Assignment for 9/13: Talk to strangers about what they fear

Using an audio recorder and microphone ask at least five strangers, “What are you afraid of?” Ask follow-up questions. Try to get something that resembles a beginning, middle and end. Why are they afraid of X? For how long? Who knows about it? And so on.

Before you set out on the assignment, run through your prep checklist:

  • Is everything charged?
  • Do I have a card in the recorder?
  • Do I have my over-ear headphones?
  • Do I have my mic?
  • Do I have all the cables I need?
  • Do I have extra batteries?
  • Have I tested my gear and do I feel confident that everything sounds ok?

While you’re out recording, keep in mind:

  • Always wear your over-ear A-T headphones. Don’t take them off.
  • Start recording when you get out of your car (or leave your house or whatever). Record walking, introducing yourself, etc. It’s often good sound, very usable, etc. and it also gets the interview underway.
  • Get close to your subjects. You will get better sound and it helps establish authority. Often you have to get so close that the subject will feel uncomfortable. It’s OK. The person will get used to it after a while. Remember to hold the mic slightly to the side of their mouth so that they’re not spitting/blowing directly into mic.
  • You have to test levels before you really start. Ask: “What did you have for breakfast?” Even if the person says, “I don’t eat breakfast,” it gives you an opportunity to chat them up and get them comfortable.
  • Do not let the subject hold the microphone for you.
  • Look people in the eye. It creates an intimacy that can help open people up.
  • Re: interviewing: Have some idea about what you’re going to ask and how the conversation might go. But then just have a natural conversation. Often, people will respond to how you’re acting. If you are stiff and formal, they will be stiff and formal. So try not to be stiff and formal.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. The silence between your question and someone’s answer is itself part of the answer. Silences are revealing. And waiting out someone’s silence is also a really great way to get them to expand on an answer. People find them awkward, dislike silences and want to fill them.
  • If you have to, ask someone to repeat something. It’s a momentary convenience and you will be really glad later.
  • When you’re done, get the person’s name. Don’t just ask for their name though. Ask them: “Can you tell me your name, age, and occupation?” or some variation of this depending on where you are. (For example, if it’s Saturday and you’re talking to tailgaters, you might ask: “Can you tell me your name, age and what you’re doing here today.” This question set-up is more likely to lead to a complete sentence you can use: “My name is Bob Jones, I’m 38 years old, and I am here to teach those Hilltoppers how to behave.”
  • After you’re done, be sure to catalogue some details and leave audio narration of the place where you are. Look around. What do you see? Tell it to the recorder.

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