In times like these, entering a professional recording studio isn’t smart or, often, possible. Rather than stop our recording schedules, let’s adapt. Let’s find options for recording guests remotely – to get us through current and future emergencies.
The solution must be easy to use and hard to mess up, for hosts and for guests. Audio won’t be studio quality but it must be good. (Each part of the production process — edit, EQ, mix, encode — loses a little more audio fidelity. So the better the quality of the original recording the better the audio left in the end product.)
My best cost/sound recommendations:
For host tracks, set up a simple home studio for each host.
Guests: It’s prohibitively complicated and error-prone to walk guests through all the software-install, record, and upload procedures. But it is feasible to mail guests a USB mic (or headset), with a prepaid return label.
Video Conferencing Services
No: Except when unavoidable.
We moderns are all video-chat savvy. And video-conferencing services record (instructions for: Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Zoom). But their audio recordings are all low fidelity.
Zoom seems best for sound:
Records at 32kHz sample rate (AAC, mono, ~52 kbps bitrate). The others have a much lower 16KHz sample rate (AAC, mono, 64 kbps), so less frequency range and more chance of distortion and audio artifacts (weird noises).
Gives you an audio and video file. Most others are video-only, so you need to strip the audio out.
While down this rabbit hole I discovered:
150 milliseconds [is] the maximum latency before conversations feel unnatural. Zoom works really hard to stay under 150 milliseconds, Chief Product Officer Oded Gal said. Or maybe this: Rather than optimize the connection for all devices — which means optimizing for the worst, slowest one — Zoom tends to each individually.
And I know people have, use, and like Skype, but: Skype requires extensive credits during the podcast (beginning, end, and every 15 minutes). While there are ways to improve the fidelity of Skype’s audio recordings, like Call Recorder (Mac) and Evaer (Win), those third-party apps still don’t match the ease, features, and quality of…
Remote Interview Audio Recorders
Yes: Whenever possible.
A recent crop of made-for-podcasters, remote-audio services record hosts and guests in different places. Two of the best are Zencastr and SquadCast (which I’m leaning toward). Both have inexpensive monthly subscriptions. Both work like this:
Starting the recording:
The host logs into the recording service and starts the session.
The guest goes to to a custom URL (sent by the host).
The interview and recording take place via the browser (i.e., no software installs needed).
During the recording:
Local recording: Full-fidelity uncompressed audio records onto host and guest computers (WAV, 44.1kHz, 16 bit).
Progressive upload: Hi-fi MP3s uploads to the cloud (so nothing lost if connection breaks).
Auto-backup: As the host/guest cloud MP3s upload, those files are simultaneously copied.
Auto-upload (local file): As soon as the host stops the recording, the WAVs (recorded locally onto host/guest computers) upload to the cloud.
Just like video-conferencing, the conversation happens over the internet (VoIP), which is bandwidth limited so loses audio fidelity. The recording, however, doesn’t use internet audio: It captures each participant’s computer input (the mic plugged- or built-in) then writes the recording directly onto their harddrives — no audio lost.
Zencastr deserves cred for their COVID response, removing recording-hour limits on their free Hobbyist plan. Recordings upload to the user’s own Dropbox account.
They have no video screen option. (I’m a big fan of f2f interviewee interaction.) Of course, neither do tape syncs or two-way studio interviews.
Their support site is screenshot-less but has a slew of how-to videos and explainers.
No: Except when unavoidable.
Finally, lots of folk have posted lots of ways to record iPhone interviews (like Transom, StoryCorps, and Hearing Voices / Marketplace). But remote recording means transforming all our guests into capable recordists: color me skeptical.
Top image: Louis and Bebe Barron, electronic music pioneers, inventors, and composers of the Forbidden Planet film soundtrack (photo: Walter Daran).
Dorothy Eck, Montana State Senator and co-author of the 1972 Montana Constitution, passed away this month.
She was one of the “Political People” who talked politics with us for this 1992 NPR All Things Considered story. Hear her @1:55 (“I don’t look at party platforms, they’re mostly baloney.”) and at @4:55 (“Who said democracy is easy?”):
The world needs more like her — Dorothy Eck (January 23, 1924 – September 23, 2017):
Pro-choice. Pro-life. Most people have already chosen sides in the ongoing debate, so why revisit the issue? Shades of Gray shares a range of stories told by people young and old who have been directly affected by abortion, instead of the polemics of irreconcilable extremes. It’s a carefully crafted audio mosaic and a stark portrayal of the intensely personal nature of our relationship with abortion. This is the fair and frank discussion America rarely has but desperately needs.
Winner of the 2004 Golden Reel for National Documentary. A longer version is at PRX. Produced and original music score by Jonathan Mitchell of The Truth. Co-produced and narrated by Ahri Golden of Thin Air Media.
The video was shot by Sara’s mother, singer and song writer Jackie Messenger: youtube.com/JackieMessenger. Sara is part of a beautiful family who have always been wonderfully supportive of me.
This track came about almost immediately when I found Sara’s channel. I wondered what her song would sound like with a beat, so I spent around 10 minutes knocking together a drum sequence before layering in her song. 45 minutes later, I seem to have spontaneously put together a complete track.
“It’s Gonna Rain” was composed in San Francisco in January 1965. The voice belongs to a young black Pentecostal preacher who called himself Brother Walter. I recorded him along with the pigeons and traffic one Sunday afternoon in Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Later at home I started playing with tape loops of his voice and, by accident, discovered the process of letting two identical loops go gradually out of phase with each other.
In the first part of the piece the two loops are lined up in unison, gradually move completely out of phase with each other, and then slowly move back to unison. In the second part two much longer loops gradually begin to go out of phase with each other. This two-voice relationship is then doubled to four with two voices going out of phase with the other two. Finally the process moves to eight voices and the effect is a kind of controlled chaos, which may be appropriate to the subject matter – the end of the world.
“It’s Gonna Rain” is the first piece ever to use the process of gradually shifting phase relations between two or more identical repeating patterns. The second was “Come Out.” Composed in 1966, it was originally part of a benefit presented at Town Hall in New York City for the retrial, with lawyers of their own choosing, of the six boys arrested for murder during the Harlem riots of 1964. The voice is that of Daniel Hamm, now acquitted and then 19, describing a beating he took in Harlem’s 28th precinct station. The police were about to take the boys out to be “cleaned up” and were only taking those that were visibly bleeding. Since Hamm had no actual open bleeding he proceeded to squeeze open a bruise on his leg so that he would be taken to the hospital.
“I had to like open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” More…
Walking, maps, and art — some of my favorite stuff — are all wrapped up in one project, “a transect – Due East:”
A body of work based on a series of cross-country hikes that enabled me to generate visual and written notation, correspondence, interviews and historic research. The location is specific to my homeland in the San Joaquin Valley of California where I traveled due east into the foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains.
–Matthew Rangel, Project Statement
Due East through Elliot Ranch, 2008,
lithograph, 22″ x 28.5″, by Matthew Rangel
January 25, 2011. One year ago, a revolution began in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. For the next eighteen days, millions of Egyptians across the country would demonstrate in the streets, demanding the end of their 30-year dictatorship. They were inspired by Tunisians, whose protests, that same month, had forced out the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Now it was time for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to go.
A few weeks after the protests, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch interviewed some of the organizers of the January uprising: union leaders, civil rights workers, young social media activists, family members of of murdered protestors, and mothers who brought their kids to Tahrir to clean after the protests.. These Human Rights Watch interviews provide a rare, eyewitness account of a revolution, told by the Egyptian people, the activists, human rights defenders, and bloggers who persevered during those eighteen days.
For decades we in pubradio have been hearing about a mystical “sustainable” creature, s’posed to be lurking around our endeavors: sustainable series, sustainable projects, sustainable programs. Well, ‘cording to the latest xkcd, we’re not alone in constantly chasing but never finding that mythical phantom:
A retrospective of the past twelve months featuring Queen Elizabeth, Occupy Wall Street, The Arab Spring, the death of Osama Bin-Laden, the extreme weather conditions that caused nuclear accidents in Japan, flooding in the North East and fires across Texas, politicians like Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul and Herman Cain making us proud, Michael Moore, Guido Sarducci, Charlie Sheen, Ali G, Newt Gingrich with music from PJ Harvey, Ry Cooder, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes, The Coasters, Bruce Springsteen, Gil Scott-Heron, Ashford & Simpson, John Barry, Tosca, Maceo Plex, Mickie & Sylvia, The Drifters, Amy Winehouse, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell and many others.
Tributes to Steve Jobs, Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford, Andy Rooney, Joe Frasier, Gil Scott Heron, Hubert Sumlin, Wild Man Fischer, Amy Winehouse, Clarence Clemons, Harry Morgan, Sylvia Robinson, Carl Gardner, Wildman Fischer, Phoebe Snow, Jack Lalane, and others
Some of the music in the hour:
“The Glorious Land” PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
“No Banker Left Behind” Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some dust and Sit Down
“Firewall” Bright Eyes – Firewall
“My First” Tosca – No Hassle
“Helplessness Blues” Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
“Poetry Man” Phoebe Snow (Phoebe Ann Laub, July 17, 1950 – April 26, 2011) – Phoebe Snow
“Jungleland (live)” Bruce Springsteen- Born to Run
(Clarence Anicholas Clemons, Jr., January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011)
“You Know I’m No Good (live)” Amy Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011)
“Love is Strange” Mickey & Sylvia (Sylvia Robinson, March 6, 1936 – September 29, 2011)
“I’m New Here” Gil Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011) – I’m New Here
Songs by Jerry Leiber (April 25, 1933 – August 22, 2011) and Mike Stoller:
“Three Cool Cats” The Coasters
“Kansas City” Wilbert Harrison
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” – The Robins (Coasters)
“Spanish Harlem” Ben E. King (Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector)
Songs by Nickolas Ashford (May 4, 1941 – August 22, 2011) & Valerie Simpson:
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Solid” Ashford & Simpson – Solid
The Western Soundscape Archive houses thousands of audio recordings: “570 different Western bird species, all of the region’s vocalizing frogs and toads, dozens of reptiles and more than 100 different types of mammals,” with dozens ambient field soundscapes of the West remote wildlands. Many of the recordings are are Creative Commons licensed for non-comm use.
3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage… all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ….into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films…..
= a trip of a lifetime.
move, eat, learn
Rick Mereki:: Director, producer, additional camera and editing
Tim White : DOP, producer, primary editing, sound
Andrew Lees : Actor, mover, groover
Commissioned by STA Travel Australia
Music:” “Play On” composed & performed by Kelsey James (myspace | iTunes)
A preview of our upcoming HV hour, “Voices from Tahrir” — a collaboration with Human Rights Watch. This public radio documentary features eyewitness accounts and recordings of the January uprisings (January 25 – February 11 2011) — the one-year anniversary approches: