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).
“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…
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.
I’ve heard of movie SFX folk using mutli-layers of disparate sources to contruct one great composite sound effect — such as an elephant’s trumpets as part of a car tire squeal. But who knew the same amount of overlay could go into a single guitar chord?
The Delicious Playtagger seems to be gone, for now, maybe forever– possibly due to Yahoo! revisions to the Delicious service. Here’s a quick fix (version 0.1; check back: will write a better one later): playtagger_mod.zip
To get ‘er goin’:
Unzip playtagger_mod.zip and upload to your site the folder: playtagger_mod
In the file: playtagger_mod.js.
Change the variable at the top: playtagger_url.
to the URL of your uploaded /playtagger_mod folder (needs trailing “/”).
In the <head> of any files you want the Playtagger- Mod to work, place:
A century ago the six Crow Reservation Districts came together for a cultural gathering with other Great Plains tribes. Every third weekend of August the Crow Fair honors that tradition in a “giant family reunion under the Big Sky.” Five days of celebration in southeastern Montana, with a parade, Pow Wow, rodeo, and traditional and fancy dancing.
In 1977 a team of NPR producers and recordists spent a week collecting sounds and interviewing people at this annual event. This early ambient sound-portrait breathes with the arts and activities of the Crow people: the Apsaalooke Nation.
Splendid with Sound: The audio world lost a great producer today, Carolyn Jensen Chadwick. With her husband Alex she co-founded NPR’s Radio Expeditions (article in Current) and produced the Interviews 50 Cents films.
We hope you’ll spend an hour soaking in her sonics below. Hubby Alex once described a jungle as “splendid with sound.” That phrase also does justice to CJC’s enveloping, enrapturing, sometimes ecstatic, and always engaging work.
Master-engineer Skip Pizzi (NPR, Microsoft) would play this first piece at workshops to illustrate how a simple story can be superb, when elegantly enhanced with stereo sound. David Molpus narrates a portrait of “Equestrian Olympian: Bruce Davidson” (1984 / Carolyn Jenson Chadwick, producer / 12:39 mp3):
Among the natural sounds CJC captured were those of human nature, as when her husband Alex pitted wits with the regulars at a small-town casino, playing “Poker at the Ox” (Carolyn Jenson Chadwick, producer; Michael Schweppe, engineer / 9:55 mp3):
And in the mountains of Payette National Forest, it’s all guns, guitars, guts, and wild game, inside an “Idaho Hunting Camp” (Carolyn Jenson Chadwick, producer; Michael Schweppe, engineer / 12:57 mp3):
One hundred faces introduce individuals from many cultures in five African countries, a collection that became part of Jake Warga’s response to his work as a public radio producer since 2007. As he states, “Journalism’s tendency is to talk only of numbers — numbers starving, numbers infected, numbers displaced — while individuals are easily hidden, their unique details lost in the shadows.” He started out with a conventional search for numbers and statistics, but Warga later decided to take a “tree-for-the-forest approach” by focusing on individuals.
A new sound symphony by Jana Winderen artist/recordist is out on Touch Music. She calls her album Energy Field. Here’s a sample (5:20):
Armed with four 8011 DPA hydrophones, DPA 4060 omni mics, a Telinga parabolic reflector mic and and a Sound Devices 744T digital hard disk recorder, Jana Winderen studies and records wild places which have a particular importance in our understanding of the complexity and fragility of marine ecosystems.
The recordings were made on field trips to the Barents Sea (north of Norway and Russia), Greenland and Norway, deep in crevasses of glaciers, in fjords and in the open ocean. These elements are then edited and layered into a powerful descriptive soundscape. The open spaces of Greenland, northern winds, ravens and dogs in an icy landscape provide the setting for these haunting but dynamic pieces. Sounds of crustaceans, fish such as cod, haddock, herring and pollock recorded as they are hunting, calling for a mate or orientating themselves in their environment, are all included in the mix.
From her artist statement:
I have been occupied with finding sounds from unseen sources of sound, like blind field recordings. Over the last three years I have collected recordings made by hydrophones, from rivers, shores and the ocean, and more recently also from glaciers in Greenland, Iceland and Norway. In the depths of the oceans there are invisible but audible soundscapes, about which we are largely ignorant, even if the oceans cover 70% of our planet.
The [Un]Observed is a new Radio Magazine whose stories cross genres, countries and societal subjects.
Try “The Trouble With Rick” by Aussie “media practitioner” Kyla Brettle. She calls her piece a “radiophonic exploration and impressionistic interpretation of how the world spoke to Rick.” May sound pretentious, but is a pretty good description of the way she paints her audio portrait:
Walking into a noisy restaurant, Rick Tarulli felt inundated by a barrage of sound — the effect of which was so overwhelming that it made him lose his balance. Every conversation in the room shouted at him, the scrape of knives on plates made his vision jump and he could clearly discern the hum of the fridge out back. Rick knew there was something going wrong inside but couldn’t work it out. Neither could his doctors. Three years ago Rick discovered his symptoms were caused by superior canal dehiscence syndrome, a recently diagnosed condition that affects the inner ear.
Other contributors include HV frens Aaron Ximm (aka, quiet american; “Guatanamo Express“, Jonathan Mitchell (“Eye Contact“), and, ‘course, AnnKara: those females at the forefront of every forward facing futuristic audio feature.
Interested in contributing? Contact them; their ears are wide open:
What we’re looking for [is] innovative, engaging and dynamic use of sound as a medium to tell a story. That story can be about a wide range of things, and can be as long or short as the producer would like. The main guideline is in the execution. One of the goals of The [Un]Observed is to move away from traditional, act/track, radio pieces to something where the medium of sound is explored and expanded. The magazine hopes to be a playground of sorts for radio and audio producers to present work they are excited about and proud of. Beyond that, we hope to create an international space where sound makers from all different parts of the world can come together.
It’s software that runs on Windows, OS X universal binary, or Linux Ubuntu that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.
Miller’s field recordings from a portable studio, set up to capture the acoustic qualities of Antarctic ice forms, reflect a changing and even vanishing environment under duress. Coupled with historic, scientific, and geographical visual material, Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica is a seventy minute performance, creating a unique and powerful moment around man’s relationship with nature.
For Veteran’s Day an audio story on SoundRich: Viet Nam Detachment 5; two men in battle during the 1968 Vietcong Tet Offensive, one arduously escapes “protected by angels,” the other spent five years in an enemy prison camp, produced by Rich Halten.