I realized that the missing element was music. When my feelers for original music came up empty, I went to the Jazz collection and found the perfect piece of music: Poor James from the CD Tractor Parts: Further Adventures in Strang by the Canadian band, Zubot and Dawson. Sadly, the band is no more. It was Ken Rockburn who introduced me to the band when he played their fantastic song, Tractor Parts, on All in a Day back in 1998.
Once I picked the music and started placing it, things started feeling right with the show. I had wondered if I should include a second piece of music. That can be too much, though, and I decided to limit myself to the one song. I also decided that it would be used specifically to score the excerpts of the reading. There has to be logic to the use of the music, it can’t be random.
The editing and refining continued, though most of the effort was in cleaning up edits, removing some bumping of the microphone and, in two cases, cleaning up mistakes made by the speakers. Thankfully, the way each speaker corrected themselves facilitated a clean edit and you’d never know. Purists would argue to leave the mistakes in. However, in this particular show, it made more sense to clean up the mistakes. They errors were minor enough and the responses to the mistakes more intrusive than the mistakes themselves.
I did a thorough refinement of the first four minutes of the show and listened to it for both audio and story flow. It still didn’t feel right. When I played it for Andrea, she pointed out a few things that didn’t work for her. In particular, my voice over, the readings and interviews had different energy and emotional levels. The readings and the interviewee spoke in more bursty and extreme intonations and my voice over was mellow and reflective.
MOOD AND ENERGY FLOW
I re-recorded my narration to be more punchy and energetic and played back a rough mix. That was much better. The individual clips made more sense as a unit so I went back to smooth out the hand-offs between clips and mix the music. I also boosted the level of the ambient sound during my introduction so that there was more energy in the opening.
REFINING THE MIX
The process of mixing the elements for a smooth flow seems to me like staining a quality piece of furniture; it takes several passes, patience and a lot of care. I worked on that for a while and realized that many of the voices on the show seemed a bit sharp in the mix. I’m not sure if that’s the mic or the qualities of the voices. I used my equalizer to add some warmth and remove some of the clarity from recordings. I should note that I hadn’t adjusted any of the frequencies prior to that. EQ’ing is the last thing I do. I only do it to make sure that each element has its own room to breath. If you find that two pieces of mixed audio are fighting with each other spend less time with the volume faders and more time giving each piece of audio its own space in the audio spectrum.
I finished the audio production work in the early evening and created a mix I was happy with. All it took was patience, listening, feel and an iterative approach to finding the pieces that best told the story. In the end, I went from seventy-eight minutes of recorded audio of the event to a nine-minutes and fifty-four seconds of reading excerpts and interview clips included in the show. My entire voice-over of introduction and narration was one-minute and seventeen seconds. The program is thirteen-minutes and sixteen seconds long and has been published under the name A Bear in War on the Just One More Book website.
I’m an audio guy and I often profess that audio podcasts are the best option for mass distribution and ease of consumption. However, even I can’t ignore the popularity of video. More to the point, no matter how hard we audio folk try to make it obvious that site visitors can press play on an audio player, many people just don’t get it. Even if it is far more intrusive (that is, you are glued to your video screen to consume a video), video on the web is far more obvious to use.
So, we’ve tried an experiment. We published the “A Bear in War” documentary as a normal audio podcast of Just One More Book and to help people understand that there’s multimedia content available on the site, I created a video/slideshow version of the documentary (using the same audio), uploaded it to Viddler and embedded it within the post for A Bear in War. Given more time and energy, I would have done more to make the video more compelling for the average viewer by using transitions, pans and zooms — like Ken Burns. I threw the video together very quickly.
Interest in the video is encouraging. After about two hours, the unpromoted video was watched thirty-six times.
Not including travel time and the blogging I’ve done to document my workflow, but including the research and recording times and the production of the video, it took me about sixteen hours to create the A Bear in War documentary. It’s not unusual for a documentary to take a significant amount of time to produce which is why I don’t do many of them. I do very little, if any, editing in most of my hobby production work which means that the average ten minute podcast probably takes about thirty minutes to record, produce and upload.
I’ll create a summary of my workflow post highlights later today.