SoundsLA goes to school to speak and listen

Written by
Eric Drachman, SoundsLA producer, speaks to documentary filmmaking students. Photo by Matthew Waynee

[Eric Drachman produces KCRW’s SoundsLA, one-minute audio vignettes that air throughout the day.]

SoundsLA is one of KCRW’s ventures that connects listeners with our community in Los Angeles. The stories are character-driven, start with a sound and leave us with a sense of a fellow Angelino.

It’s easy to work on these pieces in isolation and not have a sense of whether or not they resonate with you. Well, thanks to all of the listener submissions, we know you’re listening to the pieces and to the world around you, and you want to engage and contribute. That makes us happy!

One of our listeners, Matthew Waynee, wrote to us:

I am the high school cinematic arts instructor at LAUSD / USC Cinematic Arts & Engineering Magnet. This year, we added a new Documentary Filmmaking class thanks to a generous grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

We are about to start our first major assignment, through which our students will be creating their very own 60-second SoundsLA inspired audio stories. The students are very excited about this opportunity, especially after listening to many of the existing SoundsLA stories that you have online.

Normally, listener submissions are just 15-30 seconds of audio plus a few sentences about the story behind the sound and why their sound is important to them. We were thrilled that SoundsLA was being used in a school this way, so we made an exception – and I went to visit Mr. Waynee’s class to speak with the students about radio documentaries and their projects.

People usually think because SoundsLA pieces are just one minute long and usually include only one speaker that they’re easy for beginning producers. In truth, boiling an interview down to one minute of non-narrated audio can be challenging. To give it a sense of place and convey something personal can take practice.

Mr. Waynee’s first-time documentary students made some of the same assumptions that seasoned producers frequently make when approaching their first SoundsLA piece, but they took direction, embraced the project, and explored personal stories.

Below, you can hear just a few of the lovely pieces that came out of their hard work with some oversight from Mr. Waynee.

L.A. Zoo – Lead Producer Jessica Muñoz, Co-Producer Frank Rodriguez

When hearing the audio stories for the first time on KCRW, they inspired me to create my own audio story. While listening to them, I noticed that they were really built on unique sounds. That’s what made the audio stories different and special. The other thing I found interesting was the people: their stories were unscripted and raw. I used these things to help me create my own audio story. I chose the zoo story because of its unique sounds and my sister as my subject because she is wise beyond her years.

— 10th grader Jessica Muñoz (lead producer)

[Working on this story] changed my perspective of making audio stories. I thought it was going to be easy but editing and recording all the necessary clean sounds showed me how careful and precise you have to be editing and cutting all of the sounds together. I think the hardest part was coming up with the topic and brainstorming on what the person was going to say. Although it was difficult, the result came out great and I learned how to use Avid for editing our recordings.

— 10th grader Frank Rodriguez (co-producer)

Carpentry Story – Lead Producer Elias Quijada, Co-Producer Douglas Castellaños

Elias Quijada
Elias Quijada Sr. Photo by Elias Quijada. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When Eric came to our documentary class, he came with great help. He told us what an audio documentary is really about. Audio documentaries tell stories of not just a certain topic, but about the way that has influenced a person. He wanted us to create a story of how a job or an incident influenced the person. I found that this made it a lot easier to come up with certain questions that I could ask during my interviews.

— 12th grader Elias Quijada (Lead Producer)

Coffee Shop – Lead Producer Xochilt Fraga, Co-Producer Jocelyne Calzada

I chose this subject because I really enjoy going to coffee shops and the vibe they give off. So, I wanted to do my own re-creation of what a coffee shop is about and just share why I love going to coffee shops. Overall, I am happy with the result of my project even though I did have a lot of difficulties.

When Eric came to speak to our class, it was a big help. He went over not only good examples of audio stories, but also things we shouldn’t do in our audio stories. His tips helped me get the sound I wanted to focus on in the project and what part of my interviews to include in order to make sure it all was connected and clear.

— 12th grader Xochilt Fraga (lead producer)