[ BSP ] Out-take 01 : The basic production environment

BackStage Pass Out-take is a series of articles posted as follow-ups to BSP episodes, containing tips and tricks you can use in your own production efforts.

Breakdown
For the purposes of an audio “play” production (as opposed to music production), there are two distinctly different stages to progress through, and many different tools available for them.  They are:

  • Clip editing
  • Multi-track production
Clip (or single track) editing, as the name suggests, is the process of editing an individual sound file.  For the type of audio production we’re discussing here, this is the stage where only corrections and repairs should be made to the sound, and should also be the only point where you are willing to employ destructive editing methods[1].  For example: removing unwanted hiss or other sounds from a clip.  There are many programs dedicated to this kind of editing (see references below).
Multi-track editing is the stage where all of the various clips are brought together onto a single master timeline within a program known as a non-linear editor (NLE) or digital audio workstation (DAW).  Again, there are quite a few programs designed for this, though there are fewer free (and good) options available.  The NLE/DAW you choose will depend on how much time you are willing to invest in getting comfortable with the program, as well as how much money you are willing to spend to purchase the program.
A typical production workflow for an episode of CotG proceeds like this:

Clip editing

  1. Set a standard name for source files (ex. “Marshall-11-RAW.mp3″)
  2. Import an actor’s lines for a character in an episode as a single large file
  3. Remove unwanted spoken lines (known as “takes”)
  4. Remove unwanted incidental background sounds such as mouse clicks, keyboard noises, door slams etc
  5. Correct minor vocal flaws such as unintended pauses or stumbled words (as much as possible, can be a bit intricate to handle and will be covered in an episode of BackStage Pass)
  6. Remove/filter any unwanted noises that might be present throughout the recording, such as hiss, hum or other annoying anomalies introduced by substandard hardware or bad connections
  7. Save the edited file separately, again using a standard naming convention (ex. “Marshall-11-EDIT.mp3″)
Multi-track editing
  1. Create a new project file for one scene in a chapter
  2. Import characters involved in that scene into their own dedicated channels
  3. Apply effects VSTs[2] to individual channels as appropriate to achieve the desired enhancement to each voice.  For example, “local” voices in a Decimator cockpit are modified with various mastering effects to simulate voices heard over a helmet intercom.
  4. Import any background sounds that will be heard throughout the scene, such as engine rumble, and apply effects to those channels to achieve the desired final sound
  5. Working from scene start to end, import other incidental sound clips and effects, such as computer beeps, explosions or various movement sounds.  These clips are moved into their appropriate positions in the timeline according to where the script indicates they should be.  This is a very subjective process, and is also the most time-intensive stage of production.  It will be covered more in-depth in BackStage Pass.
  6. Render the final scene with extra lead-in and lead-out time to accommodate transitions between different scenes
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 until all scenes in the chapter are completed
  8. Create a new master project file for the whole chapter
  9. Import the rendered scene files and arrange as appropriate for smooth transitions between them, add music channels as needed
  10. Introduce special effects for final mastering (compression, limiting, expansion etc)
  11. Render final master episode and release!
BackStage Pass will demonstrate exactly how all of these steps are actually completed, so watch for new episodes!
Read on for links to some program ideas, both free and premium.
Clip editors (also used for recording new clips)
Multi-track editors (NLE/DAW)

Free

*Reaper is free to try for 30 days, but is an unlimited trial, meaning you can technically use it unrestricted beyond 30 days.  Non-commercial license is $60, commercial (selling your productions) is $225

Paid

VSTs (mostly effects, compatibility depends on host application)

Free (there are literally hundreds upon hundreds out there, so this article will focus mainly on those used at DW Studio)

Paid (again, too many choices to cover comprehensively. Google is your friend!)

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Destructive editing : The editing process will remove content (hopefully only the unwanted bits) that will be permanently lost when the file is saved.  For this reason, it is best to save a separate version of the clip, rather than overwrite the original.
  2. VST : Virtual Studio Technology.  Refers to small additional programs that are used by audio editing programs to enhance their base functionality.  VSTs are a kind of effect engine, providing all sorts of capabilities from compression to virtual musical instruments.

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