First, select each track that you want to include in the mix by Command-Clicking in the left hand area of the track (Command clicking allows you to select more than one track at once). The three left hand portions of the selected tracks will now be highlighted:
Now go to the top menu and click on Track—>Mix—>Mix and Render to New Track
What you’ll find is a new track at the bottom which is the amalgamation of the other tracks you’ve selected to mix:
There it is, your completed track!. Now all that remains to do is to export it into a convenient format for broadcast. Typically, that would be an MP3 file. So select the final mix track and then from the top menu, click on File—>Export—>Export Selected Audio. You’ll get a dialogue which allows you to rename the file and choose its destination on your computer. You’ll also see, at the bottom, a section which looks like this:
Set the File Type to MP3 Files, Keep the Bit Rate Mode to Preset, the Quality to Extreme, the Variable Speed to Standard. For saving mono files such as the ones we’ve been working with, select Joint Stereo. If you have been working with stereo files then you would choose Stereo. Click on Save and you’ll be presented with one more screen which you can ignore and just click on OK.
And that’s it. You should have an MP3 file which will pay in iTunes or any other standard music player.
I know this has been a long and sometimes technical tour, but the more you play around with this, the more you will be excited by the possibilities. It’s really amazing what you can make of your raw material.
Sometime next week I will post a link where you can download this whole series as one file.
Before you do that, however, we’re going to even out the sound of the interview track by using the Compressor effect. Select the track (click in the left hand area of the track where it says Mono 44100 HZ or the like) and then select from the top menu Effect—>Compressor. You’ll see the following:
Ignore all the sliders and just click on OK. By simply doing this you’ll have done three valuable things:
1) All your red clipping areas will be toned down slightly so they are no longer clipping, and
2) Your sound levels will be smoothed out; that is, the relative distance between your high and low volumes will be lessened. This is particularly useful for situations with more than one voice or source, and
3) After the first two have been accomplished, your volumes throughout will be relatively increased to the maximum they can go without clipping. This process is called normalization.
I usually use the Compressor effect at this point even if I am not showing any clipping.
Now you’re ready to add your musical intro. You could conceivably just cut and paste a piece of music onto the beginning of your interview track, but it’s classier to have a separate track which will allow some overlap between the music and the interview, as if it were underscoring.
Let’s assume you have an mp3 file of music that you wish to use, or, for example, sound from an mp4 video from YouTube or the like. Your first job is to import that file into Audacity. So, select the file to Import by File—>Import—>Audio:
When the import is complete you’ll have a new track underneath your original interview track:
In this case, the track imported was in stereo, so we’ll change it to mono as we did before—by clicking on the black triangle (just right of where it says “music intro” in the photo above) and then clicking on “Split Stereo to Mono.” That will result in two identical mono tracks one of which you will delete by clicking on the “x” in the upper left hand corner of the track.
If you were to set the Play cursor to the beginning and click on Play you would now hear the music track and the interview track at the same time. If you only want to hear one track at a time, you can click on Solo on the left hand side of the track to make it the only track played (you’ll notice the other track is now grayed out instead of blue). Likewise, if you click on Mute on the left side, the track will become greyed out and quiet while the other track will remain active.
Typically, I like to have 20-40 seconds of music intro before the human voices come in, and then about twenty more seconds of music underneath the voices before I fade the music out. And on the tale end I like the music to fade up as I’m giving the closing credits and then take us out with the music fading out. So, how to do this?
To do this, we use the time-shifting cursor. It sounds much more magical than it really is. It’s just a cursor that moves things right and left. It’s in your toolbar above the tracks:
Normally, your cursor looks like the “I-beam” in the upper left hand corner above. We are going to change the cursor to the “time-shift” tool in the middle of the second row in the photo above.
Using this tool, I am going to pull the interview track to the right thirty seconds by clicking and dragging on the track. The result should be something like this:
So now, if we played both tracks, there would be 20 seconds of music by itself and then the interview and music together. Of course, the music would still be very loud and drown out the voices, so we have to lower the volume on the music when the voices come in. Fortunately, Audacity gives us a tool to do that fairly automatically called Auto Duck.
To use Auto Duck, we want to move the music track immediately above the interview track. ( It was difficult for me to get this right at first, because when I think of the “underscoring” metaphor, I think of music below. But in Audacity, the level of the interview track below controls the level of the music track above.) In order for this to happen correctly then, we must drag the music track to a position above the interview track. First, make sure you’re back to the I-beam cursor by clicking its icon on the toolbar. Next click in the left hand area of the music track right where it says Mono 44100 HZ, and drag it upwards above the other track. When you’re finished it should look like this:
Now in order to “duck” the volume of the music wherever there is voice, you are going to select the music track (not the interview track under it) and then click on Effect—>Auto Duck. Ignore all the sliders and just click on OK. The result should be something like this:
Notice that now the music volume is much lower above where the voice track is. You’ll probably want to take down the volume of the music even more which you can do with the Amplify effect, and then fade out the music over the next 20 seconds or so (you can then delete the rest of the music track).
For the outro, you go through a similar process: Import a track you wish to use, time shift it to the area at the end of the interview to the place where you want it to overlap the voice, and then use Auto Duck. Further correct with Amplify and Fade In, and then finally Fade Out as the music ends your piece.
This has been a lot, so save your work, and I promise tomorrow I’ll be back with how to make a final mix down to one track and then export your work. See you then.
So now that you’ve had some time to play around with some of the basic functions of Audacity such as cutting, moving, copying and pasting, let’s take a closer look at the editing process, and some more tools and strategies which will save you time and energy. (For the previous installments, begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.)
The most important strategy in editing, in my opinion, is working from big to small. That is, cut away the big useless sections first, and then start working more precisely. Again, sculpting is a very useful metaphor here: think of chopping away big blocks of stone before you start doing any polishing. There’s really no sense in beginning by obsessively cutting out each “umm” or “err,” if that whole portion of the conversation is going to be cut out anyway.
What should you be cutting? Generally, you want to be able to cut enough back so that the listener can sense a clear through line of the argument or intention. Of course this is going to vary vastly from speaker to speaker. But it’s not uncommon for a person to say something like:
“I owe my life to Jane. Jane was married to a guy named Saul who worked in a little candy store down by the Bowery. He was a tall guy who always wore plaid and never liked me. In fact he went out of his way to avoid me. Anyway, Jane was the one who taught me everything I know about poker playing. She taught me how to count cards and bet correctly…”
Now if you have the time, you can leave in the bit about Saul, but really (and the “Anyway,” is the big clue) it would be more clear and direct to edit it so it said,
“I owe my life to Jane…Jane was the one who taught me everything I know about poker playing, etc.”
It is also often the case that a guest will make a statement and support it, say, with three examples. Much of the time, you can cut out one or two of those examples.
“I was always a dreamy kid. I would sing to myself in school and the teachers would yell at me for making noise. Then at home I would lock myself in the bathroom for hours reading books. My parents were flabbergasted by that. And of course when I was sick I would pretend to be the star of my own variety series and use the bed as a stage.”
They’re all fun to hear about, but if you are fighting for time, it could look like this:
“I was always a dreamy kid…When I was sick I would pretend, etc.”
But sometimes the cuts need to be even more drastic, and need to be made based on what topic you are going to focus on. For example, I had a very interesting conversation with a woman who had written a book about the history of segregated schools in the US beginning with the Civil War. I had to make a decision to focus the edited version solely on twentieth century history, with just the briefest nod to the important 19th century era. Sometimes you will be sad about what you had to leave on the cutting room floor, but it is all about working within the constraints you have.
Let’s look more closely at what needs to be done in Audacity to achieve these edits. First we’ll take a look at what I call the “name area” of the track on the far left. There are a couple of important functions hidden away here. And also some buttons and sliders you don’t want to mess with:
The top slider button marked -…+ will change the volume level during playback. Leave this slider alone; there will be times when you want to adjust the volume levels, but you don’t want to do it from here. Likewise, the slider directly beneath it changes the output to the left or right speaker. Again leave that slider in the middle. Instead start off by clicking on the inverted black triangle at the upper right hand corner of the name box. When you do, you should get something that looks like this:
First I will name the track, by clicking on “Name…” at the top and entering a track name. In my example, I call it “penny interview.”
Since in my example, I started with a stereo track, and I want to work with a mono track, I click on the inverted black triangle as before, and then click on the line towards the bottom that says “Split Stereo to Mono.” (If your track is already mono, you won’t need to do this.) You will now have two separate identical tracks. You are going to get rid of the bottom track by clicking on the “x” in the upper left-hand corner of the name area of the track. (Remember you can bring the track back again by “Undo”-ing the action by going to Edit—>Undo).
Okay, so let’s say now you’ve decided on a chunk of the track you’d like to delete. Highlight the selection by dragging over the area with your mouse. You can extend the selected area right or left by pointing the mouse at the very border of the selection and waiting until it turns into a finger-pointing hand icon, then clicking and dragging the border carefully with your mouse.
Once selected, you can listen to how the track would sound without the selected part by pressing the “c” on your keyboard. You will hear a few seconds of sound from before the selection and then a seamless cut to a few seconds after the selection. In other words, this is what your track would sound like after the selection is deleted. This allows you to adjust the borders before you do the deletion for the best cut.
To help you achieve accuracy, you should use the Zoom function, by clicking on the magnifying glass with the “+” inside.
The more you click, the more zoomed-in you will be. To zoom out again, click on the magnifying glass with the “-” inside it. Notice the time markers immediately above the zoomed in track cover a much shorter length of time now in one screen.You would have to scroll horizontally to see more of the track. For example, this zoomed-in track only covers 33 seconds:
This is a lot, so just one more thing about editing for now: if you want an edit to sound natural, the general rule is to cut on the breath. That is, leave the person’s intake of breath before s/he speaks. So let’s say the original audio was: “The CEO was incredibly incompetent and incredibly stupid. What’s more, he was a drunk.” If you want to edit out the phrase “and incredibly stupid,” make sure to leave in the breath before “What’s more.”
After you make your cuts, save and quit, and next time we’ll talk about adding other tracks to your interview for texture. See you then.
The blue waveform is the sound of your file (if you recorded in mono you’ll have only one waveform or track, as it is called). If you click on the green arrow Play button in the toolbar above the waveform, you’ll hear your interview. The black square button will Stop the “tape,” and the double vertical line button will Pause and UnPause the tape. The black left arrow returns the cursor to the beginning of the track, and the right black arrow sends the cursor to the end of the track. The red button, which we will not use at all, is to record directly into the program.
Click on the green Play button and you can watch the cursor move along the waveform as your interview progresses. Click the Pause button to pause the sound, then click it again to re-start the sound from where you left off. Then press Stop, which moves the cursor back to where you started at the beginning. If you now click the mouse anywhere within the waveform while it is stopped, the cursor will move to that part of the track; so if you now click Play again, the track will start playing from that new cursor position. If you click Stop, then clicking either the black left arrow or the right arrow will move the cursor position to either end.
Play around with these controls for a bit to get a feel for them. They’re really no different from what you would find on a CD player or in iTunes.
If you are conversant with any of the common word processing programs like Microsoft Word, you are already familiar with the way the basic functions of Audacity work.
Think of the blue waveform as the text of your document. Just as in a Word document, you can cut, delete, copy, and paste. Just as in a Word document, you can also do multiple undos and re-dos. It’s nice to know that you can undo any step that you’ve done, so let’s learn that first!
Click your mouse somewhere in the middle of your blue waveform. Now hold down the mouse button and drag over the wave form a bit, just as you would over a portion of text in Word in order to highlight and select it. (To deselect a portion of the waveform, simply click anywhere within the waveform.)
If you hit the space bar while a portion is selected, the program will Play the audio within the selected portion. Hit the space bar again or the Stop button to stop the audio.
You can now perform one of the basic editing functions on that selected sound. Let’s try Deleting that selected portion (don’t worry, we’ll bring it back in a moment). Simply press the delete button on your keyboard, and your selected audio is gone—the waveform no longer shows that piece of audio, but the rest of the audio remains untouched. It’s just as if you had snipped a piece of tape from a tape reel and spliced together the remaining ends.
Let’s bring back the deleted part now. Click on the top Audacity Edit menu, and then click on the top line of the submenu to Undo your Delete.
You’ll see your selection is back in your waveform, highlighted.
Now let’s try moving a piece of audio from one place to the other. Select a piece of audio by clicking in the wave form, holding your mouse button down and dragging it a short distance to highlight a section of audio. Then click on Edit—>Cut. Your highlighted section will be deleted, but the contents of the section are now stored in your Paste buffer. Move the cursor to a new place in the waveform—say, by clicking the mouse at the beginning. Now click on Edit—>Paste, and you’ll find you have pasted the selected audio into its new cursor position. If you begin the player now from the beginning, you’ll hear the selected part which has been moved from the middle to the beginning.
Now, let’s Undo that by clicking on Edit—> Undo. You can undo (and redo) multiple times as long as you do not save your work. Once you save the file, the buffer is cleared out and you cannot go back to a prior step.
Okay, one last function we’ll look at, the Copy function. Just as in a text document, sometimes you want to repeat a selection. For example, it can come in handy when you want to lengthen a silence. So, select a portion of audio, and then go to Edit—>Copy. Your selected audio will still be there, but a copy of it is now in the Paste buffer. Click in the waveform to where you would like the copy to appear—let’s say, this time, right after the selected audio. Click on Edit—>Paste. You’ll now have a copy of the selected audio at the cursor, but the original selection will still be in its original place.
And…let’s Undo that again by going to Edit—> Undo, and you should be back to where you started from at the very beginning.
Remember, even if you screw up somehow and the Undo isn’t working for you, your original recorded file is still sitting in your project folder. If need be, you can always start off from scratch by importing that file into a new Audacity project.
Play around with these functions for a while to convince yourself that you can recover if you make a mistake. It will give you the confidence to proceed further.
When you’re finished, go to File—>Save, and then quit the program with File—>Quit.
Next time, we’ll learn more about Audacity, and talk about some editing strategies. See you then.
You’ve finished the interview and you’re heaving a sigh of relief. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.) Well, not really, because a thought occurs to you right away–did I capture everything? Was this thing a total mess? But once I know my interview was recorded properly (I’ll save the horror stories for another time) for me this is the most fun part of the process, the editing.
If it’s true of novel writing and playwriting that it’s all about the revision, then it’s at least as true in putting together an interview. It’s akin to sculpting. You’re chipping away at the non-essential to reveal the form within. If done well, the audience never knows about it. Of course, you are not here to deceive, but there is a satisfaction in knowing that you have made the guest and the interview sound even better than they actually were.
So let’s just take this step by step to start the editing process. The first thing I do is a little bit of organization on my laptop so that I don’t drive myself crazy. I create a new folder on my computer desktop and give it the project name. On the Mac, go to the top left menu of the Finder, click on File to get the dropdown menu, and then click on New Folder. I’ll abbreviate a direction like this as File—>New Folder. (There are equivalent commands for Windows machines, but I’m going to stick here to the Mac.) Rename the folder with your project name (on the Mac, to change a folder name, click once on the title of the folder, wait three seconds, then click again on the title of the folder). Once I have my project folder, I put all files for that project into this folder so that I will be able to find them and navigate to them easily later on.
So the first file you are going to put in there is going to be the recording of the interview you just did. It’s generally best to do a recording in a high quality format if possible, such as WAV or AIF, if your recorder allows it. Otherwise the most common format for audio files is MP3. You can tell which format your file is in by simply looking at the extension of your audio file. It should be something like 121017.wav or 180716.mp3, where the part after the period tells you what format it is in.
Most of the online services like freeconferencecall.com will only generate an mp3 file. The mp3 files, which are compressed files, have the advantage that they are a lot smaller than WAV or AIF files, but the trade-off is that the sound quality is not quite as good. Also, each time you edit and save them, you lose sound quality. That is why even though you may ultimately be required to broadcast an mp3 file (as is my situation) it is best if you can edit the interview as a WAV file, and convert it only later at the end to an mp3 file. (I’ll discuss in another installment how to do that conversion through Audacity.)
So let’s assume you have the interview file in your now titled folder on the desktop (by downloading it to your computer from the online conference service, or transferring it from your digital recorder to the computer via a USB cord, and then dragging it into the new project folder). The first thing you want to do is get it into Audacity (see here for more about installing Audacity) so you can work with it. To do this, open Audacity and go to the top left menu. Then, click on File—>Import—>Audio. You will get a file selector dialog. Navigate to your project folder on the desktop, and click on the interview audio file you placed there earlier. When you do, you should get something that looks like this:
Notice in this picture there are two identical waveforms (the blue wavy stuff). That’s because this example was imported from a recorder that was recording in stereo. Ultimately, if you are in a similar situation to myself, you will end up broadcasting a mono file, which is a lot easier to work with when editing. If you were recording in mono in the first place, then you will only have one waveform, and you’re ahead of the game. Don’t worry about that now, though, we’ll deal with it later. Typically, a service like freeconferencecall.com only generates a mono track of your recording.
For now, that ‘s all we’re going to do. Next week, we’ll look at some of the basic functions of Audacity and how it’s going to improve your interview. So, go to File—>Save Project, in the chooser dialog, navigate to your project folder on the desktop, and in the “Save As” box change the name to your project name, but keep the .aup extension.
Then hit “Save” in the lower right hand corner of the chooser box. You are now going to exit out of the program, so go to Audacity–>Quit Audacity.
What has this accomplished? Well now if you go to your desktop and look inside the project folder, you’ll see something like this:
The bottom file, penny.WAV was my original interview file. When you import it into Audacity, the program makes a copy of the file, so that your original file remains untouched.
The top folder, penny arcade_data, like all data folders, you never touch. Audacity uses it internally. The next file, penny arcade.aup, is the way to get back to your Audacity work. If you click on it, the Audacity program will open up again and you will see your imported waveform again. So any file with an aup at the end means it will open up a waveform of something you’ve imported. Just like clicking on a docx file will open up a Word file, clicking on a aup file will open up an Audacity file.
Next time, we’ll talk about some of the basic editing commands and, very importantly, how to undo anything that you think might have been a mistake. See you then.
You’ve determined who you want to interview, you’ve made your contact, you have your equipment, and your sound editing software, so now you need to prepare for the actual interview. How much time should you ask for? You need to ask for an explicit amount of time when making your arrangements. It’s very bad form to extend an interview past the time to which you’ve both agreed. If you go over on time, there’s the chance that your guest or one of their assistants will unceremoniously cut off the interview, and you may never get the opportunity to ask a lot of what you wanted to ask. Of course, you can ask your guest if s/he would like to go over the allotted time during the course of the interview, but especially with more famous people, that may be met negatively. Often when a person is promoting a project, they have one press interview lined up after another, and the time is tight.
Because of that, in the initial email contacts, I always specify how much time I would like up front. I used to think the more time the better, but I’ve since learned that that is a big mistake. It really depends upon the amount of time your finished segment needs to be. The longer the interview in relation to the final cut, the more editing that will have to be done. And when that interview to final cut ratio is large, the editing becomes very difficult and time consuming. It becomes harder to match material from one part of the interview to another. It becomes harder to remember what was said when. It becomes harder to follow the thread of an argument. It becomes more tedious reviewing all the material each revision. And besides the tedium of wading through the irrelevant material, the regret factor also increases with a long interview. Necessarily, there will be more tape left on the virtual cutting room floor, and while that can be some of your favorite material, it may not fit into the limited time available.
I’ve found my ideal ratio is about two to one, that is, I gather about twice the material that I’ll ultimately use. So if I’m preparing a 15-minute segment, then 30-35 minutes is a good interview length for me. That allows me to pick out the most interesting and essential parts of the interview without getting overwhelmed by the mass of material. Sometimes if the rapport is very good with a guest, and the conversation goes long, the best solution is either to make the produced segment longer, or to break up the interview into two separate segments. Of course, in commercial radio, interviewers are more strictly bound to their time constraints and this probably won’t be possible, but I am lucky that in my situation my time limits are more flexible. Presumably, if you are producing your own podcast, you will have that flexibility as well. But don’t take that flexibility as a reason not to edit tightly, or to gather too much material. I have learned from experience that that is not a good idea. Like a sonnet or short story, form and limitation are your friends. They give you the container into which you can shape your story. Time in a bottle. Two to one has been a realistic and very useful guide for me.
Once you know how much time you’ll have with your guest, you’ll be able to prepare your outline of questions. Preparing an outline really deserves its own post, so next week I’ll talk about what I do to prepare the framework for a good radio conversation. See you then.
If you’ve gotten together your digital recorder, headphones, and microphone as recommended in last week’s post, you’re ready for the most important resource in putting together radio interviews for broadcast or podcast: an audio editing program for your computer.
In the old days, radio folk used to cut and splice reel-to-reel tape just as the old time film editors used to do. But now, of course, with the wide availability of digital editors, the power to accomplish necessary tasks is so much easier. As I said last week, a good audio editor can help to forgive and solve a multitude of radio sins, and make your segment far more polished. A good audio editor can help you, at the minimum: 1) clean up background noise; 2) remove uninteresting portions of an interview; 3) re-structure the order of an interview; 4) remove verbal tics, hesitations, stumbles, and interruptions; 5) allow for mixing in intro and outros; 6) improve overall sound quality; 7) fit segments into predetermined time limits; 8) add underlying music and sound effects tracks; 9) convert from one digital format to another; 10) select the best parts from a group of different takes; 11) fade in and out, and smooth out contrasting volumes within a segment.
In short, an audio editor is to audio what a red pencil is to a draft of a manuscript. It is your way to revise, shape, and find out what the meaning of your piece is really about. There are many interviews I’ve done where I’ve been more proud of the work I’ve accomplished as an editor than with the actual interviewing itself. The audience will, of course, not see that part of the work, but to me, editing is the most enjoyable and satisfying part of the process.
There are many audio editors on the market and some of them can be quite expensive. One of the most popular is Adobe’s Audition, which has a very clean and intuitive interface, and does just about everything that you would want such a program to do. The problem with Audition, however, is its cost. Adobe has moved to a vampire squid-sucking rental model for its headline products such as Photoshop, Audition, and Premiere Pro. That is, you can no longer buy these products outright, but you pay a monthly fee for their use. In the case of Audition, the cost is $240 a year.
Yes, it’s ridiculous. If you happen to have access to a computer that uses it, fine. But otherwise, you’ll want another solution.
It’s a little tricky, because some of the other commercial sound editing and mixing software programs do not necessarily have the functionality you’ll need for producing radio. Some software programs, instead, are more oriented to producing and mixing music tracks.
Fortunately, there is a wonderful open source program called Audacity, which is free and available for both Mac and Windows computers. It is truly a great gift from the software programmers who have designed it, coded it, and kept it up to date. The trade off is that the interface is somewhat less intuitive than say, Audition, but if you can use a word processor like MicrosoftWord on a computer, then you should be able to learn the basic functions you’ll need on Audacity fairly quickly. And once you do learn those functions, you’ll find that if you wish to explore it further, Audacity has more features and power than even many commercial programs.
Audacity is constantly being updated, so it is important to download the most recent release for your particular computer. The official download page is here:
As of this writing, the latest version of Audacity is 2.2.2 for both Windows and Mac computers. If you have either kind of computer made within the last 10 years, that’s the version you want, unless you see a later version posted after this was written. It’s easy enough to click on the download and install it onto your computer.
The one annoying part about installing Audacity is that due to patent issues, there are two separate small support programs that you should also download in addition to Audacity, which are not included in the Audacity program itself. These support programs will allow you to import, export, and convert from one digital format to another easily within Audacity. You won’t need their functionality until you need them, and then you’ll be glad you have them; so although they are a bit of a pain to configure, it’s best to do it now, once, and you’ll never have to be bothered with it again.
The two support programs you need are called LAME MP3 encoder and FFmpeg import/export library.
Once you’ve downloaded the main Audacity program, you can download and install those two support programs by following the directions on the following page of the Audacity online manual:
Focus on the sections entitled “How do I download and install the LAME MP3 encoder?” and “How do I download and install the FFmpeg import/export library?” Follow the directions there, depending on what kind of computer you have. When you get to it, follow the directions that say “Recommended installer package.”
In future posts, I’ll talk about how to use Audacity, but now that you have all your tools, in the next post of the series, next week, I’ll be talking about how to begin preparing for an interview. See you then.
I’ve been producing, editing, and conducting interviews on the radio for a number of years now, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I go about creating a radio segment from start to finish in a weekly series of posts here. It’s my intention that after this series is over, you should know pretty much how to do what I do. For examples of the kinds of interviews I do, simply put the word “WBAI” into the search bar of this blog, and you should come up with a fair sample.
Let me set the scene here: I do most of my work for a weekly radio show called Arts Express on a listener-sponsored, non-commercial public radio station based in New York City, WBAI 99.5 FM. We are part of a larger network across the United States, Pacifica, which has five flagship stations. There are also scores of much smaller affiliate stations which from time to time also pick up content from the network.
Pacifica has been around since 1960, and because it is non-commercial and listener funded, the scope and depth of what we do is quite different from commercial radio. We are freer to pursue avenues that commercial radio ordinarily would not follow, and there is often a strong political aspect to what we broadcast. Part of the Pacifica Foundation’s mission is
“to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups; and through any and all means compatible with the purposes of this corporation to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.”
On our weekly show, Arts Express, we tend to focus on the intersection of where Arts meets Politics, although from time to time, we’ll talk with a guest who has nothing directly to do with politics. But we generally do 15-minute segments with novelists, actors, directors, poets, musicians, dancers, comedians, artists, playwrights, academics, and anyone else who we think might be engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
It should be clear that the kinds of radio segments I am talking about here are those which are pre-recorded and then edited for later broadcast. I have many colleagues who do live on-the-air interviews during their shows, and that is a very different talent and skill. While I much admire those who can do that, I much prefer to work in a situation where I know I can edit the conversation down to its most essential and interesting parts.
I should add that I am pretty much self-taught. So what follows—even when I seem to be dogmatic–is just how I do things, what seems to work for me, in my situation. I am by no means expert in any of this, and I’m always trying to learn more. Take what you like and leave what you don’t. If you are in a similar situation to me, or thinking about putting together a podcast, or just curious, I hope you’ll find something useful in this series.
So with that background, let’s begin.
First off, what equipment are you going to need? I am very rough and ready, and do most of my work away from the actual radio studios. Fortunately, the medium of radio is pretty forgiving, and the three main essentials for doing this kind of work are:
1) A digital recorder and headphones
2) A microphone
3) A sound editing and mixing program for your computer
That’s really about it. With just that, and an outlet to broadcast your work, you can achieve quite a bit. And later on in the series, I’ll talk about how you may not even need the first two items on the above list!
1) There’s all kinds of money one can spend on equipment, but I have just very basic but serviceable equipment. The digital recorder I have is a Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder, which cost me about $225 in 2014; there are certainly equivalent recorders on the market for a similar price today, though for some reason now this particular recorder is much more expensive. You probably want a recorder that can record natively in WAV and MP3 formats, and one that has built-in stereo mics and a playback speaker. Also make sure the recorder is compatible with the kind of computer you have, either Mac or Windows, though I suspect most recorders on the market today will work with either. Make sure that the proper cable is included in order to transfer your recordings to your computer. Typically, this will be a USB cable. Headphones which plug into your recorder are also important, so that you can monitor what is actually being recorded by your recorder. For now, we won’t worry about anything too fancy.
2) Microphones are a tricky subject, but generally you want to make sure you have a mic that is compatible with your recorder. It should be capable of capturing in stereo (even if your segment eventually ends up in mono). Microphones tend to be omnidirectional or unidirectional. I find that for the kind of work I do, the omnidirectional mics are best, although they tend to pick up more stray noise. The mic I use is an Audio-Technica AT8010 Omni-Directional Instrument Condenser Microphone which cost me about $150. A table mic stand and a ball-type foam windbreak for the head of the mic are useful as well. Important is to have the proper cable for the mic that will also be compatible with your digital recorder. Typically the cable does not come with the mic. This may take you a bit of research. The mic cable I use for my equipment is a LyxPro – 3 Ft – 3.5mm (1/8″ TRS mini input) to XLR Female Star Quad Microphone Cable. It is no longer made, but if you look up the specs you’ll know you want something similar to that if you have the other two items I have.
But in a pinch, you can—and I have—used the built in mic on the digital recorder, and I’ve even used just the voice recorder function on my Smartphone in an emergency. Fortunately, with the use of editing software, you can recover from a multitude of sins. So next week I’ll talk about editing software, and begin to talk about how to prepare for the actual interview itself.
The problem: WBAI-99.5 FM in NYC, the radio station I work for, is a listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio station. In order to raise operating funds, we, like many other non-profit media outlets, hold on-air fund raisers wherein we give the listeners “thank-you gifts” as a reward for their donations. Some of those gifts are tickets to movies, plays, lectures, etc. The problem is that tickets are very perishable—if listeners don’t grab them by the event date, the tickets become worthless.
So how can we encourage more listeners to go to our website to buy tickets? One solution the station was able to use was the promo above I made. It was really fun to put this together. It took me less than an hour using Audacity, an open-source computer editing tool. Click on the grey triangle to hear the results.
“The players often mention it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand.'” –Ben Jonson
Stephen Minch, owner of The Hermetic Press, publisher of fine books about conjuring, must have blotted out hundreds of thousands of words by now. Enough, anyway, so that he can write authoritative and amusing advice to the players in hisHermetic Press Stylebook.
Minch’s 11-page Stylebook is a fascinating little read for anyone interested in magic, reading, or writing. Even if you are a writer who is not at all interested in magic, I still urge you to take at look at this booklet. You can download it for free here. I was lead to this book by a review in Genii, The Conjurer’s Magazine, where the reviewer, Eric Mead, no slouch himself in either the writing or the magishing department, makes a very good case for the stylebook’s necessity. “Writing about magic,” Mead says, “is technical work, extremely demanding, and requires a clarity and precision with words that few seem to be able to master.”
As someone who has spent some time proofreading magic and other kinds of books, I can attest to this. The issues involved in writing about magic are sometimes magic specific: should we capitalize the names of cards? Should the names of sleights be capitalized? If a deck is face up (hyphen or no?) where is the top of the deck? And here’s one that Minch doesn’t take on: should we call the people for whom we do effects (tricks? experiments?) spectators, participants, subjects?
But since magic is a hands-on art, its description must also share similarities with other hands-on how-to books. Mead points to the following instructive example:
“Here is one sentence one might find in a magic book: ‘Pick up the deck with your right hand, and place it into left-hand dealing grip.’ Minch suggests this sentence is more effective if written, ‘With your right hand, pick up the deck, and place it into left-hand dealing grip.’ Not only does the second version avoid an ugly dangling phrase, it delivers the reader information in the most useful order.” [italics mine]
Useful really, when you think about it, for so many kinds of description. If a reader is trying to follow along, s/he doesn’t want to pick up the deck, and only then, afterward, find that the deck was picked up by the wrong hand. Order matters!
There are some issues, however, which Minch tackles, with which I disagree; he dislikes “(s)he” and “s/he,” pleading that “When someone comes up with a new non-gender specific pronoun that is as functional as “he”, I’ll consider it; but for now I think it best to follow traditional usage. Especially when you consider that ninety-eight percent of the readers of magic books are male.” This seems to me to be dead wrong on two counts: “s/he” is just as functional as “he”; and even if 100% of magic readers were male, it’s still sexist to default to the male pronoun. These kinds of things matter, too, in my opinion.
But for the most part, there is much sound advice. I have to admit, I had never thought before about why “put the deck on the table,” was poor usage. (If you don’t know why, then you, like me, especially need to read this stylebook. 🙂 )
I like proofreading. It really makes me think a lot about how writing, not the least, my own, can be improved. It’s a low-risk way to get to be a better writer. So, thanks to the people who have given me the opportunity to revise their work, and thanks to Stephen Minch of Hermetic Press for bringing clarity to his criteria for good magic writing.
I hate what I’m writing. But I’m writing. My job is not to like it or not like it. My job is to write it.
This is novel number two. While number one is out for feedback, I’ve been working on number two. That was my New Years resolution. Eight hundred words, four times a week. In six months that’s about 80,000 words. That’s an average-sized novel.
But I hate it so far. It doesn’t breathe at all. I’m not excited. Why? Because early on, while working on the first novel, I was outlining this new one. I had a very specific idea in mind. This, unlike the first one, is going to be a mystery/ thriller, and I did some extensive outlining. I basically had written a synopsis of every scene in the book, and because the setting bounces back between the present and the past, I did a lot of historical research. I thought I was prepared to write.
But I write and everything seems terribly cliched and lifeless. I’m not enjoying doing this. It feels like plodding, plodding. It’s a mountain of gruel on my plate, staring me in the face.
When I started writing the first novel, I had no idea what it was going to be. i just wrote. Each day, I barely looked back at what I had written. I never knew what was going to come out. My first draft was basically a series of character sketches. I didn’t even know how the characters related to each other. Eventually, a few drafts later, I found out who they were to each other, but it was surprise after surprise for me.
But now. No surprises. The language is wooden, the characters are wooden, even as they fulfill the demands of the plot. Ughh.
I interviewed the excellent actor Roger Guenveur Smith a few months ago. I asked him to say what the most important thing was that he knew about acting. He barely hesitated, and said: The Breath. Breathing. That’s the source. And more and more, when I watch actors, that’s now my number one criterion. Whatever else it is, for god’s sake, be alive. I don’ t care how technically good it is, so much as that the thing breathes. In a world where everything is roboticized, it seems like our imperative is to breathe.
When I first learned to edit audio for radio production, I was enamored of the way that the editing software could cut out the imperfections, the umms and errs, the wanderings of thought. An interview could be edited together from raw audio and appear seamless. But the more I do this, the more I understand that the danger is that the edits can be too perfect. You can edit so tightly, that no breath is taken before the next thought. It will sound seductively perfect, but there’s no play in the voice, and eventually it registers as mechanical and lifeless. The listener might not even be aware on a conscious level what the problem is, but the voice will sound canned, like an answering machine message. I learned that even if you are cutting from one paragraph to another in a person’s speech, you have to leave in the breath to connect them.
So my problem now is, how do I allow breath back into my writing process? On the one hand, I don’t want to be judging myself as I write. Not in this phase of the writing. I’m just trying to get out the words, any words. But I need to let in some air or it’s going to drive me crazy. I’m making some progress. I wrote about digressions once before. So now, while writing in this phase, I’m allowing myself to digress for the slightest reason and not let it bother me. I know that, eventually, I will get back to my outline template.
It’s like doing improv acting. There’s a classic improv exercise where the audience gives the actors the first and last lines of the scenes, and the actors must improv everything else in between. It sound difficult–how do you know that you will end up where you need to be for the last line? But the secret to doing it well is to not worry about where you are going to end up. Your unconscious will get you there if you keep going. You just need to trust that you will arrive there in its own good time.
As a writer, I have even more of an out than the improv actor. The actor feels the pressure to be interesting for the audience’s sake. But the writer doesn’t have to worry about the audience yet. I can let the breath go, and I can go where it takes me. If, in the end, it doesn’t go to an interesting place, and it doesn’t fulfill its other obligations, then I can revise –when the time for revision comes.
But for now, my obligation is only to write eight hundred words. In the breathing room, I can play as I wish.