Attending the Transom Story Workshop felt like nine weeks of being pickled in a rich brine of radio juices. Here are some snippets from my journal to show you what I’ve soaked up along the way.
Trust your curiosity. — April 16, 2017
Before I arrived, I searched for story ideas on local papers, Craigslist, Reddit, even Instagram. But I didn’t find anything that sparked my curiosity. When I got to Woods Hole, I talked with librarians, checked bulletin boards, and browsed the papers, but I still felt like I was coming up empty. One afternoon on a beach in Falmouth, I tried a different approach. I made a list of random things I’m curious about. I noticed I was drawn to questions about death, the funeral process, and how so many of us seem to interact with death and grief so differently from each other. Eventually I zoomed in on home funerals as an alternative to traditional funerals. I talked to everyone who wanted to talk, and I asked them to refer me to others. Dozens of phone calls later, I met Fran, the character in my story. The journey started with my curiosity, and I let it guide me towards a story.
Act like yourself. — April 24, 2017
During Ira Glass’s visit, he reminded us that when interviewing, you should “react in the tape like how you would normally react.” Maybe this sounds like obvious advice, but it was something I needed to consciously work at. There’s so much on my mind when I’m interviewing someone: Are the levels okay? Do I have enough battery power? Am I mic’ing close enough? What other sounds are in the room? Did I remember to get room tone? What questions do I still want to ask? Am I getting good scene tape? How do I subtly re-direct this conversation? What time is it? Oooh wait, what she just said was really interesting, I should ask for more details. . . I had to remind myself to be more present, more myself. Reacting like yourself not only makes for more powerful tape, it’s also crucial for building trust and rapport with your subject.
Transcribe, Isolate, Repeat. Write, Mix, Repeat. — May 20, 2017
Everyone has their own creative method that works best for them. I found that what works for me is to isolate my clips as I’m transcribing. That way, I have them ready to play with when I begin writing. When I start writing a first draft, I experiment with mixing as I go, so I can feel how the piece is flowing as I’m writing it, and move things around if it doesn’t flow well.
Music as emotional fascism. — April 19, 2017
In class, Rob mentioned that using music in radio is sometimes categorized as “emotional fascism.” Music can alter the emotional truth of a story. It’s important to use music that doesn’t tell you how to feel, and to use it only when you need to. For this piece, I spent hours listening for the perfect songs, even if I was only going to use a few seconds of each in the piece. Working music into my pieces was challenging but also one of my favorite aspects of mixing. My advice? Cut music on the downbeat. And always be on the lookout for signposts in the songs.
In parts of this piece, I narrate while music plays under me. When I voiced with Viki, I listened through ear buds, with the studio headphones over them. This way, I could hear the music as I voiced my script, which helped the pacing and tone of my voice flow with the music.
Share your ideas with everyone who will listen. — April 11, 2017
Tina Antolini gave us some great advice to hold close. She said: Talk about your ideas with everyone in your life, not just people in the audio world. You never know when a collaboration or partnership might happen. Keep sharing what you’re passionate about.
Abby’s Sonic ID
I spent a day on Martha’s Vineyard, taking a break from my work, although I brought gear with me just in case. I walked into a fish market to try their lobster rolls and inside I met Betsy, the owner. Both her voice and the sound of the bubbling of the lobster tank had me hooked. So I ate my lobster roll. Then I went back inside to record.