We created our podcast entirely remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions. Students interviewed specialists who told us about the lives of women living with trauma both then and today. We recorded interviews over video calls, and asked participants to record themselves on their mobile phones at the same time to get clean audio for each person. This was then knitted together using audio software.
Students also recorded their thoughts, research and ideas for inclusion. They recorded sound effects that represented the 21st Century and we used available sounds to represent the First World War.
Sound Editor on the project, Alvy Vincent explains:
I loved the creativeness of listening to someone speak, imagining the settings that they would be in and then layering lots of SFX (sound effects) to create a world that the person speaking could sit in. This project was especially interesting as it focused around a specific time period. This meant that I was forced to think about what noises you might hear at that time. I used a lot of old aircraft soaring overhead and air raid sirens screeching but I also liked the SFX that are more generic but still created a soundscape that felt old fashioned, so I used things like church bells ringing in the distance, horses hooves on cobbled streets, dogs barking, wind blowing in the trees.
For the hospital scene [listen to the audio below], I was looking for the hospital sounds but my sound effects library was all modern-day sounds with phones going off and stuff.
I searched for the sound of a trolley in a hospital, a trolley passing, and that worked quite well. It wasn’t completely clear what it was, but it made you realise that it was inside a hospital. When the nurse starts speaking about the hospital ward, I wanted to have a sound for the injured men, so I recorded myself making groaning sounds and put it in the background. It seems ridiculous but it actually works really well, you hear the faint, quite subtle, not too obvious, sound in the background.
Developing the structure of your story
When developing a podcast, start with your audience. Who are they and what will motivate them to listen? What kind of stories interest them?
Your story could be told as a fictional drama, a series of interviews, a conversation between your group or a mixture of all these.
You can create a script or storyboard to help you develop the structure of your podcast. Think about the beginning, middle and end of your story.
In Dear Poppy, we decided to start with a statement that intrigued – “we are living in extraordinary times” – do we mean today, during the pandemic, or over 100 years ago as the country went to war? Our audience will have to keep listening to find out.
– Which elements will keep your audience listening through to the end?
– Think about how you might intrigue your listener at the start of your podcast.
– How might you introduce characters like Poppy?
– Will you include interviews in your podcast? Perhaps a relative has a family story they could share? Or a historian can fill in gaps in your research?
– How can you dramatise your research? Will you use actors to bring voices from the past to life?
– In your ending or conclusion, think about what you have learnt, what surprised you, and what might resonate with those listening to your podcast. How will you share that conclusion with your listeners?
Interviewing tips & tricks
– It may help to give your interviewee a list of questions in advance – that way you’ll get the most out of their time
– Put yourself in the shoes of the listener – will someone who doesn’t know about the topic in question understand their story? Ask questions that get them to explain further if not. If you don’t understand something they say, likely listeners won’t either, so ask them to explain
– Try not to speak over them, smile and nod rather than say ‘yes’, for example, to encourage them and show you’re listening. That way you’ll get audio that’s easier to edit and listen to.
– If you are going to broadcast the interview, get their permission first using a simple consent form.
– Don’t forget to introduce them at the start – or better still, get them to tell you who they are and what they do – and thank them for their time at the end.
Tips for creating sound effects and recording
– Get the sound levels right. Very loud sound can distort; very quiet sound can have ‘hiss’. Check your distance from what you’re recording and move the mic closer or further away to get it right.
– Listen BEFORE you record. Get everyone to be quiet and wait for a minute before you start recording, so you can hear if there’s any distracting background sound.
– Listen WHILE you record. Use headphones to monitor the sound while you’re recording if you can. If not, record a test bit and play it back to check that it’s OK. Always listen to the sound so you know its usable.
– Use a wind gag. If possible, if you’re recording outside you almost certainly need a furry windshield. Wind noise can make your sound unlistenable.
– Get your mic up close. It seems logical that the closer you get to the source of the sound the louder the sound (i.e. there will be less interference from background noise). This is indeed true but is even more important than you may first think.
– Halving the distance between mic and the sound source quadruples the usability of the sound, and the inverse is true. As you move away from the source, the sound becomes exponentially less usable. By usability I mean less unwanted background noise. The closer you get to the sound source the less background noise you get relative to the sound you are recording.
– Give the editor something to edit with. Start and finish the recording a second or two before and after the interview or piece, it will make the edits smoother and speed up the editing process.
– Take a moment before you start to think about the environment, equipment and the people in the room, it will clear your head so that you can concentrate on the filming and if any problems arise, deal with any issues more easily.
– Bad sound can’t be fixed!
🌸 In pairs, interview each other, recording your conversation about women and their experiences in the First World War.
🌸 Record your letters to and from Poppy
🌸 Research the sound effects that you might use as a background to your letters.
Create your own: Use your phone to record sounds when you’re out and about – birdsong, traffic noise, horses, church bells – or indoors – texting, typing, boiling a kettle – everyday actions can create great backgrounds to your audio.
Find your own: Try the BBC Sound Effects library which has 16,000 sounds including audio relating to World War One. Another good resource is freesound.org which includes sound effects that are released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse for non-commercial projects.