Sunday, December 7, 2008

Voice-Tracking Refresher (and More)

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving, it’s time to think hard about the holiday season. For many stations, part of that thinking will include voice-tracking at least a handful of shifts. I recently spent some time with one of our client stations, going over the fundamentals of voice-tracking, and it struck me that we might all be able to use a reminder of those fundamentals. And, it’s important to note, these are the same fundamentals that are also important in our live shifts.

1. Be real. Unless your version of “real” is to curse every third word, listeners want to know that you’re a real person with real thought, feelings and ideas.
2. Think about what listeners are doing as they’re listening to you. You’re the one sitting or standing in a studio wearing a pair of headphones, not them. Even though you’re in that studio, you need to mentally be where your listeners are, doing what they’re doing. That way, you can reflect that reality on the air. And since I’m focusing on voice-tracked shifts here, you need to imagine what they’ll be doing when your voice tracks actually hit the air.
3. As you think about your listeners and what they’re doing as they’re listening to you, make sure you also think about any and all big topics that will be happening or discussed as your voice tracks are playing. There are obvious “big days” on the calendar (holidays, Tax Day, Election Day, etc.), but don’t limit yourself to just thinking about those. Really think about what’s going on in your community, your state, your region, your country and the world. And while the “big days” might seem obvious, don’t forget to hit them hard on the air. You’d be surprised how many people short-change the biggest story of the day.
4. Back to your community, your state, your region, your country and the world, that’s the order in which you should look for material for your show. It’s not that listeners don’t care about (some) events that are happening on the other side of the world, but they care much more instinctively about what’s happening on the other side of town.
5. Just as you should be prepping for every show you do, whether it’s live or voice-tracked, you should also consider your show a kind of prep for your listeners’ lives. Frankly, many people lead kind of boring lives, you and me included. It’s not that things don’t happen to all of us on a daily basis, and it’s not that some of those things aren’t exciting, it’s just that our yesterday is probably going to be pretty similar to our today, and our today is probably going to be pretty similar to our tomorrow. So even if you go naked bungee-jumping every day, once you’ve established that as the baseline for the level of excitement that you expect to experience every day, something new has to happen to move your meter. That’s where we come in. If we can give that naked bungee-jumper something new to talk about around the dinner table, we’ve done our jobs.
6. When you’re structuring your breaks, always give the benefits before you give the details. If you’re trying to hook your listeners, you’re much more likely to get their attention with the “carrot” of the prize/cool thing/etc. than you are with the “stick” of details/information/etc. It’s not that the details aren’t important. Listeners will listen to a lot of details IF they know that those details are going to (at least potentially) benefit them.
7. Speaking of details, try not to say the actual word “details.” I think there are few less-sexy phrases than “Check out the website for more details.” If it’s important enough for you to send me to the website, it’s important enough for you to take the time to make it sound appealing, not just like another chore for me to put on my to-do list.
8. Keep “WII-FM” in mind. That’s the radio station that we all work for. It stands for “what’s in it for me?” And that’s the question you should be answering for your listeners every time you open your mouth. If you’re talking up a five-second intro, you probably won’t be able to spend a lot of time explaining the benefits of a particular Kenny Chesney record, but for your “real” breaks, WII-FM should be at the top of your mind.
9. I said at the beginning that you should be real. While you should definitely do that, you should do it with the understanding that this show isn’t for YOU or about YOU, it’s for and about your LISTENERS.
10. Even though you have listeners (plural) listening to you, make sure you’re talking to just one person. Even though you obviously work with other people at your station, and even though you sometimes refer to those people on the air, this all boils down to one person communicating to one other person. It doesn’t matter if you’re live or voice-tracked, one-to-one communication is the most powerful tool we have.