I remember when I got my first iPod touch, it was 2012 and I was in Gr. 7. It was a Christmas gift from my parents and I cherished it. But I didn’t have a ton of games or watch lots of YouTube videos like most other kids my age. For me, it was all about the music.
From that point on, wherever I went there was a song blaring in my ears.
Sound is something I’ve always been drawn to, I grew up at dance competitions hearing music of all genres. I spent summers at my trailer where I fell asleep to crickets chirping, wind blowing and my all-time favourite: thunderstorms.
My mom cooked to music of any and every genre. Trust me when I say I know all the lyrics to songs from country to metal to reggae.
I never really thought about my draw to rhythms, heartbeats or birds chirping though. Until I had to tell a story using them.
“Music is the art of thinking with sounds,” applies when putting together podcasts and radio pieces.
When using music, ambient noise, interviews and sound effects, a story comes together that makes a listener feel like they’re actually in the moment.
Drama, excitement and suspense are just a few of the emotions that can be shown through key noises in an audio piece.
There’s something about movie scores and music behind an intense interview that completes a scene or story.
The podcast Criminal, for example, explores heavy topics and uses music to set the mood. I could close my eyes and listen to the sounds of those stories forever.
But how do people create these engaging and incredible audio pieces?
The beauty of the pause
Some of the most important things about an audio story, in my opinion, are the pauses: that small moment where everything but the music and maybe ambient sound are playing.
This 10 – 25 second window gives the listener enough time to process what they’ve just heard then get ready for the next section of information.
This is crucial. It is what can make or break a story in the audio world because if there isn’t enough breathing room for the listener, they lose interest.
Don’t get too fancy
You don’t need to get crazy with your language in order to capture the audience’s attention. In fact, you have to do the opposite.
Make your sentences short and concise. Don’t put more than one thought into a sentence or else the listener might get lost.
“Squeeze the camel,” as my professor Teresa Goff would say.
Remember, listeners shouldn’t have to go back to understand or keep up.
Let the subjects tell the story
Your voice should only come into an audio story to give a missing piece of information or to move the story along.
Many people think the host tells the story, but I prefer listening to a person, or multiple people, tell the story through their own words.
I mean, connecting with the sound of a person’s voice is unique to broadcast journalism so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?
Take the time to play
An audio story takes time to get just right so don’t rush it unless absolutely necessary.
Take the time on a weekend or schedule a large amount of time during the week to just sit down and play with your audio.
Oh, and always write a script.
This will allow you to close your eyes and really feel whether or not you understand what the subject is going through or talking about.
Feel the sound – this may seem cheesy – but it is so true.
Finally, keep your clips in one place ALWAYS
Place all of your clips, sound and music in one place and DO NOT move it even when the piece is done.
You will either wish you followed my advice or thank me for this one day because once you move your clips, the program you used (I use Audition) can no longer find them.
This means you can’t go back and change anything.
Trust me, I’ve been burned before by moving clips around.
I’m not sure if it is because of my poor eyesight or my constant need to be in my own world but when I started hearing stories instead of reading them I was hooked.
There’s just something about sound that completes a story for me and I hope this article will help you hear things the way I do.
Listen to some of Meagan Secord’s sound work: