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A Bit on the Side

Tell us Another One

Yet another Idea from Clive Brooks enabling you to deprive your fellows of money.

Even if you can't sing, and your dog clears off when you pick up a musical instrument, there's still a good chance that you can make money from this month's idea. All you need is a good imagination, a reasonable speaking voice and a tape recorder.

As a writer, I've been involved with a very broad cross-section of publications, and written a great deal for the British arm of the Marvel comic company. (That explains a lot-Ed.) I've noticed that a growing number of titles that I've written for have recently been appearing in shops as cassette stories. On the face of it, the whole idea may appear duff, but it is in fact the most potentially lucrative one that I have investigated so far; sales and outlets are expanding at a furious pace. Moreover, you have probably got everything you need to make your own productions.

The Story

The first thing to do is come up with a good children's story. It should ideally last for a maximum of 1000 words, and should be easy for children to understand. For instance, use phrases such as 'he asked' instead of 'he enquired' and so on. The best age group to aim for is the under fives (So our readers can make tapes for people of their own intellect? -Ed). For this group, both the plot and the language should be easy to follow. It must have conflict, and above all, be fast moving, exciting and fun. You can portray fear or surprise by introducing stutters, rather than trying to win an Oscar, but remember to keep 'cause and effect' in mind. Even young children have surprising logical minds, and if something happens in the story for no apparent reason they will question it. Children also love sound effects so don't hold back with the photon torpedoes. Finally, make sure that the ending is a happy one or they might grow up to be realists.

I can visualise a lot of you sitting in your studios and staring at a blank piece of paper and scratching your heads thinking 'It's alright for him'. Well, not everyone is a champion story teller, and if you don't have the kind of mammoth intellect that comes up with such classics as 'Transformers', then you may have a friend who can help or you could advertise for a partner.

The Recording

As I said earlier, all you need is a stereo recorder to simply put your story onto tape. However, as most of you will be owners of at least 4-track equipment, then this is an opportunity to use it in a new way.

After recording the narrative onto track 1, devote the second track to atmospheric effects. For instance, for the night-time adventure, you could add the hoot of an owl, the sound of the breeze rustling through the trees and perhaps the chiming of a far off village clock. Many effects like these are available on the excellent collection of BBC sound effects records. However, it's often even more fun to make up your own 'on location'. You might even find that, at the right price, copies of your own sound effects recordings could be a saleable collection.

Hopefully, you've put lots of 'boinnggs' and 'kerbummp's' into the narration of your story. Once the story is on tape, review each one and try to think of a sound to replace it, using whatever you have lying around. In one recent production, I persuaded the floor to bounce like a trampoline by using a suitable DX sound. Chandeliers crashed to the ground by boosting the high end EQ on the desk, and clattering a few music stands together whilst simultaneously dropping a heavy book or, the floor. The sound of someone putting their foot through a bass drum was produced by the sound of ripping a piece of paper very close to a mic with a lot of bass EQ. And the sound of water dripping into a mysterious underground pool was created by recording a dripping tap in the kitchen, and then processing the result through a digital reverb using a big room size.

Arrange for all these effects to appear on track 3, and on the final mix, fade down the spoken 'kerflumps' in the narration, and replace them with the effects, simply by sliding the fader up on track 3. It's important that you record your effects to coincide exactly with those on the original narration. This is where a sampler can be extremely useful. Each effect can be recorded into the sampler first, and triggered from a keyboard at exactly the right moment.

A good little 'ditty' helps the action along. Compositions, need only last for about 30 seconds, and can be transferred, at appropriate points onto the fourth track of the story master.

If you don't have computerised gear to record with, make up some compositions using a separate master tape, keeping each instrument on a separate track. This can then be mixed in several different ways to produce a wide range of variations from the same recording. These mixes should be mastered onto a second machine and then dubbed back onto track 4 of the story master.

The completed master can now be mixed and copied.

Marketing and Packaging

Your cassettes will realise the most sales if they're wrapped in a great looking inlay card depicting the principal character from your story. It's important to make it look good if you want to have any chance of making volume sales. It's a job worth giving to a small art studio. Ideally the finished printing should be in full colour, but if this turns out to be too cost prohibitive then use a brightly coloured card, with a contrasting coloured ink. If you're feeling really ambitious then you could type up your story and produce it as a pamphlet to accompany the cassette. Most companies that do this put a bleep on the tape at the end of each page, so that the child can read along in the book, and know when to turn the page.

Contact all of the toy shops in your area and ask the manager to stock some of your tapes on a sale or return basis. Newsagents are another potential sales outlet. Keep the purchase price modest so that you don't compete with the professionals. I suggest you sell for around £1.25. You will still make a good profit if you sell in volume, and use 'cut to length' cassettes bought from a bulk supplier.

Make sure that you include your address on the inlay card, and if you can afford it, set up a freepost service (see the Post Office for details), so that existing customers can send for details of the rest of your titles. It's also a good idea to provide some form of sales incentive such as 'Buy four and get one free'.

Where will it all Lead?

This type of production can work equally as well for different age groups, and could eventually lead you to the production of adult radio plays. An ideal way to break into such a market would be to make a production for your local hospital radio station. You won't be paid, but you may find that some of the voluntary workers there have full time jobs in local radio and are able to introduce you to the relevant programme directors. But be careful, you might end up producing The Archers'!

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Home & Studio Recording - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Home & Studio Recording - May 1987

Donated by: Rob Hodder

Feature by Clive Brooks

Previous article in this issue:

> Looping the Tape

Next article in this issue:

> Revelations

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