Yutong Qin – Audio Drama Blog

Week 1 (24/01/20) – Introduction. 3-minute piece recording exercise.

The first week is an introductory lecture. Jeremy started by asking our relationship with the sound dramas. I am personally a digital media student, so my only experience comes from a computer game called “Unheard”. The player is given the ability to hear the word spoken at the scene of a crime, so the player is hired as an “acoustic detective”, identifying the suspects and solving the mysteries. Either the dialogue or the sound effects and ambiance have drawn my interest in the production process behind the scene. Although I had no experience in producing audio drama before, it allows me to make the most of the class to learn and try something new.

 

In the afternoon, we are randomly split into different groups to produce a 3-minute piece of audio drama. I got some ideas in my mind very soon and provide a basic context for the story. Through the discussion with the group members, the story and scenes are further completed as follows:

 

Characters: Doctor/ Assistant/ Doctor’s wife/ Doctor’s wife’s friend

Scene 1: After the greetings, before the doctor entered her office, she had a short conversation with her assistant, talking about the secret experiment they were working on. The experiment went well.

Scene 2: the doctor walked into her office, took a phone call with her wife, arguing about their adopted child’s birthday cake. The assistant broke into the office.

Scene 3: the assistant told about the leaking virus from the experiment. Then they started panicking and arguing about the solutions.

Scene 4: the doctor’s wife complained about the doctor with her friend at the kitchenette. Then she just realized that she had several missed calls and a message came in said: “I love you”. She was confused so she made a call to the doctor but no one answered.

 

During the recording, we had taken the following several issues into considerations:

  1. I first set the scene at a hospital, however, we were inside the campus so we solve the problem by adding a greeting conversation between the doctor and her colleagues at the beginning to create an ambiance of being at a hospital.
  2. The group members are all girls, so we change the main characters into a lesbian couple. Problem solved.
  3. The source of the disaster was originally a bomb. However, the storyline may become farfetched and it’s difficult to imitate a bomb sound provisionally, and the scene is at a hospital, so we change it naturally to a virus leaking.
  4. The idea of scene 4 – dialogue at the kitchenette flashed into our mind when we realize there is a tea room on the same floor so we got the sound of water boiling and the microwave.

 

This is a very interesting exercise. The story needs 4 characters. We had 4 people in the group and each scene needs two characters average so almost everyone got the chance to do acting and recording. I particularly enjoyed the moment when we met different kinds of problems and the process of sorting them out. A good start for me.

 

 

Week 2 (31/01/20) – Divide into groups. Read the scripts and assign the roles.

In the second week class, we are divided into groups for the final audio project. We were given the first 4 pages of eight play scripts. We played different roles to read the scripts.

After considering the cast, setting and special requirements of the plays, we made our first, second and third choices:

  1. Paul
    1. We have the advantages in the settings since we have the recording studio at the university.
    2. I am looking forward to dealing with characters’ sounds under different situations such as outdoor, indoor and voice-over.
  1. Angel Fish
    1. The plot contains lots of elements such as suspense, thriller, love and emotions.
    2. The setting of recording by the Thames will be a challenge.
  1. Skin Walkers
    1. The story is very creative and imaginary which draws my attention in the first place.
    2. Dealing with the sound of an alien will be challenging but fun.

 

We are lucky to get our first choice – “Paul”. Then we further chose our production roles:

Alex – Producer

Chloe – Director

Ryan – Studio Manager & Script Editor

Me – Production Co-ordinator

 

Although I wanted to be the studio manager at the beginning, I found myself more suitable to be the co-ordinator since I have neither recording skills nor experience before. Therefore, I am in the best position to learn the knowledge and skills carefully from others. Thanks to my group members who had kindly taught me how to use Adobe Audition and introduce some of the functions to me so I can help with the editing when it comes to the production week.

 

 

Week 3 (07/02/20) – Introduce basic principles and elements. Studio recording exercise.

For this week, Jeremy first introduced the pre-production for the radio plays and 5 positions standing from the mic. It is interesting to try out different positions and experience how they are different when the sound comes out from the speaker.

Position 1: really close to the mic, used for internal voice/ voice-over;

Position 2: close to the mic, the sound will be salient and obvious;

Position 3: loose to the mic, used for most scenes, conversations between two people;

Position 4: away from the mic, used to talk to a group of people;

Position 5: far away from the mic, used for shouting or creating a very distant voice, usually not recommended.

 

I also learned about the difference between a stereo mic and a monoaural mic, so basically, a monoaural mic has a single channel of sound which comes from only one position while the stereo mic can create an illusion that the sound is multi-directional and when you hear from the speaker, the sound can be distinguished through different distances, depths and directions, like in the real world.

 

We were then asked to do a small piece of studio recording exercise in our groups. Through the instructions from Jeremy, I summarized a few points that worth considering when we dealing with the script or recording:

  1. We don’t have to record or start from the beginning of the plot.
  2. It is good to leave space at the beginning and the end
  3. Although “Paul” has lots of voice-overs, is it the right decision to use position 1 for all the voice-over?

 

 

Week 4 (14/02/20) – Trail recording scenes from “Paul” (Pre-production Week One)

This week’s class we started to practice recording the scene from our script. My group chose scene 6 for the trail recording. The casting includes Paul, Janet and work-experience Sam. The scene is set in a meeting room. Through the recording, we found several problems we need to deal with:

  1. We need a few people to do chatting aside to create the ambience of a meeting room. However, we found that people need to say real sentences instead of muttering or just simply making sound, otherwise it sounds fake.
  2. The sound of flipping papers sounds obvious when the actors standing at position 1-3.
  3. The following plot will be Paul and Sam doing live radio, so we need to figure out how to record the sound comes out from live radio.

 

I have also noted down a few things we need to work on:

  1. Go through the script thoroughly during the group meeting;
  2. Schedule: think about in what order should we record the scenes and estimate time of each scene;
  3. Casting: confirm the casting (cast sheet), check the available time of the actors (done by Jeremy), think about how much time you need the actors for and prepare the first email sent to the actors;
  4. Creating the list for SFX, music needed.

 

 

Week 5 (21/02/20) – Pre-production Week Two

For this week’s morning session, we had John Wakefield as a guest speaker to share his experience and skills in producing an audio drama, including how to deal with sound effects, audio recording and post-production. There are a few points that interested me and solved the problems I had before:

  1. It will make things easier if we have someone make a phone call from another studio and speak to the actor, and then just play the part while we do the recording.
  2. Pay attention to create the versatility of the recording by capturing the sound in different ways and with different techniques, mono or multiple.
  3. Always leave a gap when there is a voice-over coming in.
  4. Smaller space for recording, less bleed of the sounds.
  5. Always remember to label the audio files:
    1. Advice for labelling: episode number, scene number, take number, and keywords.
    2. Create a new folder for each day’s recording, labelling with the name and year/ month/ day.
    3. File structuring and organizing are boring but important for post-production.
  6. Make good use of white noise. They will be the elements that can make the scenes more rich and vivid. Think carefully about what sound effects are needed for each scene, and how they can be overlapped to add more layers to the sounds.
  7. Always go back and listen to the works to check no part stands out to be too loud or plain.

 

Then for the afternoon session, we did exercise of adding and mixing sound effects in our own groups. As a beginner, I first heard of the freesound.org. It is interesting to conceive the scene in the mind and try out different versions of the sound to pick the right one to use. I also learned how complex it is to mix the sounds together for even a small take.

 

In the end, we also went through the scripts and discuss our ideas about how to present the play. “Paul” is a play with a lot of monologues, so how to do the voice-over recording is the key.

 

 

Week 6 (28/02/20) – Reading Week + Group Meeting

I was feeling unwell in the morning so I only went to the group meeting in the afternoon. This is the final time we go through the script as a group before the production week.

 

We have discussed the recording order of the scenes. Scene 7 is the longest among all scenes, so it will be divided into different parts to record. Because the storyline reaches its climax in the latter part of scene 7 when Paul’s ex appears and everything goes wrong and this scene needs the most of actors, we decided to record scene 7 at first. In doing so, we can have the actors to do a little bit warm-up and have their full energy to do the most important scene at the beginning. Furthermore, once we finish the recording of scene 7, the rest of the time will be more flexible to manage.

 

Then the recording order becomes quite clear: scene 7, 6, 2, 4, 5, 3, 1 and 8.

 

Scene 1 and 8 will be done at the last since most of the conversation is Paul’s voiceover and needs a bit of acting of the actor. Scene 6 and 2 are put together because, in the script, the locations are both the office, it will become easier when we set the standing position of the actors. Because the content of scene 4 and 5 are just the dialogue between Paul and Sam, these two scenes are put together to give the actors a sense of cohesion.

 

During the meeting, I also mentioned about a few questions about how we get actors’ proof of travelcards and who will be doing what and what extra props we may need to bring on the recording day. I also took some notes when we discuss the details of the script.

 

 

Week 7 (06/03/20) – Production Week

On the day of the recording, all the members arrived before 9:15 am and started doing the preparations. One day before, we are announced that Sam and Emily may not be available for the recording and we temporarily re-arrange the casting. Fortunately, we had both of them attending the recording on the day.

 

I was responsible to do the notetaking and record the begin and the end of each take, so I sit at the side of the desk to have the same screen view with the studio manager and a good view of the director and the producer. After three hours of recording, I realized that it really needs me to concentrate when doing the notetaking. I need to:

 

  1. mark clearly and exactly on the script when each take begins and ends recording. As the studio manager creates and saves each new audio clip, I need to mark down the corresponding name of the clips;
  2. listen carefully and mark down every time there is a pop or faulty sound so that we know which part of which take need to be replaced or fixed during the editing;
  3. write down the opinion we have during the recording, for example: take one is better than take two, or some of the sound effects we need for each scene.

 

I realize that the more details I write down during the recording, the more convenient the postproduction will be. The recording time of each scene is perfectly fit into the schedule as the producer planned – 20 minutes average for each scene. Although scene 7 took us one hour to be done, the rest of each scene took only around 10-15 minutes to record. We finished at half-past 12, so it is earlier than we thought.

 

I haven’t tried any types of audio production before I take this module, so it becomes a precious memory for me. As a group, we all think carefully and discuss the solutions together, so the recording runs smoothly without having too many troubles. I believe that the postproduction will be rolled out successfully as well.

 

 

Week 8 (13/03/20) – Post-production Week

This is the final week and we worked on the post-production of the project. We got some sound effects pre-prepared and most of them can be found on freesounds.com. We also recorded one or two sound effects especially needed for “Paul” during the recording day. Before this week, I have uploaded a word document including all the marks of every take onto the shared drive. This also saved my time when I tried to find the exact take I need for the editing. I did the editing for scene 2 and 3, and there are three aspects that I mostly worked on: sound effects, music and pan.

 

As for sound effects, Scene 2 and 3 happened mostly in the office and on the street, so office, group conversation and street ambience are necessary. At the office, there are also sound effects like “drop the bag”, “office table and chair”, “coffee machine” that appears off and on, following Paul’s moving action. I specially chose a sound of high heels clacking on the floor, fading in and out to signify the come and go of Janet (an office lady).  Also, a sipping sound of the coffee is also added to emphasize Paul’s impression of the coffee. As for music, I used two pieces of non-copyright music. One is very uplifting and lively background music used when Paul gets the good news from Janet. The other is piano music, sounds more quiet and simple, giving Paul’s voiceover a sense of memory laden with grief. In the end, I went through the whole audio of scene 2 and 3 to adjust the pan. Although we have been carefully dealt with the standing position of the actors during the recording, it will sound more obvious and gives the scene more space after adjusting the pan further away from the central.

 

There may be some flaws that I don’t have the skills to fix more subtly, but it is a very interesting experience for me to edit an audio drama and mix it with different sounds and music. It is completely different from the control panel I used in Final Cut Pro, Adobe Audition contains more detailed and complex effects. And thanks to Jeremy, Matthew and my group member for leaving me such a good memory of producing audio drama.

 

Finally, here is the link to our work – “Paul”: https://soundcloud.com/alexandra-jones-552435924/paul-audio-drama-drama-angels-production

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