At work I sometimes make radio packages. I work on a daily current affairs programme so it’s important to be able to do it at speed – normally I have about 90 minutes to create something. If you want to include the right music and sound effects, need to find different elements to go into it (such as a vox pop – which might take a bunch of time in itself), and, vitally, get the scripting, accuracy, editorial message and delivery right…90 minutes isn’t that long.
I’ve answered many questions in the past about my methods for churning stuff out at speed – including yesterday when I made a short package about the Higgs Boson. I’ve written some thoughts down, so below are my top five tips for speed-packaging.
Top Five Tips in Brief!
Perhaps you’re making a speed-package right now in which case this post is too late. But in the name of brevity – here’s a summary of my top five before a longer explanation below:
- Get ready to speed-package NOW – bookmark your favourite websites for sound effects and audio production music.
- Take a breath, gather your thoughts. You don’t have long to make this package but spend a few minutes learning your subject and knowing what you might like to include in it.
- Do a very quick storyboard and write a script. Use bullet points to map out the messages you want to convey and what other audio or clips you’ll want to use. Then flesh it out with a script.
- Learn to edit well. Before you have to make a package quickly make sure you’re half-decent at audio editing.
- Have a voice-recording device available NOW! Have a smartphone in your possession that you can record good audio with and know how to use it.
1. Get ready to speed-package NOW!
Creating something like the package I posted above – at speed – requires being set up and ready to do so. You need a bunch of things already in place, and this is useful both for making packages quickly and for producing radio in general. There are a couple of pretty key things below – look to point 5 for more thoughts.
“Ok! I need to make a comedy package about a donkey! Right – I need to find a good donkey sound effect.” *Fifteen minutes later…* “I can’t find a good donkey sound effect!”.
You can waste an awfully long time looking for the right sound effect. I’ve collected together a half-decent sound effects library over time, and I make sure it’s always to hand. Do the same – when you use or hear a good sound effect try to grab it for your own FX collection. You can also buy sound effects CDs which is often the simplest way to get everything you might need, and there are also free sound effects websites such as findsounds.com which can be a bit sketchy at times but invaluable at others.
If you work in radio hopefully you have pretty decent access to popular commercial music. But ‘production music’ is often just what your package needs. If you’re making a package about aliens – please don’t use the X-Files theme tune. Instead, get on a production music website and just find something nice and spooky to score your package with. In the package I posted above I used music from westonemusic.com – but there are loads of sites just like this. Google it and explore! If you sign up to these sites and learn how to download the tracks and logging details – you’re ready to very quickly grab music for any occasion when the need arises.
2. Take a breath, gather your thoughts.
If you only have 90 minutes and you know how much work you have to do, it’s easy to see the clock ticking and get straight into scripting your package. But hang on – give yourself ten minutes to make sure you know your subject. If I’m making a factual piece I’ll use these ten minute to read the relevant news articles and see what archive audio is available to me. I’ll perhaps consult colleagues for their creative thoughts and jot down ideas I have that I might like to include. Taking a few minutes to properly understand the topic and what could go into the package helps a lot with point number 3…
3. Do a very quick storyboard and write a script.
This can normally be done whether you’re in the office or out on a job working on a story. Don’t go straight for the script. Think first about what you want to say overall and what audio you have to make that happen. Put that into a storyboard. And by ‘storyboard’ I just mean a sequence of bullet points roughly collecting your thoughts together.
Suppose there’s been a fire at a beach hut and you’re there to report – the ‘storyboard’ might look like this:
FX recorded from scene
Voice intro walking around ruins, end with “the firefighters said it was devastating”
Chief firefighter clip
Record on-location link into archive audio
Archive news audio from the previous fires
Final link from scene – include latest statement from local police
It’s a bit of a simple off-the-top-of-my-head example but you get the idea. Now – flesh it out. It’s much easier to write a script around a few bullet points like this than to write one from start to finish without having a master-plan.
4. Learn to edit well
If you’re a blacksmith you might be great at knowing how to forge iron. But if you’re rubbish at using a hammer, what you make might be useless. If you work in radio your hammer is the ability to edit audio. If it takes you a week to find out how to fade something out then you’ll never create a radio package quickly!
Never dismiss editing as geeky and therefore avoid learning how to do it. If you work in radio but don’t have much time to practice editing, make time. If you have a brilliant idea for a package and a brilliant (and slightly complicated) script, there’s no way you’ll be able to bring it to life quickly unless you’re practiced at the editing process.
5. Have a voice-recording device available NOW!
“Quick! You have to record a package immediately! It needs a few vox pops, some narration, and a clip of an interview.”
If that’s said to me I already know how I will record these things. Different radio stations have different ways of allocating equipment. Perhaps your station has a Marantz you can grab. Maybe you need to book kit out. Or it could be that it’s incredibly difficult to get something to record audio on at short notice – and even then perhaps the office is lacking in card-readers to get the audio onto your computer.
I make sure that wherever I work I know how I might quickly be able to go and record something. Basically – I know how to use the voicememo bit of my iPhone, how to email that back to myself, and how to convert that to a file I can use with my audio editing software. It’s not complicated, and there are plenty of smartphone apps that do a similar thing with .mp3 files – but the point is you have to know exactly how to do it, and be able to do it, in advance of when you need to make your speed-package!
But here’s another one I made about PANDAS: