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How to Make an Excellent Story Recording

In times of recession, competition increases for storytelling jobs. To earn a living when times are tough, you need to look for additional sources of income.

One source is the growing demand for recorded stories on the internet. But you won’t make much money from story downloads unless your recordings are excellent enough to draw lots of repeat customers.

How do you create an excellent recording of a given story? Fortunately, recording equipment has come within the financial reach of nearly anyone (see the next article, below). But the secrets of practicing before you record and choosing the right situation for recording remain elusive. Here are the top tips for creating a great recording.

Choose an Approach

There are two approaches to the recorded story. The first treats the performance as an event that already happened, which the listener now gets to overhear. This approach is typical of humorous stories, for example, where the audience’s laughter on the recording may increase the listener’s enjoyment.

The second approach treats the recording as a one-to-one communication, as though you are whispering in your listener’s ear. This creates a sense of intimacy and relationship.

Early in your process, choose which approach you want. Then make all your further decisions support that choice.

How To Practice Before You Record

Have you ever heard a storytelling recording where the audience began laughing uproariously during a period of silence – presumably after they saw something funny? If so, you’ve experienced the biggest problem in translating an in-person performance to an audio-only performance.

If your story depends for its success on visual elements, just sticking a mic in your face won’t make your story work in audio only. Instead, you need to create a new, “audio-only” version.

How? The easiest way is by practice-telling it to coaching buddies (or a professional coach) who can NOT see you. Tell on the phone or ask your listeners to close their eyes as you tell. Ask for appreciations and questions.

Be especially aware of anything visual that you may have come to rely on to convey the story: gestures, facial expressions, posture or movements. Find a way to convey the same experience through sounds alone.

Who Should Be at the Recording?

You have three basic possibilities for who to invite to your recording session. You can record: 1) Alone, 2) Telling to one or more buddies or coaches, or 3) During an in-person performance.

Each of the possibilities has pros and cons. Based on your needs and desires, you can choose the best option for you.

1. Telling Alone

I would only recommend this option for very experienced tellers or when you absolutely don’t have time to arrange any of the other options. Why? Without listeners, you get no feedback as you tell. It’s easy to become stilted, lifeless, or (paradoxically) over-dramatic.

Further, when you’re alone there is no one to act as “quality control” for you, telling you whether your performance was your best.

On the other hand, telling alone presents the fewest logistical problems and involves the least unpredictability. It allows for endless retakes. It lends itself to the “in your listener’s ear” model of recording. And there is a minimum of temptation to rely on visual elements.

2. Telling to Helping Listeners

For most tellers, the best choice is with one or more helping listeners present. Such listeners have agreed to be present for your sake. Since they are there as helpers, they provide the opportunity for retakes and feedback. If you tell to them while their eyes are closed, you won’t be tempted to communicate visually.

Nonetheless, such listeners require some work to invite, welcome, and instruct – and may not be available when needed. You won’t have as much control over extraneous sounds as you will when there’s just one listener or when you’re alone.

With a group, it’s usually best to appoint one person as “head coach.” The head coach has the job of managing the others for you in case they become impatient, begin bombarding you with suggestions, or argue with each other about the quality of your performance.

The larger the group, the more energy they are likely to generate in your telling, the more the recording will feel like an event, the less intimate the recording is likely to be, the less patience they may have for retakes, and the more effort they require from you.

3. Telling in a Live Performance

What about recording a live performance? This will likely generate the most energy. If the performance is already scheduled, there is no effort involved in inviting people or finding a location. Your recording will sound genuinely “event-based.”

On the other hand, a live performance is usually the least predictable and controllable situation. Further, the feeling of intimacy is nearly impossible, visual elements can NOT be eliminated, and you won’t be able to do retakes or receive coaching during the performance.

Finally, the recording process may distract you from your primary task of meeting the audience’s needs – resulting, at worst, in a performance that fails for them AND for your recording goals.

Whenever I record a live performance, I make sure there is someone running the recording equipment for me and, if possible, another helper keeping track of things I may have omitted or misspoken. The sound of the recording may change when most of the audience leaves, but I have been known to re-record muffed sections of a story after my listeners have left the room.

I only recommend recording a live performance if you are experienced enough to be able to juggle the sometimes conflicting demands between the recording process and the performance goals. Because a performance doesn’t allow retakes, it can help to record a series of performances and then choose the best.

The Payoff

If you choose your approach to recording, practice your stories with an audio-only version in mind and make an informed decision about when and with whom to record, you can increase the effectiveness, entertainment value and impact of your recording – and therefore make an easier living, even when times are hard.

This is issue #81 of “eTips from the Storytelling Coach” You can sign up for your free monthly subscription (complete with money-saving subscriber specials and announcements) in the upper right corner of this page.

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