Ten top tips for audio-guide narration

Ever wanted to do a bit of narration? Looking for a career in radio, voice-overs or audio stories? Then this guide made by the narrators of the Breary Banks audio guide is for you.

Tip 1. Drink a lot of water
If you don’t drink water your voice gets dry and you end up coughing, which doesn’t sound good on the recording.

Tip 2. Do a lot of lip drills before starting
If you don’t, you stumble on your words and say things like shoulders instead of soldiers….

Tip 3. Read the script over once before recording
It lets you know where the traps  in the script are, such as ‘battle training trenches’….

Tip 4. Make sure you don’t sound like a robot
If it’s the fourth time you’ve recorded the same section, take a break, go for a walk, have a drink of water…

Tip 5. Turn off all other electronic devices that are in the room
A mobile phone ring tone on the audio recording doesn’t sound that authentic. And you don’t want your phone conversation to be recorded do you?

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Emmeline recording the narration for the audio guide. Photo by Ashley.

Tip 6. Try to avoid b and p….
xAfter a while Breary Banks becomes Preary Panks

Tip 7. Never read ahead
If you do, you’ll end up inventing new words, like Potatews…(any guess what that means?)

Tip 8. Don’t swear during the recording
It’s very hard to edit out

Tip 9. Don’t charge your laptop during recordings
The microphone will pick up the sound of your laptop charging and you’ll have fun editing the 90Hz  hum out of the recording (noise reduction and equalization are your friends if this ever happens to you)

Tip 10. Have fun
If you don’t, this job is not for you

 

 

A Photographic journey

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Photo taken on a previous assignment by Steve. Copyright held by Steve.

In 1911 the same year the chapel was built at Breary Banks, newspaper editor Tess Flanders used the expression “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” This sentence is relevant in today’s 24 hour digital age. The Hidden Dale blog site has used photographs to document our project, some taken by a fellow student Ashley and myself. Many images are posted on social media everyday, mainly the ubiquitous selfie.

I started my love affair with photography at the age of eight when I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera for a birthday present. Then one day a neighbour gave me an old Rangefinder camer. He no longer used it, so this was a great gift. With this camera I learnt the basics of real photography. When I left school I got a job in a Camera shop. Surrounded by all this equipment, my photographic skills improved. As new models of cameras and lenses came on the market we used to field test them, meaning we’d go out into the local area to assess their performance.

The shop closed but I was fortunate enough to get a position with an advertising agency working as a Photographic Technician. I helped to photograph everything from toasters to lawn mowers. The advertising agency eventually moved to London and I stayed in Yorkshire.

I freelanced here and there, then eventually went to University to study photography and digital imaging. I have also obtained the Associate of the Royal Photographic Society  award, then I obtained a post graduate diploma in Photojournalism. I have photographed Bollywood film stars, sat on football touch lines in the pouring rain, chased prison vans coming out of crown courts and covered  fashion shows, but then the smartphone arrived and suddenly the newspaper and media started using Citizen Journalists. Why pay someone like me when people would send their images in just to get their name in print for free?

I have been asked to document our end of term exhibition which consists of a series of digital and analogue installations about the excavation projects. For this, a plan has to be worked out. I am not familiar with the room that has been allocated so I will go and have a look to work out angles, any natural light coming through windows, the location of anything distracting, fire extinguishers and yellow signs, etc.

My fellow Heritage students will be spending the day setting the room up. I wish to document this so I will look at the floor plans and position myself in an area where I can shoot images. This will probably be next to the wine (don’t worry I don’t drink.)

Just before the winners are announced, a series of what are called “talking heads” images will be obtained, people talking looking at the exhibition installations, etc.

When the winning panel is announced, I will be in a good position hence the location visit to capture the announcement and the presentation. Hopefully I can take the victorious team outside and get some group images

The images will be processed via Photoshop – nothing fancy, just levels adjustment, resized and captioned.

Market Research and Field Testing

We had established through brainstorming in the first few weeks that a majority of people visiting the site were either relatives of people associated with the Leeds Pals, military history enthusiasts like myself, or ramblers following one of the many Yorkshire Dales walking guidebooks. With this in mind, we decided to do a general history of the site.

Testing our audioguide took place with a mixture of students, staff, and local enthusiasts and historians.

Testing our audioguide took place with a mixture of students, staff, and local historians.

Market research is vital for both commercial and community projects. After a meeting with curators from Leeds Museums & Galleries, it was suggested we carry out focus group surveys on site, the problem was the logistics of getting a group to the site. Using local school children was suggested, but we would have had to carry out risk assessments for health and safety, which would take up too much time. Our fellow undergraduate students were already on site carrying out the excavation, so we tried out our questionnaire on our peers. We took into consideration the problem of using students who might be reluctance to criticise their fellow students too much. Due to pre-excavation briefing and an archaeologically trained eye, some of the features we pointed out in the audio guide the students already had prior knowledge of.

As a mature student who has worked in both photojournalism and as a voluntary tour guide, talking to complete strangers comes naturally, this skill has proved very useful on our field trips to Breary Banks. My first contact with visitors was on our first trip to Breary Banks, as our team stood at the memorial a car pulled up. As the couple left the car, I approached them. I decided the best approach would be to ask for their reason for visiting the site, this would establish any history or involvement with the site, e.g. family history with the area or Leeds Pals or just visiting while out walking, or curiosity. The gentleman, like myself, was a military history enthusiast from Bradford, he was visiting out of personal interest and would not be interested in our audio guide but thought it was a good idea to help the remembrance of the Pals battalions.

My next adlib market research was also on a field trip. Several cars arrived and people suitably attired in walking clothing started to gather. I approached them and engaged in a conversation, the group was from the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty World War One volunteers research group, they were on site to look at the excavation. However while conducting our survey with the students, a couple following a walk from a guidebook appeared. I asked the usual questions and they showed me the guidebook, which did not have much information about the history of the area. On our return to the dig site they stopped me to ask about all the features in the landscape, so I incorporated a mini guided tour with some market research questions and an explanation of what we were trying to achieve as heritage students. The couple were impressed and said that an audio guide and leaflet would add to their day out on the hill.

~Steve

The Recording & Editing of our Audio Guide

With this being our final week of production for our project, we focused mainly on finalising the scripts for production, recording the entire audio guide, and editing the audio for the final product.

Finalising the Script

We went through each script individually, appointing particular people to grammar, spell and fact-check each script. Not many changes had to be made to the scripts, as they were already produced to a high quality by each member in the group, all having done research and spent lots of time working on the scripts. Once the scripts were done it was time to begin recording.

Recording

We chose the voices of characters that would feature in the audio guide from our group:

  • Narrator: Emmeline
  • Navvy: Steve
  • Child: Hermione
  • Nurse: Jessica

We selected the quietest place within Kings Manor, which was situated in the PhD student offices, and each ‘character’ went into the recording area. We also made sure to have as few people in the recording room as possible, to reduce as much noise as we could, and to get the clearest recording. We wanted to get all the recording done all in the same day, so all elements of the recording such as reverb and volume would be the same, and also ensured that the microphone was the same distance away at all times.

The person being recorded would read from the script placed on a laptop in front of them, and if they stumbled or messed up at all during the recording, would just repeat the paragraph and would then be edited in post production to continue the flow of the recording. Each stop had a separate recording each, so we had 8 recordings for the 8 stops. At the start of each recording we stated which stop it was to avoid confusion.

Once recording was complete all recording files were transferred onto a memory stick and then passed onto the group for them to take their individual stop that they are responsible for and uploaded it to Audacity, which was the audio editing software that we had chosen to use.

Stop 1: Tongtong

Stop 2: Steve

Stop 3: Hermione

Stop 4: Eliza

Stop 5: Ashley

Stop 6: Jessica

Stop 7: Emmeline

Stop 8: Jessica for written script/ Tongtong and Eliza for audio editing

Editing the Audio

Once we had uploaded all our recordings to Audacity, we realised a ‘humming’ noise on all the recordings, and wanted this removed as it was deemed to ruin the overall finish to the audio guide. We had a helping hand, however, to help us with our problem. Wayne, from the E-Learning Development Team at the University of York, stated that the noise was from a charging laptop, and helped group member Emmeline very successfully remove the humming noise without distorting the voice on the recording.

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The process of sound reduction of audio on Audacity

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The process of sound reduction of audio on Audacity

By sampling the humming sound and then using noise reduction, we managed to remove the sound from all eight recordings, and Emmeline certainty became the expert in this area!

We then all spent time going through our recordings, cutting out all the unneeded parts, and also adding sound effects to their recordings to ‘bring it to life’ for the audience. For example, Hermione in stop 3 added bird songs downloaded from iMovie. The start of stop 1 and the end of stop 8 have been edited to have music from the era to complete the audio guide, and as I mentioned above ‘to bring the audio alive’ to the audience.

Once all our editing was done, we all played our recordings out loud to the group and noted down changes that needed to be added for the final product. Feedback featured mainly around length of pauses and was quickly edited in Audacity. However, as we played all our audio we realised that some of the recordings didn’t exactly match the wording on the scripts and so needed to be corrected to have a perfect match. This was important as the scripts will also be downloadable with the guide for people to use.

The final audio guide product has now been recorded and edited and worked on really hard by the group, and is now coming to its final stages of being a completed audio guide. Finishing touches and double checking of all audio will be made, and then compressed into MP3 files for the public to use, and hopefully thoroughly enjoyed around the site of Breary Banks. We hope the voices and music within the audio guide will evoke an emotional response and really bring the site alive, which was our main project aim, making all these weeks of hard work worthwhile.

 

Development of Icons and Map

As you open our lovely brochure, there’s a map with icons in the middle of the page. This visual information is very helpful in terms of guiding visitors, as well as embellishing the brochure.
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Icon of stop 8, representing World War 1. Illustration by Tongtong.

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Icon of stop 6, representing a walking stop and the life at camp. Illustration by Tongtong.

At the beginning of the project, our decision to make these icons was initially for the audio guide, so people could choose which story they would like to hear according to the different icons. Therefore, choosing objects to represent each stop was the first difficulty. First of all, the object had to be relevant to its story, and had to well represent different stops, so that it would probably help visitors understand the site easily. And of course, the objects had to be easy to be drawn. However, as we moved further into the project and making the brochure, we decided to put icons on the map, in this case, these icons should also be relevant with the surrounding location. Fortunately, memorial, gate, ash tree, top-hill and the chapel can all be represented by their actual landmarks.
When it came to stop 5, the idea was a bit controversial, because there is no clear landmark. The objects we came up with are: diary, shower, wood fence and boots, and we eventually chose boots because there’s a relevant description from Ashley’s story, which is very interesting. Also, because we decided to use a footprint for the next stop, due to the fact that it’s a walking stop, so it will make sense that this stop is “boots”, and it also creates relevance for both stories. As for the last stop, because it’s an ending stop without story, and is a “reflective question”, so we decided to use a poppy instead of a simple question mark, as poppies are related to the war.
Drawing was the next stage. As Tom, Ashley and I did some experiments on scanning and copying, we realized that pencil sketches don’t look clear enough after printed out, so I used charcoal and photoshopped pictures to embellish and make them on a clean white background.
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Sketch of aerial photo of Breary Banks. Illustration by Tongtong.

Our preparation for making the map was quite long. When we were talking about the layout of the brochure, what we discussed was that to put the map at the back, and the initial design I had was a very abstract and symbolic style; landmarks on each side of the route, with the title “Breary Banks” in the middle, it’s vertical and it looks more like a poster. However, after we set up the style of the brochure, which is an “old diary”, we found that a “realistic” map based on the aerial photo will fit much better with its format as well as the content. In this case, we changed the style of the map, and also agreed that to put icons on it as landmarks to guide visitors. Eventually, the map and icons look perfectly together after photoshopped.
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Final version of the map with icons on it. Illustration by Tongtong.