Location recording for newbies

Brian Newington is a legendary radio producer who has worked at many of the great radio stations over his 50+ year career.

One of the biggest shocks for new students doing the Cert3 Tafe Radio Course is recording an interview in the great outdoors.

After weeks of being in a comfortable soundproof studio they are thrust outdoors, complete with a portable recorder to practice interviewing. It dawns on the students that there are heap of worldly noises to contend with. Noisy traffic, barking dogs, screaming kids, ear piercing police sirens. Also being on the flight path to Sydney’s airport you can guarantee a Jet will fly over Petersham campus every 20 minutes and at an extremely low level.

It’s funny how students continue interviewing whilst a 100 decibel jet fly’s overhead. They end up shouting to try and get over the top of the noise level.

It’s then I point out how to solve the problem. Stop the interview, let the jet, truck, dog, or ambulance, go by. When all the noise has stopped, re ask the question and continue the interview. After all you are going to edit this interview later in Adobe Audition.

“Gee I would never have thought of that” students say. I reply “That’s why you are at Tafe”.

Students use 3 portable recorders for location interviewing; my favourite is the HBB FLASH MIC. Clean response, cardioid pickup pattern, wav or mp3 quality, easy USB transfer to computer for editing.

With todays multimedia journalist having to do everything, write the story, record the interview, take pictures or video, then upload the entire project back to the studio, Tafe decided on the multimedia Q3 HD Zoom recorder. Great audio, wav or mp3, nice AGC leveling system, and fabulous HD video specs. The stereo mics are very clean in fact too sensitive for location recording. Though for high quality music recording it’s very good.

Give me a mono cardioid mic any day for interviewing outdoors. With the Q3 stereo omni directional mic’s, you end up with twice the background noise. Despite that, easy audio transfer for editing, via an inbuilt USB cable.

The iPhone is also a great portable recorder. It’s the radio student’s favourite. Nice quality electret mono microphone, inbuilt picture and video, and the ability to upload multimedia files via the internet. 90% of Tafe students have an iPhone and they love using them.

One drawback is the recording software built in to the iPhone. In the utilities section there is voice memo recorder. Although it might look cute it has no way of controlling the input levels. Recordings turn out very soft; hardly any level if you are performing a normal interview.

Fortunately the problem is solved with a $2.00 smart app. It’s called I Said What.

– It enhances the quality of the iPhone microphone
– It has a built in microphone level control
– It automatically smooths out the loud and soft bits
– You can edit and trim the audio
– It saves as a wave file or mp4
– You can email the entire file to your computer
– Or transfer the audio via a sync/charge cable to Adobe Audition

On the left side of the app is a slider control. The more you increase the gain the more audio limiting you will apply. We normally use the 60% mark and achieve great results. Nicely leveled audio without too much sucking and blowing. In tests I found not a lot of difference between the wav file and the mp4 file. As with any electret mic, apply some bass EQ when editing and the quality comes up perfect.

Voice Record Pro is another app which I personally use. It does exactly the same as ‘I Said What’ but with a lot more control over the mp4 sample rate settings. Voice quality and AGC leveling are superb. The big feature with Voice Recorder Pro is the ability to upload files not only to your email, but direct to Soundcloud and Drop Box. You can even save the mp4 audio files into My Pictures folder and transfer them via your iPhone sync cable.

A reminder that when you interview, turn the iPhone upside down so that the microphone is pointing towards the person mouth. If you don’t you will be recording the sound of your feet shuffling. Many a newbie student has been caught out. But hey, life’s a learning curve.
We have come a long way since the days of a heavy portable reel to reel recorder.

In the 60s Phillips came up with the cassette recorder, no more threading tapes just pop the cassette in and go. Now interviewing was light and portable. One radio show I recorded on the Phillips cassette was the 6 hour history of the Rolling Stones. Though in those days, the audio had to be transferred to reel to reel tape for editing.

Welcome to the digital age the mini disc recorder. Though it never really caught the public’s imagination, radio stations loved them, cheap and cheerful with excellent quality. It even found its way to the on air studio, replacing the cartridge tape.

Where to from here?

Better, smaller, no moving parts, switchable mic patterns, endless recording space, instant uploads.

I think we are almost there.

Brian Newington

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