Thanks to my readers here for putting up with my seemingly interminable series on producing radio interviews. But now I have compiled and updated that series into one convenient 50+ page booklet which you can download for free here:
I think it’s a pretty good way to start learning about interviewing technique, equipment, and editing for radio or podcast. It assumes you know nothing about radio and takes you from wondering about who to interview to the finished mixed audio file with bells and whistles. If you think you’d like to make a go at it, or are just curious, or would just like to see if your advice matches my advice, it’s all there in one convenient free booklet.
First, select each track that you want to include in the mix by Command-Clicking in the left hand area of the track (Command clicking allows you to select more than one track at once). The three left hand portions of the selected tracks will now be highlighted:
Now go to the top menu and click on Track—>Mix—>Mix and Render to New Track
What you’ll find is a new track at the bottom which is the amalgamation of the other tracks you’ve selected to mix:
There it is, your completed track!. Now all that remains to do is to export it into a convenient format for broadcast. Typically, that would be an MP3 file. So select the final mix track and then from the top menu, click on File—>Export—>Export Selected Audio. You’ll get a dialogue which allows you to rename the file and choose its destination on your computer. You’ll also see, at the bottom, a section which looks like this:
Set the File Type to MP3 Files, Keep the Bit Rate Mode to Preset, the Quality to Extreme, the Variable Speed to Standard. For saving mono files such as the ones we’ve been working with, select Joint Stereo. If you have been working with stereo files then you would choose Stereo. Click on Save and you’ll be presented with one more screen which you can ignore and just click on OK.
And that’s it. You should have an MP3 file which will pay in iTunes or any other standard music player.
I know this has been a long and sometimes technical tour, but the more you play around with this, the more you will be excited by the possibilities. It’s really amazing what you can make of your raw material.
Sometime next week I will post a link where you can download this whole series as one file.
Before you do that, however, we’re going to even out the sound of the interview track by using the Compressor effect. Select the track (click in the left hand area of the track where it says Mono 44100 HZ or the like) and then select from the top menu Effect—>Compressor. You’ll see the following:
Ignore all the sliders and just click on OK. By simply doing this you’ll have done three valuable things:
1) All your red clipping areas will be toned down slightly so they are no longer clipping, and
2) Your sound levels will be smoothed out; that is, the relative distance between your high and low volumes will be lessened. This is particularly useful for situations with more than one voice or source, and
3) After the first two have been accomplished, your volumes throughout will be relatively increased to the maximum they can go without clipping. This process is called normalization.
I usually use the Compressor effect at this point even if I am not showing any clipping.
Now you’re ready to add your musical intro. You could conceivably just cut and paste a piece of music onto the beginning of your interview track, but it’s classier to have a separate track which will allow some overlap between the music and the interview, as if it were underscoring.
Let’s assume you have an mp3 file of music that you wish to use, or, for example, sound from an mp4 video from YouTube or the like. Your first job is to import that file into Audacity. So, select the file to Import by File—>Import—>Audio:
When the import is complete you’ll have a new track underneath your original interview track:
In this case, the track imported was in stereo, so we’ll change it to mono as we did before—by clicking on the black triangle (just right of where it says “music intro” in the photo above) and then clicking on “Split Stereo to Mono.” That will result in two identical mono tracks one of which you will delete by clicking on the “x” in the upper left hand corner of the track.
If you were to set the Play cursor to the beginning and click on Play you would now hear the music track and the interview track at the same time. If you only want to hear one track at a time, you can click on Solo on the left hand side of the track to make it the only track played (you’ll notice the other track is now grayed out instead of blue). Likewise, if you click on Mute on the left side, the track will become greyed out and quiet while the other track will remain active.
Typically, I like to have 20-40 seconds of music intro before the human voices come in, and then about twenty more seconds of music underneath the voices before I fade the music out. And on the tale end I like the music to fade up as I’m giving the closing credits and then take us out with the music fading out. So, how to do this?
To do this, we use the time-shifting cursor. It sounds much more magical than it really is. It’s just a cursor that moves things right and left. It’s in your toolbar above the tracks:
Normally, your cursor looks like the “I-beam” in the upper left hand corner above. We are going to change the cursor to the “time-shift” tool in the middle of the second row in the photo above.
Using this tool, I am going to pull the interview track to the right thirty seconds by clicking and dragging on the track. The result should be something like this:
So now, if we played both tracks, there would be 20 seconds of music by itself and then the interview and music together. Of course, the music would still be very loud and drown out the voices, so we have to lower the volume on the music when the voices come in. Fortunately, Audacity gives us a tool to do that fairly automatically called Auto Duck.
To use Auto Duck, we want to move the music track immediately above the interview track. ( It was difficult for me to get this right at first, because when I think of the “underscoring” metaphor, I think of music below. But in Audacity, the level of the interview track below controls the level of the music track above.) In order for this to happen correctly then, we must drag the music track to a position above the interview track. First, make sure you’re back to the I-beam cursor by clicking its icon on the toolbar. Next click in the left hand area of the music track right where it says Mono 44100 HZ, and drag it upwards above the other track. When you’re finished it should look like this:
Now in order to “duck” the volume of the music wherever there is voice, you are going to select the music track (not the interview track under it) and then click on Effect—>Auto Duck. Ignore all the sliders and just click on OK. The result should be something like this:
Notice that now the music volume is much lower above where the voice track is. You’ll probably want to take down the volume of the music even more which you can do with the Amplify effect, and then fade out the music over the next 20 seconds or so (you can then delete the rest of the music track).
For the outro, you go through a similar process: Import a track you wish to use, time shift it to the area at the end of the interview to the place where you want it to overlap the voice, and then use Auto Duck. Further correct with Amplify and Fade In, and then finally Fade Out as the music ends your piece.
This has been a lot, so save your work, and I promise tomorrow I’ll be back with how to make a final mix down to one track and then export your work. See you then.
By now you should have a rough cut of your interview, which is approximately the desired length of your final mix. In this installment we’re going to get into some more tools of Audacity which will allow you to refine your work further. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.)
In the top menu, you’ll see a menu item, Effects. If you click on it you’ll get a long list of choices:
There is so much that can be done with Audacity, but the truth is, to produce interviews and spoken word broadcasts, you will only need to use a few of the pictured effects. Of course, afterwards you can play around with all kinds of special effects such as Echo, Reverb, Wahwah, and so on for fun, but we are just going to concentrate now on the indispensable effects that you would need in normal use: Fade Out, Fade In, Amplify, and Change Tempo.
When you click on most of the effects, there will be some default settings. The defaults generally give a good result, so I don’t recommend messing around with those settings for now. The first ones we will look at are the Fade In and Fade Out effects. Suppose you have clapping or music at the end that you want to fade out; you simply highlight the section on the track from the point where you want the fade to start to the point at the end where you want the sound totally muted. Then simply click on Effect—>Fade Out. You’ll see that you can use the effect over the same area more than once if you like. Likewise, with Fade In: often you want to fade in the music leading into or out of an interview. To do this, simply highlight an area and then click on Effect—>Fade In. Also remember you can always undo an effect with the Edit—>Undo menu item.
Next, let’s look at Amplify. An uneven sound level is a very common problem, and if the volume in general is too high or too low throughout the audio track, or variable throughout the track, we will deal with that later with an effect called Compressor. The Amplify effect, however, is most useful really for small areas where you need to bump up or tone down the volume. Perhaps someone turned away from a mic for a moment, or there was a loud unwanted background noise.
If you click on Effect—>Amplify, you’ll see that there’s a little box that says Allow Clipping. You want to make sure that that box is not checked.
Clipping means that the volume has reached such a high level that the sound is going to become distorted. Most of us have experienced that distortion when, for example, we turn up the sound to maximum on inexpensive speakers. So we want to be careful when working with sound that we keep the volume within certain limits, so that the vocal frequencies are not clipped. There are two main ways that clipping can be introduced into a mix: 1) either during recording, the source is too close to the mic and the recording volume is set too high (in which case most recorders will flash a red warning signal) or 2) using the Amplify effect in editing the volume is too high and so clipping occurs. By leaving the Allow clipping box unchecked, Audacity will prevent you from bumping up the volume too high.
How do you know if you’re clipping? Go to View—>Show clipping(on/off). Make sure there’s a check mark next to it. If not, click on it.
If the recording or the editing has introduced clipping, you will see it represented by red lines in the waveform:
While a little bit of clipping is not a disaster, in general, you certainly want to avoid adding more. We will learn how to handle extensive clipping in the next installment, but for now, we don’t want to add any more of it through injudicious use of Amplify.
Amplify, interestingly enough, not only is handy for bumping up the sound, but also for making the volume softer when it needs to be. Your main control, after you highlight the area you wish to change, will be the slider you see when you click on Effect—>Amplify. Moving the slider to the left will decrease the volume (shown as a negative number of decibels); moving it to the right will increase the volume (a positive number of decibels). The general rough rule of thumb is that every + or – 6dBs doubles (or halves) the perceived volume (it depends upon many factors including the frequency of the sound and human psychology.)
The final effect we’ll discuss is a very useful one named Change Tempo. If you look at the first picture above, you’ll notice two other similar sounding effects, Change Pitch and Change Speed. But those are not going to be of much use to us. Change Tempo does something very interesting. Within limits, it changes the duration of a selection without changing the pitch. If you think about it, normally if you speed up a recording it also starts making the voices sound like chipmunks. But the Change Tempo effect shortens duration without affecting the pitch of the voices. It does so by cleverly shortening the spaces between words. Practically what that means is that if you are fighting to cut the last few seconds from a track in order to get within your time constraints, you can do so using this effect.
Now, to be sure, you cannot shrink the time of your track by very much before it becomes noticeable; I find, however, that you can submit a 2-3% tempo change cleanly without any apparent difference in sound quality—and the elimination of those few seconds (say, about twenty seconds for a fifteen minute piece) may be just what you need to make your time limit.
So there you have the most effective effects you can apply to your track. Next time we’ll talk about adding more than one track so that you can have overlapping music, and we’ll also talk about how to prepare your final mix for export. See you next time.
The blue waveform is the sound of your file (if you recorded in mono you’ll have only one waveform or track, as it is called). If you click on the green arrow Play button in the toolbar above the waveform, you’ll hear your interview. The black square button will Stop the “tape,” and the double vertical line button will Pause and UnPause the tape. The black left arrow returns the cursor to the beginning of the track, and the right black arrow sends the cursor to the end of the track. The red button, which we will not use at all, is to record directly into the program.
Click on the green Play button and you can watch the cursor move along the waveform as your interview progresses. Click the Pause button to pause the sound, then click it again to re-start the sound from where you left off. Then press Stop, which moves the cursor back to where you started at the beginning. If you now click the mouse anywhere within the waveform while it is stopped, the cursor will move to that part of the track; so if you now click Play again, the track will start playing from that new cursor position. If you click Stop, then clicking either the black left arrow or the right arrow will move the cursor position to either end.
Play around with these controls for a bit to get a feel for them. They’re really no different from what you would find on a CD player or in iTunes.
If you are conversant with any of the common word processing programs like Microsoft Word, you are already familiar with the way the basic functions of Audacity work.
Think of the blue waveform as the text of your document. Just as in a Word document, you can cut, delete, copy, and paste. Just as in a Word document, you can also do multiple undos and re-dos. It’s nice to know that you can undo any step that you’ve done, so let’s learn that first!
Click your mouse somewhere in the middle of your blue waveform. Now hold down the mouse button and drag over the wave form a bit, just as you would over a portion of text in Word in order to highlight and select it. (To deselect a portion of the waveform, simply click anywhere within the waveform.)
If you hit the space bar while a portion is selected, the program will Play the audio within the selected portion. Hit the space bar again or the Stop button to stop the audio.
You can now perform one of the basic editing functions on that selected sound. Let’s try Deleting that selected portion (don’t worry, we’ll bring it back in a moment). Simply press the delete button on your keyboard, and your selected audio is gone—the waveform no longer shows that piece of audio, but the rest of the audio remains untouched. It’s just as if you had snipped a piece of tape from a tape reel and spliced together the remaining ends.
Let’s bring back the deleted part now. Click on the top Audacity Edit menu, and then click on the top line of the submenu to Undo your Delete.
You’ll see your selection is back in your waveform, highlighted.
Now let’s try moving a piece of audio from one place to the other. Select a piece of audio by clicking in the wave form, holding your mouse button down and dragging it a short distance to highlight a section of audio. Then click on Edit—>Cut. Your highlighted section will be deleted, but the contents of the section are now stored in your Paste buffer. Move the cursor to a new place in the waveform—say, by clicking the mouse at the beginning. Now click on Edit—>Paste, and you’ll find you have pasted the selected audio into its new cursor position. If you begin the player now from the beginning, you’ll hear the selected part which has been moved from the middle to the beginning.
Now, let’s Undo that by clicking on Edit—> Undo. You can undo (and redo) multiple times as long as you do not save your work. Once you save the file, the buffer is cleared out and you cannot go back to a prior step.
Okay, one last function we’ll look at, the Copy function. Just as in a text document, sometimes you want to repeat a selection. For example, it can come in handy when you want to lengthen a silence. So, select a portion of audio, and then go to Edit—>Copy. Your selected audio will still be there, but a copy of it is now in the Paste buffer. Click in the waveform to where you would like the copy to appear—let’s say, this time, right after the selected audio. Click on Edit—>Paste. You’ll now have a copy of the selected audio at the cursor, but the original selection will still be in its original place.
And…let’s Undo that again by going to Edit—> Undo, and you should be back to where you started from at the very beginning.
Remember, even if you screw up somehow and the Undo isn’t working for you, your original recorded file is still sitting in your project folder. If need be, you can always start off from scratch by importing that file into a new Audacity project.
Play around with these functions for a while to convince yourself that you can recover if you make a mistake. It will give you the confidence to proceed further.
When you’re finished, go to File—>Save, and then quit the program with File—>Quit.
Next time, we’ll learn more about Audacity, and talk about some editing strategies. See you then.
You’ve finished the interview and you’re heaving a sigh of relief. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.) Well, not really, because a thought occurs to you right away–did I capture everything? Was this thing a total mess? But once I know my interview was recorded properly (I’ll save the horror stories for another time) for me this is the most fun part of the process, the editing.
If it’s true of novel writing and playwriting that it’s all about the revision, then it’s at least as true in putting together an interview. It’s akin to sculpting. You’re chipping away at the non-essential to reveal the form within. If done well, the audience never knows about it. Of course, you are not here to deceive, but there is a satisfaction in knowing that you have made the guest and the interview sound even better than they actually were.
So let’s just take this step by step to start the editing process. The first thing I do is a little bit of organization on my laptop so that I don’t drive myself crazy. I create a new folder on my computer desktop and give it the project name. On the Mac, go to the top left menu of the Finder, click on File to get the dropdown menu, and then click on New Folder. I’ll abbreviate a direction like this as File—>New Folder. (There are equivalent commands for Windows machines, but I’m going to stick here to the Mac.) Rename the folder with your project name (on the Mac, to change a folder name, click once on the title of the folder, wait three seconds, then click again on the title of the folder). Once I have my project folder, I put all files for that project into this folder so that I will be able to find them and navigate to them easily later on.
So the first file you are going to put in there is going to be the recording of the interview you just did. It’s generally best to do a recording in a high quality format if possible, such as WAV or AIF, if your recorder allows it. Otherwise the most common format for audio files is MP3. You can tell which format your file is in by simply looking at the extension of your audio file. It should be something like 121017.wav or 180716.mp3, where the part after the period tells you what format it is in.
Most of the online services like freeconferencecall.com will only generate an mp3 file. The mp3 files, which are compressed files, have the advantage that they are a lot smaller than WAV or AIF files, but the trade-off is that the sound quality is not quite as good. Also, each time you edit and save them, you lose sound quality. That is why even though you may ultimately be required to broadcast an mp3 file (as is my situation) it is best if you can edit the interview as a WAV file, and convert it only later at the end to an mp3 file. (I’ll discuss in another installment how to do that conversion through Audacity.)
So let’s assume you have the interview file in your now titled folder on the desktop (by downloading it to your computer from the online conference service, or transferring it from your digital recorder to the computer via a USB cord, and then dragging it into the new project folder). The first thing you want to do is get it into Audacity (see here for more about installing Audacity) so you can work with it. To do this, open Audacity and go to the top left menu. Then, click on File—>Import—>Audio. You will get a file selector dialog. Navigate to your project folder on the desktop, and click on the interview audio file you placed there earlier. When you do, you should get something that looks like this:
Notice in this picture there are two identical waveforms (the blue wavy stuff). That’s because this example was imported from a recorder that was recording in stereo. Ultimately, if you are in a similar situation to myself, you will end up broadcasting a mono file, which is a lot easier to work with when editing. If you were recording in mono in the first place, then you will only have one waveform, and you’re ahead of the game. Don’t worry about that now, though, we’ll deal with it later. Typically, a service like freeconferencecall.com only generates a mono track of your recording.
For now, that ‘s all we’re going to do. Next week, we’ll look at some of the basic functions of Audacity and how it’s going to improve your interview. So, go to File—>Save Project, in the chooser dialog, navigate to your project folder on the desktop, and in the “Save As” box change the name to your project name, but keep the .aup extension.
Then hit “Save” in the lower right hand corner of the chooser box. You are now going to exit out of the program, so go to Audacity–>Quit Audacity.
What has this accomplished? Well now if you go to your desktop and look inside the project folder, you’ll see something like this:
The bottom file, penny.WAV was my original interview file. When you import it into Audacity, the program makes a copy of the file, so that your original file remains untouched.
The top folder, penny arcade_data, like all data folders, you never touch. Audacity uses it internally. The next file, penny arcade.aup, is the way to get back to your Audacity work. If you click on it, the Audacity program will open up again and you will see your imported waveform again. So any file with an aup at the end means it will open up a waveform of something you’ve imported. Just like clicking on a docx file will open up a Word file, clicking on a aup file will open up an Audacity file.
Next time, we’ll talk about some of the basic editing commands and, very importantly, how to undo anything that you think might have been a mistake. See you then.
You’re at the starting gate with your guest, and the time has finally come to do the interview. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.) I don’t pre-interview, because I want a sense of spontaneity during our time together.
There are a few things, however, that I remind my guests of before we begin. First, because it will be an edited interview for later broadcast, I remind them that they can stop if they need to repeat or correct themselves. I just ask them to start their sentence over from the beginning, so that it will be easier to make edits. If we are on the phone, I ask again to make sure that they are not on speaker phone. I also do a voice level check by having them spell their names slowly, asking them to speak louder or softer accordingly, as I adjust my recording equipment. (Once you have set the volume control on your recorder, don’t touch that dial!) As I’ve indicated previously, I check to see how the guest would like to be addressed. Most people are fine with being called by their first name, and that is certainly what is most comfortable for me.
When I’m interviewing guests whose ideas I may take issue with, I say nicely that I hope they don’t mind if at some points I challenge some of their ideas; I try to put it in a friendly, non-threatening way. Finally, I tell the guest I am beginning as I am about to start the recording, and say that after the short introduction he or she should feel free to respond.
There is, of course, nervousness and the whole matter of ego to deal with—both mine and the guest’s. While my interview aesthetic is not to be some faceless interviewer, on the other hand, I don’t want to be obnoxiously intrusive. As I have become more experienced, I find myself more able, somewhat paradoxically, to allow myself to stay more in the background. The ideal for me, and I think the most interesting for the listener, is for there to be an intelligent conversation between two intelligent people; but the focus has to be on the guest, not the interviewer. The interviewer’s main job, in my opinion, is to create the conditions that permit the guest to speak as interestingly as possible. I find that if I keep that goal in mind, the ego issue on my side tends to lessen.
How the conversation goes depends a lot upon the personality of the guest. Of course, you will have your interview outline in front of you. (I bold it, and print it in large 14-16 pt font, because I want to be able to scan it without fumbling.) You will soon get a feel for the guest’s speaking and conversation style. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: there will be the guest who speaks too slowly, the one who speaks too much and too fast, and the one who is just right.
The slow talker, immortalized by Bob and Ray, has thoughts and speech… which… come… at… an … agonizingly… slow… pace. As an interviewer, you are just dying to jump in and finish the sentence for the guest, but you need to have patience. Fortunately, you will be able to tighten up all those pauses when you get into the editing room. Also, those long pauses do give you a chance to re-direct the line of questioning onto topics which the guest may feel more more excited or passionate about.
The other side of the coin is the guest who talks very quickly, with barely a break for a breath. In those cases it can be very difficult to get in to ask the next question. If the guest is focused and articulate, for the most part, I do let the guest speak for a while, trusting again that in the editing room I will be able to trim back to the essentials. But still, you have to assertively find the places to jump in and get your questions asked, or the whole interview will go by, and you won’t get to ask your most important questions. It can be challenging.
For me, though, the most difficult problem is with guests who have a set script—either internally or written—from which they will not budge. No matter what questions you ask, they twist the question into the scripted response. Some guests will do it charmingly, some will do it not so charmingly. It’s kind of like a train going down a track that can’t be diverted. As an interviewer, I want to get beyond those kinds of scripted answers. That’s why it’s important here to grab an opportunity to ask one of your more unusual or personal questions. You want to gently knock the guest off course, to give them a little signal, that no, this isn’t just about formally reciting a press release, this is an actual conversation with someone who genuinely wants to know about you. Sometimes this will get them to loosen up and actually engage with you.
When the chemistry is right between you, however, and the guest wants to have a good conversation, it’s a pleasure. It may take a little while to warm up, but as the interview goes along, many guests, if made comfortable, will loosen up and play ball if they sense you have done your homework. You have to be a little careful, however, of the guests who get too familiar—sometimes when you ask them what they think of such and such, they will craftily evade by turning the tables and asking you what you think of such and such. It’s important to resist temptation. I generally reply with a quick answer of my own position, but follow up with, “But this interview is about you, not me. What do you think of such and such…” and continue from there. After the interview, I edit out my reply.
You Must Make The Path
All through the interview I am scanning my interview outline, and I am mentally checking off which questions have already been answered by my guest, even if I haven’t asked them. This means that you are actually listening to your guest. Nothing worse than being a Komodo Dragon Interviewer, as per the great Bob and Ray again. If a guest has already answered a question that I had planned to ask, that’s fine. I fill in with questions on my outline around that and continue making the path.
At times, a guest will start speaking early on about something I had planned to ask about much later. If I sense that that will take us in a direction which will make it hard for me to return to my earlier planned questions, then I ask the guest to hold off a moment with that thought, re-direct them to the general order of questions I had planned, and return to that thought later.
If you are really listening and really curious about what your guest has to say, then it’s only natural that a guest’s response could well prompt another question from you. I don’t think you should jump in with every thought you have, but as a representative of the listening audience, you should ask clarifying questions when a response doesn’t seem clear, and you should not be afraid to ask the follow-up questions which you think your listeners would ask themselves or like answered. Sometimes the most powerful question you can ask is a simple “Could you say more about that?” The unplanned turn off the road can be fruitful. But do find a way back.
The goal again is to make it seems as if it’s a natural conversation with one question leading into the next, all the while directing the interview into the general shape that you had outlined.
Take A Penny, Leave A Penny
After doing this for a while, I began to appreciate how interesting, difficult, and artful interviewing can be. After you try it for a while, you’ll never again listen to interviewers in the same way. You will begin to pick out models for yourself, interviewers whose aesthetic sounds right to you, interviewers of whom you’ll say to yourself, that’s what I want to achieve. Steal from them, imitate them, and then make your own path.
Next week, we’ll talk about beginning to edit the raw audio that you’ve just created.
I’ve been producing, editing, and conducting interviews on the radio for a number of years now, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I go about creating a radio segment from start to finish in a weekly series of posts here. It’s my intention that after this series is over, you should know pretty much how to do what I do. For examples of the kinds of interviews I do, simply put the word “WBAI” into the search bar of this blog, and you should come up with a fair sample.
Let me set the scene here: I do most of my work for a weekly radio show called Arts Express on a listener-sponsored, non-commercial public radio station based in New York City, WBAI 99.5 FM. We are part of a larger network across the United States, Pacifica, which has five flagship stations. There are also scores of much smaller affiliate stations which from time to time also pick up content from the network.
Pacifica has been around since 1960, and because it is non-commercial and listener funded, the scope and depth of what we do is quite different from commercial radio. We are freer to pursue avenues that commercial radio ordinarily would not follow, and there is often a strong political aspect to what we broadcast. Part of the Pacifica Foundation’s mission is
“to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups; and through any and all means compatible with the purposes of this corporation to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.”
On our weekly show, Arts Express, we tend to focus on the intersection of where Arts meets Politics, although from time to time, we’ll talk with a guest who has nothing directly to do with politics. But we generally do 15-minute segments with novelists, actors, directors, poets, musicians, dancers, comedians, artists, playwrights, academics, and anyone else who we think might be engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
It should be clear that the kinds of radio segments I am talking about here are those which are pre-recorded and then edited for later broadcast. I have many colleagues who do live on-the-air interviews during their shows, and that is a very different talent and skill. While I much admire those who can do that, I much prefer to work in a situation where I know I can edit the conversation down to its most essential and interesting parts.
I should add that I am pretty much self-taught. So what follows—even when I seem to be dogmatic–is just how I do things, what seems to work for me, in my situation. I am by no means expert in any of this, and I’m always trying to learn more. Take what you like and leave what you don’t. If you are in a similar situation to me, or thinking about putting together a podcast, or just curious, I hope you’ll find something useful in this series.
So with that background, let’s begin.
First off, what equipment are you going to need? I am very rough and ready, and do most of my work away from the actual radio studios. Fortunately, the medium of radio is pretty forgiving, and the three main essentials for doing this kind of work are:
1) A digital recorder and headphones
2) A microphone
3) A sound editing and mixing program for your computer
That’s really about it. With just that, and an outlet to broadcast your work, you can achieve quite a bit. And later on in the series, I’ll talk about how you may not even need the first two items on the above list!
1) There’s all kinds of money one can spend on equipment, but I have just very basic but serviceable equipment. The digital recorder I have is a Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder, which cost me about $225 in 2014; there are certainly equivalent recorders on the market for a similar price today, though for some reason now this particular recorder is much more expensive. You probably want a recorder that can record natively in WAV and MP3 formats, and one that has built-in stereo mics and a playback speaker. Also make sure the recorder is compatible with the kind of computer you have, either Mac or Windows, though I suspect most recorders on the market today will work with either. Make sure that the proper cable is included in order to transfer your recordings to your computer. Typically, this will be a USB cable. Headphones which plug into your recorder are also important, so that you can monitor what is actually being recorded by your recorder. For now, we won’t worry about anything too fancy.
2) Microphones are a tricky subject, but generally you want to make sure you have a mic that is compatible with your recorder. It should be capable of capturing in stereo (even if your segment eventually ends up in mono). Microphones tend to be omnidirectional or unidirectional. I find that for the kind of work I do, the omnidirectional mics are best, although they tend to pick up more stray noise. The mic I use is an Audio-Technica AT8010 Omni-Directional Instrument Condenser Microphone which cost me about $150. A table mic stand and a ball-type foam windbreak for the head of the mic are useful as well. Important is to have the proper cable for the mic that will also be compatible with your digital recorder. Typically the cable does not come with the mic. This may take you a bit of research. The mic cable I use for my equipment is a LyxPro – 3 Ft – 3.5mm (1/8″ TRS mini input) to XLR Female Star Quad Microphone Cable. It is no longer made, but if you look up the specs you’ll know you want something similar to that if you have the other two items I have.
But in a pinch, you can—and I have—used the built in mic on the digital recorder, and I’ve even used just the voice recorder function on my Smartphone in an emergency. Fortunately, with the use of editing software, you can recover from a multitude of sins. So next week I’ll talk about editing software, and begin to talk about how to prepare for the actual interview itself.