Blog Post One

Because this module has been updated with a new brief and a new name – Digital Entrepreneurship – we are required to seek a commission rather than just go ahead and make a piece of audio. This is to bring the module more in line with industry practice.

Much of what BBC Radio broadcasts these days, particularly in the form of documentaries, has been pitched to them by independent production companies who are seeking commissions.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to intern at Wise Buddah, who produce a fair amount of BBC Radio output. I was invited to put forward some ideas during a particular pitching round. Two of my ideas made it to the second stage of that particular round but sadly no further. Nevertheless, the experience gave me a real insight into the process.

Although the weightings on this module leans towards the piece of audio (70% practical – 30% essay) I have the impression it is the process of securing the commission for the said piece of audio that we are being assessed on, more so than the actual artefact. Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to make my final documentary, podcast, narration or drama the best it can be.

I have already put some feelers out among contacts, as well as emailing a coupled of local charities (suggesting great ideas for an audio component to their respective websites) to seek a commission, but sadly to no avail thus far.

This afternoon I shall make an appeal on social media, I must know someone (or someone who knows someone) who wants a great piece of audio made for nothing!

Not being able to just get on with the process of making the piece is frustrating. I’m not one to leave anything to the last minute, let alone the second week of the module.

 

Blog Post Two

(part 1)

Having heard nothing back from either charity I had previously contacted, on Monday Oct 9th I decided to make an appeal on social media. I figured among all the people I knew there would be someone who was looking for (or knew someone else who was looking for) a top-notch piece of audio to be made, particularly if they knew they could get it for free! I attached a link to my Eurovision – Can We Ever Win Again? at the bottom of the post as an example of what I was capable of.

This appeal yielded two possible leads.

The first was from Jamie Wareham, at Gay Star News, who heads up the student section of the website. He told me they were looking for podcast episodes for Student Pride with which Gay Star News are affiliated. The second was from an old colleague, Ian Elmslie, who had written an autobiographical book which he thought would make a good listen.

I discussed both of these leads with Aasiya (my tutor) during our tutorial on Tuesday 10th October. I suggested that perhaps one or two of my fellow students, due to their comparative youth, might be more suited to the Student Pride podcast angle and that I thought I would be more likely to plump for recording the audiobook.

She suggested I explore both leads while making it clear that a simple recording of a book, read by its author, would not be considered a large enough project for this module. However, she did suggest perhaps taking a ‘dramatisation’ angle may be an option.

I went to Gay Star News for a meeting with Jamie on Friday 13th to discover more about what they were looking for. He reiterated that they were seeking podcast episodes connected to Student Pride for the Student section of their website. He suggested I listen to some of the podcasts from the previous year’s Student Pride to get some topic ideas. He also suggested I check out some of the NANCY podcasts for a style reference.

I also had a telephone conversation with Ian Elmslie during the weekend and he told me his publisher had expressed an interest in commissioning a ‘talking’ edition of his book but was unsure about budgets and therefore cost-effectiveness. I arranged to meet up with Ian the following Tuesday to discuss the matter further. In the meantime, I put together a draft proposal to show both him and his publisher, Ignite Books.

(part 2)

On Tuesday 17th, back on campus, we were invited to share our ideas, thus far, with the rest of the class and any documentary evidence of pitch proposals.

I had tracked down a selection of previous Student Pride podcasts to share with the class, alongside a link to some of the NANCY episodes. I had also sought out two current best selling autobiographical audiobooks to make an attempt at ‘dramatising’.

The first was Robert Webb: How Not To Be A Boy, the second was Matt Lucas: Little Me. Both are read by the author, both have excerpts available online to listen to (and therefore record).

After sharing information on what Gay Star News were looking for with regard to Student Pride podcast with the rest of the class it was time to show off my ‘dramatisation’ skills.

I had recorded a short section of each book and then went about mixing in sound effects and other actuality over the passages I had obtained. This was to demonstrate how effective my proposed approach would be. I initially played the dry clips from the audiobooks, then followed these with my ‘dramatisations’. Here’s a playlist with the before and after of How Not To Be A Boy.

Some of my classmates were suitably impressed, my tutor, Aasiya, however, was less so.

On inspecting my written pitch to Ignite books, she suggested that it, and indeed my Robert Webb and Matt Lucas ‘dramatisations’ didn’t go far enough. It was strongly suggested I should pitch, and indeed create, a more complex dramatisation – which included actors playing other characters from Ian Elsmlie’s book so there would be additional voices to that of the authors – therefore creating a more dramatic, and therefore more complicated recording.

Aasiya suggested I listen to excerpts from some of BBC Radio’s excellent book dramatisations to get more of an idea of what was required of me. I got quite drawn in by a few of them, particularly BBC Radio 4 Extra’s dramatisation of H E Bates – Love for Lydia. It gave me much more of an idea what a full dramatised adaptation for audio should sound like.

After further discussion with Aasiya during which I suggested that a full dramatisation a la BBC would be a little beyond my reach given my budget of £0 and time constraints, we decided that ‘something in between’ my versions of Robert Webb and Matt Lucus, with sound effects added in, and ‘Love for Lydia was achievable and would make a good submission. The same day I met up with Ian Elmslie for a ‘business dinner’

(part 3)

Clutching my written proposal, which by now had been partially debunked, I entered ‘Bills’ on Clink Street. I hadn’t seen Ian since 2012, five long years ago.

We had both worked on the gay cabaret scene (I still do), he as part of a superb act called Katrina and the Boy (he was the boy) and me as a sound technician at various venues.

I showed him my proposal and explained how it had now transformed from my version of an adaptation (with him reading his own words complimented by some well-placed actuality) into an almost fully blown radio drama. At this point, I should say during our initial telephone conversation I had only really mooted recording a chapter or so of him reading his book aloud as an example of how it would sound for both he and his publisher’s perusal.

My fear that he would not wish to go further than a simple audiobook, into an actual dramatisation, with actors, proved unfounded. He was enamoured of the idea, to say the least. He told me that his publishers would be more likely to approve a similar treatment of more of the book if we managed to dramatise it with aplomb.

My next step is to rewrite the proposal and send it to Ignite books with the hope that they will give us the go-ahead to complete a ‘test dramatisation’ of a few excerpts for their perusal.

I have given the author the task of selecting a few relatively short passages from the book which, in his opinion, would be best suited to this semi BBC style adaptation of ‘A Marvellous Party’.

 

Blog post 3

 

Oct 18th:
Ian messaged me with three suggestions as too suitable passages to dramatise. The first is about the day he met Julie Waters. The second is about when he got invited to Sir Ian McKellen’s birthday celebrations, the third is about when he went to a lecture by Quentin Crisp and got a book signed.

Oct 20th:
I re-read these passages on the train to a gig in Birmingham and made some notes: The first is funny and has a few good characters in it plus some scope for actuality and sound effects. The second has a few opportunities for dramatisation but it won’t be as straightforward as the previous scene. The third, however, the lecture and book signing by Quentin Crisp, is possibly the most problematic of the three.

Oct 24:
Instead of going into college I decided to spend the day going through Ian’s three suggestion in more detail to see which sounds, music, and actors could replace narration.

I’ve decided to create as much original audio as I can, given the timescale. Street actuality, waiting outside theatres, phones ringing, texts pinging etc.

Casting wise I’ve worked out that I’ll need three separate voices for the first scene (although I could conceivably play the director and shout: “let’s take a break”.

The second scene needs to include music from La Cage Aux Folle. Perhaps the cast recording is available. I’m considering asking Ian to ask Sir Ian to re-record the answerphone message featured but I fear it’d be a long shot.

Quentin Crisp

The third scene is going to prove more problematic. It mostly features a talk given by Quentin Crisp. Other than a string quartet playing occasionally and audience reaction it is mostly about what Quentin Crisp says… hmmmm. Ian (the author) has told me he does a mean Quentin Crisp impression, once used by the BBC no less, but I’m not convinced it’s the way to go.

 

Oct 25:
Message from Ian telling me who to contact formally at Ignite books to sends the pitch to, I tell him I’ll email first thing the next day.

He also suggests a different passage which might have more scope for dramatisation than one of the others. I’m guessing it’s a suggestion to replace the Quentin Crisp one as that’s mostly got Quentin Crisp in it and less we can get someone to do a damn good impression it’ll be tricky to get the audio.

The suggestion is a passage set on the day David Bowie died. Lots of room for BBC and Sky news actuality along with text received beeps and phones ringing etc. Plus lots of Bowie songs or snippets thereof. More promising perhaps.

I spend most of the rest of the day searching for appropriate audio online:

I have found footage of the TV film mentioned in the first passage on Youtube. The scene being rehearsed and filmed which is central to the passage in the book is there. Recording made.

Album cover

I was right about the original cast recording of the run of La Cage Aux Folle, featured in the second passage, being available, result!. Bought from iTunes! I even managed to capture the audio from an interview with Armistead Maupin (who was in the audience next to Ian) in which he chuckles, it may be usable…

Now for Quentin Crisp. Unbelievably, I have found a recording of the great man from a show in Los Angeles. It must be part of the same run as Ian saw in London as most of the anecdotes Ian mentions are included. I’ve recorded the whole lot to edit later. It’s not the best quality but I’m sure I can clean it up enough.

Oct 27:
Send the formal email to Ignite books at last. Here’s hoping that Steve, to whom I’ve written, replies with a ‘yes’, otherwise I’ve done quite a lot of work in this for nothing.

I have a meeting with Ian this evening to finalise which passages to dramatise and which bits of the narration to keep but which bits to dramatise.

The aforementioned detailed notes are on a google drive spreadsheet, so I’ll take my laptop along to our meeting and show him.

I really need to type up the pages from the book so we have something to work on to start creating the script for the dramatisation.

Oct 27: (Evening)
Met with Ian at the National Theatre. I had my Marantz with me so took the opportunity to record some actuality of a theatre lobby (For one of the passages) plus a room in which people are eating an covering (for party actuality in another passage).

I asked if Ian had the passages we were looking at adapting in an editable document format. He said he would take a look at the beginning of the next week. I hope he has, it will save me a lot of time retyping the passages from the book to create an editable original of the chapters.

On the way home I took the opportunity to record some actuality by the side of the road for the scene outside the Rivoli Ballroom.

 

Oct 28:
Spent nearly the whole day editing and cleaning up the Quentin Crisp audio. I’m pretty confident he sounds as he would have done through a theatre PA in the 1980s now.

Collated a few other sounds and bits of music into one place and sorted them into folders representing the different passages they are to be used for. I also uploaded the actuality I had recorded the right before onto my Mac from the Marantz.

 

Oct 30:
Recorded a few more bits of actuality and mocked up an old answerphone being listed to.

Started some of the suggested reading for the module.

Oct 31:
Ian sent over the original .doc pages of the chapters we’re adapting. Managed to put tother a quick adapted version of the Julie Walters script on the Google Drive.

I have shared the Google Drive folder with Ian so he can see the scripts as they are adapted and make changes himself in consultation with me.

I received an email reply form Ignite books officially commissioning me to create the dramatisations.

“Dear Simon,

thank you so much for your email proposing the creation of audio pieces of key sections of Ian Elmslie’s book ‘A Marvellous Party’.

Having listened to Ian read at the book launch at Gay’s The Word this autumn, and recognising his drama training, we have no hesitation in agreeing that an audio version of him reading the book would be sure to appeal to audiences. We are therefore very happy to give you the go-ahead to create dramatisations of two or three passages of the book, at no cost to Ignite, as a preliminary step.

We will leave yourself and Ian to arrange times and dates which suit you to work on these, and look forward to hearing the completed pieces in due course.

If you’ve any further questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

best regards

Steve
Ignite Books.”

Nov 01:
Great tutorial with Aasiya yesterday. She was pleased with my progress so far and happy with the audio I had already created (and found)

Spent most of today copying the other three original .doc scripts onto Google Drive and editing them. All first drafts are done and I’ve made them more like radio drama scripts with better notation including SFX etc. The Julie Walters script is amended to match the new style guide.

 

Nov 03:
Met with the author, Ian, to go over the scripts. Quite a lot of discussion about tenses. In the book, he sets up the scene in each chapter in the past tense as the author. Then with the narrator’s voice, he tells the story in the present tense: “It’s midday and I step outside . . .” for example.

We eventually settled on me doing a voiceover to head up each excerpt: “In 1996 Ian received an invocation out of the blue . . .” for example. I hope it works as a convention.

I have also decided that Ian’s narrator parts will be recorded in a separate mini session from his playing his character parts. I’m convinced I can make the convention of going from his narrator voice to his character voice, and vice versa within scenes will work well. His narrator parts being treated as Shakespearian asides.

Julie Walters

This evening I am recording the two scenes from the Julie Walters excerpt with Ian (playing himself), and Nicky who’s playing both the bric-a-brac shop owner and the Irish cleaner in the ballroom. We are recording the scenes at Nicky’s work in Holborn. If the actress can’t come to the studio, I’ll take the studio to the actress!

Aasiya has advised that as well as different accents I should make sure that Nicky uses a different tone for each character.

I’ve books a studio at Harrow for Ian’s two mini recording sessions for this Wednesday (8th). We’ll do all the narration first until I am completely satisfied, then after a short break, we will record the character pieces.

We are limited for time as we only have the studio from 11am until 2pm. However, if needs be, we can record more of the charter parts using the Marantz at another location because they will have atmosphere behind them anyway.

It is important to make sure the narration parts are of the highest broadcast quality because they will stand alone.

 

Blog Post 4

Nov 07:
The recording session for the two character scenes for the Julie Walters excerpt went really well.

We were due to record them in Nicky’s office but there was a horrible buzz coming from some room climate control device in the false ceiling. Fortunately, we were able to use someone else’s office in which we were able to turn off the air conditioning for the duration of the session.

We did multiple takes of both scenes which I will go through and select my favourite takes (or parts thereof).

Both Ian and Nicky took direction well. I had my reservations about asking the author to say the lines in, perhaps, a different way than he’d written them, or indeed they had actually happened, but he acknowledged that, as a fresh pair of ears to the scenes, and with my radio production sensibility, that I was in a good position to judge what would work best.

I’m not looking forward to selecting which takes to use as I fear it will be very time-consuming. perhaps I shouldn’t have recorded so many. I wonder if there’s a general rule of thumb that the third to last is always the best one….

Nov 08:
Another great recording session with the author, Ian.

This time I used studio 6 at Harrow as this was for the narration parts. They are great recordings despite the overzealous air conditioning. I’ll attempt to use the noise reduction plug-in on Audition to clean them up further.

Because Ian has theatrical training and was very confident we hardly had to record any retakes. He knew what he’d made a mistake and simply paused for the edit then went again. That’ll make my life much easier in the edit.

I had to give him discretion a few times. He began in too animated a style for the narrator’s voice in my opinion. I wanted to make sure there was a clear distinction between his narrating persona and his acting persona.

One we had the narration style set the only other notes were about pacing. He tended to read too quickly but once I’d asked him to slow down a bit he took the note well.

In the second part of the session at Harrow, we concentrated on the ‘scene script’ lines for the four excerpts.

Any concerns I had that his acting skills wouldn’t be up to the task were swiftly put to bed once we started to record.

Once again he took notes very well and there wasn’t a requirement for too many takes. Because we took such time and care the editing should be relatively straightforward.

My only concern with regard to recording quality is that I fear his sobbing for the Bowie scene peaked the microphone slightly.

Nov 09:

As I woke up early I decided to record some ‘actuality’ for the Bowie scene. In it, Ian is watching a Bowie video on his laptop in bed and after receiving texts from a friend leases out of bed and rushes downstairs to watch the television news.

I placed the microphone in various positions and ‘acted’ out the scene. I’ve yet to upload the audio onto my mac from the Marantz but hopefully, it’ll be useable and convincing. If it’s not, I’ll have to find a better way of doing it.

Nov 13:

I actually had some leisure time at the weekend, aside from working Friday night and Sunday afternoon that is. Today was back to work on A Marvellous Party though.

After a few attempts, I managed to set my iPhone up so that the old texting sound was back on and I found the original ‘text received’ sound. I recorded both of these for the Bowie excerpt. I actually texted exactly what Ian texts in the script to give the key sounds even more authenticity.

I recorded one last voice for the Julie Walters excerpt – my flatmate shouting “right let’s take a break, ten minutes everyone”. Well, he is a professional photographer and filmmaker so it had an air of authenticity about it. I also recorded my main intro and my intros for each excerpt.
Unfortunately, the ‘Capture Noise Print’ Noise Reduction / Restoration algorithm for cleaning up audio on Adobe Audition wasn’t up to the job of properly removing the sound of the air conditioning from the recording of Ian I made in Studio 6 at college.

Fortunately, some time ago a friend recommended some new software called SoundSoap, which has been specifically designed for use by idiots who wish to restore poor sound recordings to broadcast quality. I say idiots, because it has an extremely easy to use interface, unlike say, iZotope’s RX6, and is also considerably cheaper.

I downloaded it, worked out how to use it and cleaned up the audio within an hour. I cannot recommend it enough. You can get it here from a company called Antares

Nov 14
(Morning)
After cleaning up my intros and outros and various other bits of audio yesterday lunchtime I decided to go for it, to start the big mixdown!

After seven hours of meticulous editing, tweaking, mixing, repositioning, followed by bouncing and listing, tweaking again, bouncing and listening . . . I think I have the first scene – Julie Walters – finished!

I shall take it to my tutorial this afternoon to play it to Aasiya, fingers crossed she’s impressed.

Before I leave for Harrow I’m going to make a start on the Ian McKellen / Armistead Maupin excerpt.

Nov 16:

I managed to put together the full arrangement for the McKellen / Maupin excerpt and do a basic mix before heading to Harrow for my tutorial, which went very well.

Aasiya made quite a few suggestions which I shall incorporate.

The main one was to signpost more definitively who the author was and what ‘A Marvellous Party’ was about.

She also suggested I find a piece of music to introduce each section to differentiate between my linking narration and Ian’s, which is read from the book.

I played Aasiya the mixes I’d done so far in studio 6 (where coincidentally I had recorded Ian’s narration parts). It was very helpful listening through different speakers than mine at home and with a new pair of ears, namely Aasiya’s

Her main suggestion was to keep some actuality etc running under passages of narration. It was something I had struggled with because I felt that in some places it was needed but I was worried it broke convention.

In the end, it was decided that I should go for whatever sounds best rather than sticking ridgedly to the convention, which is a great suggestion and very freeing artistically.

Aasiya also made some suggestions as to levels of music under dialogue which I have also taken onboard.

Nov 20:

On Friday (17th) I made several attempts at rewriting the introduction to the whole piece at Aasiya’s suggestion.

I didn’t want it to be too obtrusive and verbose but at the same time, it had to explain clearly who the author Ian was.

It is now two sentences long but contains the required information . . . I think. It’s a tad clunky written down, but I’m sure I can lift it off the page when I record it.

Also at Aasiya’s suggestion I am going to use the Noel Coward – A Marvellous Party piano instrumental music sting in between my narration and Ian for each excerpt.

In the evening I went out for a drink with an old friend who, on hearing about the project, was keen to hear what I’d done so far.

It’s always a good idea to allow a fresh pair of ears to listen to any audio while it’s still a work in progress.

He loved it but was concerned that the street scene between Ian and the bric-a-brac shop owner sounded like it was recorded inside (which it was) so suggested trying to ‘un-verb’ it: i.e. remove some of the natural reverb of the room was recorded in. We tried several methods of doing so and came up with something that in the first instance appears counterintuitive. One always thinks of reverb as being echoey high frequencies because reverb used on music vocals tends to be EQed thus. However, we discovered that reducing the lower frequencies using a low cut shelf did the trick. Although it reduced the frequency bandwidth of the recording a little it does indeed remove a lot of the reverb which was created by the room in which it was recorded. Job done!

He also suggested that the conversation between Ian and the cleaner, which appears later on in the excerpt, should only just be audible above the conversation of the scene it is interrupting (from the listeners perspective). He was right! I was never happy with it whatever I tried but now it sounds so much better. It signposts the fact that because it’s ‘quiet on set’ the conversation shouldn’t be happening at all!

He had one further comment which mirrored one made by Aasiya about the McKellen birthday excerpt: – it’s a shame you don’t hear Armistead Maupin’s voice at during the scene…. even if it comes across as if he was talking to someone else.

On listening to the scene again, I have come to the conclusion that they are both right. So I have decided, because I have the time, I am going to trawl through recordings of Armistead in conversation to find some appropriate audio.

 

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