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First steps using audio

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21st Aug 2012

I’ve been exploring how to use audio interviews as part of my work. If making a lot of mistakes is any guide to how much learning is going on, then I’ve learnt a lot! Luckily for me, I’ve been working on this with Keith Ricketts, an experienced sound media consultant who I met through the Humanitarian Centre in Cambridge.

He was interested in getting more involved in the voluntary sector in the UK, and I was interested in seeing how it might be possible to use other media in my work. We agreed to find an opportunity to collaborate, and the Kings Hedges Family Support Project seemed an ideal chance: the staff were enthusiastic, and the Big Lottery (their funder) were looking for case studies to post on their website.

We planned a day of interviews during the drop-in session when parents and children spend half a day at the project. We were aiming to try to gather stories of how the project had changed the lives of families – not just what they enjoyed at the project, but what difference it made to them.

Here are some things I learnt – looking at them now, they seem rather obvious!

  • it takes time to establish the rapport needed so that people are comfortable telling their story
  • you need a good set of questions ready to help people both give specifics which make the story interesting, and to also reflect as they are talking
  • people can be intimidated by big fluffy microphones, iphones can work just as well
  • playing back sound recordings in the middle of an active playgroup of 50+ children needs proper speakers – not just laptop ones – so that people can hear
  • recording voices can be a good alternative when people are not confident writing things down
  • think ahead about how and where you’ll use the audio – as a whole story? as a compilation of short reactions? as a starting point to trigger other people’s stories? embedded in a website?
  • you’ll almost definitely need to edit sound clips to make them useable
  • if they are willing, take pictures of the people who are talking – they can be used in a slideshow or power point presentation with audio.

I’ve now managed to prepare a power point presentation with sound clips embedded of people talking about the project, and I’ve used a long interview to prepare a case study – transcribed verbatim – which gives an authentic voice to the case study, not possible to capture when you’re writing a story from notes.

There’s a lot more potential out there for using sound creatively – much more to explore and learn!

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