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Last week we did the basics of recording your work, including many gratuitous Harry Potter references and talk of cardboard box sound booths. To get the lowdown on how to get started, catch up here.To recap: we're turning short pieces of text into audio stories with you. All The Best over at FBi radio want you to send them to us so they can broadcast their picks on their show.
While we’re here, because this *is* an audio thing, I thought we should have a look at sound quality that you can get from various recording devices. If you have access, we recommend you download this TEAC PCM II Recorder app and start having a play with it to record your piece...
Now it’s time to get a bit more specific, you lovely performance artists. Your aim is to sound like Ira Glass or at least Gwenyth Paltrow when she pretended to be a male Shakespeare actor in Shakespeare in Love (knock it all you want, but she *did* win an Academy Award...)
ANYWAY. Basically, there are a few non-negotiables when it comes to shaping your piece for recording. Let’s look at how you start from blank-page to broadcast.
In the next couple of weeks we’ll look at examples of clean recording and good interviews, but for now let’s focus on your raw materials and how you can make them sing. If you don’t choose an appropriate piece, things can get muddled pretty quick.
For a spoken word story you want something that is:
- Clear: if you have a sweeping epic that jumps between characters, time-space continuums and perspectives, that sounds pretty speccy, but being confident that you can sell it is ultra-necessary here. If you listen to fiction podcasts or spoken word events, you’ve probably noticed that the funniest, most emotive stories are pretty simple. They have a couple of characters, a clear beginning/middle/end and a central point. That leads into point two, which is the best pieces will be...
- Complete: sounds stupidly obvious but something self contained, whether it’s an excerpt or scene or a full short story, will make your life a hell of a lot easier when it comes to packaging it up and editing.
- Well paced: so you’ll need to get familiar with how you’d like to deliver it, what needs emphasis and what the tone is. We’ll talk on this more below...
There are lots of pieces that display these characteristics, and you’ve probably seen them without even thinking about it. The TED Talk phenomenon does this nicely – speakers on the TED stage are directed and their words are sculpted to feed off an audience. While there’s a visual element to these, they can also be lifted for podcast pretty swiftly.
Here’s a great talk from The Moth that isn’t long, but also has the above characteristics – basically it’s a simple story told well. THIS IS WHAT WE CRAVE! Amy Rood recounts going to a pole dancing lesson using a Group-On, and as you’ll see it’s not a drama packed tale with a billion characters, but a dramatic framing of an everyday situation turned horribly awkward. Listen to it here.
The piece I’ve chosen...
With these three characteristics in mind, I’ve gone back through my teen manifestos to find a piece of prose (well, a list), which I think will work ok as a template for a short radio piece.
The reason I’ve gone with this is because I think it’s pretty good pace-wise – jumping in and out of a list should make it punchy, and it won’t drag on as a reading. You can check it out over on the reading page at WB, here.
PRO TIPS TIME
I spoke to some theatre makers to get the lowdown on performing without sounding like a dill. There advice can be broken down into three main areas:
Cut the emotional baggage
Eric Gardiner is Creative Associate at MKA: Theatre of New Writing. He's working on a play about Campbell Newman, so he’s been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how politicians perform their words. He says you should avoid “Poet Voice” at all costs, and reckons that the minute a lot of first time writers start to say their words out loud, there’s a tendency to go too overly-emotional. It’s better to let what you’ve written stand up for itself. “Please don’t start by telling us what the work is/means/all the feels,” he says. “The audience is really tuned into inaunthenticity.” If you make choices early on about how you’re going to emphasise certain parts, you won’t have to worry too much about sounding all proper and overly-emotional.
Your words should be the best bit
You can do all the vocal warm-ups you like and come out sounding like a 1950s ad man, but as writers become public figures, you gotta remember that unless you have a good, clean source piece, you are going to struggle to tell people a good story. “never forget that words are there for you in a way that no-one else can be. If the writing is good everything else will follow, especially in reading and performing your work,” Gardiner says.
This is about more than just keeping it simple – it’s more about choosing something you’re really familiar with and working with that, instead of something you think will end up sounding very complex/deep/impressive.
The audience is on your side...
I click on fiction podcasts with little reason or rhyme, and now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to one without just being keen to have someone tell me a good story. It’s easy to completely forget that effort went into making a piece, and I’m pretty patient when it comes to letting a writer explain things to me. Josiah Lulham, the Contributor Liaison for Maggie Journal of Live Art, thinks that you gotta remember the audience will go wherever you take ‘em – so don’t be too fussed about getting things perfect. He’s been writing theatre and performing at readings for years, and is a fan of fake it til you make it, if that’s even a thing we can apply here.
“They will agree initially with just about anything you do - or at the very least think that is what you're supposed to be doing. Therefore commit confidently to what you're doing. You might as well,” he says.
We’re two weeks into this and Writers Bloc wants to hear your work pretty soon! Over the weekend, why don’t you give recording on your device of choice a try? It doesn’t have to be the piece you’re going to end up recording, but choosing the piece this week will make things super straightforward as we look towards editing and polishing things up. Remember we were aiming for 400-ish words, remembering that it doesn't have to be epic.
In the meantime, why don’t you visit/revisit these excellent portals of audio stories?
Next Friday we will be talking interviews, podcast branding and hearing from people in the biz about how they found their feet in audio projects. Then we’ll work towards polishing what you’ve recorded so it’s all ready for the airwaves.
A reminder you can send through your recordings, questions and stories at any time. Chuck an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re super excited for the end of the month when we can listen to everyone’s stories, so get planning and tweet what you’re working on right at us!
Emma Koehn is The Writers Bloc’s Reviews editor. She’s made radio for All The Best and SYN in Melbourne. Once she presented a live breakfast show dressed as a panda, but that’s not really relevant to this series. Tweets @MsEmmaK.
We are indebted to the advice, patience and general awesomness of All The Best - Features EPs Jess O'Callaghan and Heidi Pett, and fiction producer Zacha Rosen. Go check 'em out.
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