podcast collective and production studio. I highly recommend checking out the other Multitude shows, all you have to do is type "Multitude" into the search bar of your favorite podcast app. If you want to support me and my worldbuilding work, the first way to do that is to rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. It's free, you don't need any sort of Apple device and it really does make a difference and help the show grow. Second, you can support me on Patreon. Your monthly support would make it possible for me to continue working on this passion project of mine. So if you're able, please head on over to patreon.com/exolorepod. Again that's patreon.com/e x o l o r e p o d. If you can, be sure to follow Exolore on Twitter or Instagram @exolorepod and if you like this episode, share it with your friends and subscribe to the show because that way you can catch me next time on another world.