Making Audio Visible

Sound is considered an invisible medium. It’s tragic when storytellers ignore how powerful audio can be. Sound is incredibly vital to storytelling. A piece with great sound builds an environment where viewers and listeners can truly be immersed in the essence of the story.

Anyone in media should always listen for sound.

  • If you’re a reporter or videographer, you must shoot with your ears. Listen to your surroundings and record that audio for a completely immersive experience.
  • If you’re an editor, look for opportunities to include sound anywhere. Silence is also just as powerful as sound, if it is intentional.
  • If you’re a producer, include as many nat pops in your newscast as possible. It will change the way your show feels and how much your viewers are affected by your stories.

Nat = Natural sound

One simple example of a story that uses nat pops would be a package on cooking that would start with 3-5 seconds of sound at the beginning. The story could begin with 3-5 seconds of food frying or a cook’s knife chopping food on a cutting board. This nat pop sets the scene so people are transported to a kitchen. Then throughout the story, an editor can include several more pauses between the interview SOTs and include more pops of natural cooking sounds.

Examples of nat pops:
  • The sound of snow crushing underneath feet
  • The sound of waves breaking on a beach
  • The sound of a person crying
  • The sound of a person laughing
  • The sound of a car horn beeping
  • The sound of rain hitting the ground

Characteristics of audio journalism

  • Presence: the credibility of being at a location
  • Emotion: tone of voice, intonation, pauses
  • Atmosphere: nat sound

Immerse your viewers

Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite writers ever. He’s a famous chef and book author. He’s an incredible nonfiction writer who immerses people in an atmosphere. His words are beautifully crafted to help you feel, smell and taste different environments as he travels the world.

Bourdain created several great shows I highly suggest you watch. His most recent project with his award-winning production company, Zero Point Zero, is his CNN show “Parts Unknown.” Watch a clip from the Vietnam episode and pay attention to Bourdain’s writing. Also, listen to the natural sound that enhances the audio experience. You don’t really even need to watch the show to feel like you’re a part of Bourdain’s trip because you can close your eyes and feel it.

We will watch season 8, episode 1 of “Parts Unknown” in class. As you watch the President Obama episode, pay attention to how the editor used instruments to mimic the sound of the rain and music to set the mood. Also, listen to the questions Bourdain asks Obama. Envision the editor’s timeline. How many natural sounds did the editor layer, like roosters, crickets, music, drums, motorbikes, etc.?

The Washington Post wrote an interesting article about how Bourdain’s storytelling style is changing CNN.

Radio journalists generally do a much better job of using sound to tell stories than TV journalists. If TV journalists learn from radio and incorporate more sound into their storytelling, they can deliver a much more powerful product to viewers.

“This American Life” won a Peabody for how they portrayed the economic crisis. Listen to this link to hear how they used sound to evoke emotion.

Audio isn’t only used to enhance a TV broadcast, it is also an important tool to tie the platforms together. Nowadays, TV stations don’t only rely on broadcasts. They must also have websites, mobile apps, social media accounts, and YouTube channels. All of those are different platforms for a company to showcase their brand. Audio can also be used on all of those platforms in:

  • Reporter overviews: a reporter track of their story that often accompanies articles
  • Podcast: audio episodes on specific topics
  • Audio slideshows: a powerful way to add audio to photo slideshows
  • Breaking News: audio is a faster way to post news updates, the file sizes are also smaller and easier to post. Utterli is a free service for reporters to file audio from anywhere using a cell phone.

Basic ingredients

  • Interviews and voice-overs
  • Nat sound
  • Music

Audio recorders

Cell phones are convenient tools to record sound. You can use the earphone mic to eliminate some ambient sound. Or you can plug in a lav mic and record on your phone.

You can also buy a small digital audio recorder. You can use these just for posting audio, or to improve audio recording when shooting with cameras like DSLR.

Here’s an example of how sound can be used to make an open better:

Audio in the form of music, sound effects, and interviews helps break up the anchor track to grab people’s attention.

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