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CastGuide - part 3: Production


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Some of you might have heard the quality recordings available thus far, and thought about making your own. This is the third in a series of articles about how you might go about it.


In Part 1 we looked at ideas, Part 2 was (vaguely) about expression the ideas, finally we reach the point where we make this a reality.


Planning an effective narrative can be guided, and scripting isn't something that can be taught, but the science of recording is fairly concrete and technical, so this part will be rather less vague than previous ones.


As mentioned before, you will need a studio. A microphone, a computer of some description, and a quiet room are all you need for a usable home studio. If you have contacts in community radio (students, hospitals, etc.) you may be able to use their facilities during "downtime" (i.e. when it's not being used by the station itself - be prepared to be kicked out from time to time), but home facilities will do nicely.


  • Cheap desk mics as come bundled with PCs aren't brilliant, and neither are combined headsets (though headphones will be useful). If you can stretch to £10 for a better microphone, the results will speak for themselves. If there will be two of you speaking, things get complicated.
  • For a quiet room, double-glazing helps, but in any case close the windows and doors. If your PC is particularly loud, try and put it as far away from the rest of the equipment as you can.
  • Children and/or pets may complicate matters. Being fortunate enough not to have any of either, I can't advise on what to do with them. I hear they taste good flame grilled with a bit of barbeque sauce. :)


You will need some production software. Audacity will do nicely, and runs on pretty much anything. The controls are somewhat intuitive, it's not too difficult to use, and the online documentation is pretty good. Avoid Windows Sound Recorder if you can - it does what it says on the tin (records sound) and not much more.


A note about equipment - once you've got a usable microphone, investing in high-quality gear (£50 professional microphones, £250 mixers) isn't always worth it. Once you have equipment that is reasonable, beyond that it becomes less about the equipment you use, and more about the person using it.


There are plenty of tutorials on setting up a microphone (search Google for "setting up a microphone" and you get a million hits), but the important thing is to adjust levels. A great way of adjusting levels if you can't see them (don't rely on your speakers alone) is to simply use the editing program to record a bit. This shows a healthy level. This is too quiet if you are speaking, and too loud if not. Feel free to experiment.


You've got your script done, and you've got your studio set up. On to the crucial part.


Record a dry run or two, recording anything from your script to the day's weather forecast in a paper, to get a feeling for speaking into the microphone. When it comes to doing the real thing:


  • Speak clearly. You do not need to sound like you are giving a lecture, but people need to understand what you are saying. This is particularly important if you have a strong, broad accent, or naturally tend to speak in local dialect.
  • While speaking clearly, try and remain conversational. You're talking to people, not lecturing them. It may help to have someone with you on hand to sit quietly nodding their head to give the visual responses you'd expect from being in conversation with a real person.
  • If your partner in crime has difficulty in keeping quiet, you can always rope them in to play the part of the audience, asking appropriate questions, and providing some feedback during your piece.
  • I mentioned in Part 2 that you need to learn the structure of your piece. It can be difficult to tell when someone is doing a good job of reading from a script, but a poor one shows up easily. It's particularly important too to know at any time what you are saying, and where you are going next. In television, someone reading from an autocue with no idea where they are going is referred to as a "rabbit in headlights", for reasons that are obvious when you see it.
  • If you make a mistake, don't drop everything. Stop for a short while (a few seconds), and go back to a natural break and start the section again. You don't have to get it all in one take. You can always cut the offending section, and leaving a gap before the good take makes it easier to do a clean edit afterwards.
  • Don't worry if you don't get it perfect. Try and avoid "um" and "ah", but otherwise don't obsess over it. You should aim to sound natural, and natural conversation isn't perfect.
  • Don't necessarily delete your out-takes. Putting together a "blooper tape" can be fun, and gives you another chance to practice your editing later. (Just because you edit one together, doesn't mean you have to release it)
  • Leave short gaps of a second or so between each section of the report - this will make it easier to edit the final product, and the gaps can be cut down later.
  • Last, but not least, don't speak too quickly that people can't follow you, and not so slowly that it's obvious that you're reading from something. Aim to hit that sweet spot in the middle.


Once you're done, all it takes is a little editing magic, and you're there. Operations such as cutting up and editing are fairly basic in most sound editing packages, and well-covered in their documentation, so I won't go into great detail about them, but here are some things you need to do:


  • Trim off excessive lead-in and lead-out - ideally, you have around ½-1 second dead at the start for people to ready themselves.
  • Cut out bad takes - if you left gaps between each segment, it is easier to do.
  • Trim down the gaps between the sections until the progression sounds natural - this can take a bit of practice, and might get fiddly.
  • Once you're done, get a second opinion. Human ears have their limitations, so get someone else to listen to it and give you honest feedback.


As for doing a final edit, the best I can suggest to anyone is play about in the sound editing program, with the manual to hand. Really. The better ones do non-destructive editing, so you can (usually) undo anything without losing whatever you have saved. Useful toys to play with include filters to amplify the recording to full volume without "clipping" (fuzz), and to reduce background hiss and hum from the computer (typically called "noise reduction" or "hiss reduction"). The important thing is to practice - play with the out-takes, or a random bit of music on your PC.


This is where I leave it for now, and I think there's more than enough left to your imagination that you can have some fun. This is the end of the guide, for now. There will be more after Christmas, but this is where the core guide finishes. I leave you with one last piece of advice:


This guide is nothing next to experience, as you will find as you build it up.

  • Haha 1

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Never give in ... Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. Churchill, 1941

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  • 7 years later...
  • 1 month later...
Good one cheers


It is, eh :)


Any advice I give is honest and in good faith.:)

If in doubt, you should seek the opinion of a Qualified Professional.

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