Anatomy of a
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THE ANATOMY OF A RECORDED TOUR

The goals of any recorded tour are to captivate, motivate, and educate your visitor.

That said, there are 2 components that are critical to your ability to reach those goals.

They are the recorded tour itself, and the system used to deliver the recorded material to your visitors.

TOUR DELIVERY SYSTEMS
Advances in technology have created a wide variety of delivery systems available to today's visitor. They range from simple Cell Phones, to iPods, MP3 players and other portable audio devices, dedicated wand systems, iPhones and other smart phones, and iPads and other tablet devices. I may have missed some and new devices will surely be available in the future.

Some of these systems require an exhibitor to supply all or some of the delivery devices, others depend on the visitor to supply their own.

Content is delivered to these systems in a variety of ways, some completely controlled by the equipment vendor, and others that offer their content through web sites and on-site Kiosks.

It's important to realize that no one system will fit every budget, or fill the needs of every installation or exhibition. Choosing the appropriate system for a project is an area where an experienced producer/director/recording engineer can be extremely helpful. There's more on choosing a producer/director/recording engineer later in this article.

THE RECORDED TOUR
There's nothing like a well-told story.

Recorded tours can be as basic as a single individual reading prepared text. More complex tours might include audience appropriate dramatic presentations designed to transport the visitor to a time or place that helps them to better experience and understand the installation or exhibition they are viewing.

Some situations might require that different tours be created to focus on different groups of visitors, like adults, children, educators, historians, etc.

The complexity of your tour production will be governed by many factors. Such as, the life span of the installation or exhibition, budget considerations, the audience(s) to be served, and the time available for production.

The one thing that all tours should have in common is their ability to tell a great story in an interesting, professional manner.

A TOUCHY SUBJECT
The visitors who will be experiencing your recorded tours are continuously exposed to, and influenced by, professionally produced programming on radio, TV, the web, and from other sources. This programing shapes your visitor's likes, dislikes, tastes, and expectations. When your visitor listens to your recorded tour, you are in competition with those other sources.

If you don't meet the visitor's expectations, will you lose them for this tour, you stand a good chance of losing them as a repeat visitor, and as a source of recommendations.

It's my belief that politics and personal relationships should not be the deciding factor in the choice of those individuals whose voices are used to narrate the recordings, or in choosing the style of or participants in the production.

Narrators, and actors, along with music, sound effects and any artist interviews should be included only because they increase the likelihood that your production will meet your visitor's expectations, and reach your educational objectives.

If someone's friend or relative is a budding actor, include them in the audition process, and afford them the same chance as any other professional to become a part of the team.

If there's a Director or Department Head whose voice needs to be included, keep their comments at the beginning of the tour as short as possible, and put the bulk of their comments at the end of the production. If you're creating as non-linear tour (Cell Phone, Wand, etc.) record the bulk of their comments as a separate segment or segments planned for the end of the tour.

PERCEIVED VS. ACTUAL TIME
What's a "short" time? Well, that depends... Even 15 or 20 seconds can seem very long if it doesn't capture the attention of an audience. Don't believe me? Try this experiment...

Glance at your watch, and then without counting, look at it again when you think 20 seconds has passed. Chances are the actual time elapsed will be considerably shorter than you thought.

THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

ASSEMBLING THE TEAM
Your production team will probably consist of a number of people, each with a specific expertise that's important to the project. Some of the members of the team might be: an exhibition curator, an education director, an artist or artists, one or more writers, a producer/director/recording engineer (usually one individual), and some narrators and actors. If this is an ambitious production, it might include folks in charge of choosing music and sound effects, and possibly others.

The pivotal member is the producer/director/recording engineer, who should have a broad range of production experience. The success or failure of your current project and possibly future projects will depend on this individual's expertise.

During the process of interviewing for a freelance producer/director/recording engineer with the expertise to help you, ask them for samples of the kinds of productions and experience that they have. Make sure that they were actually responsible for those productions and not just a junior member of a production team. Before one is brought on board, listen to their submissions and choose the one who consistently holds your interest and meets or exceeds your standards for professional sounding productions. Be sure that person understands the various delivery technologies available, and is experienced in choosing the voice talent, music and sound effects for your productions.

Choose your candidate with the same care that you would choose a trusted employee, or a family lawyer or doctor. In the long run, he or she will smooth out your learning curve, make your job much easier, save you time and money, and certainly produce more effective recorded tours.

PLANNING/BUDGETING
The producer/director/recording engineer for your project should be able to help with these important components. If you don't yet have a relationship with an experienced person that can fill that role, it probably should be your first priority. The more you plan, the more efficient the project will be.

WHO SHOULD WRITE THE TOUR?
Much like the Photographer who specializes in Sports Photography vs. one who specializes in Portraiture, writing for the spoken word or for dramatic presentations is a special sub set of writing skills which are different from those of a curator, art historian, or visual artist.

While you must have the experts on your staff write the basic content for your tour, the actual scripts should be written, or at least edited, by someone who has the skills to make the words come alive for the listener. Often, scripts will need to be written in the style of a particular character. Again, your producer/director/recording engineer should be able to make some recommendations in this area.

TEST... TEST... TEST...
Before you begin the actual recording process, a rough recording of the tour segments, using the voice of a team menber should be created.

Have one or more individuals not associated with the project walk the tour using these recordings. Make sure that all the pieces of your recorded puzzle fit together as planned, that all spoken directons are clear, concise and understood, that all the approriate labels have been referenced, and that there are no built-in mistakes or confusions in the script. It's much easier to identify problem areas at this point then it is after the recordings are completed.

CAN WE RECORD THE TOUR OURSELVES?
With the increased availability of computer based recording tools and digital audio workstations, it's very compelling to want to record the audio tracks for your tours "in-house".

If you plan to do a great deal of recording, either on site, or over the Internet, setting up a sound proofed environment and the necessary hardware and software can be very cost effective and will cut down on the time your "experts" need to commit to a project.

The caveat is that if there is no one on staff with the expertise required to act as producer/director/recording engineer of the recorded tour project, it's going to be a lot harder to create recordings that "captivate, motivate, and educate" as I said at the beginning of this article. Consider using someone who has the necessary skills on a freelance or contract basis.

PROFESSIONAL VS. IN HOUSE VOICE TALENT
Although it's often tempting to utilize staff members to voice tour recordings, I strongly recommend that they not be used, except as "expert" voices to augment the production. Even assuming that the particular staff member or members have the required voice acting expertise, they often can not be treated the same way that you would treat an outside professional. I.E. It may be difficult to direct their performance, or adjust the script that they're reading without triggering political repercussions, and it's hard to replace them if you don't like the job that they're doing.

The cost of utilizing professional is usually a small part of the overall production costs, and it will buy a degree of flexibility and creative freedom that can help your productions succeed.

CHOOSING THE VOICE TALENT FOR YOUR TOUR
Thanks to the Internet, you choice of voice talent is no longer limited to the local talent pool. More and more professional voice actors around the world have their own recording facilities and, using programs like Skype, their performances can easily be directed from your office or in-house studio. Your director/producer/recoding engineer should be aware of a core group of actors who have their own recording facilities and who will fit your production's needs. They should also have the resources for finding and auditioning actors to fill special needs.

Regardless of the source, all voice talent should be auditioned for the role that they're expected to play, using a portion of the script that they will be reading. If there will be interaction between the voices in your production, see how they sound together before making any final decisions.

MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS
Copyright law does not allow you to use someone's music or sound effect recordings in your production without the owner's permission. Permissions are usually obtained by paying a fee to the owner, and those fees may be more than your production budget will allow.

Again, thanks to the Internet, there are an enormous amount of cost effective resources that can supply exactly the type of music and sound that will help your production to meet it's goals. Your director/producer/engineer should be able to help in this area.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Once all of the component voices, music, sound effects and ambiance recordings have been collected, it is the producer/director/recording engineer's job to put these components together. Most often, this will be accomplished in the engineer's post production facility, but may be done at either your in-house studio, or a commercial recording studio.



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