Notes from Audio Storytelling for Journalists Class Week 3

I am taking Audio storytelling for journalists: How to tell stories on podcasts, voice assistants, social audio, and beyond” from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin. These are my notes from the third week.

Create an audio toolkit.

Gonzo journalism~ a type of journalism that the writer is the main character and driver.

The easiest way to sound great is to be reading something that was written for the ear short, simple, direct sentences.

Tip number one, if you’re stumbling when you’re reading your script, you need to rewrite that section.

Three things that go into making you sound great behind the mic: First, the writing. Second, the state of your body. And third, where you are in space.

The state of your body: Be well hydrated. Hot water with lemon in will help the quality of your voice. Do some big stretches. Breathe in and out deeply. Yawn. Ooh, sigh. Basically, whatever your issue is, when you read a script, try to practice and warm up by doing the opposite. If you can stand up, talk with your hands. Use facial expressions. It all comes through in your voice, making your script come to life. Voice performance is a physical performance.

Two kind of mikes: omnidirectional mics and cardioid mics. Omnidirectional mics basically pick up sound from all directions and are small and rugged. You don’t have to be too precise about where they’re placed. Cardioid mics come in all kinds of sizes and shapes and they pick up sound in kind of a heart shaped pattern around the business end of the mic. Cardioid mics don’t hear very well from the back, but they hear really well in front.

cardiod mic: designed for you to be pretty close to it when you’re talking, the closer you are, the more base and deeper your sound will be.

Proximity Effect -phenomenon that leads to an increase in low frequency response as you move the mic closer to the source. The closer you get, the bigger the bass boost.

You actually don’t need a studio to sound good. A closet full of clothes, a blanket. Or better yet, a pillow fort is all you really need. Experiment with this.

You’re not performing for a crowd. You’re talking directly to one person.

To get good audio: Starts with a plan. Think like a movie director. What are your characters and scenes? How will they populate your story? Your listeners going to need to actually hear them? keep an ear out for scenes and characters. So be aware of distinguishing sounds that could be a character or piece of set design that speaks to the story. Record those sound so they can be used to scene setups, ask for quick tours of key locations, quick introductions to key people, or to be shown how things work and record that.

Good audio technique is critical. Keep your mic close to the action at all times. Your mic is like your movie director’s camera. It needs to be close up for a close up your ears with help from your brain can focus on things, but a microphone can. Be aware of noisy backgrounds, humming lights, air conditioners, traffic noises. Ideally, records somewhere quieter unless those sounds are really part of the sonic set design. Practice moving around with your recording equipment and be able to move without making sounds. Always wear headphones while you’re recording, you want to be able to hear what your microphone hears.

Record room tone. Record 30 to 60 seconds of each room you’re in and the background sounds around you without any other conversations or foreground noises. This will help you in editing. Audio producers fade a little of that background sound in as a studio narration transitions to field tape and sound bites, and fade some of it out when going back to studio. It keeps there from being these abrupt and jarring transitions. So, plan and pay attention to the technical aspects of recording and always be listening for situations that make for great or hot tape.

Three key questions: What is it about? What is it really about and what do I want people to take away from the scene?

You also want to make sure you don’t make too many verbal encouragements sounds because that can be distracting. An occasional human reaction is fine, but don’t be all like, Yeah, Uh-Huh

Take time to practice to learn what sounds really come through and how best to record the things you want.

Sit down and listening to your tape. If there’s tape that makes you laugh or cry or just have any emotional reaction, that’s tape to consider using. It’s your hot tape. Listen for emotion when you go through your tape. We can always write a narration to explain a fact or describe an action. But the emotional reaction is something you need to hear in a person’s own voice.

Tech tips

  • Keep your microphone close at all times.
  • Be aware of noisy backgrounds.
  • Record names and titles on tape.
  • Practice moving around with recording equipment
  • Always wear headphones

Record room tone Record 30-60 seconds of each room you are in and background sound without any other conversations or noises.

People will always listen in the beginning to a beautiful voice because it will catch their ear. But three seconds later, if the content isn’t relevant, it doesn’t matter. We’re not so much in the beautiful voice business, we’re in the story business; it’s the business of the struggle to be human through storytelling. The power is the story.

Answer the question why someone should listen to this in your first sentence. Start with what matters. Speak visually. If you were going to tell the story to a blind person, would you rewrite it?

Can you tell me a story or a joke? Three times three ways. So, I know you know the story, because if you know the story, you’re not going to be nervous going in front of the mic.

Understand the equipment, first of all, practice, practice, practice when you get comfortable in front of a mic. Never be afraid of a pause. In fact, write them into your copy, you know, to be able to take a powerful pause.

When there’s a microphone, just assume it is on and someone is, you know, recording it.

Remember to breathe. If you do any kind of meditation a couple of minutes before you get on, you’re is a good time to do some deep breathing. Clear your head. Think about what do you want to say and why it’s important and why it matters and also, why are you telling this story?

Read the story 20 times before you do it so that you know it and it becomes part of your DNA.

Let go having to be perfect.

You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching. Be confident and sometimes even just smiling. You know, before you go on air, just smile into that mic and it will lift your spirits and when you smile, something happens in your body and it just you feel better and it’ll it will lift you

When you’re working in audio, you have to grapple with how to deal with voices that are speaking a language that a lot of your audience doesn’t understand.

Voiceover – some one not the reporter reads the words that have been written that will be layered over the sound of the person speaking the foreign language. words to sort of almost in a monotone way, translate. there is something inherently distancing about a voiceover.

Reporter – explains it as a guide both to the story and to the language.

Interpreter in the field or what’s commonly known as a fixer, it’s to really incorporate that person into the storytelling so that they are actually translating but it has kind of organic feel of the play

Who’s translating these words and how are they being translated and what are you capturing? How is this translated?

If you’re going to get tape in a foreign language, you need to know what that person’s saying.

Scuppering – sink (a ship or its crew) deliberately…prevent from working or succeeding; thwart.

“A fair use podcast” – ie they believed their use of other people’s work to be allowable under copyright law.

Horologist – a person who makes clocks or watches

Adjudicated youth are uniquely positioned to share meaningful and actionable stories.

Three things about audio make it the news medium of the times:

  1. The storyteller is telling the story.
  2. One thought one sentence. Subject verb object. Back to basics. Simple. Cut out the clutter.
  3. Radio/ Audio tells you the same stories without the jargon and numbers.

Many cultures across the globe have oral storytelling as part of their tradition.

“Chaptering” where the interview is delving into different sections of the story, each chapter with its own mini story arc that add up to a larger story arc about the reporters journey toward understanding the issue they are covering.

Use a quote to set up an idea rather than the other way around as so often in print.

“News Stories”—no matter the medium, we want to engage our audience with more than just a dry recitation of facts. The most engaging structure is often a story with a beginning, middle, and end—even if the nature of journalistic writing means we often begin later in the narrative before backing up to get some context.

Prepare for an interview by thinking through the chronological events of someone’s life.

For example:

  1. Tell me about your early life, where did you grow up?
  2. When get to the meat of the story: How did you get into this career/lifestyle/place in your life?
  3. What obstacles did you face?
  4. How did you overcome them?
  5. What are your current reflections on your past?
  6. Where are you now?
  7. What would you tell your younger self?

This seems to fit within the frame of a three-act structure, ie beginning middle and end. Chronological questions are great but it sometimes feels like using a shotgun vs a sniper rifle.

Plan out interviews with the “beginning, middle, end” structure in mind. It is useful as the classic who-what-when-where-why-how.

Conduct a short pre-interview with a guest to get the biographical data, and identify a few tentacles to their story that might yield interesting stories.

Abandon written questions in an instant if the conversation takes a more interesting turn. Be brave enough to abandon your questions, however clever you may believe them to be. Listen actively to the speaker. Be present and engaged in the conversation.

Audio UX design hooked to conversation prediction, as well as natural language libraries?

Chatbots ~ or chatterbot is a software application used to conduct an on-line chat conversation via text or text-to-speech, in lieu of providing direct contact with a live human agent

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