How to Start a Binaural Audio Podcast

The podcast explosion has given rise to a new generation of audio-based storytellers — and they’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the medium. 3D sound (or “binaural audio”) podcasts will be the next revolution.

Pick the most random topic imaginable and you can probably find a chat-centric podcast about it. (Dice & Dachshunds, anyone?) But when Serial broke an iTunes record as the fastest pod to reach five million downloads in 2015, it proved that the fast growing podcast audience is hungry for more than just talk, talk, talk. Inspired by the breakout success of Serial, podcasters are getting more ambitious.

Podcasts have the power to transport us to different worlds, via the oldest form of storytelling known to humankind. But podcasters also have narrative-enhancing tools at their disposal that weren’t available back when Homer spun tales of brave Odysseus for a live audience in Ancient Greece. If you want to create a podcast that feels immersive in a whole new way, you may want to consider recording it in binaural 3D audio, which captures audio identically to the way our ears experience sound. A binaural podcast will give your listeners the sensation of being in the same exact place where you made the recording. It’s crazy more podcasters aren’t taking advantage of it. Here’s Josie Holtzman, a producer for NPR’s Jazz Night in America, on the limitless potential of binaural audio:

Imagine if you could hear a radio story about a coal mine and you could actually descend into the mine, hearing the 360 sounds as you turn your head. Or a 360 sonic experience of a war zone. I think it would be incredibly powerful.

It’s easy enough to start a podcast; the hard part is getting heard. Recording in binaural is a great way to separate your podcast from the pack. More importantly, it will likely inspire creative impulses that you didn’t even know you had. Here’s how to get yourself started.

Buy a binaural recording device

Until recently, binaural recording was prohibitively expensive. The standard equipment was a Neumann dummy head with two microphones in each ear. It goes for $7,999 on Amazon. But these days all you need to record in binaural is a pair of headphones designed to capture 3D audio. The Hooke Verse is the world’s first Bluetooth headphones with binaural mics incorporated into each earbud — and at $239, they are much more affordable than the Neumann.

 

With the Verse, you can record binaural audio on an iPhone, an Android phone, or a field recorder. You can also use the Hooke Verse on 3rd party apps by supplementing it with any adaptor that has a 3.5mm stereo input. (If you need how-to’s, click the links.) Your audience needs to wear headphones in order to get the full binaural experience, but that’s how lots of people are already listening to podcasts.

Go out into the world and press “record”

Last year, Holtzman co-produced a multimedia project called Frontiers of Change for which she traveled to Alaska to gather stories from people whose lives and livelihoods were being affected by climate change. “I want to create stories that place people in a scene, in a story in a landscape they will never experience first-hand,” Holtzman says.

One story that Holtzman recorded binaurally features an Inupiaq man walking through his rural Alaskan village, which will soon be submerged by water. Give it a listen — the way the snow sounds crunching underfoot makes you feel like you’re walking in his boots.

If you’re a podcaster with a journalistic bent, the benefits of recording binaurally are clear to hear. And it’s not like you have to travel to Alaska to find sounds that lend themselves to powerfully immersive stories. Here’s what Holtzman had to say when asked how 3D audio will affect the way she records and produces stories in the future:

I would seek out sonically dynamic and interesting environments, “soundscapes” that enrich and inform the story, rather than seeking out quiet venues for clean recording. I would think more about sonic perspective as a narrative device. Just like the camera, what story are you telling based on the perspective of the microphone? I would also reconsider pacing of storytelling – let the soundscapes breathe and evolve rather than quick cuts and dominant interview tape.

Binaural audio can also enhance fictional stories. Take The Owl Field, which produces 3D audio dramas in various genres (horror, fantasy, action & adventure…) that place you directly at the center of the story.

Then there’s the award-winning binaural book trailer for A Royal Vow of Convenience, which accomplishes the same feat with steamy results.

If you need a cold shower, hold on a sec – we’re just about to wrap this up.

Edit, Upload and Submit to iTunes

Once you’ve made your recordings, upload them to a digital audio workstation (DAW). There are plenty of good options to choose from, including free open source software like Audacity and professional-level DAW’s like Pro Tools. (And yes, they are all compatible with the Verse.) Then, you’ll need to find a place to get your podcast hosted. Soundcloud has the most name recognition, but again, plenty of options to choose from there. And once that’s done, you can submit your podcast to iTunes and other podcast directories, where it will be one of the first binaural podcasts — the first of many more to come.