Getting It On Tape

by Leanne Johnson
Member, Producers & Organizers SIG

They began arriving in January. First, a small flurry, then a trickle at month’s end, and a veritable blizzard around the February 15th deadline. Tapes! Tapes! Tapes! Tapes filled with stories, and songs, and memories, and magic – and mistakes. As the chairperson of a concert committee, I learned a lot about the process of submitting a tape for a concert. Here are some suggestions I would like to pass on to hopefully minimize some common mistakes and maximize your potential.

The Basics

Pick a story you love. Go with your gut.

Invest in a new tape. Don’t record over a previously used tape – stories suffer from “bleed-through” noise. And don’t be tempted to use the blank side of a used tape. My tape player doesn’t reverse properly, so I had to switch sides and fast forward. Unfortunately, that didn’t work well when side B contained LOUD MUSIC! Ouch.

Record indoors. Stay away from vents or fans that may “Whoosh!” across the microphone. Turn off the television and radio.

TELL the story. Don’t READ the story. Trust me. It makes a huge difference in vocal dynamics and performance energy. (Plus, I could hear the pages turning.) I was also concerned that the length would be much different when the story was performed.

If an introduction is necessary, begin your tape with it, then go directly into your story. Don’t include your name, the date, or a nice message. Finish the story; let the tape run for another 5 seconds, then stop. No thanks, no final comments, and no apologies. I listened to every submission at least three times – over 21 hours of work. Believe me; I got tired of hitting that fast-forward button.

Want to make certain your story is memorable? Send it EARLY. I remember the first stories that drifted gently into my post office box more clearly than those in the thundering avalanche of the final submissions. Need more incentive to be early? Five of the seven stories selected for our concert came from the first eleven storytellers who submitted tapes. Coincidence or serendipity?

The recording doesn’t have to be perfect. If your voice is hoarse, your dog barks, the phone rings, the kids clatter in the kitchen, just keep cool, finish the story, and send it in. Distractions NEVER happen in performance! (heh heh)

NEVER make up the story as you are taping it. If you do, NEVER tell the selection committee! That information inspires a distinct lack of confidence in your performance.

Window Dressing

Include the proper submission form (if there is one) when you send in the tape. Complete all the fields legibly. Print, please! If you can’t get hold of the form, include a piece of paper with your current contact information. Print your name as you wish to have it on the program. Print the full title of your story – if it is called “The Story” make certain you include “The.” Give the coordinator your email address. Most correspondence is done via email. It’s fast, easy, and didn’t cost me anything. (This IS a volunteer job, after all.)

If you plan to submit your story in an alternate format, get permission from the contact person in advance. Even in this day and age, not everyone has CD and/or video capability. DVD? Let’s not even go there!

Label each tape with your name, story title, AND the correct performance length of the tale. If it is 8 1/2 minutes long, don¹t try to pass it as an 8-minute tale. Likewise, if the story runs 8 minutes, but you KNOW it usually goes 10 minutes in performance, do tell! Your honesty will be appreciated.

If you are required or even requested to submit a photo with your tape submission, then make sure you do just that. This is a request for an original photo, not a photocopy. A copy of your brochure is not a substitute. This is a good time to invest in a decent black and white photo – preferably a head shot or clear action shot with a light, plain background. Do not tape, staple, fold or paperclip your photo! Sandwich it between two pieces of cardboard, or place it in an envelope. If you have an electronic version, check with the contact person about sending it instead.

By the way, the post office sells nice, reasonably priced, padded envelopes for holding both tapes and photos. They look much more professional than swaddling the tape in tissue paper, or folding an envelope around a photo.

Fussy Details

Familiarize yourself with the guidelines. If you are permitted to submit two stories to two different concerts or events, that does not mean you can submit three stories to one concert, or one story to three concerts. Life is full of choices, so do try to restrain your enthusiasm!

Send your stories to the appropriate contact person. Please don’t ask them to forward your tapes. If you want your story considered for additional concerts or events, you mostly likely must send them each a tape.

If you have questions about the length, style, or appropriateness of the story you wish to submit, contact the contact person directly. Some guidelines are written in stone, others are more flexible. There may be a big difference between “should” and “must.” Keep in mind that the advice of a friend may be as accurate as an urban legend.

Tapes and photos are generally returned to you at the concert or event. Most concerts or conferences don’t send them back to you in advance. Certainly, if you are submitting a tape, you ARE planning to attend the conference, aren’t you? Organizers remember those details.

Don’t ask for an extension of the deadline. Don’t even think about it! Not even with massive bribes of chocolate. If you absolutely can’t get your tape mailed by the deadline, set it aside for next year. Hey, you’ll be early!

Stuff Most People Don’t Know

In most cases, submitting a story for a concert is neither a competition, nor a commercial, nor an audition.

The selection committees are charged with putting together concerts that will appeal to the expected audience. In addition to considering the stories on their own merits, we are urged to achieve a blend of gender, ethnic diversity, “big name” storytellers and “new name” storytellers. In addition, we juggle variety within each concert, rhythms, lengths, tone, and overall emotional balance.

We try to do all that without hurting the feelings (and egos!) of our friends and colleagues within this remarkable community. It’s not an easy assignment. It IS a task that every storyteller should experience. When your time comes, don’t let the opportunity pass by.

The End??

In storytelling, as in life, there are no guarantees. The strictest adherent to all these suggestions may still receive a rejection letter.

“Bubba, that was one helluva story you told, but it just ain’t gonna happen this year. ‘Sorry. C’mon. Let me buy you a drink. How ’bout them Hoosiers going all the way to the finals!” (Hope Baugh)

Don’t be discouraged! As an artist, we have to be willing to accept the risk that our work will not be selected. It’s easy to think that “they didn¹t like me,” or “I¹m not good enough.” But a more realistic outlook is that our work just didn¹t “fit” this particular occasion.

“There is no good or bad. Happy and sad, elation and disappointment, they are all illusion. Experience enlightenment by being in the audience this year instead of on the stage.” (Hope Baugh)

There is never enough time for everyone to tell from the concert stage. If your story is not chosen, I urge you to be supportive of those who are selected. Enjoy the concerts. Suspend disbelief and bitter criticism. Allow yourself to fall into the story trance. Listen deeply. Appreciate the artistry, the passion, and joy of those who have been invited to share their stories at this moment in time.

The best advice I can offer? Pick a story you love. Go with your gut. Send in a tape. You have nothing to lose, and as a community, we have everything to gain.

Author’s Bio:

Leanne Johnson combined her love of music with her passion for storytelling to bring new life to old tales, original stories, poetry and songs for listeners of all ages. She told stories professionally starting in 1989, and shared her tales from the Midwest to Ireland, and along the waterways of the Great Circle. Leanne passed away late August 2007 after a brief illness. Her many freinds and colleagues continue to miss her glowing presence.

Leanne’s educational background included a Bachelor Degree in Music from Bradley University and a Master Degree in Information & Library Studies from Northern Illinois University. She spent twelve years working in Illinois public libraries, where she did everything from emptying the garbage to coaching staff, and from staffing the reference desks to checking out books. She implemented literature-based programs for every age, from birth through senior citizen. In addition, she worked professionally as both church organist and clown – although never at the same time.

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