Tuesday, October 02, 2012
In a sound-proof booth, no-one can hear you scream
As someone who writes things that very very occasionally get noticed by members of the media, I have a terrifying relationship with the radio and have appeared a handful of times over the past decade. I refuse to do anything live, despite the fact that my fella once participated in a friendly taped radio debate which was then edited to make it look as if the debators actually disagreed with each other. However, I'd rather take that risk than get tongue-tied, stumble over my words or come out with some sort of inappropriate colloquialism live, all of which I frequently do, even when I'm not speaking to a few million people at once.
So last month when I was asked by a radio station to write a 1,800 word essay on something to do with something I did some research on about 15 years ago, and then be recorded reading it out for them, I thought "what could go wrong?"
I wrote the piece and although it got returned with a few small edits, it seemed to be liked, so I rehearsed it a couple of times and then turned up at my university's little sound-proof booth yesterday afternoon. Far away, in a different studio, the poor radio presenter who had the job of coaching me through the "reading" was impeccably patient with me, although I have seen enough television drama to know that when someone working in the media says "That was great, can you just try it one more time and this time try...." you know you are awful and they will replace you with a voice-over of John Hurt the minute your back is turned.
You would think that reading something out would be the least difficult thing you get to do on the radio. You don't even have to answer unexpected questions! You can switch your brain off. But no. Oh no. No!
First, I had to ensure that the microphone was in the right place. Apparently, you aren't supposed to speak into it, but point it slightly off to the side of your face and downwards, as if you're pretending to ignore it. Once we got the positioning right, there was the slight matter of a little humming sound that we couldn't locate the source of. I turned off my mobile phone, then the lighting (which meant I couldn't see well enough to read the script). But neither of those were the source of the hum. Finally, the announcer gave up and decided to just accept the humming. She said it was OK, but I could tell I had failed her terribly.
Then I was asked to ensure that I had both feet on the ground (because apparently if you don't, then you are using your stomach muscles to balance yourself and your voice doesn't sound as good). It's nice to learn new things.
Then I started reading the first paragraph. I tend to speak very quickly when excited and/or not enjoying something (to get it over with) so I concentrated on speaking slowly. There was a slight feedback echo over my headphones and I could hear myself, sounding exactly like Boy George, so I tried to suppress all form of modulation into my voice, making me sound just like a very bored Boy George with a cold (due to the weird weather of this year, my hayfever seems to have lingered all the way to October this year, so I also had a blocked nose).
Despite making several mistakes, I got through the first paragraph, and then was then asked to try again ("but it was great") and this time to hold the page of writing up in front of me, rather than having it on the table (because that squashes your diaphragm). And to hold the page from the bottom rather than the side (I was told why this was important but can't remember).
So I got throught the first page (there were three pages), and thought I was doing quite well, but then I was stopped again. "You're doing great, but you've started to sound like you're reading from a sheet rather than talking to an audience." I guess I had overdone it with removing the modulation. So I gave it another go, emphasising words and speeding up and down a bit. It felt a bit like I was doing one of my current Grade 4 piano exam pieces caled "Alone at Sunset", where practically every single note requires you to push down the pedal, speed up, slow down, go very quiet or get louder. Practising this high-maintenance, frankly quite bonkers piece of music, often has me in confused tears by the end.
Anyway, I finished. But then I was asked to go back to the start and do the first few bits again, because now I sounded more relaxed (whereas I mustn't have at the start). However, speaking fatigue was setting in by now and I had morphed into an incoherent caveman who couldn't speak a single sentence without getting the words in the wrong order and inserting a few that weren't on the page. And to make it worse, the announcer had a few additional edits to make to the first few sentences, so I had to get out my pen and cross out words and put them in different places.
I pity the poor editing person who will have to listen to my hour long recording and then pick out the fluent sentences and then piece them together so I actually sound like a human being.