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).
“Solidod: An Apache Original” (2012 / 52:00) Larry Massett
The Life and Times of Solidod, the last remaining member of her village of Mescalero Apache who lived on the edge of Death Valley. HV editor Larry Massett helped our friend Solidad publish her new e-book, An Apache Original: The Life and Times of Solidod.
Larry composed and performed the piano music in this radio hour.
Solidod is in her 80s and tells about 300 years of her life stories in the book. Here’s an excerpt from Larry’s…
When I first met Solidod she was living alone in a tiny room in a rather depressing subsidized-income apartment complex in Florida. She herself was anything but depressing, though. A few minutes after we met she showed me the little knife she carries with her in her buckskin purse. “But Solidod,” I said, “that’s kind of a dangerous knife, isn’t it?” I said- meaning, dangerous for an 80-year woman. “Yeah, it’s sharp,” she laughed, “but it would be better if it was rusty. So the cut would get infected in case I stab somebody.”
Wow, tough lady. Tough, but also funny, curious, brimming with energy, and a world-class storyteller. As she told me about the adventures of her life I realized she’s been everywhere and done just about everything: horse-trainer, bodyguard, trans-Atlantic sailor, carpenter, gardener, artist, you name it. And she’s busy. She spends her days zipping around town selling the t-shirts she paints and the jewelry she makes, checking on old friends and chatting up new ones. Most people her age seem to be winding down; Solidod’s just getting started…
Me and my Indian, my husband
Several of Solidod’s paintings grace the book’s pages. The e-book is in Kindle format: Amazon make a free Kindle Reader for nearly every computer, tablet, smartphone, and web browser. More…
In May of 2012, Soundwalk Collective traveled into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon to document the ancient chanting rituals of the Ayahuasquero, the Master Shaman and practitioner of plant medicine. In this ritual, the shaman consumes a potent brew made from the Ayahuasca, a sacred vine of the Amazonian jungle, the “vine of the souls”. The brew induces a powerful psychedelic experience that causes visual and auditory hallucinations.
It is in this state that the Ayahuasquero conjures the “icaro” or magic song.
The icaro is more than song, it is a language through which the shaman communicates with the spirits of plants and animals of the jungle — he speaks through them and they sing through him. There are more than a thousand icaros, through which Ayahuasceros call on the spirits for healing, protection, or attack. Icaros can stun a snake, cure a bite, call the soul back to the body, make a sorcerer fall asleep. Icaros are “pure sound,” melodies abstracted so as to become intangible, to become air. In this intangible and most powerful form icaros allow shamans to swallow darts, visit distant planets, call the rainbow, and kill.
Blowing, rattling leaves and singing are synergistic modes of sound that are, at once verbal, unintelligible and abstract — elevating the song to something transcending language. This piece by Soundwalk Collective documents the ancient practice by inhabiting the Ayahuasquero’s soundscape where the icaros become a visceral, haunting, and consuming listening experience.
“Ayahuasqueros” is a radio essay by anthropologist Jeremy Narby, in collaboration with Francisco Lopez, featuring Victor Nieto and Ushamano Walter Martinez. It was ommissioned by Radio France Culture, mixed by Dug Winningham, and produced by Soundwalk Collective: an international sound-art collective, winner of several Audies for their soundwalks and a Dalton Pen award for the Ground Zero w/ Paul Auster. Since 2000 they “have been sonic nomads, embarking on journeys from the desolate land of Bessarabia to the desert of Rub al Khali. By exploring and documenting the world around them through its sounds, the Collective abstracts and re-composes narrative sound pieces through fragments of reality to form distinct audible journeys.”
From a half-hour radio play, commissioned by CBS, written by poet Kenneth Patchen and scored by Cage. Broadcast May 31, 1942 on WBBM radio station (Columbia Broadcasting System in Chicago), as part of their Columbia Workshop series. Performance by Xenia Cage, Cilia Amidon, Stuart Lloyd, Ruth Hartman, Claire Oppenheim and John Cage conducting.
Few contemporary composers had the influence of John Cage. From experimental music to minimalism, Brian Eno to George Winston, echoes of John Cage continue to resound to this day, more than 6 decades after his “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano” were first published. John Cage was a conceptualist of sound who turned even silence into music as he did with his famous piece, 4 minutes and 33 seconds. John cage died from a stroke in August of 1992. But we hear his thoughts in sound from a 1987 interview. From the series Echoes with John Diliberto, part of their Thoughts in Sound specials.
The producer’s wife likes to swim at night, far out into the lake. She was taught long ago how to effortlessly, and beautifully, skim across the water. Aired originally on This American Life “Lessons“.
Mashup master GHP, aka, Mark Vidler, mixes Queen’s sports stadium classic, “We Will Rock You,” with AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Crowded House and a bit of Beatles, Outkast, and Snoop Dogg. Download off GHP’s This Was Pop 2002-2007.
The producer spent the winter coaching a boys basketball team in her Washington, DC neighborhood. The boys’ grades aren’t good enough to play for the school, so they join a local church league. And Katie Davis starts more as counselor than coach. Originally aired on NPR. Part of the producers Neighborhood Stories series.
Spin class gets personal, with Chet Siegel as Sam, Emily Tarver as Lisa, Ed Herbstman as Kirk. Written collaboratively by The Truth, from a story by Chet Siegel. Special thanks: Peter Clowney, Kerrie Hillman, and Chris Bannon. Recorded at WNYC and on location in New York City. The Truth podcast is produced by Jonathan Mitchell (also on PRX.
What does a city block sound like? Aaron Henkin of WYPR-Baltimore and electronic/hip hop musician Wendel Patrick hit the sidewalk, spending several months documenting the stories, voices, and people who populate the 3300 block of Greenmount Avenue, in Baltimore. We go inside the hair salon, the tattoo parlor, and the check cashing business. We talk to a street preacher and homeless street people. This is a community of different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions; in other words: an All American block.
Both producers are Baltimore-based. Aaron Henkin produced the program for the WYPR series he works on, The Signal. This HV hour also features music from co-producer Wendel Patrick’s 2011 album Forthcoming. His 2007 collection is called Sound:.
Field recordings in the Annapurna region of Nepal near Tibet, including a ceremony for the Buddha’s birthday, a few donkey trains passing in a cacophony of melodious bells; and a five-foot prayer wheel in a Buddhist gompa in Marpha.
From NPR Radio Expeditions, hidden deep in the woods of the Payette National Forest are the terraced remnants of the “Ah Toy Garden” (near the town of Warren, Idaho), now on the National Register of Historic Places. Produced by Carolyn Jensen Chadwick with sound desgin by Michael Scweppe.
When most people are headed to the beach, our producer heads for the ski slopes near his home in Utah. The goal is to find a combination of freezing and thawing in the late spring that gives the mountain snow pack the singular spring skiing experience(on PRX | on NPR).
Attempting to climb the world’s most deadly and second highest demands extreme gear, training, timing, preparation, and a carefully selected team. Joe Frank eschews every bit of that: why make so easy? Excepted from Joe’s hour, Mountain Rain, available on CD and as an MP3. Music: “Buried At Sea” MC 900 Ft Jesus, One Step Ahead of the Spider.
“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…
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.
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:
Mixes and mashes and seasonal samples, and song stories:
“Christmas Eve In Afghanistan, Again” (2010 / 3:30) Quil Lawrence
NPR talks to troops in a U.S. military hospital at Bagram Air Base, outside of Kabul. Quil Lawrence interviewed Sergeant Wallace Trahan, Sergeant Aaron Kelly, Sergeant Zachary Scoskie, and Colonel Diane Huey. Mix: Jim Wildman. Music: W.G. Snuffy Walden “The First Noel” Windham Hill Holiday Guitar Collection.
Produced for the Vermont Folklife Center: In December 1944 the Allies were closing in on Germany. Hitler had a desperate plan to save the Third Reich, a massive assault he believed would so demoralize that the Allies, they would seek a separate peace, leaving only the Russian army on the eastern front. On December 16 the Germans unleashed an offensive that would become the most brutal battle of the European war: the Battle of the Bulge. Nineteen thousand Americans were killed, about the same number were taken prisoner. We hear from four Americans soldiers about their time in — before, during and after — a German POW camp: Cliff Austin, Harrison Burney, Bill Busier, and Robert Norton.
VFC Radio published a transcript and a CD of “Prisoners of War.” Harrison Burney wrote “From The Bowels of Hell, a soldier’s memoir of World War II, 1944-1945 (143k PDF). Music: “Reitba” and “Concerto No. 3 for Double-Bass and Piano,” composed and performed by cellist Francois Rabbath; “String Quartet in C Major”, the second movement in the “Emperor” by Franz Joseph Haydn, performed by the Concord String Quartet; and “St James Infirmary” from pianist Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi.
From Musicians in their own words, an NPR series produced by David Schulman: The French singer Camille Dalmais, better known as Camille, has many voices inside her. She makes her music by overlaying everything from a sniffle to a growl to an operatic F-sharp. She speaks about the intimacy of the French language, spirituality and finding a natural music in the sound of everyday speech.
From Hidden Kitchens, an NPR series by the The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & NIkki Silva): Imagine a Mozart Festival without a note of Mozart. Instead, more than 60 artists from around the world were invited to Vienna by director Peter Sellars and asked to pick up where the musical and social visionary left off, to create new works of art. Called “New Crowned Hope,” for the free-thinking Masonic Lodge in Vienna of which Mozart was a member, it was a month-long, genre-spanning event linking agriculture and culture, with food at its heart. It featured a Maori dance troupe; a Venezuelan street chorus singing a new opera by John Adams; new films from Chad, Iran and Paraguay; Mark Morris’ dance company; Chez Panisse founder and culinary activist Alice Waters; lunch ladies from across Europe; and farmers, chefs and seed-savers from throughout Austria. Aired on NPR Morning Edition. Mixed by Jim McKee of Earwax Productions. Music: John Adams, David Williamson, Frances Nelson, Sarah Folger & harmonia mundi, and Wieslaw Pogorzelski.
From Musicians in their own words: Beyond-Brazilian musician Cyro Baptista is fluent in the musical languages of samba, cabela, and yoyoma. Also, squirrel. He proves it in this piece, and demonstrates how he narrowly averted disaster during a recording session with the fearsome-to-some-people soprano Kathleen Battle. Cyro’s secret weapon? A vacuum cleaner hose. (More at PRX).
Sam is a talented and articulate young jazz musician, brought to the United States at age 5 by his Mexican parents. He stayed out of trouble, was drum major of his high school’s marching band, fell in love with playing jazz on the tenor sax, and got his diploma with honors — only to find that for an “illegal,” graduation marks a dead end. Though Sam dreams of attending college to study jazz performance, he hides his status from even his closest friends. He can’t legally work, drive, get financial aid, or even gain admission to some colleges. “American Dreamer” follows him from his high school graduation, through the following summer, as he struggles to raise money to continue his education and weighs the risks of working and driving illegally against his own desire to achieve his American dream. Aired on NPR Latino USA and All Things Considered.. A one-hour version is at PRX and Long Haul Productions (Dan Collison & Elizabeth Meister). Produced with help from the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media and the National Endowment for the Arts.
We’re occupying the streets of Los Angeles; our demands: bring us stories…
“Pilgrim Land” (2005 / 0:43 excerpt) Tom Russell
“Old America” (3:32 excerpt)
“Bukowski #2 on the Hustle=” (2:08 excerpt)
“Honky Jazz” (4:14)
“Swap Meet Jesus” (4:21)
From the album Hotwalker: Charles Bukowski & A Ballad for Gone. An Americana ode to old L.A., the music, the culture, from beat outsiders to religious revivals to long gone radio sounds; with stuntman, circus midget, and actor Little Jack Horton.
“Hotwalker is the best Sam Peckinpah movie since Peckinpah died. It’s a ghostly jubilee, an audacious slab of Blue America. Narrated aby noir cowboy, Tom Russell, it is a singular recording, bound to be controversial — it’s not only going to ruffle feathers, but leave feathers scattered on the ground.”
—novelist-poet Luis Urrea
From the series Neighborhood Stories– Park Life, profiling the daily life of a community’s urban oasis: “Country Bobby” Lowry is the guardian of Walter Pierce Community Park in Washington, D.C. He’s been keeping an eye on the park for almost three decades, and knows more about how it than any city official — he knows the trees, the plants and the kids. In the first of four stories about the park, we meet this transplanted farm boy who never takes shortcuts in his work. See NPR’s has great photo gallery.
Utah’s Zion National Park draws 2.7 million visitors a year, and a major attraction for hearty hikers is a trek along the Grotto trailhead to Angel’s Landing. From the banks of the Virgin River, the yellow-and-red sandstone sides of Zion Canyon rise 2,000 feet. It feels like being inside a huge body. The canyon walls are the rib cage spread open and Angel’s Landing is like the heart.
Anything I know about drama today comes more from Norman Corwin than anybody.
Norman’s passion for the world, the human race, is in the very marrow of his words.
“One World Flight” (13:07):
In this NPR story for the Kitchen Sisters Lost & Found Sound, producer Mary Beth Kirchner sits down with Norman Corwin to remember his four month flight around the globe, and the resulting radio series. (The original 13-episode 1946 series is at Internet Archive.)