What goes into making my performed readings? You know the ones. I’ve recorded a short story every month for the past year to share here at The Fine-toothed Comb. It’s been a hobby, an excuse to work with some new people, and an opportunity to showcase the results. The responses I received were universally warm, so I’ve decided to add Performed Readings to my Services page, along with Audio Mixing for good measure.
Some early enquirers have sucked their teeth at the cost, feeling that I’m asking too much for ‘just’ reading their story out loud. It’s tricky, this kind of thing. Work is often undervalued by people until they comprehend the time, effort and skill required to achieve the end result. With that in mind, I’m going to take you through my process this week – give you an insight into how I prepare, what equipment and resources I use, how I work on my performance, the editing process and the finishing touches.
The first stage for me is to get a physical copy, double-spaced for *ease of reading. I carefully go through the text, getting to grips with the flow of the story, the character arcs, the emotions at play on the surface and running deep beneath. I’ll be murmuring here rather than reading out loud, preserving my voice for the main event. (You’d be surprised how quickly it can tire if you don’t look after it.) If specific accents are required, I’ll look into them at this point, listening to real-world examples to catch the elements that differentiate them. Where necessary, I make small **editorial adjustments. I’m annotating my sheets as I go – jotting down emphases and pauses, making notes on tone, highlighting different characters for clarity, and so on.
Equipment and software
We’re shifting the house around soon, which should give me a better space to record in. I can’t afford a snazzy sound booth yet, but that is a long-term investment aim. Until then, my new isolation shield and some wall hangings will help to minimise external sounds. I’ve purchased a Marantz condenser mic, which I feed through a Behringer audio interface to my laptop – all paid for from my business account. To date I’ve been using Audacity to record, edit and mix the audio. It’s a programme I’m familiar with from my podcasting days. Reaper tantalises, but I need to look into it further. Always learning and improving, me.
It’s a bit stressful, recording. I don’t know why, as I have full control over the project, but beginning any performance is tough. My heart tells me it has to be perfect from the off, though of course I can do as many takes as necessary to nail each line. Nevertheless, long smooth takes are preferable as they sound more natural (right down to the breaths between lines) and require less editing. Fortunately, these come more easily and regularly as I start to live the story. If there are a number of different characters, I tend to split the recording up: narrative first, then each ***character’s dialogue separately. This requires a firm grasp of where the person is emotionally at each stage of the story. If there are a couple of different ways to play things, I may record both and see what works best in the edit.
Editing and mixing
This is where things get fine-tuned. The raw footage is displayed on the screen as sound waves, with every last second of sound captured. I have the script by my side and I play the sound file, painstakingly highlighting and removing the excess: any stumbled lines, coughs and splutters, the takes that don’t hit the right tone, the takes interrupted by next door’s barking dogs, and so on and so forth. Where there are multiple tracks, featuring different characters, I’m similarly editing those, then shifting them to fit seamlessly with the narrative, interjecting or expanding on the story. These sometimes necessitate the slight shifting of tracks to give each sound its place and, as I’m working through I’ll be making tweaks, ensuring the sound levels are consistent between takes, extending or reducing pauses between lines, tightening the whole. I am also considering what (if any) sound or music effects can be used to enhance the listening experience. These may range from echoes and distortions in dialogue to incidental noises or full background soundscapes. Some of these I may record myself, others I track down using such resources as Freesound and the Free Music Archive. Finally, once all is compiled, the audio file can be mixed down into a single MP3, ready for consumption.
So there we have it, a glimpse into what goes into the production of these performed readings. I’ll have another reading for you next week: March of the Midnight Crow, by Leah Crowley, and I’ve decided to do one final free performance in February as a kind of reverse birthday present to you all, finishing this cycle as I began with one of my own stories. And after that? Well, I’m pleased to announce that I have been hired by the fabulous Priya Sharma to record one of her stories: Mari Llwyd. I will share details as to how you can hear it once Priya puts it all in place.
* The last thing you want is to lose your place in the middle of a performance.
** For instance, there’s little point in narrating how a person says something when I can simply perform the dialogue appropriately.
*** Switching voices during performance is possible, but there’s a risk of overload, losing track of the character, tone or accent. In addition, there are some scenes where the performance in enhanced by having characters interrupt or talk over one another. Having each on a separate track allows such elements to be finessed in the edit.
If you are interested in hearing more about performance, I wrote a post a while back called Acting on instinct, finding new roles.
If you want to contact me to discuss the cost of creating a bespoke performance for you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a Comment below and I’ll get in touch with you.
If you want to hear the audio work I’ve produced so far, you can check out my Audio page.