Tips for doing vox pops
(short for vox populi, Latin for voice of the people)
Vox pops are used in radio to get the pulse of what people are thinking about an issue or to break up the newscast with a fun question, such as “what is your favorite punctuation” in honor of National Punctuation Day.
Recording your vox pops
⏯ Record at least TEN short vox pop interviews on the chosen topic. If you don’t get enough good responses in those ten interviews, interview more people.
⏯ Keep each interview to no more than 5 minutes. Ask two to three questions.
⏯ Generally do all of your interviews outside. Record at least ONE minute of background ambience. If you move locations, do it at each location.
⏯ Begin each interview by having the person say their name and an identifier.
Example 1: My name is David Woo and I live in Southgate.
Example 2: My name is Betty Blue and I am a school teacher.
Example 3: My name is Bernie Sanders and I’m a registered Democrat.
⏯ Ask everyone the same questions. Make sure your main question is open ended, and not a question that will elicit a “yes” or “no” answer. However, feel free to ask a follow up question to an answer if you feel one is needed.
⏯ Mic your questions, moving the mic quickly and smoothly from you to them.
Choose your location. Choose a spot where there is a lot of activity. The best places are where people are waiting -- a bus stop, people waiting in line, etc.. Bored people may be more willing to talk.
Smile. People won’t stop if you don’t look welcoming.
Accept rejection. Don’t be offended if someone turns you down. Or many people turn you down. They might be in a rush or not comfortable speaking into a mic. Keep asking; there are plenty of people out there who like to give their opinion.
Set recording level. When someone agrees, first make sure you set their recording level. Ask them a throwaway question while you adjust the record level. Make sure the mic is just a few inches from their mouth.
Name please! Ask them to say their name in a full sentence. If what they do or where they live is important to your vox pop, ask them to include that in case you want to use their name in the edited piece. Example: “My name is Homer Simpson and I’m a high school teacher.” After they have said their name, make sure they spell it in case you need it later.
Mic yourself. It gives you flexibility in editing if your question is on mic.
Ask everyone the same question. Make sure your main question is open ended, and not a question that will elicit a “yes” or “no” answer. Example: You are doing a vox pop on whether L.A. should have a football team. If the person says he/she thinks L.A. should have a team, you could ask “Why do you think Los Angeles should have a football team?” or “What is the best way to get a team to L.A.?” Encourage them to answer the question in a complete sentence, i.e. “I think L.A. should have a football team because …”
Re-ask. If someone gives a good answer and has a strong opinion, but hasn’t worded it right or fumbled too much when they said it, ask it again.
Keep it short. A few minutes for each person should do it; that way you can interview a lot of people.
Get variety. Interview many different kinds of people and make sure you get varied perspectives. Interview enough people so that you can choose the absolute best answers.
Record ambient background or “room tone.” Record one minute of ambience at the location or locations where you interview.
Editing your vox pop
⏯ Edited wav file. Check with your producer to see how long it should be. Label the file as follows:
[your last name]_voxpop
⏯ You will most likely NOT use everyone you interviewed. Choose only the best responses.
⏯ Write a host intro and outro (see below). NOTE: DO NOT RECORD THE INTRO AND OUTRO.
Start and end strong. Use a compelling and well-stated comment as your first clip to draw in listeners and as your last clip to leave listeners with a strong impression.
Short and snappy. Keep it moving with short clips from each person. How do they flow together: maybe sometimes they reinforce each other and other times they contradict each other. How does each voice sound next to another? Are the tone and pitch of the voice similar or very different? Consider using fragments of sentences.
When to use your questions: Include one of your questions for a transition if you need it or for a good exchange between you and the interviewee. However, don’t use your questions for every answer you use in the vox pop.
Use ambient background. Use the ambient sound or room tone that you recorded under the interviews if needed to smooth out the transition from person to person.
A vox pop is not a scientific poll. If you stop 20 people and 18 of them agree L.A. should have a football team, do not conclude that the majority of people in L.A. want a football team. You should interview enough people to get as many different points of view as possible. Keep track of how many people you interview. If some people you stop are willing to talk but not be recorded, interview them any way because it gives you more information. See info below on writing the host intro.
Write intro for the newscast. Always write a intro for the host to read to set-up your vox pop:
SUPERBOWL SUNDAY IS IN THE BOOKS, AS ARE ANOTHER YEAR OF ITS FAMED COMMERCIALS. WE WENT TO THE USC CAMPUS TO SEE WHAT STUDENTS THOUGHT ABOUT THIS YEAR’S ADS.
It’s important to say WHERE you did your interviews to give context. Depending on the topic, answers may be radically different depending on the location.
If most of the people you interviewed gave the same perspective, you should acknowledge that in your host intro.
ERIC GARCETTI IS MARKING HIS FOURTH YEAR AS MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES. WE WENT TO THE STREETS AROUND CITY HALL TODAY TO FIND OUT HOW HE’S DOING IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION. MOST OF THE 20 PEOPLE WHO STOPPED TO TALK LIKE WHAT THEY SEE.
You don’t necessarily need to name the person who conducted the interviews, though you may want to, especially if we hear any of their questions on the vox pop.
Write outro for the newscast. Always have a line of copy AFTER the vox pop. If you’ve used 4-6 people, name them in order. (i.e. We heard from Eric Garcetti, Jerry Brown, Joe Biden and Barack Obama.) If you used a huge variety of people in the edited vox pop, or if you failed to get everyone’s name, give some info related to the story.