In the three stages of audio production, pre-production is the process of planning all aspects of the audio production process before recording begins. This process includes conceptualizing, scriptwriting, choosing a recording location, gathering equipment, and other logistics. Pre-production ends when the planning ends and the content starts being produced. This page outlines the process of planning audio storytelling so that you can be better prepared or simply have a greater appreciation for the sweat equity put into top-chart recordings, podcasts, and music.
When first planning your audio recording, consider these questions:
What is the purpose of your audio? What message(s) do you want your listener to receive?
Who will be listening to your audio? What tone should you use for the intended audience?
Where will you be recording? Do you need to make arrangements to visit a location or space?
Will your audio require music or an interview? Consider privacy and copyright concerns.
What equipment do you need to record? What tools and editing software will you need?
How much time do you have? Good audio can take awhile to create so plan accordingly.
No matter what kind of audio you are recording - voice overs, lectures, sound effects, podcasts, or even music - it all starts with an idea. Before you begin recording it’s important to make sure that you know what information or feeling you are trying to convey and make sure that the "story" you tell in that audio is a good fit. If your story meets the necessary criteria, it’s a green light; but if it’s not matching up, you may want to think twice before moving forward. Make sure that your audio "story" does the following:
Appeals to you selected audience, ideally an audience that will actually listen to that type of audio. For example, radio and podcasts tend to attract more educated crowds, and are most popular with older generations. On the other hand captive audiences - such as those for video voice overs and lectures - often require more engaging content with more dynamic audio range.
Covers a scope and amount of material that’s conducive to audio storytelling. In other words, is your story too long for one single piece? If so, is there enough material to divide the story up and create a series? Keep in mind that exceeding 60–80 minutes can deter listeners.
Will fit into an attractive and appropriate format. Will you use narration? Interviews? Casual round table discussion? Think deeply about your selected format and make sure that it meshes well with the story you are trying to tell.
Includes plenty of interesting and engaging audio elements, whether that be music, interviews, nature or ambient sounds, etc.
Writing a Script
Creating a script for your audio recording is a critical step that is often overlooked. A well-written script allows you to plan out your audio's message, estimate the length of your recording, and iron out any content issues before you begin recording. Keep in mind, however, that in most cases you don't want to sound like you are actually reading from a script. Review the following steps to help you create a script for your audio project:
Step 1: Start with a Summary
Before you start to write your script it's important to create a brief summary of your project and what you're hoping to accomplish. Not only does this help you understand your objectives, it also helps you understand your audience and how best to reach them.
You short script summary should consider the following questions:
What is the purpose of your audio?
Who is the audience for your audio?
What are the important concepts/ideas you wish to communicate?
What storytelling styles do you plan to use?
Step 2: Expand your Summary into a Narrative
When recording your audio you'll most likely have several ideas that you wish to communicate (your summary will help you identify these); the tricky part is translating these often disorganized ideas into a simple story for your script that resonates with your audience. The key element here is to ensure your script has a logical progression from one idea to another. Start by organizing your key points into an order that makes sense to you, then start to expand upon those points with detail until you have a basic outline of your script. Don't worry about getting the order right the first time, as you add more detail you should feel free to reorganize your ideas to add clarity.
As you add detail to your outline, look for patterns in your topic that you can turn into a narrative. This is also a good time to think more about the format and style of your audio: Does the topic lend itself to humor or comical skits? Could you introduce different concepts using an interview format? Or can you incorporate your own unique format? Always remember that a good script should grab your audience's attention and convey your topic in an engaging and understandable way.
Step 3: Remember your Audience
When writing your script, always talk in your audience's language rather than your own. Remember that your are meant to explain your topic in a way that demonstrates you fully understand it (for your professor) but also communicates the topic to people who did not do the same research you did (your classmates). This means speaking on a level that your entire audience will understand, with concepts and vocabulary they're already familiar with. If you do have to intrude a new concept or term, be sure to explain them in a full and clear manner. Don't simplify things too much, however, the idea is to fully demonstrate what you have learned!
Step 4: Keep it Short
When it comes to script writing, less is often more. In a great script every word earns its place and each sentence should be structured to get the point across. Say everything you need to say but keep it as succinct as possible; I guarantee your audience isn't interested in listening to minutes of complex technical details, long run-on sentences, or a list of steps your group followed.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your script as impactful as possible:
Say something unique, not what everyone else says.
Use simple, everyday language over unnecessarily complicated words.
Cut the flab, fluff, and superfluous information.
Never repeat yourself unless it's for dramatic effect.
Be prepared to make sacrifices (think about what's really most important to communicate).
Step 5: Pay Attention to Flow
You don’t want your video to sound like you are reading off a list of bullet points so make sure you read your script aloud a number of times to ensure this doesn’t happen. You may feel a bit embarrassed reading your script aloud, but it’s the best way to ensure your timings are correct and that it makes sense and runs smoothly. This process will also allow you to identify any areas for improvement.
Step 6: Run-Through, Edit, and Rewrite
Never consider your script complete until you've run through it as a group at least twice. Get your group members together and read through the script as if you were recording it. This will give you an opportunity to gauge the flow and clarity and spot any room for improvement.
Choosing a Location
You don't need a professional studio-quality space to record your audio (although it helps). Any room can work, but you'll want to make sure to fully plan out your recording location ahead of time. Keep the following tips in the back of your mind when selecting a location:
If you're recording your audio indoors (which is recommended) watch out for echo-y rooms. If there’s a lot of hard surfaces (windows, wood, tile, etc.) place your recorder on a towel or sweatshirt to dampen the sound. You should also consider what ambient sounds are present in that space (i.e. street noise, AC systems, humming electronics, etc.) and see if you can reduce them as much as possible.
If you're recording audio outdoors really think hard about the location you choose. If the location has great natural sound that won’t drown out the recording, it may work to capture audio on-site. But if it’s too noisy, or the environment confuses the theme of the story, plan to record somewhere more suited.
Be careful of venues with music. These venues make for fantastic natural sound; however, recording or interviewing where music can be heard limits your editing capabilities. It can also mean there are multiple different songs in your piece, which gets kind of crazy at times.
In order to create a professional sounding audio recording, the following pieces of equipment are ideal:
Microphone - ideally a separate recording mic, not the mic on your computer or mobile phone.
Pop filter - this helps to reduce the “popping” effect you get by saying specific sounds.
Boom arm - allows you to articulate the mic into a comfortable recording position.
Audio recorder - a computer and some recording software will work just fine.
Audio editing software - to help you record and edit your audio. Two great free options are GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity.
Music and sound effects - the best recordings incorporate audio elements other than speech, including background music, outro and into music, or sound effects. This is something you could create yourself or find online. Visit our Audio Assets section to learn about free audio resources.
All of these items are available to the NAU and CCC community in the Cline Library's three Production Studios.