Vox Pop’s are used by areas of the media, including radio, to get a shotgun look at public opinion or reaction. It’s usually conducted as short interviews with a simple question. A good example is Brenda From Bristol and her reaction to a snap election in the UK.
The first time I recorded Vox Pop’s was for my High School station ‘SM-FM’. We were at a an event called the RED Book Awards and it was my job to run around and interview the people attending the event (who also happened to be my teenage peers). I was terrified to approach my fellow students while I was suffering from crippling acne. It was traumatic (for a 15 year old), but I learnt two important lessons that day: always take free food offered to the press at events and the best way to get over the fear of approaching someone for a Vox, is to get on with it. Since then, I’ve done it countless times so I’ve gathered together some tips that will make anyone looking to wander the streets with a microphone better at Vox Pops.
Vox Pop, is short for the Latin phrase 'Vox populi’ which means, ‘Voice Of The People’
Know Your Shiii...Stuff…
The first hurdle you have to step over is actually knowing what you’re asking and why. It’s common for vox-pop-ee’s to ask those kinds of questions or want more detail so make sure you’re equipped to answer. You’d be surprised how big a difference taking an extra ten minutes to re-read the brief or story can make.
Don’t Take It Personally
It’s a 50/50 chance of someone stopping and letting you interview them. When the inevitable decline comes, it’s rejection in its most simple form and it sucks. Get over it and ask another person. Don’t let it knock your confidence… they were probably rubbish anyway.
Your Pitch Wins You Their Voice
Once you’ve achieved the impossible and gotten someone to stop, the next thing you say should both explain who you are and why you want to speak to them. So, have an idea of your pitch before you begin -for example, you can write down or practice your clear and friendly spiel before taking to the streets. The more you do it, the easier this part will become.
Names and Spellings
Start each recording with the same question; something like ‘What’s your name and what did you have for breakfast?’ It’s a good way to get level and it will act like an audio clapper board, marking the start of each chat so you know who you’ve spoken to and quickly remind you if they were one of the ‘good ones’.
Also, feel free to ask them how they spell their name just in case you need it.
Enough Is Good, Too Much Is Better
My rule is once you get to the point where you think you have enough voices and opinions for what you need, ask another two people. I’ve never edited down a Vox and wished I’d recorded less.
This is something I’m guilty of. Absolutely show that you’re listing and interested by smiling and nodding but don’t ‘uh-huh’ or ‘hmm’. There will be enough ‘um’s’ to get rid of without you adding to the mix.
Simply stated, anything that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ isn’t the right question. Think of The 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, why. Oh, and of course our friend the ‘how.’
Listen like your life depends on it. Spending the length of an answer thinking about your next question means you might miss a great answer and the potential for an even better question.
Also listen to the space around you; is there music in the background, are you a bit close to traffic or a door that slams? You’re trying to balance having a natural soundscape of where you are and clearly hearing the people you speak to.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Silence
Allowing space will help with the edit and give they contributor the opportunity to fill in the silence themselves, maybe giving you further insight into what they think. Everyone in the industry has the automatic response of filling any dead air but some of the best broadcasters are able to use silence to punctuate an answer or nudge a guest into saying something extra. You're not on Desert Island Disks, you're recording a Vox, but it's still useful.
Headphones Not Earphones
I have a thing for using an actual microphone when interviewing because I’m retro like that but, you can absolutely use a smartphone. However, always record with a set of headphones, not earphones, so you can get the best results. There’s nothing worse than not being able to use an answer because it doesn’t sound right.