Saturday Work and What I’ve Learned From Recording for Radio

I think I’m going to give up on getting up early every Saturday to get work done. It never happens. Who can blame me? I’ve been getting up early all week to go to school, and often staying up late to do homework. I try to have little to no work to do on Sundays, which is the source of my getting-up-early-on-Saturdays idea, but we still have to get up for church in the morning. Since Saturday is my only day where I can really afford to sleep in, it’s hard to resist. I guess I’ve managed well enough in my first three years of college, in spite of sleeping until 10:30 and not starting homework until after noon, so maybe I should give myself a break and lighten my expectations. Just in time for summer vacation, too.

I’ve only worked on one thing so far today, but I’m feeling pretty productive. I’m creating a radio piece as a final project for one of my classes, and I’m in the mostly editing stage (“mostly” meaning I’ll probably have to go back and re-record a few things, or add in things I forgot, but most of the recording is done). I’ve learned a lot from this project. I’ve made exactly two radio podcasts before this, and they were very different: the first was a twenty minute-long personal reflection on my experiences in a college play; the second was interview-based, with very little commentary from myself, so most of the work was splicing files together.

For this project, I’m taking an academic look at how text has evolved, from print to digital media. The first half of my piece is mostly background info, pulling ideas from a couple books I’ve used as research and introducing a rhetorical perspective on digital text from interviews with Rhetoric and Writing grad students.

In the second half, I’m using the Egyptian revolution as a more tangible example of how the Internet and digital text are influencing the ways we live, and what kinds of potential they might have. The end product is probably going to be over an hour long, and it’s much more academic than my previous radio work (which, I hope, doesn’t mean it’ll be boring). It’s also much more of a mixture of my own research and ideas as well as the ideas of those I’ve interviewed – three R&W grad students and one expert on New Media and the Middle East, to count.

Here are some things I’ve learned from this project so far:

1. When working with technology that’s not entirely in your control, always bring a backup. I learned this lesson the hard way once when, after an hour-long interview with somebody for a different project, I plugged my little mp3 recorder into my computer only to discover that it hadn’t actually recorded anything. There’s nothing more discouraging than getting home after a long, productive-feeling interview/film shoot/insert technology-based activity here to find out that all of that work was lost, and you’ll either have to scrap it or re-do it completely. For this project, I’ve had a recorder/mic either run out of battery or memory at least twice, but thankfully I had my backup going, so none of the data was lost.

2. Plan ahead, but be flexible. For this project, I conducted my first ever phone interview. I prepared beforehand by researching what I wanted to talk about and writing out some questions, but in the midst of the interview you’ve got to balance going where the conversation takes you while also keeping things on topic. I had to stay on my toes during the phone interview, because it was being recorded. Oftentimes your interviewee will take things a direction you don’t expect, which can make for some great material; but if things start getting too off-topic, refer to your prepared notes to transition things back to where you want them.

This rule also connects to #1, in that when you’re using extra technology, especially if you don’t have 24/7 unlimited access to it, plan ahead but always have a plan B in case something doesn’t work out. For example, I recorded the majority of this radio piece in-studio at a local radio station that was gracious enough to let me use their space and equipment for a couple of afternoons. However, going back through my material now, I realize there are things I forgot to include, or extra things I want to add in before it’s finished. To prepare for this, I rented a simple Radio Shack mic from my university’s Audio/Visual department, which can plug directly into my computer and record straight into GarageBand (the perk of owning a Mac). While the sound quality isn’t as awesome, I still have the ability to make final changes on my own time, rather than scrambling at the last minute to try and get studio time that may not be available.

3. Leave lots of time for editing! Like the other rules, this applies to all technology-driven activities, be it recording for radio, making a film, or taking photos. Editing is long and painstaking (but it can also be fun!), and I’ve given myself several days just to edit and make final touches.

That’s what I’ve learned so far, although I’m sure I’ve learned more and just can’t think of it right now. I’ll update this list as it seems relevant.

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