Monday, April 11, 2011

The one about Recording

Two weeks ago I wrote about the time constraints we were experiencing and how nervous this was making me. We have since then decided to meet both on Friday and Saturday and I think that this worked well. We did, however, meet with another minor glitch; two of the team members, Aviwe and Ncubeko, are no longer able to come to the Friday session. This means that they now miss out on an hour and a half of the work we do. I’m learning quickly that working with people does get complicated but there are always ways of working around the issues that arise. We decided that until we can find another solution, what we will do is continue with our Friday sessions as normal and give Aviwe and Ncubeko homework for the Friday session that they can send with friends. We will then spend Saturday helping them catch up the work that they may have missed on the Friday.

During this Friday’s session, the Upstart team had their first go at recording their radio talks and then also had an opportunity to do more takes on Saturday. We then introduced them to interviewing and how to use recorders. I think it’s a valuable exercise to write a little bit about what both of these sessions were like. We recorded individual radio talks the team took time after every recording to give each other feedback.  Tom and I then also commented on what could be done to improve their next takes. As much as they were unfamiliar with the studio and have a limited vocabulary in terms of technical radio knowledge I was surprised at how much they knew about the presentation and what works and doesn’t work. I think it was a valuable exercise for them to keep in mind that its people of their age group that are targets and feedback from others allows them to gauge how they will be received on radio.
I was often tempted to fix the grammar on some of the team members’ scripts.  I keep thinking: do I edit the work, and make the team sound polished or would that be taking away from their personality and originality? I decided not to, and I’m still not sure if I should have.  I did make a suggestion in the case of one of the team members to rather say “and I fell off the tree” rather than “...and then I fall off the tree” because that sentence glared at me the most. The debate in my mind is that because these children are ultimately producing radio talks that may be used for a professional radio show, the standard must be high. In the same breath, I have to remind myself that this radio show is in part being produced by high school children and one needs to hold on to what is  unique about  their  writing. But I guess corrections can be made, as long as the meaning is not taken away by the editing. When I listened to last year’s Upstart radio, one of my central points of critique was that the anchors sounded very scripted and older than they really were and this may be because their scripts were edited by the radio journalism students working with them last year. So with that said, this year my personal challenge will be to find the balance between the teams writing to reflect them and helping them improve their writing. I suppose I’ll find that balance as we go along and such moments of reflection present themselves.
On Saturday, we recorded the final takes of the radio talk. I was in one studio with Ncubeko and Aviwe to give them one-on-one coaching since they had missed out on the Friday’s session. You can see when a person is behind the microphone for the first time. I know that it took me a while before I was comfortable enough to speak behind a microphone and learn to sound natural. Aviwe and Ncubeko took some time to warm up. I thought it very important to make sure that they didn’t feel pressured in any way and were allowed to feel relaxed. Aviwe recorded first and her instinct was to read through her script as fast as she can and try not to make any mistakes. When she did, she would jumble her words and just move on. During the next few takes I stopped her mid-sentence if she continued with this and made her start that sentence again. Her reading slowed down once she got comfortable behind the microphone. With Ncubeko, it was a little more difficult. I really enjoyed his script . His was about how much he loves his little sister. Unfortunately he struggled the most with sounding natural. I tried explaining to him that he sounded as if he was reading rather than talking and I could see the confusion on his face. With him, my strategy was then to play back some of his recordings and have him comment on it. He still seemed to struggle and I had to stop him during takes to point this out.  Eventually, my solution was to have a conversation with him, after which I was able to contrast his radio talk and his tone during our conversation. Consequently, his last take was a lot better. I think that if he had a day to go home and get a little more comfortable with his script, he might sound even less scripted and nervous behind the microphone. Unfortunately we did have time constraints because the rest of the team was done with their final takes and we had to move on to the next part of the session.
Overall, I think that the strongest talk was done by Xabiso who speaks about his parents. He speaks about how his father taught him how to drive and how understanding and caring his mother is towards him. He tells of how he fell off a tree and broke his arm but his mother never once reprimanded him. I think that his and other radio talks could be used in a segment of the show that we could call something like “my local hero”. With this segment, radio talks could feature sometimes and other times people that the youth admire could be interviewed. Another member, Reggie spoke about his favourite comedian as the most important person in his life. I think that this reflects an aspect of the show that we cannot neglect, humour. The thing I found particularly interesting about his talk is that he doesn’t know the comedian he describes personally. It might be interesting to explore on the show the extent to which celebrities or icons in the media impact on young people’s identities. This can be done in a light hearted way, by, for example, looking at how young people talk, how they dress and what they buy based on the people they idolise or really like.
For next week Friday we were going to introduce the group to interviewing and how to use a recorder. We decided to squeeze that session in at the end of Saturday’s session, while we had the whole team so we could send them home with recorders to put the lesson into practice. For Friday, with Aviwe and Ncubeko missing again, we will now have an editorial discussion.  Aviwe and Ncubeko will nevertheless also be able to make their contribution to this discussion, since we have sent them home with a few questions to answer with regards to their vision for the show.  Their responses will then be used in our editorial discussion next Friday, so that their ideas are present even without them being there physically. At the end of the Saturday session, we returned to the seminar room and went over principles of how to use recorders and interview someone. This session was rather tight, since some of the participants had arrived late and we were therefore running out of time. I’m not too worried though, because they have all done some interviewing while being at Upstart. It is the recorders that may prove to be a challenge to use because the recording quality is not always great on the first try. The group has now been tasked with interviewing someone important to them at home. We have given them some guiding questions but they have free reign on where they want to take the interviews since they are interviewing someone they know rather closely. We will be listening back to the recordings next week Saturday and I’m keen to hear what they will sound like. 

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