Radio Reflections

I’ve been pretty shocking at keeping this blog updated this semester (this year?!), but I have been making lots of notes in my notebooks and during lectures etc. So I thought instead of trying to figure out when I wrote those and back-dating a bunch of blog posts, I’d just write everything all up in one post with headings and notes and see if putting everything all in the one place leads me to make connections I might have otherwise missed. Here goes.

Lectures

The week two lecture was about interviewing and I wrote down a lot of useful tips that week. Apart from the tips though, there was some interesting  ideas about interview that I hadn’t previously though of. These two tips really stood out for me:

Ask questions that are designed to get useful information on an interesting topic.

And also:

The interviewers knowledge of the subject matter should be good enough not to use the question list as a crutch.

The first tip I liked because it is a good way of simplifying the interview and really making you think about why this interview will be a good one for your audience. It asks you to consider what kinds of information will be useful, and why the topic will be interesting, and in thinking about these two things and where they intersect, your questions practically form themselves. The second tip relates to this, because if you think long, hard, and deep enough about the why’s and what’s behind your interview, it’s usually because you’ve been doing the research behind the topic and interviewee.

I have found that when I do interviews for RWAV, the more prepared I am, the more conversational it sounds. This is because I’m able to respond to answers as if I know what’s being discussed (because I do!) and to transition into new questions easily, because I can make better links between past answers and upcoming questions. Being prepared also makes me feel more confident, which comes across in my voice during interviews.

The week 4 lecture must have been about our audio arts assignments, because although I didn’t take a lot of notes, what I wrote down is pretty powerful.

Think about how to tell stories differently. Think outside the box, and play the what if game. Show don’t tell applies to sound too.

Even as a writer I struggle with show don’t tell, and it comes across in my audio pieces too. When I’m brainstorming what sounds should be added, I always start with literal sounds. What is literally going on in the story that I’m telling? I try to expand out from there, but I’ve had varied success with my attempts to do so. An example of this would be the package Sam and I produced for first semester, he recorded the audio, I did the first edit (so we could get the show to air on time) and filled it with some fairly literal interpretations of sound effects. Sam did the second edit and removed a lot of these and replaced them with music for a more metaphorical piece. It occurred again when working with Ajeet on our Audio Arts assessment. I didn’t edit this piece, however all my suggestions for sound effects were literal translations of the text. Ajeet added music and non-literal sound effects that made the whole piece sound a lot better.

I’ve been thinking about how I can work on this aspect of show don’t tell in audio and I think I’m going to experiment with sound projects over the summer. Practice making short clips with no narration, so that I have to show, and I can’t tell. I’ll start off with soundscapes, kind of literal, then see if I can push myself to make metaphors and incite feelings through audio. I’ll post results to Soundcloud and this blog.

I wrote a lot more helpful tips for presenting on radio during the week 8 lecture. My top two from this week would be:

Don’t be boring.

The first sentence must interest, the second must inform.

I like “don’t be boring” as not just a tip for radio, but a tip for life. What is the point of a boring interview? If it’s not interesting, don’t do it. I can think of two boring interviews that I’ve witnessed/been a part of through the course of doing RWAV shows this year. The first one is the interview we did about chocolate. The topic was kind of interesting, but we picked the wrong person to talk to about it, and the wrong length of time for such an interview. There was maybe 4-5 minutes of good content available if we talked to an economics or fair trade expert. With an importer, there was literally 10 seconds of content (see the first question where we asked him if the rising price of cocoa would affect Australian consumers and he just answered with “yes”).

The other interview would be the one I lined up for a more recent show about bike cabs coming to Melbourne. Bike cabs was running a pozzible campaign at the time, and although I knew Elizabeth’s stance on crowd funding, I though there would be enough other subject matter to talk about that a small mention at the end would be okay. However, Tim and Steve didn’t have the knowledge to talk to us about long periods of time about the social stuff around bike cabs, why they are popular in other cities and not Melbourne. Because they were running a fundraising campaign, they took every opportunity to promote that and the interview turned very boring very quickly. Elizabeth said it just sounded like we were interviewing two guys about their business (which we essentially were, even though that wasn’t our aim).

Ways to avoid these kinds of interviews happening in the future:

  1. Think about the topic of the interview in terms of the time you plan to give it. Topics that work well for 4 minute segments might not have enough meat left over to stretch out to an 8-10 minute segment.
  2. Really consider who to approach to talk about the topic. Who has the best knowledge on the topic, and doesn’t have a conflicting agenda. Who is passionate about the topic, and can talk about it easily.
  3. Consider what questions to ask. How will you phrase questions to get better responses from the interviewee. What sub topics will you focus on, and what will you avoid.
  4. Don’t be afraid to turn down interview ideas or interviewees. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.

 

Radiothon

Before the show I was nervous about representing RRR as I’m not as big a listener as I should be.I was glad I had my stoyr about being a Queenslander to use on air. I used the “otherness” of Melbourne when I first moved down as my “lostness” and RRR as my compass/guide as to what made Melbourne, well, Melbourne. I was very proud of our 26 sign-ups during the show, and that we doubled last year’s record! Yay! There was one opportunity that I missed though and that was when my Dad subscribed and I got to read his name out on air. I wanted to say something like “Thanks daddy!” but wasn’t sure how to work it in. In retrospect, I wish I had just said that, would have worked just fine. One other thing I think we missed during the show was using the “Local and vocal” catch-phrase for the campaign. Overall I’m pretty pleased with the show. The atmosphere at the station was pretty cool, very community-like, very friendly. I was very happy with our 26 subscribers, I remember the phone room volunteers congratulating us, but not feeling like we deserved so much credit for it. Elizabeth was also very happy with the show, and didn’t really have much feedback for us, we didn’t really need it I suppose. My annotations of the show are here.

Producing

Producing was the role that I started with and the role I was fairly comfortable with in general. I found that the biggest challenge of this role for me was to push myself outside my comfort zone in order to really lock in the interviews that we wanted for the show. I’m way more comfortable giving up if someone doesn’t reply to an email, rather than seeking out their number and giving them a call. But comfort never made good radio.

The online producing role was one that I felt didn’t present any particular challenges to me, as I consider myself very web-savvy. I guess the biggest challenge of this position was not to get annoyed at how other people ran the twitter account (really? You’re going to mention our own handle? And #rrr instead of tagging their account? okay then…) and to correct groups who edited the program description rather than the episode description on the RRR website. I feel like this was glossed over in class because it was assumed that media students would be fairly web-literate. Not so. You know what they say about assuming…

Presenting

Presenting a show was surprisingly good fun. After presenting my first show I was hooked and as long as I’m prepared for a show, I feel like presenting is one of the less stressful in-studio jobs. You don’t have to worry about the time or the tech side or if you’re sending out the right amount of tweets, you just have to be present, be prepared, and be a good listener.

Paneling

Here’s an excerpt from the tips document that I added after my first show:

  • Familiarise yourself with how novation works, its pretty simple. When Novation fails, check that the buttons say “Ready 1” and not anything else. Reset your selections if it’s wrong. Otherwise, if it’s a bigger fail, reset the computer as per the instruction sheet in the studio, or get your producer to grab Archie in a song break and ask for help.
  • Don’t Panic! Keep your cool even if you hit the wrong button, it happens, just anaylse and fix it. If something really goes wrong, and you need to cut back to the studio, make sure your presenters know what’s happening, so that they can tell the listener (Something as simple as “we’re having some technical difficulties with the cd player, just trying to get that fixed up now… and we’re ready to try again, this track is x by y, you’re listening to Triple R”, or “It seems our phone line has dropped out, we were talking to Guest about Topic, we’re going to go to a song now while we see if we can get a hold of them again, This is Track by Artist on 3RRRFM”) but if it’s a minor glitch, don’t mention it on air

Paneling a show is very, very different from presenting one. There’s a higher level of stress, and afterwards a dull sense of relief instead of a high from running a good show. I wish I’d gotten more than one chance at paneling, it’s not as scary as it seems, and yet it’s also scarier. I wish I’d volunteered myself to do an earlier show as well.

Here’s what I wrote in my notebook shortly after my paneling experience.
“Paneling was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be. There’s a lot of things you have to keep your eye on, and a lot of distractions in the studio. During our show on Monday, there’s a few seconds of dead air because I got distracted greeting the interviewees who’d just been shown into the studio. My two other mistakes also occurred because of lapses in attention. It’s a very demanding job and you don’t get the same exhilaration after the show as when you present, it’s more a sense of relief. I’m very glad that we went in early, as I discovered that half of the songs that I’d burnt to CD didn’t play on the CD players, so the extra two hours before the show gave me enough time to download the missing songs from my back-up on dropbox (the best $11/month investment I’ve made for uni) and work out how my phone interacted with the desk to play the songs out of there. Paneling is kind of like a combination of the other jobs. It’s like producing in that you’re in charge of what’s happening in the studio and you need an intimate knowledge of the run sheet. And it’s like presenting because without you at the top of your game, the show doesn’t go to air in it’s best possible version.”

Audio Arts

Audio Arts was probably the assignment I was most excited about right from the start of the semester. I already had an inkling of an idea in the back of my mind, and was excited to see how I could push it and make it into something interesting. I paired up with Ajeet because I admire his editing style, and while I’m okay at editing, my strength lies in producing content for the web, so we made a good combo for an assessment that required equal parts of awesome audio and awesome web content.

My idea from the beginning was to use my step-mum’s sand art projections to illustrate a story. The recorded story would become our audio and the images and videos taken of the art process would become out online content. We talked about what stories we could tell using this medium. There was an opportunity to tell stories out of a nursing home that Anke sometimes did art at, but timing issues and privacy issues soon made this idea waaaaayyyyy too complicated. We then talked about telling an already established story, like a fairy tale. We thought of tales like The Sandman, because of it’s connection to sand. We tried to think of beach or desert related stories, and we eventually landed on The Snow Queen. Not because of it’s connection to sand (we figured that bit out later) but because we figured snow was a bit like sand, and then we remembered about the mirror and figured that glass was made of sand and we could build out from there.

Our initial attempts at condensing the whole story of The Snow Queen into something short enough to use fell through. Trying to condense a 12,000 word story into 5 minutes just left out too much, or skipped the good parts, or felt rushed. Eventually we decided to just use the First Story (as the tale is split into 7 stories in total) as the first story was the one about the mirror.

After deciding this, we analysed the story for what sound effects we should add in. As I have a lot of empty wine bottles in my garage (awaiting a garden edging project!) I volunteered to record some glass breaking sound effects. Who doesn’t want an excuse to smash stuff? I also thought I could manage recording some sand sound effects while I was at it. We decided to record the narration in the multi-track studio, to get nice clean audio. The other sound effects and music track were sourced online.

Recording the breaking glass was a lot of fun, but I was also quite concerned about my safety. I made sure to wear jeans and a long sleeved jacket, safety shoes with steel caps, and clear glasses to protect my eyes. I also wore gardening gloves when handling the broken glass.

Another consideration that I had to make when recording the glass was where to do it. I knew it would sound more authentic if I smashed them outside, on my driveway, but the clean-up, as well as extra ambient noise meant that I ultimately decided to do it inside my garage where the sounds of cars and birds were muffled and wind wouldn’t be able to blow glass splinters into my lawn. To compensate for the weird echo of the garage, I turned the gain on the zoom down very low, and mounted it on a tripod close to the ground, so it could pick up the glass smashing without too much interference. This worked really well.

The sand was harder to record, as it’s a much quieter medium. I recorded that in a room inside my house, with the gain turned up quite high. I tried pouring, sifting, scraping, and rubbing the sand. Each action produced a different sound, but I think in the end the pouring noise best suited our piece.

Recording the narration was an interesting experience too. The first time we booked the studio to use, we booked it after hours, and there was a problem with the desk that we couldn’t figure out, so we couldn’t get anything useful done. The second time we made sure to book during the office hours of the Techs, so we’d have help on hand if we needed it (which, it turns out we did! Just to get us started!). We set up the mics and did a read through of the first paragraph to get the levels right. Then we recorded one whole take. Upon listening back, we decided that my voice was kind of stiff and that I was talking very fast. In order to fix this, and to leave gaps for editing the sound effects in, we decided to record it again, this time with a pause after each sentence. This made me really slow down and think about how I was delivering the lines. We also recorded Ajeet reading the script, but decided that my voice sounded more like a children’s story teller, and that we’d just use Ajeet’s voice to do the part where the sprite talks. Another thing we recorded was us laughing, and some of those laughs were then distorted to be used as sound effects as well.

Recording in the studio taught me that time spent listening back to what’s been recorded is not time wasted. It’s time wisely spent, as reviewing material can show flaws and suggest improvements, as well as allow you time to record again immediately, while those revisions are fresh in your head.

I wasn’t involved in the main phases of editing, my role with that was to listen to drafts, suggest improvements and changes, and help source sound effects. I was quite surprised with what Ajeet first made me listen to, the dark music added a dimension to the piece that I hadn’t thought of before. If we’d had time, we could have re-recorded the narration, to give it a darker edge. We tried warping it within the editing software, but it ended up sounding fake and not at all what we were thinking of, so we left it as is.

The online content came together like a puzzle or a web, finding lots of little things that connected to each other. While I was recording the session with Anke, we were talking about webs and trying to think of a glass or sand-like metaphor. We came to fractals, which made me think of snowflakes, and that’s how the theme of the website that hosts the online content was born.

Actually, the recording session with Anke was unlike any regular interview I’ve recorded before. To start with, the set-up was decidedly un-interview-like as I just popped the zoom to the side and hit record, while we were working on other things. And I found it more difficult not to interrupt Anke. We often have conversations about art and life and we talk until we can find the connections in things. I had to be a less active participant in these conversations, because I wanted Anke’s voice to be the main thing I recorded. One trick that I’d heard about during our lectures worked really well here, and that’s the just staying silent trick. When you think someone has something more to say, just stay silent and they will feel compelled to fill the gaps. This worked quite well with Anke, as with this format of conversation, those pauses are often necessary to help gather and form thoughts.

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