50 episodes! When we launched this podcast two years ago, we never imagined our passion project would come this far. To mark the occasion, we’re taking a peek behind the scenes of the show. Join the Defacto Sound team as they take you into the inspiration, creation, and people behind Twenty Thousand Hertz.
MUSIC IN THIS EPISODE
Sasask by Uncle Skeleton
Density by Steven Gutheinz
White11 by Tangerine
We Never Left by Stray Theories
Igloo by Steven Gutheinz
Open Waters - Instrumental by Lael
That Trap, Part II by COSSY
Switchovers (Part 2) by Dario Lupo
Cities by UTAH
Fields by SisterBrother
Mirrors (No Sample) by UTAH
20K is hosted by Dallas Taylor and made out of the studios of Defacto Sound.
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View Transcript ▶︎
You're listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz. I'm Dallas Taylor.
This is our 50th episode! Seriously, I never could’ve imagined getting this far. We’ve now produced over 1,000 minutes of ultra-highly-polished, sugary sugary audio candy. The amount of work behind those 1000 minutes though, is crazy. It’s been a huge adventure and we couldn’t have done it without all of you. So, because of this occasion we’re going to do something we don’t usually do. We’re going to talk about ourselves. This is the story… of Twenty Thousand Hertz.
Jai: My name is Jai Berger and I’m a sound designer.
Colin: My name is Colin DeVarney. I’m a sound designer.
Nick: My name is Nick Spradlin. I’m a sound designer.
Sam: I’m Sam Schneble and I am the producer at Defacto Sound.
If you listen to the credits of our show, which you should… you probably recognize these names. Together, we all make up Defacto Sound, which is the sound design studio where Twenty Thousand Hertz was born. I started Defacto Sound in 2009, after working as a sound designer and mixer in LA for NBC, and Fox, and G4, then later on the east coast for The Discovery Channel. Defacto essentially just started as me, but has grown into the incredible sound team we have now.
Jai: Defacto Sound does sound design and mixing for post production. Basically we try to help tell someone’s narrative through sound.
Colin: We work for video game companies, we work for different TV networks, we work for lots of independent filmmakers.
Nick: I guess the simplest way to say that is that we create and finish the soundtrack.
Sam: So we make all of your awesome film and TV shows sound really freaking cool… Basically without us, they would be really boring…. [laughs], that’s what I think.
Audio post production might be a familiar industry to some of our listeners. But for those who’ve never heard about it, it can be difficult to explain exactly what we do.
Colin: Usually, by the time I come into the process we have a video that the editor has put together. They’ll send us over some raw dialogue which is just the recording that was done, and they’ll have some music they’ve picked out and that’s all been edited in there.
So when I receive it, we have all this raw audio and I’ll take dialogue and that music and I’ll make it sound as nice as possible and I’ll mix those so that you can comfortably hear the dialogue but the music is pushing through. And then what I do is I look at the cut and see what we can enhance with some sound design.
Sam: Sound design is basically adding sound effects to picture or even radio. For example say you are seeing on-screen someone running through the woods and they tripped over a log.
[sfx: someone running, tripping, shuffling on leaves to get back up]
Without sound design you wouldn’t hear the crunching of the leaves under someone’s shoes and the hitting the log… thumping to the ground, trying to shuffle to get back up. And you hear the leaves and even maybe the birds being disturbed in the background… That is all added through sound design.
Nick: I mean you can think of it like mixing paint. Every different piece of sound is a different color, and if you just don’t pay attention it just becomes brown [SFX: white noise] . But if you are really careful about it, it becomes this pretty painting.
Sound Design one of those things that super difficult to get across in a few sentences. Even the entire sense of sound itself is something that most people don’t really consciously think about. I mean, we think about taste at least three times a day, we make sure everything around is comfortable to appease our sense of touch. We also make sure things smell nice, and literally everything around us is designed visually. Take a second to look around. Think about how many things have been visually designed by humans? Anyway, those other four senses are well covered in our conscious as well as in pop culture. Really, aside from music, people don’t actively engage with sound in their everyday lives.
Jai: A lot of the times when we talk about sound it feels very alien and technical.
Nick: The speakers and the cables and the oxygen-free copper headphone wires...
Those were the type of ideas I hoped to change with this show.
Colin: The mission of Twenty Thousand Hertz is to get, basically, casual listeners - people who like podcasts - but people who don’t think about sound, to really think about their sense of sound in a much more deep and rich way.
[SFX: Clip for Disney Parks episode, “Sounds can make you relax, they can make you sweat, they can make you get chills, feel calm or terrified.”]
Jai: We’re trying to make it more exploratory, and more fun, and interesting.
[SFX: Clip from Level Up,“This is story of how video game sound designers create new worlds, tell stories, and bring imaginary characters to life”]
Sam: Kind of open people’s ears and have them listening more, because it’s just really fascinating once you start listening to your world more and recognizing things.
[SFX: Clip from Wilhelm Scream, “You may be thinking… What’s the Wilhelm Scream? If you think you’ve never heard it, it’s been used in movies such as Batman… Star Wars… Toy Story…”]
Nick: We don’t talk about audiophile stuff on purpose because we try to talk about the things that just happen out there that do affect you. They’re entering your world through your sense of sound and they’re affecting you. And you may or may not be thinking about it or realizing it but it’s still your sense of sound that’s the center of the conversation.
We knew at some level what we wanted to achieve. But having an idea is one thing. Turning that idea into something tangible is an entirely different matter, and honestly, we had no idea what we were doing. The first two episodes took us nearly a year to do research, editing, and reworks before finally being released.
[SFX: clip of Siri, “I’m Siri, you’re personal assistant.”]
[SFX: clip of NBC Chimes, “This is the National Broadcasting Company”]
Sam: This was the very beginning of our podcast and we were still trying to get our feel for how we’re going to do this show and we didn’t really know what we were doing at that time. So it was just a huge experiment so there were a lot of hours spent on it.
You learn a lot about making podcasts after two years of producing one. The lessons we learned account for many of the differences you might notice between our first episodes and today’s shows. If you listen to some of our early work, the difference is pretty obvious. For one thing, I sounded like I just rolled out of bed.
[SFX: clip of NBC Chimes, “There are only about 100 sounds that have actually officially become US trademarks and most of them are incredibly iconic”]
Over time, the research became more streamlined, the number of rewrites went down, and the tone of the show became more defined. But we still spend upwards of 150 hours or more on each and every episode. So what exactly does that process look like?
Colin: It all starts with an idea for a topic, and obviously early on that came from us. And then, it’s become largely from listeners as well. Now that we have a bit of a following, we take a lot of ideas from listeners and we’ll kind of rank the ones that we like.
Sam: We have a kickoff call with the writer, being like, this is kind of the angle we want to go down, these are the type of people we want to try to find to interview. Once the writer, producer does some research on the topic and finds the best people to interview, they’ll contact me to schedule a recording session. Basically I’ll find either a freelance recordist or a recording studio nearby for them to record the interview.
We put a ton of time and effort into capturing the highest quality recordings we can. This can be extremely challenging when we’re talking with experts in other countries or remote locations. So, why do we put so much time and money just into the recording of the guests?
Nick: Because we’re a sound podcast.
[SFX: Gradually filtering Nick’s voice as he describes the phone speaker sound here]
Nick: I mean, if I just talk into my phone then it’s going to sound like a tiny cheap microphone and it’s going to sound like a phone call, and other podcasts do that and there’s nothing wrong with it. It fits their style. But for us, we’re just a bit obsessive about audio and we just want it to sound as good as it can.
When the interviews are done, we send them out to get transcribed. When we get these transcriptions back, it’s time for the writers to step in.
Colin: When we’re writing the episode, we never want somebody to be bogged down with details, or if there are a lot of details we want to make it as interesting as possible. If the guest is speaking about a topic but they take a long time to say what they’re trying to saw, we often will have that said in VO instead so that it gets right to the point and the listener can take in that information and move on and not have to wait for two minutes to get this idea across that they could have gotten in 15 seconds.
The writing is a balance between information and entertainment. This podcast is not designed to be comprehensive, or a one stop resource for these topics. In a perfect world, I want people to spend another 2 hours going down some obscure Wikipedia rabbit hole. This podcast’s only mission is to get people in tune with their sense of hearing. So, once we feel like we’ve reached that information/entertainment balance and the script is done, I’ll record my voice, like I’m doing right now, then it’s the sound designers’ turn.
Jai: First thing we do is get all those bits and pieces from the interviews that we’re going to be using. We get all of Dallas’ VO laid out and then we just start editing all of that. Cutting out any breaths that feel a little awkward or uncomfortable [SFX: Dallas’ breaths], any stumbles [SFX: Dallas’ stumbles], a lot of umms [SFX: Dallas’ umms], a lot of likes, a lot of the little stuff that might be slowing down the pace a little too much. But at the same time there’s a balance with that because we really want to keep it feeling natural. We want people to feel like their best selves when they hear themselves talk on the show.
One of the most common questions we get asked is how do we process the voiceover on our show? Without getting too too detailed, there are a few common audio processing tools we use to get the sound you’re hearing now.
Nick: Our basic chain is an equalizer, a de-esser, a fader, and a compressor. So with the EQ, that’s the lingo term for an equalizer. Everybody's seen these, you have a bass knob and a treble knob on your stereo and that is an equalizer, just a very simple one. It’s not really meant to be creative, it’s meant to take things back to correct. Like if you take a photo and it’s too dark, you brighten it. You’re not really being creative, you’re just making the photo look right.
We use the fader and the compressor to keep the dynamics very level. I listen to a lot of shows and I’m in the car or something, I can hear one sentence perfectly. The next sentence is super soft so I turn the volume up [SFX: volume turns up] and then the next sentence is super loud again, I turn the volume back down [SFX: volume turns down]. And that’s really annoying. So in part of mixing the show, I’m always worried about the dynamics and the volume of everything that’s playing.
Another vital element of our show is the music. We use music to help reinforce an idea, to mark a transition, and to help sell the emotional tone we’re hoping for. It’s hard to overstate how much thought goes into the music alone.
Sam: We’re very particular about the type of music that we like on this show. It has to be the right the right feel for the episode. It can’t be overpowering, or have lyrics, or very intense instrumentation [SFX: music intensifies] when it’s covering up a very important interview where they’re trying to say something important and all of a sudden this music slams you in the face.
[SFX: music slams]
Sam: It matters a lot because it also plays into the tone of the interview and what’s going on, but if you have the wrong track it’s going to completely change what you’re listening to, so we’re very particular and careful about how to play up the exact emotion that we’re trying to go through.
Last, but certainly not least, is the sound design. We realized early on that sound design for an audio-only medium like podcasts is really different than sound design for TV, film, or games.
Jai: It just needs to be very clean and concise. It needs to speak really really well because we don’t have that visual component.
[SFX: Clip from Movie Soundtrack]
Jai: When you’re just listening it needs to be really spot on with the sound choice, otherwise it can be interpreted a million different ways. The other thing that’s really cool is we can use it to reinforce an educational moment. When someone is talking about some sonic thing and we can kind of do a subtle example underneath to help reinforce and educate what they’re saying.
[SFX: Clip from Amen Break] - “You can choose between snares. You can start chopping up the Amen Break and rearranging the individual beats into other configurations”]
Colin: Once all the editing is done, and this is days of work at this point, then it comes down to the final mixing. Making sure everything’s fitting in the pockets. Then I’ll send it off to Dallas to review. He’ll give his notes, sometimes we will also decide that we need to rework the episode a bit at this point.
Nick: And usually, there begins a multiple week phase of adjusting and rewriting and refining.
This reworking period has become a regular part of the process. And almost without exception, every episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz has felt like a bit of a disaster a few weeks before they go live. In a nutshell, two weeks before we launch, we always feel like it’s the worst show we’ve ever made, then somehow it all gels together in the final 2-3 rounds of tweaking.
Nick: It’s really challenging to write something for radio without hearing it or speaking it. And you come up with an idea and you try it out and you find out if it works or not. And sometimes you think of a better idea, and sometimes you refocus the show because you realize one section is more powerful than the other. We have to edit it for the way that it sounds and flows when you listen to it, and that’s just different than it is on the page.
Jai: Getting that fresh pair of ears makes all the difference for fine tuning everything after that first version. It’s really a lot of pacing things that is the difference between the first version and the last version I think that really takes it from OK, to great.
Colin: So once it’s done, and everything’s approved.
Colin: Then we post it to our platform for sending the podcast out to everybody.
Nick: We schedule it in a calendar and it gets released automatically and it just sort of, I guess it’s sort of weird, it like evaporates, you’re like “well, I was just working on this nonstop for the last three months and now it’s just kind of gone, and people will hear it I guess, but the only thing we can see is a like a little number, a little graph just raising. “Oh, I guess people are listening to this.”
So that’s how a show goes from being a simple idea to an mp3 in your podcasting app. The process can take hundreds of hours per show, and with 50 episodes under our belt, that’s a huge amount of time put into the podcast. It’s pretty amazing to look back at all the episodes we’ve produced over the past couple years.
Colin: I’ve worked on NBC Chimes, 8-Bit Sounds, Mystery Hum, Sound of Extinction, From Analog to Digital, Space, 20,000 DB’s Under the Sea, Sound Firsts, Watergate, Disney Parks, The Bleeps, The Sweeps, and the Creeps, The Gift, 3149146093, Hamilton, The Music in Speech, Amen Break, and Casinos.
Jai: Movie Soundtracks, Foley, Voice Acting, Evolution of Accents, Sonic Seasoning, Spooky Sounds, Musak, Live Theater, Misophonia, and Jingles, oh and ASMR. I forgot that one and that’s one of my favorites.
Nick: I worked on Audio Descriptions, Cars, The Good, The Bad, and the Irritating, Hearing Loss, The Wilhelm Scream - which is probably my favorite - Noise Pollution, Fight or Flight, Level Up, The Acoustical Umbilical Cord, The Emergency Alert System, Ultrasonic Tracking, THX Deepnote part 1 and 2, Sonic Branding.
So many of these episodes have had a profound impact on us and have even changed the way we think about sound. We’ll talk about the moments that were the most special to us, after this.
With topics ranging from Siri’s voice, to mysterious hums, to people whispering in your ear, and even outer space, we’ve covered a lot of ground over the past 50 episodes. While we were putting this episode together, we all looked back through the archive and talked about some of our favorite moments from the show. Sometimes it’s the episode that sticks out, other times it’s the story behind the episode.
For me, the NBC Chimes show will always be special.
[SFX: Clip from NBC Chimes,“NBC hired an electronic organ pioneer, Captain Richard Ranger, to build more of an automated system for building chimes”]
This episode was the introduction of Twenty Thousand Hertz for many of our listeners. It was also great because the history is so cool and it embodies exactly what our show tries to do. The not so great part of that show was just how long it took us. Almost a year of frustration and discovery went into the episode. We were just trying to figure out how in the world to make this podcast. But ultimately, it was an amazing way to set the tone for our show.
Sam: Rick’s entire story about how he was there when NBC was purchased and they had to stop playing the chimes and then he just had to rip the tape out of the machine and he just took it home with him because he was like “I don’t know what to do with this, they no longer want it to be played.” I think that’s hilarious cause that doesn’t happen nowadays.
[SFX: Clip from NBC Chimes,“The 9 o'clock hour comes we do the network newscast and at 9:05 - 30 the newscaster says, “Gary Nun, NBC News New York.” I played the chimes. I then pulled that tape cartridge out of the machine where I played it. Well, no sooner had I had gone that, general manager shows up. He just looked at me and he said, “Make sure no one else can do that.” I did that by taking the tape cartridge home. It’s sitting on my shelf.”]
Many of our shows have a relatively clear structure. We talk about a particular sound, the history of it, the importance it holds, and we’ve got a show. Other episodes can be a much bigger exercise in experimentation.
[music in - from the Space episode]
Sam: I loved everything that happened with the Space episode, especially because Dallas got to go to NASA Goddard and interview people and when Dallas had asked, “If I was on Venus, like how would I sound?” And all of a sudden we morph his voice to make it sound like he’s actually on Venus. That is super cool to me.
[SFX: Clip from Space, “I wonder what other things, like my voice, might sound like? I’m on Venus, in this ethereal world that’s a mix between a gas-like atmosphere and water. I’m almost floating, yet it’s not as restricting as being submerged in water. My voice, the thunder, it’s all slightly muffled and distorted as it travels through the thick atmosphere.”]
Sometimes we go into a topic with some prior knowledge on the subject. Other times, it’s a completely new idea to us. Those are often the most challenging and rewarding shows we work on.
Nick: Audio description still sticks with me. It was just something I had never heard of and it made me aware of this whole other side of the world that I never thought of. We used the Matrix in the show and so as part of my research for that episode I just listened to the entire audio described version of the Matrix.
[SFX: Clip from Audio Descriptions, Matrix description]
Nick: And it was unbelievably good. They’re not enjoyable for people with vision impairments. They’re enjoyable for anybody who just wants to listen and visually focus on something else, or, it’s just enjoyable for anybody.
[SFX: Matrix scene continues]
Jai: Spooky Sounds was probably my favorite episode in terms of sound design that I worked on. I mean the demon Dallas voice in the intro was a lot of fun to mess around with.
[SFX: Clip from Spooky Sounds, “You’re listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz, the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. I’m Dallas Taylor.”]
Jai: Basically what’s happening is we’re creating multiple versions of Dallas’ voice pitched lower and they’re kind of modulating in and out with each other so it’s like you get the normal Dallas voice, but then these multiple lower pitched versions of his voice [SFX: vocal effect] start sweeping in.
So that vocal effect was never in the original script, so when I first reviewed the episode and heard it, I burst out laughing. At first I was like, “I don’t if we should do this, it’s kind of weird”. But, it was just too much fun to pass up and I had too much of a reaction out of it. It’s awkward to hear your voice already, but to hear your voice pitched in a demonic way was just hilarious and it worked immediately. The line between sound design that sells and sound design that doesn’t can be razor thin, and in this case it worked perfectly.
Jai: One thing that has been great about working on the podcast so long is I think we’re all more willing to take risks. And, there’s things that we try now that I feel like we would not have the guts to do before. There’s… Oh! ASMR.
[SFX: Clip from ASMR, “To get everyone on the same page, we listened to some popular ASMR tracks all together… “This one’s close for me… it’s close. Okay Sam it sounds like you have something to say about this.” “I really don’t like it”... ]
Jai: That’s part of what I love about that episode is I feel like that episode is such a different vibe in some ways. I loved how kind of off the cuff that intro was.
[SFX: Clip from ASMR, previous clip can crossfade with this one under Jai] “Sam can describe what’s happening on screen right now?” “Well, she has these fluffy windscreens on each of the mics, and she is caressing them gently.” “Can you describe her facial expression?” “She’s really into it.” [laughs]
Each and every episode goes through a lot of revisions. Sometimes the reworks can be minor, and sometimes they can represent an entirely different way to tackle the subject. This is especially true when the episode is a potentially sensitive topic.
Misophonia was a challenging one for us. We debated how best to illustrate the struggle many people go through because of these intense, negative reactions to sounds. Ultimately we decided to design the episode with exaggerated examples of some common misophonia triggers.
[SFX: Clip from Misophonia,“What does it feel like? And how is it that two people’s brains can have such a drastically different response to the same sound? In order to figure this out we'll be using sound examples throughout this episode. This may cause discomfort for someone with triggers, but I think it’s important to attempt to recreate the sensation for those without misophonia.”]
Jai: Originally when we talked about this episode I was actually pretty concerned with the sounds moments that we chose because I wanted someone with Misophonia to hopefully be able to enjoy the episode without too many triggers.
But at the same time, we discussed it and we decided, maybe it’s more important in the grand scheme to go kind of the flip direction and help put someone in someone else’s shoes a little bit through the sound design in that.
Jai: Either direction could have worked but I think going with something that we’re trying to make people more empathetic was a good choice in the long run.
It seems like it was well received from some of the people we talked to that we were working with, so that made me feel a lot better because I was a little concerned about that episode.
Another goal we have is to provide moments of awe for our listeners. We want people to be amazed and inspired by the sounds around us. We’re always trying to create moments that give a sense of wonder.
[SFX: Clip - Play clip from 20,000 DBs Under the Sea with music playing underneath,“Songs have meaning… From even hearing a very small piece of a song you can kind of relate the whole meaning.”]
Colin: One moment that sticks out in my mind is when we’re talking about whale songs. Essentially we have John Hildebrand talking about how whales use their songs to communicate, and we have this music track going on under this explanation and all of a sudden we hear these whales coming in. And they’re basically in pitch or in harmony with the music track underneath.
[SFX: Clip from 20,000 DBs Under the Sea with music playing underneath, “A song is a very efficient way, if there is a standardized message you want to get across, it’s a very efficient way of doing that, because from tiny pieces of it you get the whole message.”]
Colin: The whole episode has a bit of a somber feel to it because we talk about some of the ways that there is noise pollution in the ocean and how that’s affecting some of these animals like whales. So it’s this really beautiful and almost haunting moment.
Choosing just a handful of our favorite moments over the past two years was really challenging. There are so many fascinating stories, inspiring guests, and rewarding challenges that went into creating this show. One thing we discussed when putting this episode together is why do we think Twenty Thousand Hertz is important? What makes the show more than just some sound nerds geeking out about technology? Each of us had a slightly different answer.
Jai: Sound is approached from such a technical mindset and I’ve grown to have an appreciation for that but also that wasn’t the driving force that got me interested in this stuff in the first place. I think a lot of people think that, “oh they just love working in Pro Tools, they just love their software and they just love their hardware, and that’s all they want to do all day is just push buttons and move faders. That’s more of a means to an end, and even if it’s not post-audio or something, it’s such a wide open field.
Colin: I’ve been into music my whole life. I was originally going to be a musician. Even when I was a musician, I didn’t think about sound as intimately as I do now. Being a sound designer, it really is amazing how much you can pick out in the world because you get so used to using your ears everyday and listening really intently. I think Twenty Thousand Hertz is a great avenue for getting other people to experience this without having to be a sound designer and it’s a really accessible way for people to experience sound in the way that we do.
Nick: At some point, audio reached me and it stuck, and that’s the path I went down and I became a sound designer and a mixer. And maybe somebody’s going to hear the Audio Descriptions show and it's going to change their path and it’s going to make sense for them and they’re gonna go down that road.
Sam: I feel like we’re answering the questions that people had in the back of their heads that they never had answered. But we’re like, “Oh, hey. We’re going to tell you how they did it!”
Nick: We want to make a show that’s engaging and educational, but it’s not forcing you into a certain opinion. We don’t want to preach at you. We don’t want to tell you how to think. You don’t have to take a massive stance on these issues. We just want to present part of the world.
Sam: We’re not just talking about music. We’re not just talking about film. We’re talking about literally every day sounds and things you interact with. And that is really special because a lot of people try to focus on the one thing that they love, but we’re trying to get everybody involved in this and not just one tiny group of sound.
Colin: Even if we can change the way a single person thinks about sound and how that not only affects themselves but also the world around them, in both positive and negative ways. I think that’s really, really amazing.
To me, Twenty Thousand Hertz is in many ways the world’s most obvious podcast. It’s a show about sound, that is told through a medium of sound. Twenty Thousand Hertz is important because sound is important. I think that over the next few decades, sound is going to come to the forefront of design and the way people interact with it. People will realize the ways sound helps us navigate our world, makes us feel certain ways, and how it can be an integral part of our experiences.
And if this show can help that process, we’ll have accomplished what we set out to do.
Twenty Thousand Hertz is produced out of the studios of Defacto Sound. Find out more, at Defacto Sound dot Com.
This episode was written and produced by Colin DeVarney… and me, Dallas Taylor with help from Sam Schneble. It was edited, sound designed and mixed by Colin DeVarney.
This episode featured the whole Defacto Sound team. Which is Sam Schneble, Jai Berger, Nick Spradlin, Colin DeVarney, and me. We all want to send a special thanks to you, our listeners, for sticking with us for 50 episodes. I never thought it would go past 10. But, you listened. So thank you.
The music in this episode is from our friends at Musicbed. Musicbed is a full-service music licensing company making better music accessible to everyone. To listen to the music we use, visit music.20k.org.
You can find us at 20 k dot org, or on twitter or facebook. Don’t ever hesitate to say hello.
And lastly, you have been so generous with your time. If you want to help us produce another 50 episodes, please tell someone about us. Word of mouth is so so important for keeping our show going. So tell your friends, your siblings, your online community, whoever. And if you’re financially able and believe that this show needs a place in the world for years to come, please consider setting up a recurring donation at 20.org/donate.
Thanks for listening.