We already loved Annie McEwen’s piece when we sat down with her for a Second Ear edit session. It’s a non-narrated mix of voices, tones and music that she calls an experiment in heartbreak.
At PRX Remix, I live ever in the shadow of the skip button. For those of you who don’t know (and you should—go listen!), Remix lets listeners click ahead when they’re not into a story. It means stories have to be that much better. Grab ’em in the first few seconds, or you lose ’em for good.
With stories like Annie’s, I want listeners to decide to stay. To close their eyes and drift with her into a watery inner world.
So that was my first goal: make the top so enticing you can’t help but slow down and sink into its rhythm. In my mind, the story needed a hook a bit sooner, something for the listener to grab onto. We suggested using a different opening line, and then streamlining some tape near the top to get to the main story faster. We also took issue with the repeated clip that starts “There once was a young girl…” If that was going to stay, it needed to be cut down near the top—when the listener is still figuring things out—and brought back later. And I wanted just a few more specifics that helped the listener visualize what they were hearing and then feel the loss all the more sharply.
Annie got great tape: beautiful lines developing the foghorn metaphor. She had so many of them that she had a lot of options for closers. In fact, during my first listen, I thought I’d reached the end only to be startled to learn I was barely halfway through. That kept happening.
I felt the piece ought to carry me seamlessly, so that the whole thing grew in one long musical phrase. Of course there would be swells and pauses and plateaus, but the larger arc had to be there.
A lot of our notes were micro-edits. We thought she could make it shorter by tightening clips and cutting repetitive lines. We tried to refine the structure by trimming and reorganizing sections. But we told her what we tell all Second Ear producers: revise how you see fit. Use our suggestions, throw them out, rework them as your own.
Here’s what Annie came up with.