Reporting for Audio Stories

I. Audio interviewing tips:

1) Be aware of your environment. Microphones pick up background sounds that might ruin your audio. Find a quiet place. Turn off unwanted noisemakers: fans, computers, radios, blenders. Avoid rooms with echos like gymnasiums. If you are outside, find a place protected from the wind.

2) Look for background or atmospheric sound that will enhance your story. One trick is to record some of the natural sound — say of the kitchen if you are interviewing a chef — before or after and then you can edit in after.

3) You are looking for clean sound which means no “um’s”, “yeah’s”, etc. Nod instead of making agreement audible. Likewise, don’t tap your foot or rustle your notes during the interview.

4) Wear headphones so that you know your recorder is working and so you can determine the quality of the sound.

5) Ask open questions — “yes” and “no” are not very useful audio clips. Use the 5 w’s and how to start your questions.

6) If someone does answer in a “yes” or “not” or sentence fragment, rephrase the question to encourage a full sentence you can use. Or if the response was not intelligible, ask your subjects to repeat themselves.

7) Pause briefly between questions to create a little space in the recording. This will make editing yourself out easier.

II. NPR: How to Find Active Sound

Source: NextGen Training Guide

Before you go into the field:

– Great sound doesn’t just happen. You have to plan.

Anticipate events: Talk to your subjects before you go into the field. Ask them when something is happening and go at that time. Ask them what the place sounds like. Ask them if the players can be there when you arrive.

– Think about equipment. Will you be far away from the action? Bring a shot gun mic. Will the subject be moving around? Perhaps a lavaliere mic will keep them on tape. if you are outside, remember an umbrella and wind-screen.

– Fantasize about the perfect tape. Think about what would be really cool in the story and look for it when you are in a scene. Luck favors the prepared ear.

When you are in the field:

Remember: places don’t make sound. Actions do. Look for people doing something and get it on tape.

Think of how the scene will play in the story. You will need background, but you will also need a sound to get into a scene. You will need a transition out of the scene. You will need sound punctuation. You will need sound that establishes character and action.

Listen for sound events that mark a moment. Instead of a motor running, get it starting or stopping. Get the opening and closing of doors. Get the transition between a quiet room and the noisy world outside. Instead of general traffic, get one distinct car. Just as writing is in the details, specific sounds are better.

– Know when to get involved and when to shut up. Don’t intrude on real interaction in the field. Do create interaction if there is none occurring naturally. It is okay to ask someone to do something they normally would be doing.

– Be aggressive. Don’t be afraid to participate in the story. Ask questions. Kick the tires. Be the surrogate for the listener.

– If the scene is quiet, then the people will have to be the sound. Look for human moments. Laughter. Sharing a story. The sound of someone changing their mind or getting interrupted by someone else. Make your characters describe the scene.

– Don’t settle for stereotypical sounds. The school bell, the traffic roar, the person answering the phone are used a lot. Listen deeper. Which particular sound is unique to a place. Which action further the story you’re telling.

How to Record Active Sound

– Multiple takes: Mic up close. Mic further away. Mic the action without people talking. Mic it again with people explaining what they’re doing.

– Don’t stand still. You can “zoom” the mic into an action. You can pull away. Picket lines, protesters chanting, food booths and phone rooms are good place to keep the microphone moving so you gets bits of different people.

Always mic yourself when you are asking or trying something. You never know when you will need it.

– Deconstruct the scene. Try and isolate individual elements — a bird overhead, water flowing, twigs underfoot. these can be used in the clear or mixed in the studio.

– Watch out for music. It is very difficult to cut tape that has even soft music in the background. Record the scene with music and then ask them to turn it off for interviews.

The 10 Commandments of Recording

Thou shalt always get a minute of ambience.
Thou shalt keep the same mic placement when recording room tone.
Thou shalt not walk on the end of sound bites.
Thou shalt always where your headphones and keep them holy.
Thou shalt shun the evil hums: fluorescents, computers, fridges.
Thou shalt not interview people with music playing in the background.
Thou shalt always have the person say their name for proper pronunciation.
Thou shalt check they tape before thy departure from the scene.
Thou shalt mic closely.
Thou shalt get another minute of ambiance, just in case.