Case in point: YR Media just launched our own, Adult ISH, a first of its kind, culture and advice podcast produced by those who are almost adults. Subscribe!
Podcasts come in all sorts of varieties — comedy, music, journalism, fiction — there are even podcasts about other podcasts! So whether you’re a Serial addict, a 2 Dope Queens fan, a proud RadioLab supporter, or none of the above, rest assured there’s still something in the podcast world for everyone.
In fact, we’re living in what many people are calling a new “Golden Age” for audio. We’ve already seen that audio CAN go viral (ahem, Serial, S-Town…) in podcast form. And thanks to our cell phones, most of us are carrying around a kind of digital audio player and recorder with us all the time. Today more people than ever are getting creative with podcasting as a form of intimate, engaging storytelling. In other words, people are listening — not just to journalists or comedians, but also to ordinary people who decide to share their stories, expertise, and ideas.
So are you ready to try your hand at podcasting? Get the skills you’ll need by checking out the five steps we’ve laid out for you below.
1. Coming Up With an Idea
First, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of podcasting and practice coming up with a brief pitch for a podcast of your own.
Determine Your Podcast Personality
There are a lot of different types of podcasts out there: comedy, music, how-to, journalism, fiction, to name just a few. To determine what kind of podcast you might like to make, we suggest you start by listening to a variety of different podcasts and get a sense for what you like. You can browse what’s popular on iTunes, look for productions by your favorite media personalities, or explore by topic.
We’ve put together a short list of some of our favorites. If you have the time, take a listen and figure out what kind of podcast you might like to make yourself.
If you’re a public radio junkie:
This American Life (WBEZ)
Snap Judgement (WNYC)
99% Invisible (Radiotopia)
Latino USA (NPR)
If you love a good mystery:
Welcome to Night Vale (Welcome To Nightvale Presents)
Limetown (Two-Up Productions)
My Favorite Murder (Feral Audio)
If you’re a proud STEM nerd:
Science Vs (Gimlet)
Reply All (Gimlet)
Planet Money (NPR)
The Hidden Brain (NPR)
If you’re a history/language arts buff:
Revisionist History (Panoply/Slate)
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Song Exploder (Radiotopia)
LaVar Burton Reads (Stitcher)
If you love comedy/pop culture:
Comedy Bang! Bang! (Earwolf)
2 Dope Queens (WNYC)
Mystery Show (Gimlet)
The Read (Loud Speakers Network)
Guided Listening – Figuring Out What You Like
Now that you’ve got a basic idea of what this podcasting thing is all about, you’ll need to come up with an idea for one of your own. Use our guided listening questions to come up with a new idea for a podcast
What do I personally like to get out of listening to a podcast? (example: I like to be entertained, I like to be informed about new things, I like feeling inspired, etc)
What kind of podcast tone appeals to me? (example: light-hearted, serious, scripted, conversational, etc)
What kind of podcasting structure do I like best? (example: based on a theme, based on current events, narrative [like a book], 10-minutes or less, released in seasons, etc)
What kind of person do I want my podcast appeal to? (example: other teachers, people who are interested in a particular hobby, etc)
What elements make up the podcasts I like? (example: interview, musical segment, reported story, scene, etc)
What might make my podcast stand out compared to what’s already out there? (example: add a new storytelling element, use a different premise or style, cover a topic people want to know about, etc)
Vetting Your Idea
You’ve got an idea for a great podcast… or at least you think it’s a great podcast. How can you tell whether your idea will be a hit or fall flat? We’ve got some helpful tips, from finding inspiration to vetting your ideas and turning them into brief, punchy pitches.
T.A.G.S. – That’s A Good Story
Coming up with a good story (and presenting it well) is harder than it seems! Even experienced journalists and producers often struggle with coming up with fresh ideas that editors (and listeners) will respond to. In general, here are some qualities that set fresh story ideas apart from stale ones:
Twist / trend –
A good podcast takes a familiar idea and adds a new angle to make it fresh.
Adds to / Advances the story –
If your podcast is covering a familiar topic or style, make sure the way you present it takes the listener’s understanding to the next level.
Grounded in experience / expertise –
How will you make sure your podcast feels genuine? Start with the things you actually know about, or at least are really curious about.
Your podcast should include new, unexpected information, techniques, or elements that make people sit up and listen (and, of course, share your podcast with all their friends).
Common Pitfalls of Pitching
You’re almost there! As you finalize your podcast/story ideas, check out these common pitfalls and try to avoid them!
Example: “I heard this new band called U2”
Why Not? This may be news to you but your discovery has already been discovered.
Instead: Is there anything new that you could bring to this story? How about finding a local story with a fresh focus.
“The Long-Distance Pitch”
Example: “I think we should really be covering the conflict in the middle east.”
Why Not? What could you bring to this story from halfway around the world?
Instead: Try finding a local angle on global politics, like covering a nearby protest or talking to people who have moved from the area you’re interested in.
“The Aspirational Pitch”
Example: “I wanna do an in depth profile of Beyonce.”
Why Not? You probably don’t have access. If you do — can you hook us up with tickets?
Instead: Maybe there’s some impact her music and celebrity power has had on your community?
Example:“I want to report on poverty in America”
Why Not? This is a better topic for a book than a radio story
Instead: Try to break off a piece of this issue that could be addressed in 4.5 minutes. How are people accessing a new distribution system for welfare benefits.
Example: “I want to do a story about why all boys love sports”
Why Not? That’s based on assumption and not necessarily fact. Also is there something new or surprising that we could learn from the story?
Instead: Look for evidence rather than anecdotes. Maybe the story is about how and why that stereotype persists and whether or not it’s changing.
“The Fake Trend”
Example: I’ve been playing a new video game so I figure everyone else is too.
Why Not? Personal interests can be a good start for a story but it’s more interesting to others if it’s part of a larger issue.
Instead: Research to verify if the trend is real or reframe the story as a first-person commentary.
Now that you’re pretty sure you have a fresh podcast concept, we’ll learn how to turn your idea into a brief pitch.
Pitching Practice: The One-Graf Pitch
A pitch is essentially a paragraph description where you make the case for why your story is awesome and interesting. To practice, you’re going to write the pitch for the first episode of your podcast.
When writing your pitch, focus on the essentials — What is your podcast/the episode about, and why will people want to listen? Emphasize the T.A.G.S. (see above) of your story, or why people should be excited about it. And keep it conversational! Write your pitch as if you were talking to a friend. This will keep it from becoming stuffy or formal.
For example, here are a few successful pitches from YR stories:
PITCH: Out of the nearly 900 emoji options available to U.S. teenagers, the pistol emoji is one of the most popular (#75). Teens use it to express boredom (another math test: gun), prompt people to respond faster (are you there? text me: gun), or vent frustration (this line is taking forever!: gun). And most of the time, it seems pretty harmless. But even if the message is benign, the question remains why so many of us feel we have to use violent imagery to express ourselves — often without thinking about it. In this podcast episode, Youth Radio’s Tylyn Hardamon tracks the linguistic and technical history and use of the pistol emoji, quizzing young people on how and why they use it.
PITCH: Are teens today more narcissistic than ever before? Some psychologists are pointing to a personality test called the Narcissism Personality Inventory, which seems to indicate that millennials have a historically high sense of self-obsession. But not everyone thinks the test is a great tool to use on teens, who may need an inflated sense of self to protect themselves against the natural pitfalls of puberty. In this week’s podcast replay, Youth Radio’s teen reporters turn the lens on themselves as they investigate their own narcissism scores, and interview an expert on what this trend might mean for the success of the next generation.
2. Getting to Know Your Equipment
Sound is everywhere. From the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep, our days are filled with noise. Even so-called “silence” is actually full of sound — the hum of an air conditioner, the distant rush of traffic, the whoosh of our own breath. By collecting and weaving together high quality recordings of our interviews and scenes, we can bring the story closer to listeners — their ears and imaginations allowing them to enter entire worlds of sound.
Choosing Your Recorder
When it comes to recording sound, not all equipment is created equal. But even if you can’t afford a top-of-the-line audio kit, there is a wide range of devices that you can use to gather sound for your stories. In the end, whether you’re using a Zoom H4N or a Fisher Price Cassette Recorder, it’s still the audio you gather that truly makes your story compelling.
Most smartphones today have a built-in microphone and recording function (example: iPhone’s voice memo), and can be used in a pinch to conduct interviews and gather sound. Here are a few tips for using your phone effectively as a recorder:
Find a quiet room — preferably one with carpet, lots of furniture, etc. — for interviews. Unplug or remove all devices that click, tick, ring, hum or buzz.
Make sure your phone has enough space. You don’t want to gather awesome sound only to find out there’s nowhere to save it!
Have the person being interviewed hold the device’s receiver a few inches away from their mouth. If you want to capture multiple people’s voices, ideally each person will have their own phone. If the phone is too far away, their voices will be hard to hear.
Consider investing in an external microphone. If you need to gather higher quality sound, there are many setup options (like this one) that allow you to record and edit via your phone. External microphones can also help if you want to gather characteristic sounds of a particular scene.
Check out some broadcast/recording apps. There are many free or inexpensive mobile apps that allow you to customize the levels and quality of the sounds you record on your phone. Two popular options are Hindenburg and Transom — though new ones are popping up every day!
Can’t go there in person? Record your phone calls. “Phoner tape,” as it’s called in audio editing circles, isn’t the highest quality sound — that’s why many radio studios use tape syncers (locals with audio equipment who can gather sound in-person) to do remote interviews. But if your source lives far away and you’re on a budget, there are still ways to preserve that audio. Check out inexpensive apps like Tape A Call or Recorder. Free options are possible using Skype and Google Voice.
If you’re doing a phoner, try asking the person you’re interviewing if they have a smartphone. If so, they can record using the voice memo option on their device (using the tips above) and then email you the audio afterwards.
Computer (desktop or laptop)
Built-in computer microphones generally aren’t as high quality as the ones in smartphones, but you can always pair them with a good external microphone to get decent sound. Check out Transom’s guide to setting up a basic home studio for tips on mics and software. Free audio editing software mainstays like Audacity and Garageband are excellent programs for beginners.
Portable Digital Recorder
Outside of a professional studio, a high quality portable digital recorder is your best bet to get broadcast-quality sound — but expect to shell out a few hundred bucks. Transom has a comparison guide geared toward professional storytellers that may help you make your choice.
A Sound Dampener — When you’re recording narration or an interview, you want to reduce outside sounds and prevent echo. If you’ve got the $, you could get a vocal shield or set up your own studio. If you’re on a budget or just getting started, try recording in your closet (the clothes help to muffle outside noise), or in a carpeted room under a sleeping bag.
Headphones – One great way to know you’re getting awesome audio is to LISTEN to it as it comes in. You don’t even need pricey headphones — just make sure you can hear what’s going on clearly and you ALWAYS wear them when you record.
An External Microphone (Optional but recommended) – It’s not that you can’t get great sound with the microphones built in to your devices (check out Youth Radio’s guide to gathering high quality audio using your phone), but it can be difficult. Built-in microphones are more likely to pick up “handling noise,” meaning the sounds your hands make when they make tiny shifts in your grip, gusts of wind, or echos from a room. There are entire sites dedicated to picking a fancy microphone that best fits your needs, but in general you could upgrade your sound game by getting some type of external microphone (one you plug into your recorder).
A windscreen/pop filter for your external microphone – Wind makes noise. And, if you do any of your recording outside, it has a tendency to interrupt the sounds you’re trying to capture. A windscreen is a soft, cushy cover for your microphone that helps prevent that dreaded WHOOOSH noise. It also is known as a pop filter, which refers to the normal but gross-sounding noises we make with our mouths when we pronounce certain words. If you’re just getting started and you’re recording indoors, feel free to skip the filter. Or you can be nerdy and make one yourself (see above).
What Sounds To Gather
So now you have the equipment to start recording. Awesome. But to make a great podcast, what exactly should you be listening for? From interviews to interactions, here’s a brief rundown of some of the types of sound you might want to gather.
Scene – In audio, a scene takes you to a place where some sort of action is happening that relates back to the narrative. A scene is comprised of elements such as characteristic sounds, room tone, interaction, and emotion. The goal is an audio soundscape that allows your mind to recreate whatever is going on.
Characteristic Sounds – These are sounds that help transport the listener to a particular place. Examples include the buzz of a drill at a dentist’s office, a moo at a cattle ranch, the late bell at a school, the gavel noise of a courtroom. If possible in a scene, any action that creates sound should be recorded closely to bring the listener into the moment.
Room tone (ambient noise) – Even if you think you are recording in a silent space, every room has its own brand of quiet. At the beginning or end of each scene/interview, record between 30 seconds and 1 minute of room tone during which you and your source do not talk.
Stand-up – A stand-up is when a reporter does a brief, live description of what is going on and/or what they are doing in the field. Stand-ups often address the 5 W’s or reporting — who, what, where, when and why. They may also include narrative elements, such as how the reporter is feeling or thinking.
Interview – This is when a reporter/interviewer asks a source a series of questions. When recording an interview, you want to try to gather the “cleanest” sound possible, meaning minimal background noises. Seek out a quiet space, even if it means asking someone to turn off music or devices.
Levels – Levels represent the sensitivity of your recording device — in other words, it sets the amplitude of the sound you gather. When setting your levels (which you should do before each interview or scene), you want to make sure the amplitude of your sound stays in the mid-range for your device. If your levels are too low, you will not capture the sound you may need. If your levels are too high (“peaking”) the sound will be distorted. For step-by-step instructions on how to set, check out online tutorials like this one.
Skills You Need For Gathering Great Sound
Before you press record on your actual podcast, you’re going to want to make sure you have a couple of basic recording skills down. Gather your equipment together and make sure you’re comfortable doing the following:
Complete set up (headphones on, cables and microphone attached)
Turn on recorder
Set recording levels to mid-range*
Proper mic placement (for interviews: fist-width distance from mouth, slightly off to side of mouth)
Gather room tone (ambient noise)
Turn off recorder
Complete break down (headphones, cables and device stored properly)
*A note on gathering levels: rather than asking your interviewee to say something artificial like “check check 1 2 3,” have them answer a basic descriptive question like “what did you have for breakfast?” This will make sure they’re speaking within their normal range of volume.
We’ve also made a one-page checklist and a graphic to help you remember what skills to practice when you go out to record sound on your own.
Recording Practice: Gather the sounds of your room
To practice field recording, you can use your recording set-up to gather three different sounds that help define the room you’re in. The goal is to get a sense for how you can use sound to build a portrait of a place.
Take a look/listen around the room you’re in currently (or pick one nearby that you can easily access). What are three characteristic noises that help to define the space you’re in? For example, if you’re in a classroom, you might hear the ring of the school bell, the laughter of students coming in, and the creeeeeeak of the chair as you sit down.
Using your recording equipment, gather no more than ten seconds of each sound. Save each sound file and play it for your friends!
3. Getting Great Interviews
Interviewing is the foundation on which most podcasts are built. Great interviews are conversations that suck the listener in and leave them feeling included, informed, and more connected to the story than before.
Interviewing is more than a skill — it’s an art. The order of your questions, the way you phrase them, and the tone of your voice all affect the way a person will respond to you. By carefully crafting your interview questions and paying attention to how your source responds, you’ll be more likely to gather compelling, engaging tape for your podcast.
The style of a given interview depends a lot on your relationship to the person you’re talking to. If you’re interviewing an expert, you’ll use different words, tone, even posture than if you are talking to a friend. You’ll also use different interviewing strategies depending on the angle of your story — if you feel your source is hiding something, for example.
Types of Interviews
In normal conversations, we “interview” people we know all the time. But casually saying hello to a friend or relative can feel really different than sitting down with them with a goal in mind. You’ll want to capitalize on your familiarity with your interviewee to get the best stories and answers as possible, but also keep in mind that your conversation shouldn’t be so filled with inside jokes and references that other people won’t understand what you’re talking about. To set the scene for a strong interview with someone you know, it’s a good idea to:
Sit next to them instead of across from them – this position facilitates intimacy and can feel less formal than other types of interviews.
Interview them in a place that’s meaningful to them – their room, home or favorite spot will make for a better scene than a loud, sterile place like a busy coffee shop.
Go into the interview with set goals. It’s really easy to let conversations wander when talking to friends and family. Know the kinds of answers you’re looking for and redirect the conversation if it strays too far from the main point.
Listening Example: YR’s Maya Escobar interviews her dad about whether or not he thinks he’s addicted to his cell phone
When we think of the word “expert,” many of us picture a doctor, lawyer or professor. But an expert can be anyone who has a lot of knowledge or experience that you can to tap into for a particular story. We often interview experts when we need a complicated process explained, or if we need someone to speak about broader trends for a story. When looking for the right expert to talk to, think about someone who is:
Good at explaining things and/or a dynamic storyteller
Acknowledged in the field, meaning he or she has written about the topic or has been recommended by others as a knowledgeable source
Representative of the diversity of the population. For example, women and people of color are often underrepresented in the media as sources of analysis and expertise. You have an opportunity to change that.
The phrase “something to hide” makes it sound like we’re talking about interviewing a spy or super villain about their plans for world domination. But really, “something to hide” interviews are about getting information that a character may be hesitant to share. This doesn’t mean they are good or bad people, but it does mean you should tread carefully when structuring your interview. Examples of “something to hide” interviews include:
Experts who work in Public Relations (PR) and may try to redirect the framing of the story
People who have created products or services with controversial/unintended consequences
People who stand to gain or lose a lot from the interview (good press, bad press)
While it can feel awkward to probe someone for hidden information, know that it’s part of your mission as a journalist to report as accurately and thoroughly as possible. You are doing your readers/listeners a service by asking thorough questions, and getting to the truth is a powerful reward.
Now that you have field recording and interviewing down, you’re all set to start gathering awesome elements for your podcast. The next step is learning how to put it all together, turning your raw audio into an edited audio piece.
Essential Audio Editing Vocabulary
Tape – even though most of us use digital recorders now, not cassette tapes, most audio nerds still refer to all the sounds/clips/interviews you capture as “tape.”
Transcribe Tape – This means you listen to tape and write down everything that you hear. It can be time consuming (you’ll probably need to listen multiple times), but it’s really useful to have a full transcript of your interviews, scenes, etc. when you are starting to organize and edit your audio files for a podcast.
Log Tape – to “log” tape, means you listen to your raw audio and then select and isolate your favorite cuts. Then, you can transcribe the “best tape.”
Actualities (AXX) – Actualities or “AXX” as some people call it, are non-scripted sound clips from interviews or scenes that you’ve gathered. Think of it like, actualities come from ACTUAL life.
Tracks (TRAX) – Tracks or “TRAX” refer to sound clips that you recorded in the studio from a script. Many podcasts consist of alternating AXX and TRAX.
Ambient Sound/Room Tone – Every room (even the quiet ones) has its own particular sound. Whether it’s a slight hum from a studio, or the background sound of traffic from an on-the-street interview, you’ll want to capture ambient sound in your recordings and run them under your AXX to help hide your edits.
Scene Tape – Scene tape consists of the characteristic sounds and sequence of noises that help the listener associate the story with a particular place or action. For example, if your podcast is about cooking, you might have “scene tape” audio of a chef preparing a meal. This audio is action-filled, narrative, and tells the story of someone doing something in the moment.
Finding Your Editing Flow — Organize Your Audio
Once you start gathering interviews, scenes, etc. for your podcast, start organizing your tape right away! You want to be listening for tape that sticks out for various reasons (see graphic above).
After you gather your audio, immediately download your audio and save it in a safe place. Name each file in such a way that you can quickly identify each file and what it contains (example: DATE_PODCAST_SOURCENAME_INTERVIEW.wav)
Before listening back, take a few minutes to write down what you most remember from each scene or interview — those are probably the bites/ acts/ cuts/ tape you want to pull.
Now open up your audio files in an audio player or audio editing software such as Audacity and listen back. Make a note of the time codes of your favorite pieces of audio (logging your tape).
Transcribe your audio in a separate document, marking the time codes as you go along. If you have time, you can transcribe the whole thing. If you’re on more of a deadline, transcribe only your favorite clips.
Structuring Your Podcast
When it comes to arranging your best clips into a script, there’s no pre-set format for how to structure a podcast. On the one hand, that’s awesome! You get to be creative and experiment with your storytelling! But it can also be intimidating when you’re not sure how to get started.
We suggest you start by making an outline:
Print out the transcripts of the tape you logged. Cut each clip/AXX (usually a few sentences or less) and clearly label them so you know who is talking.
Look over the clips/AXX and ask yourself:
What should the listener hear first? Oftentimes this is your strongest or most scene-driven tape.
What do you want the listener to leave with? Is there a natural ending?
Is there a narrative thread (meaning a natural beginning, middle, and end of the story) that you can reinforce?
Is there information that you feel is missing? If so, write it on a new piece of paper and put it in the place you think it belongs. Consider using narration (tracking) or contacting another interview/source to fill this gap.
Line up your clips/AXX in the order you think makes sense. Try it a few different ways to play with the structure.
Write your narration/TRAX in-between clips/AXX
Remember, you are the tour guide for the story. Start us out one place, and take us to another.
Tell the story your clips/AXX don’t tell.
Describe scenes, introduce speakers, and explain confusing parts.
Note: you may decide to take out clips/AXX, rearrange the order and re-write narration a bunch during this process
Write your host lede – meaning the introduction to the story
YR Reporter Amber Ly’s parents own a donut shop in the Richmond district of San Francisco. She interviewed her mom as part of her feature about “the model minority.”
Once you get your outline together, you’ll write in and out of the clips you’ve selected, giving additional information, transitions, context, etc. You’ll also want to format your script so that it’s easy to read (see our voicing unit).
Check out this script (below) by YR’s Amber Ly about how the Asian-American model minority stereotype has affected her experience in the classroom.
How Model Minority Myth Shortchanges Asian-Americans
YR’s Amber Ly
NPR’s Here & Now
INTRO: Today there’s news out of the Supreme Court (striking down/upholding) affirmative action. That suit was brought by a white student who claims she was discriminated against. Meanwhile, up north, Ivy League colleges face claims from a coalition of Asian American groups who say Asian-Americans have to score higher on the SATs to get accepted. Youth Radio’s Amber Ly (AM-bur LEE) is Asian-American, and she’s been thinking a lot about how racial stereotypes affect her experience in the classroom
There’s a joke that an A minus is an Asian F. It’s a play on the idea that all Asians are smart. We get good grades. We work hard.
Jokes like this can be pretty frustrating for Asian teens. For one thing, it makes us sound like a bunch of high-achieving robots.But moreover, it’s just not true for everyone. How well immigrants do in the US often corresponds to
MOM: I come here with nothing. I don’t have English, no English at all.
That’s my mom.
MOM: Our family, it’s not like have a good education from the country.
My parents never got a formal education. They came here in the early 1990’s from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge.
The dropout rate for Cambodian-American kids like me is actually really high–35 percent. It shouldn’t be a newsflash that not all Asian-Americans do well in school, but the model minority stereotype makes the actual problems in these communities invisible.
[DONUT SHOP AMBI]
MOM: Hi, can I help you?
Customer: Hi. Uhh, can I get a dozen?
MOM: A dozen donut holes?
For the last 19 years now, my parents own a donut shop in San Francisco.
MOM: One apple fritter? And?
My dad carries flour into the back of our shop in 50 pound bags. Both of my parents labor over heavy machinery and boiling oil. They work hard at keeping their business afloat, and by extension supporting our family.
So they’re not exactly tiger parents hovering over my homework. But when I’m at school, my teachers and peers still treat me like I’m supposed to be some kind of genius. And I’m not the only one.
RHEA: I feel like I was always expected to be, like, the top student. I mean in middle school and in elementary school, I worked really hard to meet that standard. Because I felt that was like what everyone expected of me and I didn’t want to let them down.
That’s 15-year-old Rhea Park. For her, the model minority myth can make it harder to get the help she needs at school.
RHEA: Like even with teachers… Whenever I needed help like, they’re like “Oh, it’s okay. You can figure it out.”
I get this too. The pressure I feel about school doesn’t come from my family at all. In fact, my mom doesn’t even know the stereotype that’s supposed to be about her.
AMBER: Have you ever heard about tiger moms?
MOM: No. What’s mean tiger mom?
AMBER: So yeah, like this is what a tiger mom is. It’s like you are super strict. Like, Oh my God you have to go study right now. No playing with your friends. You can’t go outside. Like you have to go do–you have to study, play piano, do the violin.
Mom: Ohh. I cannot do that. Because I saw you trying to work hard by your homework or your everything, your tests. You always try hard by yourself.
My mom says whenever I talk to her about my grades, I make it sound like I’m failing. I’ve spent the last four years in high school, feeling ashamed because I’m a B student. And lately, I’ve come to see that this invisible pressure I feel is the model minority myth at work.
This is how racism operates. It erases our individuality. It tells us how we should act, how we should perform in school. And when we miss the mark, we’re failures. That’s how even positive sounding racial stereotypes cause damage.
For Here & Now, I’m Amber Ly.
BACK ANNOUNCE: Amber Ly (AM-bur LEE) recently graduated from high school in San Francisco. Her story was produced by YR.
Tips For Writing For Radio
As you start filling in the TRAX between your clips, you’ll want to keep your writing style super simple, conversational, and clear. In other words, DO NOT write as if you were composing an essay or academic paper. If you listen to how people actually talk, you’ll notice a few trends:
Use small, casual words, not big, formal ones.
For example, say “car,” not vehicle. “But” not “however,” “said,” not “expressed,” etc.
Use short words/sentences, not long ones.
This is not Scrabble. Long words do not earn you more points. Short sentences are punchy, clear, and engaging. Even sentence fragments are OK in radio scripting!
Avoid acronyms, long organization names or formal titles, lots of exact numbers, etc. unless you absolutely have to.
Assume everyone’s memory is really short.
So if you’re introducing a new voice, identify them right away (you might need to break a long clip into smaller pieces to do this).
If it’s been awhile since you heard from someone in the piece, re-introduce them when you hear them again (ex: that’s Joe again, the guy from the laundromat).
Don’t make your AXX and TRAX too repetitive.
It’s good to reinforce important points with phrases like “in other words,” or “hey did you catch what she said there?” But if your narration just repeats the same core concept as your interview clips, the listener will get bored.
When possible, use the present tense.
Audio is an intimate media format. You are whispering directly in the listener’s ear! Using the present tense will make the listener feel like he or she is there in the moment with you.
Practice Editing: The Basics Of Mixing
Once you get a script together, you’ll want to line up your tape in an order that matches the script using some type of audio editing software. We suggest checking out Audacity, a free, open source program available for both PC and macs.
In this make, you’ll get familiar with the program by recreating Amber Ly’s piece that you listened to above, her script and audio files that we provide for you.
Download Audacity. You can download the program for free here.
Download the YR audio files from Amber’s piece. We’ve put them into three folders: AXX (Amber’s narration), TRAX (her interviews with other people), and AMBI (room tone or scene tape). We’ve named them in the order they appear in the script.
Start by importing your audio. There are lots of great tutorials available online that will walk you through how to do this. Here’s a good one that goes through a couple of techniques for importing audio, as well as showing you how to record audio directly into audacity (which we’ll do during the voicing module).
Arrange your audio into the order it appears in your script. Here’s another Audacity tutorial on audio editing that will help you with the technical details. Do you best to mimic the pacing of the original piece.
5. Voicing Your Script
You’ve done the research, you’ve written your podcast script… now it’s time to step up to the mic and read. But if you really want to breathe life into your podcast, you can’t just read it— you have to perform it. So what goes into a good vocal performance? How do you sound like you’re talking to a friend, when you’re actually reading off a paper?
What Is A “Radio Voice?”
Journalist and podcaster Eric Simons is the Editorial Director of Bay Nature Magazine and co-host of The Field Trip Podcast. He’s also been featured on the popular science podcast RadioLab. YR reporter Sophie Varon sat down with Eric to ask him how podcast makers can put their best voice forward — from tips for sounding like yourself even when reading a script, to keeping conversations casual while covering complex topics.
Supplies for Voicing
When you record yourself (or someone else) reading a script for a podcast or radio story, it’s known in the industry as “tracking.” When you track, you’ll first want to make sure you have a good location to record. As you learned in the recording module, be sure to have:
A quiet place – that means unplugging any devices that make sound such as clocks, phones, refrigerators, etc.
A sound-dampened environment – to eliminate echo, choose a padded place like a studio, a small room with carpet and lots of furniture, a closet full of clothes that you can sit in with the door closed, or even a quiet corner with a sleeping bag over your head.
Headphones – to hear yourself and make sure the sound quality is good.
A recording device – Try to avoid laptops microphones unless you have an external microphone. You may also choose to use your phone (hold it close to your mouth) or an audio kit.
An external microphone – Ideally you are using an external mic, but if you don’t have one, try to minimize handling noise by keeping your hand as still as possible and listening for noise during each take.
A partner/producer – tracking by yourself is hard because you’re having to talk and listen to yourself at the same time. It’s much better to find a buddy and have them coach you on your read and take notes on your cut sheet (see below).
A copy of your script – unless you have a REALLY good memory… just kidding, you’ll need a script no matter what. Make sure it includes not only the parts you are recording but the transcript of any audio you are reading in/out of (such as interview clips, scene tape, etc).
A pen or a pencil – you’ll use this to mark up your script with notes, change tricky words, and make notes on which takes you like the best.
A cut sheet – this is a piece of paper where you write down the time codes for your best takes of each section of your script. You can add notes for each cut to help you remember what you liked about each time you read your script.
Mark Up Your Script
Voicing is more than just talking — it’s a form of performance. If you simply read your script aloud, chances are it will sound very flat. But the goal of podcast voicing is to sound as if you’re not reading at all. To make your voice sound natural and engaging, you’re going to have to put a little extra effort into your read. One technique many professionals use is to “mark up” your script. This means you’ll add notes to help you know which places to breathe and which words to emphasize, slow down, modulate, etc.
Here are some common symbols for marking up your script:
/ = breathe or pause here
Underline = pay attention to this word because it is an operative word in the sentence. You may want to draw it out or modulate it with your voice.
ALL CAPS = really emphasize this word because it is absolutely essential to the meaning of the sentence
You may also want to add notes indicating the pace, mood, or tone you think would be appropriate for each part of the script.
Here’s an example, from a commentary (a short, first-person opinion piece) by YR Reporter, Billy Cruz. Listen to his commentary as you look over his marked-up script.
Using Your Voice Effectively
Now that you’ve got your set up, marked up script (and hopefully a partner to help you track), it’s time to start talking!
Get at least 3 different takes of each part of the script.
At Youth Radio, we usually have reporters start by reading the script all the way through, then they break it into parts and do each part 3 times, and then they do one last full read-through.
With each take, try different reads. If you’re a fast reader, try doing an intentionally slow take. Or if you’re a flat reader, try doing an extra dramatic take. It may sound silly to you, but it will improve your read as you find a happy medium.
Pay attention to pacing, pronunciation, emphasis, tone, volume, energy and phrasing –If your partner sounds stiff: ask him or her to try these techniques:
Recite the story as if you’re telling it to a friend
Turn over the script and do it from memory
Make eye contact with you
Stand up and see if that position gives the read more energy
Watch for “upspeak,” the term used to describe when your voice goes like it does at the end of a question
Make sure people can understand you. It helps to:
Slow down at proper nouns and numbers
Don’t rush hard-to-pronounce or long words
Make sure you have enough breath. If you’re struggling, consider shortening your sentences
Change hard-to-pronounce words or long sentences as you encounter them. Keep sentences short and words simple for clarity’s sake.