Cutting an audio track (aka narration)…

My last post reminded me of the proper way to cut an audio track – better known as narration. If you just pick up your script and read (or worse yet, try to ad lib) you’re most likely gonna have problems. So here’s how and why to do it properly.

First, read the damn thing. Even the pros do that – they give it a read to get comfortable with it. They mark it up – underlining words they want to punch. They even change the language so it’s more personal – more their words. And they take ownership of the words; of the script.

Next, label your tracks. The first one is track one, the second track two, and so on.

Now you’re ready to read.
Hint re reading into a mike – never talk directly into the mike. Read over it/past it. Put it beneath your lips and talk to your script. If you read right into the mike you’ll pop your “Ps.” Reading over the mike minimizes this. In fact, you may have to practice pulling your punch with “Ps,” cause they do have a tendancy to pop. (And what I mean by this, is the sudden burst of air as you push the letter out creates a popping sound that is distracting to the audience.)

Read as follows:
“Track one, take one, in three…two…one…” Now read your narration segment. If you mess up, begin again with “Track one, take two, in three…two…one…” As you go, mark the good takes on your script. If you’ve ever edited narration and had trouble finding the beginning, this should solve the problem.

If you mess up mid-track and like what you’ve done so far, pick it up, as follows:
“Track one, take two…pickup, in three…two…one…”

Pros have a reason for everything. When I did field recording of tracks, I’d hold my hand up in front with the track and take number. If it was a wash, I’d do a thumbs down. This way when I was trying to find tracks I’d rewind until I saw a thumbs down and then take the next track. (Yeah, I’m a visual learner.)

By the way, while you’re reading, don’t talk from your head. Use your diaphram. Use the voice you use when you want to be heard. Don’t yell….but push the words out. You don’t want to be authoritative or compelling, but you do want to be believeable.

For VideoJournalism, this is Cyndy Green reporting.


4 thoughts on “Cutting an audio track (aka narration)…

  1. Cyndy, what is meant by “tracks” here? I know what tracks are when I am editing audio, or video. But in a script — where only one person is reading — isn’t that just one track? (The VO?)

  2. Tracks has two meanings.
    In editing you’re talking about the stereo tracks you lay sound onto.
    In recording we refer to each individual narration segment as a track. So if your script has four segments of narration, fitted between interviews, natural sound, etc…then it has four tracks. When you record the narration you mark each track with the number (first one would be track one, second one, track two, and so on).
    Then when you “cut” or record the narration, you name the track…
    “Track one, take one, in three, two one…”
    Just another piece of redundancy so that the news editor, who often edits without the reporter present, knows where to put the sound.
    Hope this makes it clearer.

  3. I don’t do countdowns when I record narration for my pieces. I want to sound as natural as possible and counting down numbers before each track does not lend itself to that. I also don’t stop between each track if I don’t have to. If I get into a good flow, I keep going until I have to stop and re-do a section after a mis-read.

    Then I edit the audio file so that the narrations runs as one continuous take and import that file into my non-linear editor. Non-linear editing makes it easy to find each track. Whenever I go back to my narration file, the cursor is still where it was when I used the file last so I don’t have to scrub through the file to find the right place.

    I also recorded narration like this when I was reporting and someone else was editing the pieces. With the script to follow, the editor never had a problem.

    If reading over the microphone isn’t enough to stop the popping Ps, you can take one of those fabric softener sheets that you put in your clothes dryer and hold that directly in front of your mouth.

  4. This may be a California thing….but it was great for feeding in audio from a live truck or handing off the tape and script to an editor. Different styles different locations.

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