Exemplary Uses of Sound Design in Podcasts

Podcast sound design

Sound design is the art of using sound to create the world that your podcast lives in. This can achieved with sound effects, effective editing, or a combination of creative sound manipulation like reverbs, delays, and other whacky effects.

One of the great things about sound design is that it has the potential to take the listener to a newly created sonic world. It can transport you to a location, real or imagined, or tell a story better than words ever could.

This list of episodes showcases some creative uses of sound design that should hopefully get you thinking about how to use it in your episodes.

Radiolab — Playing God

Radiolab is a hugely popular show that weaves together interesting stories of science and the everyday through compelling audio production, and its use of sound design in this particular episode is heart-wrenching.

Radiolab

In short the episode revolves around the theme of triage and on the questions that spin out from it, most potently on the notion of playing god by following writer Sheri Fink through her reporting during various crises from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The episode of full of excellent sound design examples from the interwoven news broadcasts featuring distressed interviewees that serve as backdrop of the New Orleans segment, to the hospital beeps and tones that create an unnerving mise-en-scène for the path we’re taken down as listeners.

Perhaps the most harrowing and affecting example in this episode is the use of a heart rate monitor flatlining. It’s simple and used to devastating effect. Our understanding of what it means is implicit so there are no need for words to explain what’s heard. We’re just left to feel the weight of the moment.


Reply All — Hello?

The self-styled “show about the internet” is so much more than what it proclaims to be at a glance.

Reply All

This unique episode winnows down 48 hours of non-stop call-ins to hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman to a 90+ minute episode of absurdist surrealism that welcomes you down along the path of sleep deprivation and delirium that PJ and Alex wrestle with along the way.

Aside from the futzed audio of phone calls there is one particular edit that features the many, many “hello”s from callers overlapped, heard from left and right, reverberated to create a disorientating swirl of unknown voices.

It’s as much a technically creative sound design moment as it is a pivotal moment in the episode as we descend further down the rabbit hole of delusion to experience first-hand how PJ and Alex must have felt during those 48 hours.



Love + Radio

Love + Radio is a first-person storytelling podcast that begs to be ornamented with sound design.

Taking first-hand accounts of extraordinary personal stories and allowing the subject to tell their own account provides the path, while the sound design recreates the experiences for listeners to be enveloped in.

This particular episode is the recounting of an Irish construction worker who traveled to Libya to fight in the civil war of 2011 and the decisions he made, the actions he undertook, and the effects the war had on him before and after deciding to fight.


Limetown

Limetown is a drama podcast about what happened to an entire town’s population that disappeared overnight.

Limetown

Taking the form of investigative reporting by a journalist of the fictional American Public Radio, the podcast is interspersed with faux-news broadcasts, and staff meetings about the investigation.

Being a fictional podcast gives license to experiment with these forms and so the sound design is crucial in being able to pull them off effectively.

The sound design is able to set the scene and drive the story, and Limetown does so with great effect, so much so that the show has since been optioned for television adaptation.


Further Reading

Alex KontisSoundComment