This lesson is from Transom.org and uses material first published by Jay Allison. Thank you Jay! His piece about Sonic IDs can be found here.
Atlantic Public Media pioneered the use of “Sonic IDs”— very short stories, anecdotes, lists and soundscapes that weave the voices, sounds and stories of a region throughout a broadcast. This innovative way of keeping a report intensely local using the voices of people from the listening community has become widely used by stations across the country.
We will use Sonic IDs as transitions between longer pieces and so here in this lesson we will learn how to make them.
Basically, you get out your recorder and find (or write and record) interesting little clips of sounds and voices that tell a uniquely Rio story.
Sound quality is very important and this project could focus on getting rich, layered, interesting natural sound. Alternatively you may add music (see how to add music) over a story.
One favorite variation on listener participation is called “Short Lists.” Ask people to read a list and thentell us what it was. It’s a story with the title at the end. These are endlessly interesting.
Find a Good Ending: A good ending forgives a soft middle and even a slow beginning. When auditioning your raw tape, listen for endings first.
Listen to “A Sonic ID with a strong ending”
Listen to “A Sonic ID with a solid sense of place”
Postcard Reality vs. Real Reality: When you start a project that’s grounded in localness, you may find that you go to the postcard version of your place first. That’s okay. Go to Fenway Park or Niagara Falls or Schwab’s Drugstore first and get it out of your system. Actually, your listeners may find the postcard comforting, but they’ll tire of it quickly. Soon, move your pieces to less conventional subjects, or add some surprise to the conventional images. Go to the crannies, the underbelly, the soul of your place.
Listen to “Reality Sonic ID”
Be Creative in Your Invitation: Sometimes the party is only as good as the invitation. When you ask for stories or contributions, produce the request with the same care you will produce the result. It lets people know you really care and that you are approaching the project with creative energy. They will respond in kind. Prepare your bait with the same care you will prepare your fish.
Listen to “Listener Line Invitation – Flags (post 9/11)”
Trust Your Listeners: Trust them to understand what they’re hearing without your having to spell it out. The more you challenge them, the more they’ll enjoy the challenge. Trust them to have interesting stories. Many of them do. Trust them enough to loan them tape recorders.
Keep Copy to a Minimum: For our IDs, we say the speaker’s name and where the person is from (we like to know they’re neighbors). That’s it. If we absolutely have to, we’ll add a phrase about the work or some other context that’s key to understanding the story or the ambience. But be stingy with explanations! It challenges the listener a little more, but challenge is good. And, feeling lost for a moment can focus the attention.
Placement of Copy: It’s nice when the piece can open with the voice of the principal speaker rather than that of your announcer. It’s more arresting. See if there’s a good spot to insert the name/place of the speaker after they start. Some pieces work best not having the speaker identified until the very end. Embrace mystery, drama, and surprise.
Fit Your Voice to the Spot: Don’t be generic. Get the right tone. Read copy for each piece as if you’re listening to it along with the listener. Be real, be honest. Don’t do a fake smile or comment with your voice or try to “sell” the spot. Just be in it. Connect.