Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Tone, Volume, Pace = Mood

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Don Williams

There isn’t any alchemy going on when I’m editing an interview, whether it’s one I did from start to finish or not. A good example of that is one I’m working on right now. Country music star Don Williams was in town, and I had been bugging his manager for months to let me interview him. Each time, he politely but firmly declined. But I really wanted to talk with Mr. Williams and I tried one more time. Graciously, his manager sent me a CD of an interview Mr. Williams had done with documentarian Bill Cody. He also sent me Mr. Williams’ latest CD and a transcript of the interview, with Qs and As. And, he gave me permission to edit out Mr. Cody’s questions and insert my own.

I had never heard of this particular practice before, but I can only assume it is becoming common practice. Radio Media Tours are expensive and they tie up an artist for an entire day or more doing short interviews with different interviewers from all over the country. This way, they can do one and just distribute it and leave it up to the producer how they want to try to make it unique.  It also insures the management company has complete control over the answers, and the questions, because even if you don’t use the questions the artist has already answered, you must ask something that will get the same answer even if you reformulate it somehow.  People in TV or radio news have known something like this for years.  The press pool, where a bunch of reporters plug into one common audio or video feed from the podium, gives everybody the same information but limits the amount of interaction.

And, although I’m sure this doesn’t even need to be said, an editor would be wise to leave the answers relatively unedited, but if they’re going to edit them, make sure they reflect the context of the question.  Or, if you group pieces of different answers, make sure they’re on the same subject.  Otherwise, overly creative editing will get you a lawsuit a poundin’ on your door.

And that’s where I get to this title of this post. I’m editing the Don Williams interview, and trying to formulate questions that aren’t the same as Mr. Cody’s but make Mr. Williams’ answers sound complementary and natural. And it reminds me again of the basics of production and diction. When speaking, you have to match the speaker’s voice volume as well as their tone of voice and the speed that they’re talking. All of this equals their mood. If you can match their mood, you and the interviewee can be in this dance of a conversation. What this interview when done will prove, is that you don’t have to be in a conversation with somebody to make it sound like you are.

In a way though, I’m hurting the whole idea of live, one on one conversations, by proving this is possible. And getting back to how this isn’t magic or anything, I put a disclaimer at the beginning of the interview that says Mr. Cody originally did the interview and the Don Williams organization allowed the edits.  I wanted an interview with Don Williams and I got it, sort of. Just out of curiosity, what do you think of this? As a listener, do you care about these kind of ethics and specifics as long as it entertains you and sounds good?

Written by Interviewer

May 5, 2013 at 01:41

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