By Marc Filippino
Audio is hot. And Rivet Radio’s Charlie Meyerson says sound is just as hot now as video was a few years ago.
And there’s proof to back it up. The Pew Research Center State of the News Media 2016 found podcast listenership and downloads are up again for a third straight year. Which is why Meyerson says it’s essential to make audio a part of your news organization’s game plan. And the good news is producing is cheap and easy.
At the 2016 Excellence in Journalism Conference in New Orleans, Meyerson hosted a seminar called “Audio: It Doesn’t Have To Be Hard.” Based on some of his tips and tricks, the session’s title holds up.
You don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on a state-of-the-art recorder. Meyerson says something as simple as an iPhone will do if you want to get great sound quality. Yes, iPhone audio has some drawbacks. Without a microphone cover, you can run into some popped “p” sounds and some glaring, unwanted background audio. But, the audio quality is still great, and Meyerson says why not use what you already have?
“There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. Well, same goes for audio. The best microphone is the one you have with you and most of us don’t walk around with a professional microphone in our pockets.”
And the same goes for editing equipment. Sure, it would be great to have Adobe Audition or Pro Tools. But you can get a decent experience out of free software programs like Audacity. TwistedWave is also a relatively less expensive audio software option. Editing with these tools is simple and efficient, especially if you have a solid production plan going into it ahead of time, Meyerson says.
Audio editing software like Audacity is free and gets the job done.
Okay so you have your tools and you’ve recorded sound and an interview. How do you keep your listeners engaged? Meyerson laid out a few tips that will make your life easier and payoff later on.
- Write a script and know your questions ahead of time. That way if you fumble a word during an interview, it will be easier to edit around later. (Bonus hint: For mess ups, edit between consonants. Rivet Radio’s George Drake Jr. lays that concept out well, here.) Plus, if you rehearse, you will feel more comfortable and your questions will sound way less rehearsed during the actual interview.
- Make sure you speak the way you do in real life. Sometimes hosts want to sound smarter than they are. Don’t do that. Instead, be conversational and explain concepts like you’re talking to a friend. Use contractions when you’re speaking and make sure you pronounce words they way they’re meant to be pronounced (“a” should be pronounced “uh,” “the” should be, for the most part, should be pronounced “thuh.”)
- Use engaging sound, especially at the beginning of your story. People need to be drawn into a piece, and the best way to do that is to use sound elements that mirror your story. That means use the sound of guns firing from a 21-gun salute at a police memorial, or using sound from a movie when talking to a famous comic book illustrator.
Concepts and order of importance
Finally, Meyerson says, make sure you don’t set limits for yourself. We don’t live in an era where we have to adhere to broadcast schedules. Segments don’t have to be a certain length. You can create a piece as long or as short as you want and not have to worry about an upcoming commercial. Just make your piece as long as it is interesting, throw it into SoundCloud or any other audio hosting site, and you’re good to go.
That being said, Meyerson believes you should sometimes edit your piece so the best stuff stands out first.
Here’s an example: If you’re doing a segment on Richard Nixon resigning your audience will definitely want to hear the entire resignation speech. But at the beginning of the segment, you should probably introduce your listeners to the news and play the clip of Nixon saying “I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”*
That way, your listeners know the important stuff, they’re hooked, and they’ll keep listening to know more.
That’s just a taste of what Meyerson presented at EIJ 2016. A full pdf copy of his presentation can be found here.
Editor’s note: Marc Filippino is a former employee at Rivet Radio and co-worker of Charlie Meyerson.
*Clarification: That example is from the author, not from Meyerson’s presentation.
Corrections: A previous version of this article described TwistedWave as a free service. It offers a free demo service and is cheaper than most other high brand audio services.