Stitcher Studios in Los Angeles, where the smash Earwolf podcast Office Ladies began recording late in 2019, was a perfect fit for co-hosts Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. The duo was able to track live while sitting across from their in-studio guests, many of whom starred alongside them in the iconic mockumentary sitcom, The Office.
All that changed, though, when COVID-19 forced them to leave the ease and comfort of their professional podcasting “office” to shelter at home. Now, the audio production team spends its time coaching guests who aren’t used to dealing with audio and then fixing sound anomalies in editing.
“If you’re not in a beautifully soundproofed studio with all this very expensive equipment, you’re going to have to do a lot of back-end editing and engineering work on the audio,” says Codi Fischer, managing producer at Earwolf (no relation to Jenna). “It’s not that easy just to plug in a mic and record a great-sounding podcast.”
With guests joining on video conferencing platforms like Zoom—a fitting environment these days for a show that turned the mundanities of office life into comedic gold—the producers are no longer dealing with an even playing field for audio gear or sound environments. The co-hosts both use Blue Yeti USB microphones, but that’s where the uniformity ends.
“I try to send them as simple instructions as possible,” she says. “Most people have Macs, so QuickTime is available [for recording] and it’s the easiest for people to understand. We ask first that everyone has headphones. If you’re not plugged in with your headphones to receive the audio from Zoom into your headphones, there’s going to be sound bleed in recording yourself.”
Fischer is willing to go to great lengths to make sure her guests are well prepared, though. Since many of them live in the L.A. area, Fischer has even purchased $8 headphones from a local CVS and dropped them off at guests’ homes before recording. She’s found it can save time in the long run and rescue the producers and engineers from the fire drill and “mini panic attacks” when a guest doesn’t have headphones.
“You want to stay on a production schedule,” she says. “Even though people are in their homes, a lot of them have kids and are still really busy, so you have very small windows in not the best circumstances. You can problem solve ahead of time by just saying, ‘Hey, do you have headphones? If you don’t, I’ll bring you some.’”
Most Earwolf podcasts fall into the improv-comedy genre, like hits Comedy Bang! Bang! and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. As their first “recap” show, the Office Ladies team has had to make adjustments to the show’s structure along the way, such as accommodating fan questions and call outs. With such a straightforward audio production, many of the challenges in producing the show surface during the editing phase, which takes about a week. There’s little sound design other than the opening theme song—written and recorded by The Office cast member Creed Bratton—so banter and dialogue are the big targets. Fischer and audio engineer Sam Kieffer often delete sections that don’t go anywhere.
“We’re bringing in cast members or crew members that haven’t seen each other for a long time,” she says. “A lot of times the interviews start with catching up and personal chitchat, which we cut out. We just want to get to the core of what people are interested in.
“If you listen to the ‘Casino Night’ episode with John Krasinski,” she adds, “I think we left the interview pretty much as is, except for maybe having to stop to answer a doorbell or something like that. Those are the things you have to work around when everyone’s recording at home.”