Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film, The Room, is a masterclass in bad media on so many counts. The acting, directing, and writing are often discussed, but for me, the dubbing of some lines is really underrated.
Pull up any YouTube video of The Room with the intent of catching poorly-dubbed lines. You’ll notice it immediately. The dialogue floats uncomfortably in the sound mix. Nothing seems to come from the actual human mouths supposedly making the noise. Really, it just adds even more discomfort to an already terrible film.
I have never experienced a podcast that is even close to as terrible as The Room. Something I have experienced, though, is that same discomfort that comes from dialogue being place-less. In fact, it’s one of the most common issues I hear in fiction podcasts.
The Too Many Mics problem is when multiple characters are sharing a scene, but all of the actors seem to have different mics. The listener is supposed to understand that all of the characters are in the same room, but one character sounds like they’re in an entirely different world from the others.
The problem with using different mics is that it’s an immediate way to remind the listener that they are engaging in a staged, edited, and produced piece of media. Realism is broken when it becomes clear that the actors are, in fact, actors–which is why this problem bothers me the most in realistic podcasts that bank on suspension of disbelief. For zanier podcasts (EOS 10 is a good example here), this problem doesn’t bother me at all; I’ve already bought into the silliness of the show. When it comes up in a podcast like The Black Tapes, though, the episode is almost entirely ruined for me. Hearing the actors all have a different level of ambient noise, reverb, and audio quality almost feels like an instance of schematically interruptive design–the same technique used by horror games to alarm the player on a sensory level.
The Many Mics Problem in podcasts is obviously not as alarming or upsetting; it isn’t done purposefully, like it is in the Amnesia games. It is, however, still jarring–and it still highlights the fact that this is a fictional piece of media.
This is a Podcast Problem that I’ll admit I almost feel guilty for noticing. Podcasts are important because they can be done on a tight budget, and they can be done without pulling the whole cast into one room to shoot. This means that not every actor or producer can afford the best mic; they’re expensive.
My solution for this is to simply make sure all of the actors have the same mic over prioritizing better mics for certain actors. Having high quality in the audio is important, but it isn’t as important as making sure your actors all sound like they’re in the same room. Being believable is often more important than sounding clean. There’s a struggle to mark yourself as professional and exemplary within such a saturated medium, but often, audio quality alone won’t be the right way about it unless all of your audio can sound clean in the same way.
Your listeners are already here knowing that their favorite shows are going to be independently funded. If anything, that’s exactly why we love them, if my latest twitter rant is any indication. We’re not going to be concerned about having the shiniest audio possible; we’re going to be concerned on immersion, and the best way to get us immersed is to make your scenes sound real. Make sure your characters all sound like they’re in the same setting. Then, give us glossy if and when we can. We’ll be more excited for that than for one lone character sounding glossy while the others straggle behind.