Telling stories with sound

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Telling stories with sound

Kristina Courtnage Bowman (
Workshop handouts:

Types of sounds:

  1. Ambient sound: establishes a sense of location. When recording ambient sound get at least 30-second clips. Exps: market, park, nightclub, traffic, office, restaurant, sporting event, beach, college campus

  2. Natural sounds: mark the action in the story and move the story forward. Exps: footsteps, door shutting

  3. Voiceovers: help weave story together

Planning is important

  1. Choose the right story. For some stories you will need to find secondary locations to get the sound you need.

  2. Research and pre-interviews: Go to the location before your interviews if possible to get an idea of what the place sounds like. Pay attention to any sounds that will make it difficult to record: buzzing lights, construction equipment, etc. Find out if there is a quiet place to record.

  3. Do you need to be at the location at a certain time to get the sound you want? If necessary, call ahead.

  4. A pre-interview should clarify where the interview will take place and help give you an idea of what sounds will be around.

  5. Who are the secondary characters in your story?

Gear (

  1. Digital Recorder

    1. Tip: Use one with a USB built in, such as Olympus or Sony MP3 available for check out.

    2. Record in WAV or MP3 format when possible.

  2. Microphone

    1. Omnidirectional (general purpose): Good for recording sounds “like you were there.” Drawback is it will pick up background noise as well as the person you are interviewing.

    2. Cardioid: Collect sound in direction they are pointed.

    3. Lavaliere: wearable mics that can be clipped to shirt or jacket (can be omnidirectional or cardioid)

    4. Wireless: Give subjects freedom to move

  3. Cables to connect mics

  4. Headphones: Always test your mic and recorder with headphones to avoid not having to redo interviews. Also a good way to check volume and background noise.

  5. Batteries: Bring extra!

Interviewing for sound

  1. Make sure your subjects answer in full sentences.

  2. Ask your subjects to describe the scene.

  3. Unlike print, the interviewer can’t interject with mm hmms. Smile, instead, to encourage your subject.

  4. Listen to background noises

  5. After you collect interviews, look for ambient sounds – 30 seconds each recorded from different distances.

Software to record Skype interviews

For Mac: Audio Hijack Pro, Call Recorder

For Windows: Call Graph, CallBurner, Pamela

Sources for background music

Using ambient and natural sound is best, but if you need background music these sites can help you find music with Creative Commons licenses or help you create your own:



  3. GarageBand (Comes with iLife for Mac)

  4. Audiotool

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