Vox pops that don't sound like vox pops

If you’ve interned at a radio station you’ve probably heard this:

“Go out and ask a bunch of people the same question and then edit them together and make us a vox pop.”

Which sounds a lot easier than it is (see the bottom of this post for vox pop tips). 

The final vox pop can either be really boring or really interesting.

Mostly they're predictable and boring to listen to because most people just put the answers next to each other like this:

Vox pop question / Answer from person 1 / Answer from person 2 / Etc....

I'm guilty of making vox pops like this.

But recently I’ve been hearing lots of vox pops on podcasts (yes podcasts!) that are mixing up the  vox pop sound (I'm sure they've always been doing it this way, but I've only just noticed it) and it sounds great.

For example, the first episode of NPR’s new radio show, Invisibiila starts with a vox pop, but they’ve disguised it using narration to make it sound different. Have a listen:

Instead of just editing the answers next to each other, they've injected narration between the vox pop answers. They've even added music. 

I think it’s the best bit of the entire episode.

Here’s another great example:

Let’s breakdown the above example visually:

So as you can see and hear, adding narration to your vox pops is a super easy trick you can use to make your vox pop sound more interesting. 

If you’ve never made a vox pop before and want to have a go, here are some tips:

Vox pop making tips

It is actually an art form to ask random people, random things, that they don’t care about. And to not make the tape sound that way. Because they don’t care and you don’t care and nobody cares who they are but if you ask the right questions, if you find the right people, if you engage with them you can get really lively, awesome tape.
— Robert Smith speaking at CUNY Grad School of Journalism
  • I’ve found the best way to get people to agree to answer your questions is to have your gear on and just go straight up to the person and say, ‘Can I ask you a question?’. If they say yes, ask them the question without any further explanation and get their permission to use it at the end. I've gotten more rejections when I go into a lot of detail with people before beginning e.g. ‘Hi, I’m doing an audio project about dreams, do you mind if I ask you a question’. 
  • Some people don’t want to be interviewed (listen to the start of this podcast for an example of this happening, it's very funny). It's not easy when people keep rejecting you, but hang in there and keep asking people questions unfortunately it's the only way. 

Again, Robert Smith (my hero) from NPR's Planet Money has some tips on where to go and who to interview to get good "vox":

If you ever need really good vox: 2am any street in the city. Another key to good vox: smokers. Smokers are the best. I think there used to talking to total strangers on the street and they usually have a chip on their shoulder about something. The other key to good vox, you listen to people speaking very loudly on their cell phones. Playgrounds are good, parents are trapped. Dog parks, those people have no place to go and they’re usually smokers too. These are all the dark arts of vox pop.
— Robert Smith speaking at CUNY Grad School of Journalism
  • Always ask follow up questions, ‘Why do you think that?’, ‘Do you think you’d do the same thing now?’.
  • Make sure you record yourself asking the question each time, you might need to use this later when editing. And don't forget to record some background noise too.
  • Try and ask a variety of people e.g. male, female, old and young so you get a range of perspectives.

And like always, have fun, Robert Smith certainly sounds like he does!

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