Picking the best sound bites is a critical part of most video production. Compelling comments that draw in an audience and keep them connected with a story are the cornerstone of professional storytelling. Perhaps the best place to start is with a definition of a sound bite.
What is a Sound Bite?
A sound bite is a short clip of speech or music cut down from a longer piece of audio, usually sound bites are from a recorded interview, full piece of music or long-form video content. The strongest, most memorable sound bites are often less than 30 seconds.
On the surface it seems pretty straightforward: listen to the words, identify the most interesting remarks and, boom, you’ve got your sound bite!
Easy right? In some cases, yes and in some cases, not so much. Is the sound bite too long? Is it too short? Do they ramble? Is it an incomplete thought? Most importantly, does the person say what you, the video producer, needs them to say?
Tips for Interviewers
To create a video that emotionally inspires or relays useful information, it takes more than just pretty pictures or a powerful song as its soundtrack. Many videos relay honest emotion or information through people talking and sharing their perspective on camera during an interview.
So as you prepare your interview subject for their temporary moment in the spotlight, we have a few suggestions that will make your job easier. Here are five things that make up a great sound bite.
When listening to answers in the interview, try to identify points that will be relatable to the audience. Even if your interview subject spent days trying to memorize the organization’s mission statement, help that person answer it in a conversational manner. For example, if you had to explain your business to someone at a cocktail party you wouldn’t start off by saying, “We analytically strive to gain strategic profits for…” Blah, blah, blah. Your interviewee should be clear and conversational.
Strong sound bites are often short and succinct. This is not always easy for people to remember when answering interview questions, so keep a keen ear to their remarks and listen for those short and powerful remarks. Ideally, answering in complete and concise sentences help create the best final product. If your subject is struggling, give him a couple tries to hone their remarks, it takes a few tries to form one nice little sound bite.
Stories that are naturally emotional and heartfelt always come across well on camera. Although the message that needs to be conveyed may not pull at the heartstrings of the audience, it’s important to remember how powerful passion can be in video interviews. Emotion helps keep the audience engaged and interested in what is being said.
Confidence and Clarity
Remember to help your interview subject showcase their confidence. The more confident the interviewee is during your interview, the more trustworthy and believable they are perceived. The lights, the camera and the production crew can be intimidating so encourage your interview subjects to prepare their thoughts and focus on the conversation at hand. If all else fails know that since video today is recorded digitally, second takes for mistakes and mind blanks are no big deal.
Tips for Producers in Post-Production
Experienced video producers quickly differentiate between a good and bad sound bite. It's also important that a producer can distinguish between a usable and unusable or “editable” sound bite. If you are trying to understand how to identify the best clips, here are a few tips to help you get started.
Memorable comments: If you listen to any long interview in its entirety, chances are you’ll get to the end and remember one or two things from the interview. Sometimes you can recall the remarks verbatim, in which case, you probably found yourself a couple strong sound bites. Often, the best sound bites are the most memorable.
Emotional remarks: Passion speaks volumes, not just in the words, but the expressions and mannerisms that go along with it. Whether they are joy filled or sorrow filled sound bites, typically, we remember passion and they often make the most powerful sound bites.
Declarative statements: Declarative statements often make for intriguing sound bites. In fact, during media training sessions for businesses we often recommend declarative statements that establish an opinion or fact right off the bat. These typically get the attention of the audience right away.
Humorous comments: Humor is tricky because what is funny for one person is not funny for all. Yet, in many cases a well placed remark that draws a smile or a chuckle is a good thing. Humor is engaging and memorable. In some cases, a funny sound bite may be the only thing you remember! Along those lines, stay away from “inside jokes,” since a select few people may appreciate the subtlety while others are simply lost. Also, consider the context of the joke and make sure that it’s relevant or germane to the story. Cracking a “funny” for the sake of being funny is sometimes nothing more than a distraction.
Statements of facts and stats: Statistics can be incredibly boring, especially when they dive into minutiae. At the same time, if there are alarming figures that really drive home a point, they can best be summed up in a sound bite where emotion can come through and capture the attention of the audience. Consider accompanying a graphic element to the sound bite to drive home the impact.
Predictions and speculation: We love the “inside” track on information. Predictions and prognostications from industry leaders are always interesting. Not all people like to go “on record” with their thoughts, but quite often these make fantastic sound bites. This may be why so many reporters will ask hypothetical questions – sometimes the information that is given is remarkable.
Recaps and retrospective: Just as predicting the future can be of interest, a thoughtful evaluation of past events also can be compelling, depending on the topic especially when filled with opinion. This is one of the reasons documentaries are so captivating. From a production perspective, “The Fog of War” by Errol Morris is a must-see. It is a documentary featuring Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense for both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, in which he recounts the lessons he learned. McNamara's stories are collections of captivating sound bites.
What’s your favorite documentary? Watch it again and think of it from a sound bite perspective – think about what is said, why remarks are placed where they are within the structure of the piece and how it impacts the overall message. Then, take a moment and think of the producer who had to sift through all of that interview sound only to leave a majority of it on the cutting room floor.
Keep in mind, it takes years of training your ear to listen for quality sound bites, so be sure to listen to interviews after they’ve been recorded, highlight the best and throw out the rest. Remember, a sound bite should either make the piece better or it makes it worse. If it’s redundant, pick the best and discard the weaker remarks and move on. The editing process begins here!
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2021.