Walkley Award-winning radio producer Gina McKeon generously took time out recently to chat to AudioLab about making great radio.
In the process of chatting with us about her piece St Vincent's [featured in Audiolab's Features + Docos section] Gina shared some great tips for budding producers, including ones about always being ready for for the unexpected when heading out with your recorder.
"In terms of preparation before you head out, always bring spare batteries, or invest in rechargables. And always keep your headphones on when you're on location recording. It sounds basic but the people around you then get used to you wearing them, they become less nervous and eventually become more comfortable and candid."
Gina also noted that it's quite common for stories to develop in unanticipated ways and for new protagonists in the narrative to reveal themselves, once you're on location.
"Once you start interviewing, the story develops and unfolds, you’re introduced to new people and you’re led in a different direction.
I think in those situations it’s important to keep your equipment recording when you’re hanging out at key locations where there are a few people around you could possibly interview. In these situations I speak to as many people as possible. You might not use all the interviews but you can follow leads based on what they’ve said, ask who they think you should speak to, begin to narrow down your angle and then pinpoint who of these people you might want to do more in-depth one-on-one interviews with."
Research and planning are crucial parts of any radio project, but again, once you're on location, flexibility is also important.
"If it’s a one-on-one interview, I’ll definitely write down around four or five key questions I want to ask. I look over these before I go in and then during the interview I typically don’t look at the questions until the end. I try to make it as conversational as possible and keep eye contact with the interviewee... I find that once you start interviewing and you’ve got those four or five questions in mind, more interesting questions arise from the natural flow and sometimes these tangents are better than the questions you had written down. But I always check at the end of the interview to make sure I’ve asked those four or five key questions I wanted to cover."
Like a print journalist, interestingly Gina transcribes her interviews so she has a paper copy. Here she explains why.
"...I find it helpful. After I’ve done most of my interviews, I roughly transcribe them [and] do a paper edit of how I think the story could go. This works for me as I then have a general idea of how it might sound, but this almost always changes because in the end you’re working with sound, so how it looks on paper usually isn't how it sounds. Then I go into the studio and begin putting together a rough edit without sound effects.
Within this rough edit I usually place the music I think could work – it's very roughly placed with no fades, etc. Selecting music is as important as the grabs, I think. The music can completely change the tone of the story..."
Gina's St Vincent's piece was for FBi Radio's All The Best program and part their larger series focusing on The Block in Redfern. Working in a team has definite advantages explains Gina.
"There was a lot of planning with the All The Best team working together to make the whole special on The Block. We wanted to make sure our individual stories would fit together as a whole. We would head out recording and before any editing began, we’d play back raw parts of any interviews we’d done to each other in order to critique each other’s work. The rough edit [was also] sent to another member of the All The Best team for feedback. This step is so valuable. It's always helpful to have a fresh pair of ears listen to the story and give you feedback because by this stage you're usually quite deep into it and sometimes can't hear what's exactly working and what's not. The critique helps you to know if you need to reconsider the music, places where the piece seems to drag, if the quality of the audio is good enough, or if you might need to interview someone again to focus more on one aspect of the story."
Does Gina labour over decisions about which interviews might not make the final cut in editing due to time constraints?
"Of course! I often agonise over what has to be left out. After your first few cuts you think: There's no way I could cut anymore out. It's all so valuable in telling the story. But then you have someone else listen to it and they tell you which bits you could definitely leave out and by the next cut it's been trimmed by five or ten minutes. This is why having an editor or someone else listen to your cuts is important..."
And as Gina points out there's always the option of uploading a longer version of the story as a podcast with extended or extra interviews.