Friday, February 13, 2015

Recording podcasts in-person 2015 edition


For my Cloudy Chat podcast series, I’ve been focusing lately on repeat guests drawn heavily from local Red Hat colleagues in Westford. I find it’s a great way to get interesting material out there without a whole lot of logistical overhead. Especially with all the activity going on with containers, docker, kubernetes, configuration management, and containerized operating systems like Project Atomic, there’s no shortage of things to cover without going too far afield.

I describe an earlier setup here. (See also how I use Google+ Hangouts for remote recording.) However, over time, I’ve experimented with some different setups for in-person recording to simplify the process while maintaining good quality. I’m pretty happy with where I’ve ended up—with the caveat that I’m always learning and tweaking things. 

For recordings in the office:

In my earlier post, I describe recording using a laptop and a USB microphone. I’ve also done recordings using a Peavey PV6 USB Mixing Console and XLR dynamic microphones connected to a laptop. I still use the latter setup if there are more than two of us and/or I want to control the individual microphone levels. However, in the interests of simplicity, I now use a digital recorder connected to two dynamic microphones on desktop stands. Here’s the specific gear list:

You’ll probably also want a larger SD card (the recorder comes with a 2GB one), a mini-USB cable and power adaptor, and some spare AA batteries.

With this setup, you can just sit the recorder on the table, plug in the microphones, and sit one in front of yourself and one in front of your guest. I’m not going to go into every detail of the recorder but a few tips and tricks.

  • You may want to plug the recorder into power (using its mini-USB) if possible. It’s fairly battery hungry and doesn’t give a lot of warning when it’s about to go.
  • Make sure you have recording space left. (You may be noticing a theme here. It’s called personal experience.)
  • The Tascam input can be set to auto-level. In my experience it’s only somewhat effective but I still find it better to use it than to not use it. 
  • The two external microphones will record into different stereo channels, which offers another opportunity to balance the recording with a bit of manipulation in Audacity or your audio processing software of choice. You can split the stereo channels into separate mono tracks, process them individually, and then recombine into a single stereo track. 

 For recordings on the road.

While the above setup is relatively compact, it’s more than I really want to travel with most of the time. Furthermore, it requires that you be able to find a table in a relatively quiet area which is often far easier said than done at the conferences I attend. You can’t really use the Tascam as a handheld recorder with its internal mics. They’re just too sensitive and pickup the noise of you handling the recorder. 

Instead, I use my iPhone or iPad and plug in a handheld iRig microphone. There's a corresponding iOS application but there's no reason you couldn't use any other recording application; the microphone just plugs into a standard 3.5mm jack. One nice detail of the iRig is that it comes with a splitter built into the jack. This means that you can easily monitor the recording with headphones, which can be useful if you're dealing with intermittent background noise.

I then just hold the microphone and move it up close to whoever is speaking at the moment. This generally works quite well for the style of interview podcasts that I do. I then transfer the recording to my laptop using whatever mechanism the recording app provides—in the case of iRig, I send it up to a server with FTP, then download it. I then edit the recording using Audacity in the usual way.

The same company also makes a small microphone that plugs directly into the jack of an iPhone. I don’t find handling the iPhone like a microphone quite as natural as handling a cylindrical microphone—but this mic lives in my accessory bag so it’s always with me in case an opportunity to make a recording pops up.

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