Inside the Recording Cave

Last week was SfAM’s Early Career Scientist (ECS) Research Symposium; the day when all the committee’s hard work comes to a head. If any of you follow me on Twitter (@jenniefrench95) then you’ll have seen my endless promotional tweets before the event and then on the day when I live tweeted during the talks. As well as helping me to keep up with the talks, those tweets also gave me some valuable material to use for a podcast about the day.

On the day, I armed myself with my audio recorder bulging out of my jacket pocket and a list of questions that I prepared before the day, all that was left was to find people who were willing to be recorded! The poster sessions were a great opportunity for this and the people that I recorded were incredibly polished and clear in the delivery of their content! They were so good that it didn’t matter that no one would be able to see the poster when they listened to the podcast!

As well as this I was also buzzing around and trying to keep up with my committee duties which meant that I missed a few opportunities to get some interviews. I’m disappointed that I didn’t manage to interview either of our keynote speakers because they were amazing and would have given a fantastic interview! The two ladies from Sense About Science were also a missed opportunity and I hope I did the workshop justice in my description on the podcast!

Despite these missed opportunities, I don’t have any regrets; they are all things that I can learn from and watch out for when I do another one! Next time I will plan ahead and ‘accost’ people more freely. Accost is a wonderful word that the editor for Infectious Disease Hub used to describe her quest for video footage of people at the symposium. Luckily, after filming me giving some advice, she also agreed to let me record her while she explained what she was doing. Normally I would never agree to being filmed, but how could I expect to interview people if I didn’t want to be interviewed myself?! I’m quite pleased that I managed to get onto the video, but it’ll take twice as long for me to get used to watching myself as it did to get used to listening to myself!

The second and less glamourous side of any production, including my podcast, is writing and recording the linking script followed by the final editing. The pieces I’ve done for my masters have been a maximum of five minutes which took me three hours to record and edit. Naturally this 21 minute podcast took me a lot longer; how does a whole day of listening to your own voice sound? The worst part was recording my linking sections. These are the sections of me talking to the listers between the interviews with other people at the conference. First, I try to create a quiet space where my voice won’t echo, a process which involves sticking my head in a cave of sofa cushions on the dining room table. Next, I give a practice run through every section before I record it. It’s surprising how different the language of writing and speaking is; I know that I’m prone to write in long sentences but when I try to read these out loud I find myself gasping for breath at the end!

The phrase ‘first the worst’ is certainly true when it comes to recording myself; it took about seven attempts to get in the broadcasting zone and eventually I managed to read the first sentence without stuttering. A further challenge when I’m reading a linking script is to get the inflections in my voice right. If I don’t, I either sound flatter than a pancake or present the vocal equivalent of a boarder cross course. There’s also a fine line between me sounding like a normal human being and straying into posh- 1940s- broadcaster territory. I admit, sometimes I do sound a bit ‘jolly hockey sticks’ but there’s nothing I can do when every take sounds the same. I know that with more practice I’ll get the hang of sounding enthusiastic without giving the impression that I’m off to an Enid Blyton style boarding school!

Eventually, after I’m happy with my own recordings I can start stitching it all together. I use a free computer programme called Audacity which gives me all the controls that I need without it being too complicated. There’s also a whole host of YouTube tutorials for when I forget how to do something or need to use something a bit more advanced to get a desired effect.

After I’ve cut out some of people’s ums and my heavy breathing in the middle of sentences it’s time to think about if I want to add music or not. In both of my coursework pieces I didn’t use any background music, only the odd sound effect, but this longer piece was a bit different. For one, the long sections of me talking needed more than just my voice to carry the audience through to the other side. My dad helped me to find some royalty free music to jazz it up a bit and ironically, I used a jazz beat to do the jazzing up. I think it adds an extra layer to the content and creates a bit of extra ambience.

In the end, I have just about got used to listening to my voice without cringing, I start treating it as just another voice that I’m editing and become strangely detached from it. This is mainly so that I don’t go mad and start criticising things about my voice that I can’t change! I’m really looking forward to making more so that I can hone my skills to make bigger and better podcasts in the future!

If you haven’t listened to my podcast yet, you can by going to SfAM’s Microbeblog. Let me know what you think of it in the comments; I’m interested to hear all the positives and negatives so that I can improve as much as possible! Also feel free to ask any questions about anything in this post!

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