The Most Effective Audio

This American Life – Superpowers! Is an interesting audio documentary about the super powered desires of real, normal people. It begins by suggesting a question, such as would you rather be able to fly or to be invisible? Then the essay offers the perspectives of different people whom the creators interviewed. The stories and ideas told by the subjects propose interesting ideas and scenarios that one might not initially think about, such as asking about the exact speed or your flying abilities, and if it would be “comfortable” to fly at that speed. The documentary flows like a video news testimonial story would; it goes from person to person and offers what they think about the posed question. It’s very similar to a man on street (MOS) segment.

The MOS-style structure creates a very personal rhetorical feeling by engaging and connecting the listeners with the average subjects. They are posed as average people, just like you and me, which creates an association with the listeners and the program itself. For example, the beginning of the program introduces a guy who describes himself as “the pasty kid in high school with no athletic ability.” This type of persona is prevalent throughout high school, and many of the targeted listening demographic can connect to this persona. ESPN might not use this persona, because all the sports-ball players who watch/read ESPN would not find a connection to the white pasty guy. By connecting with the audience like that, it has an affective power of exploration. It engages the audience, and they should feel an upbeat sense of interest. These stories are mostly positive, interesting, and fun anecdotes, and if the audience can connect to the subjects, a positive interest is developed.

One thing that this audio documentary showed me is the power of sound, especially for an audio-only project. I am accustomed to working with video, which is both visual and auditory. But because there is no video, the importance of perfect sound is vital. The music levels must be perfect, and the pace and tones of the interviews should be consistent throughout. For example, if you interview someone who offers a great anecdote about your posed question, but said person stutters and a few words they say are inaudible, that section becomes unusable. It might be extremely interesting, but because the flow of the speech is disrupted, the flow of your audio documentary will be disrupted as well. The narration must also be perfect; every little syllable and inflection should be emphasized or pronounced to create an effective baseline. Audio is something where adding flair and alterations can ruin something good. The best audio makes the listeners forget they are listening audio. So would you add your most interesting anecdote for a project like this if it messes up the rhythm of your piece as a whole?

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