Speaking of Music: Converting Program Notes into Podcasts

In addition to writing program notes for parts of Hancher‘s 2019-2020 season, I am also spending a part of my internship recording those concert comments as a podcast, titled, “Tonight’s Program.” The title comes from Art Canter, who wrote program notes for Hancher for some 30 years, and he always titled his notes in the same way.

We hope these podcasts offer our audiences another medium through which they can learn about the program. In this blog post, I’d like to share a part of the process of how I translate my program notes into a podcast script.

The Script:

I start off with a draft for my program notes. Supposedly this should be the final draft, but I almost always find a few errors or a few tweaks I can make during the recording process. I develop these notes into an audio-friendly script, which might include translating some foreign words into English (because my German is incomprehensible) or even simply toning down some of the stiffness that the written word can breed.

I also developed a quick intro and outro script that bookends each podcast. Consistency of form is key when asking audiences to commit to a 20-minute podcast! It goes something like this:

Hello, and welcome to Tonight’s Program for _________. This is Mark Rheaume, one of the program annotators at Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, recording these concert notes for a concert dated _____________. 

And at the end:

My name is Mark Rheaume, and I’d like to thank you for tuning in to this edition of Tonight’s Program. If you would like to learn more about this event or Hancher Auditorium and its fine programming, please visit hancher.uiowa.edu. That’s H-A-N-C-H-E-R dot U-I-O-W-A dot E-D-U.

Thank you, and have a great evening!

Sometimes I get carried away and feel like I’m recording This American Life.

The Audio:

I assemble a music playlist of excerpts from the program, related pieces, and anything I need to demonstrate, like pentatonic scales or excerpts of folk music. I also volunteer some of my own music, because I have full rights to use that as I please (you can catch a bit of my trombone quartet, American Suite, in the podcast for the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center’s New World Spirit

The EMS lies deep in the dungeons of Voxman Music Building. Few find it, and few ever return.

I record the script with a Rode NTG-1 Shotgun Microphone in the EMS Studio in the Voxman Music Building. Even though this microphone is ideal for recording voice-overs or serving as a boom mic, I still have to denoise and EQ the audio. To do this, I use a program called Pro Tools, which has extensions that can remove background hum and even the noise of the computer by detecting the frequencies at which those sounds occur and silencing them. In the end, it helps the podcast sound more professional. 

Pro Tools looks a little more complicated than it is. But, on the plus side, it has pretty colors.

Perhaps the worst part of recording this podcasts are the editing runs. It takes two or three full listens to check balance and imperfections. It can be particularly painful to hear my voice stumble over “West Side Story” six times in a row (try to say it over and over–it’s not just me is it?)

Of course, none of my podcasts achieve perfection, but I’m happy with the quality so far. It’s also fun translating the written word into a spoken medium, and I like pretending that I work for a real radio broadcast.

I look forward to these podcasts being shared with the public, and I hope they help our audience engage with some of the great events occurring here at Hancher!

From the mixing board, this is Mark Rheaume, signing off.