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Driving Podcast Sound Design: ‘The Alarmist’ Makes Noise

Judicious use of music and sound beds adds an extra layer of comedy and commentary to history podcast The Alarmist.

Recording at Earios HQ, The Alarmist is hosted by Rebecca Delgado-Smith (right) with Chris Smith, live fact checker (center), seen here speaking with guest Erin Gibson.
Recording at Earios HQ, The Alarmist is hosted by Rebecca Delgado-Smith (right) with Chris Smith, live fact checker (center), seen here speaking with guest author/podcaster Erin Gibson (left).

New York, NY (October 15, 2020)—The premise of Earios podcast The Alarmist may be farcical—host Rebecca Delgado-Smith uses her “superpower” of catastrophizing to assign blame for infamous moments in history—but the show’s sound design isn’t all lighthearted.

While shifting weekly from topics like who’s to blame for prohibition to episodes on the NASA Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, producer Amanda Lund bends standard stock audio to her creative needs.

Amanda Lund
Producer Amanda Lund

“I have music that I pull from a royalty-free site, but I actually really love it,” Lund says. For the Challenger episode, she employs “very intense but almost neutral music, like drone beats,” while for other serious topics she plays the audio straight and digs up news clips if available. “Usually if there’s no news clips available, that means the tragedy happened like 100 years ago and it’s probably okay to be a little bit lighter in tone with it.”

Case in point: upbeat percussion and boozy horns usher listeners into the speakeasys of the 1920s for the episode on prohibition, while a stately church organ and Middle Eastern music set the tone for a discussion on who’s to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But each episode carries at least a bit of the team’s sense of humor.

“I knew I wanted to [make the] sound design a little bit tongue-in-cheek, because I feel there are a lot of really straightforward history podcasts and true crime podcasts that use this robust soundscape in a really sort of sincere way,” she explains. “With The Alarmist, we try to mimic that—but undercut it with some humor.”

Lund has spent most of her career on the talent side of the business, as an actor in TV shows like The New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote and created the critically acclaimed audio series The Complete Woman (Earwolf, Earios), where she also began to hone her editing chops. But while that series is a more tightly produced package, working on The Alarmist is a looser affair.

“You can manipulate so much in editing,” she says. “It’s amazing what you can do by taking out a split second of silence or adding a split second of silence. But I don’t do that too much with The Alarmist, just because Rebecca and Chris [Smith, live fact checker] are both improvisers and comedians.”

Conversations are presented more or less the way they occur live. Delgado-Smith prepares for each topic and commits to the arc of the episode, which makes Lund’s job easier.

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“I try not to rearrange because I feel like it’s a house of cards, and the minute you start moving stuff around, you make 100 times more work for yourself,” she says. “I really try to just take out full sections if I [have to edit]. I really don’t have to worry about manipulating the conversation that much.”

The Alarmist is currently recorded remotely, with Delgado-Smith and Lund working over video conference with guests like actress Cass Bugge (bottom).
The Alarmist is currently recorded remotely, with the hosts and Lund working over video conference with guests like actress Cass Bugge (bottom).

Recording remotely hasn’t taken the fun out of producing the comedy podcast. The setup is straightforward, with the show’s host and guests communicating over video conference. Lund runs a Sennheiser E 845-S dynamic cardioid mic into Avid Pro Tools via a Behringer U-Phoria UMC404 interface. Delgado-Smith and Smith use the same mics, with a Tascam DR-70D audio recorder. Guests record locally, typically to QuickTime, and then Lund assembles the episodes. So far, she says she has only had to remove minor background noises in iZotope RX.

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” she says. “You never really know what you’re going to get, and you can’t control it because you don’t know really how it’s going to sound until you get the file. It really is a kind of crapshoot.”

The Alarmisthttps://www.earios.net/the-alarmist

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