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The Cinematic Sound Design of ‘Disgraceland’ and ’27 Club’

Berklee assistant professor of music production/engineering by day, rock n’ roll podcast producer by night, Matthew Beaudoin brings the audio might to ‘Disgraceland’ and ’27 Club’

 

Berklee assistant professor of music production/engineering by day, rock n’ roll podcast producer by night, Matthew Beaudoin brings the audio might to Disgraceland and 27 Club.
Berklee assistant professor of music production/engineering by day, rock n’ roll podcast producer by night, Matthew Beaudoin brings the audio might to Disgraceland and 27 Club.

New York, NY (June 18, 2020)—Matthew Beaudoin deals in high-stakes storytelling realism as the senior producer of hit podcast Disgraceland, a true-crime podcast about musicians behaving badly, and the new 27 Club, which recounts the final days of musical icons who died at age 27. As a result, when it comes to supplementing tales with audio, Beaudoin dials down the literal.

“With our sound design, we wanted it to always be figurative in nature,” says Beaudoin, an assistant professor of music production/engineering at Berklee College of Music and a producer at Double Elvis Productions, the publishing house behind the podcasts.

Disgraceland is Double Elvis Productions' flagship podcast.
Disgraceland is Double Elvis Productions’ flagship podcast.

“[We are] very much focused on, ‘How can we get music to support this narrative that we’re telling? How can we get the music to work in concert to support that narrative, and make the experience as immersive as possible?’”

To that end, Beaudoin and the production team at Double Elvis create sound effects to help draw listeners into the story, while being mindful to toe the line carefully without dipping into the realm of radio drama.

“For example,” he explains, “we’ll take a small portion of a drum beat and set it into a heavily repeated delay, so it creates this wash of sound that [conveys] the feeling we’re trying to get. Usually that’s all guided by the script and the subjectivity of the character we’re embedded with at that moment.”

Those characters include some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most famous and notorious names. The first season of 27 Club profiled the last days of Jimi Hendrix, and the forthcoming second season gives Jim Morrison the same treatment. Disgraceland tells tales—mostly true, occasionally tall—from the troublesome and/or troubled lives of icons like Jay-Z, Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and Whitney Houston.

After working together on five seasons of Disgraceland and the new 27 Club, the Double Elvis crew has developed an understanding of when to deploy those sound treatments. “They tend to happen in the more subjective moments, rather than the expositional moments,” he says. “When the story is straighter, the music tends to be straighter, and the sound design tends to be straighter.”

As Double Elvis expands quickly—it has debuted two other podcasts, Dear Young Rocker and Citizen Critic, so far in 2020—Beaudoin is also building ironclad workflows to control the potential for chaos from staff working in parallel on various aspects of the productions.

“Even though the company still has this DIY aesthetic that comes out of Jake [Brennan, co-founder of Double Elvis and podcast host] creating Disgraceland on his own, we’re trying to be pretty buttoned-up about our scheduling,” he says.

The team is currently using Kanbanize to wrangle project management, along with various sharing protocols, such as Google Docs for show scripts and Dropbox and Google Drive for other assets.

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“Every aspect of the production gets a card [or task], and those cards are assigned to different members of the team,” he explains. “We can see, at any moment, who’s working on what and when it’s due. That system has been really important, especially as we’re making multiple shows at a time, with different team members working on different things.”

Production on an episode of 27 Club, for example, runs three weeks, beginning with scripting. Once that’s done, they record Brennan’s narration on a Stellar Sound CM-6 tube-and-transformer condenser microphone through a Tascam interface to Pro Tools.

“We’re all using Pro Tools to do editing and recording,” he says, “[and] we do a fair amount of work with iZotope RX, especially in the COVID situation where we’re recording at home. Like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get some of this traffic out of the recording,’ or there’s kids running around, or that kind of thing.”

From there, a team member edits the narration for content while Brennan makes notes for the music and the sound design in that episode. When that document is done, the show’s composer gets a rough edit of the vocal, and then composes new music and sounds according to his direction while the audio mixer adds catalog music from a large library they’ve built over the years.

“There’s a variety of parallel processes going on,” he says. “It’s just a matter of going back and forth with mix reviews and getting it dialed in, which we’ve been able to cut down on pretty well. We don’t have to do a lot of revision at this point.”

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