Sound Design in Podcasting and Thinking Outside the Box with Nikolas Harter


Episode Summary

Join us on the final episode of the first season, where we sit down with Nikolas Harter, the host for the Out of Trouble Podcast. We discuss sound design and ways you can approach adding sound effects to your show, how to handle awkward moments and moments of dead air while recording an interview. Also, Nik provides us with a different perspective on how you can approach podcasting. Enjoy!


Episode Transcript

 [Excerpt] Nikolas: When I first started interviewing, I was so fearful of having those moments of dead air and those moments of like, not knowing what to say, that I would be really memorizing all my questions and making sure I had a lot of questions. And that was kind of like how I dealt with that. It was like, I always had something to say, because I always had another question to ask, you know.

[00:00:41] Nemanja: Welcome to the final episode of the first season of the Nootka Sound Podcast. I’m your host Nemanja Koljaja, a professional sound engineer,  audio editor and podcast producer, and a CEO and founder of Nootka Sound, a professional podcast production facility. Today we’re talking to Nikolas Harter, the host for the Out of Trouble podcast, which is a pattern interrupting podcast best enjoyed at night, or when anxiety typically descends.

Well, Nick, thank you so much for being here, welcome to the show.

[00:01:13] Nikolas: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:14] Nemanja: Yeah. Can you tell me more about Out of Trouble and what is it about?

[00:01:19] Nikolas: Yeah, so, Out of Trouble, I kind of just record real moments from my life and edit them together in interesting ways. So I’ve done like hundreds of sit down formal interviews and I’ve done also, like, I couldn’t even count how many, like street interviews and stuff.

[00:01:35] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:01:35] Nikolas: But this project is actually really more just me recording conversations with like friends and loved ones as  well as more like formal interviews and people I meet on the street and kind of like mixing them together and short episodes connected by a theme. So like I did one that was called… this one’s not released yet, but I’m doing one called microphones.

And it’s about like my experience giving people like, my field recorder and headset, and having them like, hear their own voice for the first time, and just like my thoughts on the power of a microphone in general and how microphones can kind of like draw things out of people and help people be vulnerable and stuff.

So it’s clips of my life stitched together in interesting ways. Short episodes…

[00:02:15] Nemanja: Yeah, that sounds really interesting.

[00:02:16] Nikolas: Yeah. Thanks.

[00:02:17] Nemanja: Yeah. And you’re the producer for the shows and you mentioned you do a lot of sound design. So do you have a background in sound engineering or in something similar?

[00:02:27] Nikolas: Okay. Well, you know, Nemanja, I was actually just wondering as you were introducing yourself, what exactly qualifies one as a professional? You know, because I think that for me, what I feel like I’m lacking to call myself really a professional sound engineer, for example, is I’ve never worked for a company or I’ve never worked for someone as a sound engineer. I’ve done freelance work. But I’ve mostly done like my own stuff. And like, I was the manager at a city college, like online radio station for like a year. So I did some, I did all sorts of different things for that, including sound engineering.

[00:03:02] Nemanja: Yeah

[00:03:02] Nikolas: But I’ve been doing it for a few years and I’m largely, self-taught took some classes at my local city college.

[00:03:09] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:03:09] Nikolas: And I think I’m pretty good at it. I don’t know a lot of the technical stuff, especially stuff with like, I don’t know, mastering, leveling, fixing sounds like, I don’t know. I kind of know enough to do what I need to do, but yeah, I’ve been doing it for a few years.

[00:03:24] Nemanja: Yeah, that’s cool. I don’t know what to say. Like, I’ve been doing this for a decade now and I’ve basically started as a sound engineer. I used to be a live sound engineer. I used to work on festivals and I used to work in a recording studio. So I kind of took all of that technical knowledge of sound engineering and then mixed it with my curiosity for podcasting and the conversations,  and then I kind of fell into this idea of being specifically like a podcast producer. And it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been doing this specifically, and I’ve got to say, I love it, man.

[00:03:59] Nikolas: You prefer doing the podcast to the live shows?

[00:04:01] Nemanja: Yeah, totally. Okay. How do you approach adding sound effects into a podcast episode?

Do you have a script or do you improvise or how do you approach it.

[00:04:12] Nikolas: Well, I record out in the field a lot, so I try and gather interesting sounds when I can, you know, I use sound effects to like enunciate things. Like instead of having a moment of silence before someone says something, maybe I’ll have a sound effect there. So I use it to frame people’s words and then I use it to add color to stories that I make a lot of the time. So I remember one of my earlier stories, my first personal podcast project, the 38.

[00:04:41] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:04:42] Nikolas: I did this story where I spent a lot of time with my local bike shop owner. And I got to know him and his shop and debated, ended up, he was like kind of old and crotchety and very opinionated. So I like to debated civil war history with him and stuff, and a couple of other things and like brought him graphs and whatnot to like prove my points. And he was very nice and he humored me the whole time. But anyway, so he had this bike shop and we’re sitting in the back of his bike shop and the whole time we’re talking, he’s like tinkering with his bike and spinning the wheel and, you know, doing bike shop stuff.

So I recorded a lot of those sounds. And then sometimes the sounds, just show up naturally, and the tape, like while I’m talking to me spinning the tire. So I noticed how, like, he’s talking to me and he’s spinning this tire and you can hear it like clicking as he’s spinning it as click, click, click, click, click, and he stops.

And the tire stops. And then he starts talking again, the tires spinning, you know, so maybe I’ll add a little bit extra of the tire spinning to keep up that pattern, if that makes sense. So I kind of like use sounds to kind of make it seem more real. And like I remember after making that people would give me a feedback and they wouldn’t exactly know why, but they’d be like, that was really good.

I really felt like I was in the shop with you too. And that’s why it’s cause I have like I’m putting in the sounds like some of them are there naturally and others I put in, so I try and use sound effects that way a lot of the time.

[00:06:01] Nemanja: And what kind of equipment are you using to do your field recordings?

[00:06:06] Nikolas: I have a lot of Zoom and Audio Technica equipment.

[00:06:09] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:06:10] Nikolas: And I think Zoom is kind of king of field recorder. So I got a couple of those. I’ve got a shotgun mic that I love to go out and record with on the street. Cause it kinda like gives you more control over what sound you’re hearing. So it’s kind of fun. I have a couple, uh, like Omni directional mics I use sometimes for interviews.

Those are cool.

[00:06:28] Nemanja: How do you deal with the wind?

[00:06:31] Nikolas: Just windscreen, man. It’s really windy in my city, San Francisco, but the windscreen is pretty effective most of the time.. And when it’s not, I apologize.

[00:06:41] Nemanja: And are you using some kind of noise reduction plugins for the wind or something like that?

[00:06:46] Nikolas: Well, yeah, so there’s all kinds of plugins you can use.

I actually have. So what I’ve been getting into recently is Izotope.

[00:06:54] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:06:55] Nikolas: They make really great plugins.

[00:06:56] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:06:57] Nikolas: So I’ve been using their like RX plugins to kind of fix all sorts of things in my audio.

[00:07:02] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:07:02] Nikolas: Like clicks and unwanted background noise and all that stuff. And this is kind of technical, but I was just using them as like a plugin in my DAW.

And then running them that way. And I didn’t realize that I could fix individual clips by sending them like out of my project for a sec into a separate  Izotope like software app.

[00:07:23] Nemanja: Yeah

[00:07:24] Nikolas: I fixed the clip there and then I send it back. I didn’t even know I could do that until like a month ago. So I was just like, … like hitting myself, like, Oh my God, this is so useful.

Yeah. So that was a big breakthrough.

[00:07:34] Nemanja: Yeah, I know we in the industry called the Izotope RX series. We call it the Photoshop of sound engineering, because you can basically do anything and fix anything with it. I definitely recommend if anyone is having trouble with noise. You should definitely look into Izotope RX seven is the latest one, I think.

And yeah, it works wonders.

[00:07:57] Nikolas: Yeah. And using that even feels like Photoshop a little bit in a weird way.

[00:08:01] Nemanja: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really easy to use and intuitive and simple. Okay. And what DAW do you use?

[00:08:08] Nikolas: I use Pro tools most of the time, but I also highly, highly recommend Hindenburg. It’s made only for podcasts and radio, especially if you’re like not super experienced with DAWs, it’s super intuitive and easy to use.

And it’s made for podcasts and radio, which like no other DAWs are really. So Hindenburgs great. I started with Audacity, man. I mean, it’s like gigantic, highly edited shows. You know, like 45 minutes to an hour shows with like, 15 different interviews, all spliced together and stuff on Audacity. So like my Audacity is a good free program as well.

It’s just not like.. I would have saved so much time if I had upgraded it a little earlier.


[00:08:51] Nemanja: Yeah, I wanted to ask you the most of your sound effects are actually recorded, but to do have like a resource for finding good quality sound effects, like royalty-free sound effects and stuff like that?

[00:09:02] Nikolas: So there’s, which I’ve been using since I started like a few years, I found that pretty early on from, just from Googling.

And there’s probably a couple other sites that are similar, but freesound the best one. I know. You know, since the crisis started, I’ve been getting connected with different, like online podcasting communities and this discord group that I’m in, this guy shared this free catalog of sound effects from this.

I think it’s a gaming company, but they’re like, 30 gigabytes each and they’ve been doing it for the last few years. They just release all of their sound effects, and that, which I’m happy to like send you a link to cause just give it out for free. That has been like gigantically helpful. And I wish more companies would do that, you know, because it’s really just, I feel like they just do it in the spirit of creativity and stuff.

They just want people to make cool things, you know, and their sounds are really good.

[00:09:53] Nemanja: Yeah, send me a link and I’ll link it in the show notes so everybody can access it.

[00:09:58] Nikolas: yeah. It’s a huge resource for sure.

[00:10:00] Nemanja: Cool.

[00:10:01] Nikolas: I don’t think that most independent podcasters would get all that much use out of them. I don’t hear a lot of people using sound effects except for like, kind of like soundboard stuff, but yeah, definitely link it.

Cause for people who, can use it, like I sent it to someone who was making, it was like a fictional fantasy world podcast. And she was using a lot of like footsteps and like armor clinking and stuff. And I sent her that cause I was like, you are really going to be able to use this.

[00:10:31] Nemanja: I think sound effects really add value to the show.

You can just create this 3D world with just a simple sound effect of, you know, whatever footsteps or whatever.

[00:10:42] Nikolas: Yeah, totally. Which is definitely what I try and do with my sound effects. I think the reason that most independent podcasters don’t really have a use for them is because when you’re having like a talk show or an interview show, and there’s no narrator, there’s no like scene setting or like, like when I’m at the bike shop, I’m like, Well, I’m at my local bike shop, the owner, Mike he’s like tinkering with this tire, trying to fix the ball bearing or whatever.

And then you hear the sound or whatever, you know, I play a little bit of those sounds, but there’s not really an opportunity to do that with like talk shows and interview shows and stuff. I mean sometimes, but like not as much.

[00:11:18] Nemanja: Okay. And if somebody starting a podcast, how should they approach creating intro and outro music?

Do you have any advice for them?

[00:11:27] Nikolas: I think that there’s a lot of people out there who you can pay, not so much. There’s a lot of royalty free music out there. I think classical music is great in like anything. And then there’s a lot of royalty free classical music out there. I think that people are very intimidated by editing.

But I think that if you want to try your hand and doing like sound design editing at all, I don’t think it’s is that hard to throw together some songs that you like and make your own intro. I only say that, because that’s what I did. So like maybe what is easier for me is not so easy for other people, but I think that people are kind of intimidated by it, but I would encourage folks to give it a shot.

[00:12:09] Nemanja: I think it gives you a different perspective on it. Like when you start doing something by yourself and then you actually create it from the grounds up and it totally gives you a different perspective on the whole show and the whole process of creating the show.

[00:12:24] Nikolas: Yeah. Well, I’ll be honest, Nemanja, like where I even came to podcasting from, I feel like gave me a very different perspective on like what podcasting is and like what podcasts can be. Cause like I grew up listening to NPR and, you know, shows like This American life, like storytelling shows, news shows, car talk. You know, stuff like that. And so when I first started getting into podcasting, not making them, just listening to them, you know, I discovered like love and radio, which is this beautiful non narrated storytelling show.

I don’t think it’s, it’s Radiotopia, not NPR, but I also discovered like the more typical kind of independent podcast shows, like a show where they talk about space stuff and it’s just two guys and they talk about space stuff. And like, I was really into space stuff. So I really liked that. But when I started a podcast, I was like, The way that it came out of me was more of like, like I remember I was making my first story and I showed my girlfriend at the time, the tape that I’d cut together.

And I didn’t narrate at all in this episode that I showed was just like these pieces of tape spliced together in a way that I thought was meaningful. I was trying to be like love and radio, which is not narrated. And the first thing that she said, and this was like such a huge early on, like aha moment for me, it was like, where’s the narrator, like what’s going on?

Where’s the narrator, you know? And I was like, Oh yeah, you know, that probably would make this a lot easier. So when I started podcasting, my conception of what a podcast was, was something that was like storytelling, narrated, blending, different interviews together, trying to find answers to questions, you know?

And I didn’t realize I started venturing out into the podcast world and meeting other podcasters. That, that was actually, and still is like quite rare for an independent podcast I think to kind of be like doing a lot of interviews and blending them or not even that just like narrating at all. You know?

So honestly I wish that more people would try that more independent podcasters would try it, narrating and telling stories. And like, when I read podcasts, how to guides and I’ve read a lot. They’re all very formulaic and they all kind of assume that you have this same type of show, which is like, you know, some folks sitting around talking about something that they know a lot about, or like an interview format, sort of bringing on guests every week, according to a theme.

And there’s a whole world out there. There’s like a whole world of possibilities and shows and stuff.


[00:14:57] Nemanja: Yeah, that’s very interesting. I haven’t thought about it in such a way to be honest.

[00:15:01] Nikolas: Yeah.

[00:15:02] Nemanja: Can you tell me, what do you think are the three most important skills a host should have.

[00:15:08] Nikolas: The ability to listen, the ability to call people out when you need to.

Cause I think that in a polite way, having moments where you disagree on tape are often some of the best. And I always like thank people when I’m done. And I didn’t use to do that when I first started out until I gave my first interview and I realized how like personal it can be, you know, and, and how you’re kind of sharing a piece of yourself.

And I think it’s really important to be grateful and stuff. There’s probably other stuff, but that’s just what comes to the top of my head.

[00:15:37] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:15:38] Nikolas: Actually, I remember what made me think of that. And there was a couple of times when I was listening back to earlier interviews, I did where I noticed that someone would tell me something like, hella deep or hella personal.

And I would just be like, Oh, okay, cool. Onto the next question. And like, I wasn’t trying to, but I would just be like, I had kind of thinking about where the conversation was going and I was like, wow, you just moved on with the conversation without even like, acknowledging that they just told you something like really deep or personal, you know?

So that I think was a lesson for me. Or it’s like, when someone tells you something like that, you need to like, like, if someone tells you that someone they knew died or something say, sorry, even if you don’t, you’re not apologizing, but like just acknowledge that, like that’s sad, you know?

[00:16:19] Nemanja: Yeah. Well, I think that’s kind of the effect a podcast can have, like, things can become a little bit awkward.

That’s the nature of the conversation. I think, that’s what makes me want to listen to podcasts because it’s not something that, you know, it’s just Normal human conversation. And it can be weird. It can be awkward, but as well, it can be very entertaining. And so to me, that’s normal because that’s the deal with podcasts.

You actually are conversing with people who you haven’t met in real life most of the time, so

[00:16:52] Nikolas: Yeah. And I think podcasting and doing interviews helped me develop a much more focused, like conversational strategy. And it’s totally infected all aspects of my life now, where, when I first started interviewing, I was so fearful of having those moments of dead air and those moments of like, not knowing what to say, that I would be really memorizing all my questions.

And making sure I had a lot of questions and that was kind of like how I dealt with that. It was like, I always had something to say, cause I always had another question to ask, you know, and it’s gotten easier for me. I mean, every interview still makes me kind of nervous, but like, I don’t memorize as many questions because I’ve found that it sometimes prevents me from having a more natural conversation. But I do feel like now in all conversations, when I am not sure what to say or my like default strategy is just to ask questions and ask questions about things that I genuinely want to know the answer to. I mean, it’s easier said than done and it takes practice, but I think that’s one of the biggest positive impacts that interviewing has had on my life is that like, I just like thought more about how I was having conversation and how to like, not have those moments of dead air, you know, or just like oh, duh, twiddling my thumbs.


[00:18:12] Nemanja: That’s really interesting, man.

[00:18:14] Nikolas: Yeah.

[00:18:15] Nemanja: Okay. Going back to the technical stuff, do you have any tips on promoting the show and increasing your audience?

[00:18:23] Nikolas: Yeah, I’m laughing because this is something that with this project I’m putting so much more effort into that did with previous projects where previous projects, it was like, I just love making this stuff, people are gonna appreciate it if it’s really, really good. And that’s sort of true, like with the 38, I would get like 200 to 400 streams an episode or something, which is like, more than a lot of independent podcasters and not a lot, you know, and I did hardly any marketing with that. Right. And I certainly would like to get a lot more streams with this project.

And that was part of why I joined this podcast network. Which is one marketing tip because podcast networks, while there’s positives and negatives, depending on the network, a big point of joining the network is to get yourself out there more and find your audience. I’ve been trying a variety of different tactics.

So coming on other shows is one of the biggest pieces of advice that I’ve heard. And I think something that can be pretty effective. I’ve been told both from articles online and people who have tried it themselves, that purchasing social media ads is not that effective. And people recommend quote, guerrilla marketing.

So I’ve been embracing that and picking up from one of my buddies on my podcast network, I’m working with, he like very tastefully spams people on Reddit. Like finds people who are into a show that’s related to his, like he found, I can’t remember it was a TV show. It was kind of like his podcast and they were between seasons and he would message people and be like, Hey, sucks that this show isn’t here, but this shows kind of like it, check it out, you know?

And like a measure of whether or not your spam is like spam and annoying or whether it’s like tasteful is like, he would get a lot of people who would respond to them like, Oh, Hey, thanks. This was cool. You know? Yeah. So I’ve tried that a little bit. I got almost banned from the /r podcast subreddit, like pretty quickly when I started trying to do that.

So I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I would recommend like thinking outside of the box and another thing that I’ve been trying to do, I don’t really know how effective this is either. But I made a bunch of dating app profiles. Right. And I put my like podcasts or my website, like pretty close to the top.

[00:20:42] Nemanja: Yeah

[00:20:43] Nikolas: And you know, I just like max out my likes. Yeah. They don’t message anyone, but people message me. And the whole point is just that, like, my profile is seen. Is that actually going to equal very many people downloading my podcast. I don’t know, but I am going to message back anyone who hits me up and like try and form connections, not necessarily to like hook up or get laid, I’m not super interested in that, but thinking outside the box.

[00:21:05] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:21:07] Nikolas: And I think. Word of mouth is probably still the best one. And I think what’s harder about this project is like, I feel like all my friends and my people who I’m connected with on social media, on my personal social media accounts, they’re kind of used to my whole, like, I’m starting a podcast spiel, you know, like I’ve been doing it for years too long.

So they’re kind of seen this one before, you know, so it’s a little bit harder for me to gain traction in that realm. I feel like.

[00:21:31] Nemanja: Yeah.

[00:21:32] Nikolas: Whereas with my first project, the 38, I feel like that’s where I got a lot of my audience from. But I would say that if you have not tapped into that yet, do it because people who are in your life, like they want to hear what you’re doing.

And I got a lot of awesome feedback from people that I knew.

[00:21:47] Nemanja: Cool. Do you use social media? Like you said, you had personal accounts,  do you have an account for the podcast?

[00:21:54] Nikolas: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I have an Instagram and a Twitter account and I am trying to build my following there. I actually just hit over a hundred on Instagram the other day, which I was very excited about.

And I seem to have hit, it’s not that many, but it took me like a month or two to, to get from like zero to a hundred. So I was still like proud of myself and I’m also getting people who just like, and I don’t know where they come from now a little bit, which is cool, but. I think the thing with social media is I’m highly, highly skeptical that anyone who finds me on social media is actually then clicking on my podcast.

And I’m saying that partly is like general feeling guess. And also partly from like seeing how many followers I have on Instagram and Twitter, and then looking at my download numbers and being like, Hmm. You know, I don’t know how many people actually are going from social media to actually listening, but I still think it’s important, like to have a social media presence.

And it’s easy. Like if people see that I have some number of hundreds, hopefully at some point thousands of followers on Instagram,  that gives a lot of legitimacy to my show. So I definitely want that.


[00:23:04] Nemanja: Yeah. That’s so true. What would you recommend to someone who’s just starting out? Who’s looking to launch their first show.

[00:23:11] Nikolas: Okay. So when you look up like podcast equipment setups online, There’s all these tips for getting all of this equipment. You know, like you need a mixing board and you need a microphone for each person and everyone needs a headset and you don’t need any of that crap. All that you need to start a podcast is one field recorder.

And if you have more than one person who’s talking, do radio journalists have done from the beginning of time, just hold the microphone yourself under the mouth of the person who’s talking. And I also would say that podcasts are not something that just happen at home or in a studio, take that field recorder out into the world because they can happen anywhere.

That’d be my 2 cents on it.

[00:23:56] Nemanja: Awesome. Do you have any last words that you’d like to share?

[00:24:00] Nikolas: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think like, and you’re probably picking up on it, but I think that, you know, my whole like mission in general with what I’m doing with podcasting with this project, I mean the Out of  Trouble project’s also kind of like about storytelling and self-discovery, and I have my own like personal goals with it, but it’s also like showing by example that podcasts don’t just have to be talk shows and straight interview shows like they can be anything, you know, and also like there’s so much potential and recording moments, real life moments, and sharing those with folks and this something way more interesting about a conversation that you had with your mom over dinner than if you were like, mom, let’s sit down and talk about SEO. I’m going to ask you 10 questions, you know, so yeah.

I feel like I really want folks to rethink what they can do with their like startup independent podcasts.

[00:24:54] Nemanja: Yeah, that’s some really interesting advice there. And where can our listeners find you and check out your show?

[00:25:01] Nikolas: So it’s called Out of Trouble, spelled the regular way. You can find it wherever you get podcasts, and you can find it on my website, which is

Nick, N I K H A R T E R.

All right, Nick. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been an interesting conversation.

Yeah, I hope it was a little different.

[00:25:24] Nemanja: That’s it!

First of all, I want to thank all of you for listening and sticking with us throughout this season. Make sure you share this podcast with your friends, subscribe and leave a review if you liked our content. If you have any questions for us or suggestions about a topic we can cover related to the podcasting industry leave a comment below, or send us an email at If you’re a podcast producer, show host or a sound editor, and would like to be on the second season of our show, send us an email, we would love to have you here. Also make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the handle @TheNootkaPod So you’re notified when our second season drops. We have some big stuff in store for you guys, and very soon we’ll be launching our very own YouTube channel with more podcasting content. So stay tuned for that as well until next time, stay safe, stay awesome. And good luck. Peace out.


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