In April I did a talk at the 2017 Student Radio Conference about why I love radio packages so much. Below, better late than never, is some of the advice I dared to share.
What am I defining as a radio package?
You know what I mean! But:
- Something pre-recorded, giving information on a particular subject.
- It’s probably somewhere between one and seven minutes long. It’s more than a quick clip but less than a short documentary.
- It’s crafted. It’s been edited and stitched together in some fashion. It’s not just a recording of something that happened in one-take.
Why I love a good package.
- They are mini works of art. If you work with audio, you’re using all your tools and skills to paint your own Picasso.
- Making packages forces you to learn your craft. You need to become good at editing, recording, scripting, using music, sound effects, interviewing and so on. Packages demand many of the skills you need in radio under one roof.
- Therefore…once you can make a good package – it helps so so so much with longer-features, podcasts, documentaries; you name it.
Jeremy Vine likes packages too. Working on his programme I make them frequently.
ps. If you watched the above and don’t know about the ‘rollercoaster’ thing you’ll need to go and read this once you’re done here.
If you’re still in any doubt what I’m on about, here are a couple of things I’ve made recently that you can listen to while you read the below should you wish. The first, about toilets (DREAM REPORTER GIG) is more of an ‘in-situ’ report.
The second is a ‘didn’t-leave-the-office’ production. If you do click listen – read on otherwise you might get bored.
Top Tips (finally!)
Rather than an all-round comprehensive guide, I tried to boil it down to a few thoughts that you might not hear everywhere else.
1. Be careful how you use sound effects
Don’t use sound effects like a bull in a china shop; a bull which has just learned to use Audacity. Every time you say the word “horse” you don’t necessarily need a neigh. Don’t always use a ‘car horn’ sound effect every time you say the word ‘car’ or ‘traffic’ in a package. Do what feels right but be purposeful about how you use sound effects – use them for a reason. Don’t be lazy with them. If you’re out and about always remember ‘wild track’ – recording the sound of where you are and what you’re doing. Weave it in during the edit. But try not to be clunky with it.
2. Scripting can be crucial
IF (and only if) you’re scripting something, script it again and again until it’s super concise. You can never spend too long getting the scripting right. Every sentence should have a fact. Every sentence should have an impact. Don’t waste time with a sentence that isn’t ‘just right’. If you have the time to read over the script again and improve it, do so.
3. If you’re making a piece about someone else’s life experience, one thing is THE most important
Sorry, that’s a vague header. But if you’re trying to extract the best from someone you’re interviewing for a package, there’s something you shouldn’t underestimate. The more personal, involved, emotional the story is, the more important this becomes:
Yes, you need good questions, decent recording equipment and all the rest of it. But often, to get the best from people who have something remarkable to say, the most important thing you need is time. Time to bond with them. Time for them to trust you. Time for you to have an open and honest conversation with them until they say the most important part of their story in the most honest and captivating manner.
This one extends way beyond radio packages!
4. Build a package around great audio. Don’t try and find great audio to fit your narrative.
If you’re making a package because of a topic, a guest or a news story – let the topic, the guest or the news story lead you. Don’t write a narrative and then try to find stuff to fit into it. Listen to the most compelling audio you’ve gathered and then script your package around it. Your words in any package should be there to explain and highlight incredible audio where possible, rather than the audio being there to support your script.
5. If you go out to record a package, edit it ASAP
If you’ve gone out and recorded a piece it’s all fresh in your memory when you get home. Edit it straight away – even if you only do a very rough edit. Be really picky. Ruthless. Chop out the best chunks and ditch the rest. It’s make the final edit SO much easier.
6. Don’t default to music with ‘appropriate lyrics’
Basically – if you do a voxpop about banking, don’t use Abba and ‘money money money’ in the background. Be a bit more subtle and creative.
7. Don’t ever use a record-scratch sound effect
This one’s personal. I’m on a war against this sound effect. Just don’t.
(For a different point of view see here.)
8. STOP. Think again.
I think this is my favourite tip. When you’re on the cusp of having everything done – be it during scripting or recording – STOP. Just think again. Don’t go through the motions. Give yourself 60 seconds to think “what haven’t I thought of yet?”. Now’s your chance to take the brilliant thing you’re about to create and make it even better. I always try to take 60 seconds to dream up one thing (and it can be the tiniest of tweaks) to improve and change what I’ve already got. It might just be adding a joke or altering a sentence slightly. But It could be changing your entire approach. Just shake things up.
9. Ignore all of the above
Some of the best radio ignores the ‘radio rules’. Same with packages. It’s all guidance. Take everything you’re ever taught about radio with a pinch of salt and trust yourself. Once you’ve got some experience under your belt you can do your own thing when appropriate.
10. There is no 10.
Lists with 10 items are boring.
pps. thanks to everyone who came to the talk I did and pretended to have fun: