Listen to your Voice

Dan Bricklin on podcasting journalists:

This switch to audio will be tough for some people trained only in writing. With writing you needed to know how to type (a skill) and manipulate a word processor and email and maybe part of a content management system. Nothing that hard for regular people, and most stuff is taught in grade school now. So, the main unusual skills are writing ability and “journalism” training. With audio, most of the reporters who are doing new podcasts need to have and be proficient with lots of expensive fussy equipment, do a new type of editing they don’t teach in most schools (for making editorial changes as well as sound changes, compression changes, etc., etc.), speak fluently and clearly (or know how to fit it with editing, just as they often do with print), and more — lots of geeky skills and a bit of how to “act naturally” on top of it. On the flip side, reporters are finding whole new ways to do their craft of “reporting”. They may need additional skills but they have more outlets for their work. Of course for the techies at heart, it gives you a great excuse to learn about a whole new area and get lots of new toys.

I’ve read lots of Dan Bricklin before, but I never have visited his weblog (the shame of it!). Now added to my rss feed.

Great insightful post. I’m not podcasting (not yet anyway), but I will be making audio stories in the next year or so. It’s an entirely different set of concerns. For interviews I think 30 minutes is the absolute max, with 20 minutes being probably better. It’s really hard to have lots of good things to talk about (even if the podcaster is interesting).

I haven’t done any podcasting, but let me say this: it’s labor intensive work for creators and also time-intensive for listeners. Listeners probably have high standards for podcasts, and so the content creator better deliver.

As I said before, I’m going to do audio stories. Most are going to be based on already written stories; some I’m going to write specifically for audio. Other stories are not going to be audio at all. They just don’t work as audio fiction; does that sound strange? It is. I’ve actually read aloud some stories which I thought were polished and perfect. They were perfect…on paper. Some phrases when read aloud just sound silly and unbelievably melodramatic or emotional. On one story I wrote (and was proud of), I received an email from a reader who asked, “Was the protagonist a boy or a girl?” That question jarred me; It was an ingenious interpretation, and I spent the next few hours going over each bit of dialogue asking, “would a guy really say that?” Some perfectly wonderful novelists don’t imagine their stories being read aloud, and it shows. They are particularly tough to hear in audio form. Conversely, some stories intended to be read aloud really exploit the method well. More signposting than usual, repetitions, more dialogue, more identification of who’s the speaker at any particular moment, less emphasis on deep thoughts and more emphasis on exaggerated details and emotions.

But then I had to revise them for sound, for jumbles of dipthongs that sounded awkward, for phrases which were hard to pronounce or too much for one breath. When you write for audio, you think a lot about breathing. (BTW, I recommend The Voice Book as a book to train your voice for sound recording.

Part of the challenge is being able to listen to your voice objectively and hear what it does well and poorly. When I first listened to myself reciting a story of mine, I was not appalled. My voice, though untrained, was not terrible; I recited some parts well, other parts poorly. If you listen to a professional reader, you will hear the wide variations in reading speed; generally people read too fast, but in fact there are moments when it makes sense to quicken up the pace.

One thing I noticed about my voice is that I inflect way too much. I sound really singsongy. (For those wondering, I’m going to post a mp3 talk I gave in a week or so; my fiction, which will sound more polished, I’ll be more coy about). The first thing I thought when listening to myself was: tone it down! Even out your voice. Certain consonant combinations just sounded awful; words ending in LD, sibilants