Frank Langfitt’s Unusual Voicing Method

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Listen to “Frank Langfitt’s Unusual Voicing Method”

Frank Langfitt has a creative answer to the age-old question How do you find stories?: Drive a taxi. A fake taxi.

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Listen to “I used to be a taxi driver”

Frank is NPR’s correspondent in Shanghai. In addition to a lot of news and feature reporting from there, Frank has a wonderful, on-going series of stories where he becomes a taxi driver in order to find new stories. There are twenty-four million people in Shangai and hardly any taxis at all, Frank says. So he rents a car, throws some signs on it, and drives around.

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Listen to “Free Loving Heart Taxi”

Frank says his job as a reporter is to spot a trend and then find people who illustrate the trend. Driving a taxi as research reverse engineers the reporting process. You just go out and talk to people.

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Listen to “Driving a free taxi is a great way to meet people”

Now as fascinating as Frank’s use of a taxi is, it’s not what I really wanted to talk to him about for this episode of HowSound. It’s his tracking, his voice work that fascinates me. Frank and I chatted about a story he produced in March 2015. Instead of just driving around Shanghai, Frank drove a handful of people 500 miles to their villages in the countryside. His passengers were headed home to celebrate the Chinese New Year and to get married. His narration is incredibly conversational. And, I learned about a voicing technique I never knew existed.

After you listen to HowSound, check out some of Frank’s taxi stories:

“Reporter Offers Free Cab Rides For Stories From ‘Streets Of Shanghai’”

“A Rare, Spontaneous Democracy Debate In A Shanghai Taxi”

“Single Mom Leads Double Life On The Streets Of Shanghai”

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  • Flawn Williams

    1.17.16

    Reply

    I think there may be a bit more to the process Frank talked about for doing such stories “live to tape”.

    It’s definitely a good idea to be able to hear your tape excerpts while you’re tracking, or doing a host 2way as was the case in this piece.

    But what it sounds like to me is that while Frank and David were having their audio-enhanced conversation, a “mix-minus” recording was being made that captured just their two voices, WITHOUT all the other audio. (This could be happening either instead of or in addition to recording the mix of everything as the conversation happened.)

    After that, the producer could use excerpts from that clean conversation recording (some of it with and some of it without David) to do a more carefully-choreographed lay-up and mix of Frank, the actualities, and the background sound.

    This would get you the best of both worlds: the inspired-by-tape conversational quality of the host-reporter chat, and the pacing, efficiency and polish of a well-constructed sound mix.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    1.18.16

    Reply

    Hi Flawn,

    Thanks for chiming in.

    You are indeed, correct. During our conversation, Frank briefly mentioned there was a mix-minus recoding. For simplicity’s sake, I left it out of the podcast. But, I’m glad you describe it here.

    Much obliged.

    Rob

  • marissaortegawelch

    2.11.16

    Reply

    Thanks for another great episode! In Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire book, she talked about how RadioLab has a similar process for tracking through conversation between the hosts. I’d love to hear a follow-up discussion on how this method could be applied to us freelance/independent producers who are often working alone and have to file our stories as a completed pieces we track ahead of time. Maybe employing friends to talk about your story with and record that, and then just edit out their side of the conversation? Or at least use that conversation as a template for writing a script?

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