Spatial Dynamics in Podcasting

Sounds take place in space. Not the vacuum of space, of course, but mixing audio is essentially creating a coherent architecture of air molecules.  When mixing your podcast, it is possible to enrich the storytelling with a sense of place, and this can be done through carefully crafting the spatial dynamics of your mix – both with spoken word and the music. With attention paid to detail, it is possible to make the audio environment match the environment of the story being told and when these match, it becomes a more immersive experience for the listener.

Panning – Left and Right

The simplest tool to use for spatial dynamics is panning. Panning is the left to right placement of the audio track in the stereo field. When panning your audio, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone hears in the same way (for instance I am partially deaf in one ear). Still, it can be a powerful tool to differentiate the environments that the audio is taking place in. If you are using a cast reading, sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between similar voices. By panning one voice to the left and another to the right, it can help separate the voices in space and improve legibility. When panning dialog use a light touch, no more than 5 to 10%. This will give you space between the voices, without pushing so far in one direction that people have a difficult time telling where the characters are in space. Also avoid too much panning in the music, as it can become distracting to the listener.

Up and Down – The 3rd Dimension

While there is no tool for panning up and down it is possible to create the illusion of these directions with high and low frequencies. This can be trickier than panning, but done correctly it can give your mix a three dimensional, real life feel. Low frequencies tend to travel along the ground, so bass will occupy the “down” direction. Think of how a bass drop can give the impression of downward, or falling motion. The same is true in the opposite, high frequencies will feel like they occupy the “up” direction. Through careful balancing of your frequency range you can give a sense of motion throughout these directions. 

Subject Cues and Direction

Another way of creating a sense of vertical space is with subject cues. For instance, if you use a sound effect of a plane it will give the listener the sense that something is taking place above them. A splash in a puddle will give the sense of something taking place below the listener. When working with your sound effects library, take some time thinking about where in space these sounds take place, and use them accordingly with the sense of direction that you would like the listener to experience.

Reverb and Distance

Another aspect of spatial dynamics is distance. The feeling of distance can be achieved using reverb. The more reverb, the further away a sound will feel. But it is worth keeping in mind the environment that the dialog or music is taking place in. If the dialog takes place in a small environment, such as a spaceship, then the reverb time would be minimal, if used at all. But if the scene takes place in a large room, then reverb times would naturally be longer. For the sake of audibility, reverb should be used with a light touch. It is also worth keeping in mind that air scatters high frequencies, so the further away the subject is, the less high frequencies will be present. Many reverbs will add high end to your track, so use your equalizer to adjust the high frequencies until it feels right based on the desired sense of space.

Movement and Timing

Horizontal and vertical movement can enhance your podcast by creating a sense of place, but it is important not to go overboard as movement can alter the listeners sense of timing. The addition of music to spoken word will make the reading feel faster because it is filling in the space between words. For this reason, if you plan on adding music, especially with movement, you will have to slow down on the spoken performance. Bass frequencies will alter the feeling of time more so than high frequencies. 

When out in the real world take a deep listen to how different places sound and alter your perception of the environment. The more you listen and identify what’s going on, the more you will be able to bring these things into your ability to mix and create environments of your own. 


Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.