Phoenix, Arizona (March 25, 2021)—Emmy-award winning sound designer and FX editor Angelo Palazzo has worked on blockbusters such as Disney’s Frozen, Stranger Things and Bridgerton, but he hit the curveball of a lifetime last year when COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill. Palazzo was working with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez on another project when the pandemic halted production one Friday afternoon in early 2020; by the following Monday, he was on board with Our Thing with Sammy the Bull, a Mafia podcast that puts his cinematic skills to use in a new format.
“I’m steeped in feature films and the TV world,” says Palazzo, “[and] it’s a real fine line when you’re putting sound to narration. The music is what is emotionally leading you through the story, but the sound design and sound effects root you in the reality of it. I didn’t wanna go too deep, because if you go too deep, then it can get corny.”
Instead of relying on gimmicky, on-the-nose audio cues that closely follow the action of a story—for example, the sound of a door creaking on its hinges when the protagonist walks into a dark room—Palazzo strives to put listeners in a scene without them even noticing.
“If it’s too literal, it can backfire, so when there was a major plot point, I wanted to kinda ease you into it and set you up for the big moment,” he says. “Then, slowly fade that reality out and bring you back in with just the narration with the music. If you’re nuanced about it, before they know it, you’re out of it and there was no distraction.”
The protagonist of Our Thing with Sammy the Bull is Salvatore Gravano, the notorious mobster whose hit list runs 19 murders deep and who served as underboss of the Gambino crime family under John Gotti.
Palazzo works with Richard Miller, the general manager of the Sammy the Bull organization, to produce each episode of Our Thing with Sammy the Bull. Miller, whose background is in seminar production, records the narration with Gravano on a Shure SM93 lavaliere microphone (Gravano’s preference over typical podcasting models) into a Zoom H6 recorder. Miller says they’ve since moved on to the Shure MX150 lavaliere, which doesn’t pick up as much ambient sound.
After a few rounds of editing in Adobe Audition, the narration tracks and archival sound clips go to Palazzo for placement and mixing with the score, which he composes and records himself using Native Instruments and vintage synths.
“Most everything starts with a piano idea, and as I get a certain progression or vibe, piano and strings are where I usually start,” says Palazzo. “There’s these moments where there’s a lot of flutes riffing in the background that has a real ’70s vibe to it that I liked. Also, in the beginning, I went with this beat bassline thing with a Fender Rhodes, just to set the city vibe.”
Elements of Palazzo’s original score pop up in various moments throughout the podcast, including a piece he wrote for the finale that is now the signature opening and closing music for each episode of the podcast.
“They wanted a big orchestral thing—a big, sort of swelling finale,” he says. “If someone gives me a reference, I’ll check out the reference and I’ll listen, and as soon as I get into the vibe of it, I’m almost immediately off onto my own tangent. And then it becomes its own thing, which is what happened with that.”