Gotta write something, and it’s Sunday morning… how about some technology discussion? People ask me about tech stuff pretty much all the time. I am responsible for Allison’s whole family switching over to Apple devices, and I sold a lot of Canon PowerShots back when people still used point and shoot cameras. Even my parents are confirmed iPadders now. Still waiting on checks from Apple and Canon.
So let’s talk about sound.
I’ve been doing my (newly desired!) arts interviews since 2007. One thing I eventually learned by concentrating on video for story telling is that people really want to hear it too, and those camera microphones are not the best.
Sound gives shape to a story. Pictures can’t always carry it. Watch Koyaanisquatsi. Look at the beautiful pictures. There’s no dialogue, but the sound drives the action along. I doubt anyone would watch just the visuals of the movie, gorgeous as they are, and get the story out of it that the movie’s creators wanted to tell. Sound has an opinion. Pictures are more open to interpretation.
Try watching something with bad sound. You’ll most likely turn it off. I think it’s all part of the “Auto” setting trap. That means good to go, right? At least for me, Auto always meant there’s one (or a lot) less thing to think about. And I got meh results. Average. Yay.
But then why can’t I hear the person I’m talking with? What’s that hum? My ears didn’t have any trouble hanging on to the conversation, so why can’t this camera? Yes, it turns out that the human ear is still more advanced than the microphones on a consumer-level video camera. “Prosumer” even.
Work issued me a Tascam DR-05 audio recorder last week. It’s way better than Gramma’s old push the red and black buttons at the same time cassette tape recorder, though I still sound just as weird (thought maybe that would have improved over the years, but no).
The Tascam is a $100 device that records WAV files. I’m still not real familiar with audio formats, but WAV and MP3 are pretty much our standards. One is smaller than the other and can be emailed. Still not sure about the difference between “Dynamic” and “Condenser” microphones. Seems one needs power and the other doesn’t. Be patient, I’m still learning about this stuff. (Not knowing what I’m doing has rarely been enough to stop me from doing it.)
The radio folks had been working with my earlier audio out of the camera, but it wasn’t quite there. I had not been miking myself and that had created more work on the back end to put my voice back in. Last week I had to sit in the radio studio to put my questions into an interview. So now I have a recorder. I’m official!
Of course I test everything before going out in the field. (Don’t you? Do.) The girl and I recorded her piano practice. She told me a story about Monkey. I walked around the house testing microphones, even created a SoundCloud account, because I need more media-specific online outlets.
Enough about me (hahahahahaha), here’s what I’m using:
Tascam DR-05: Neat little handheld recorder, about the size of those micro-cassette things some people used to record lectures last century. Intuitive enough, though you should still read the manual (always read the manual!). Red light blinking means standby, it is not recording! Takes a mini-plug for external mic, and I use an XLR-to-mini cable to attach my microphones. Provides power to mic if you need it. $100.
Rode NTG-2: This is the zoom microphone I use nearly all the time. It has a very narrow field(? so much jargon), focused in one direction, so that sound off to any side sort of falls off and it’s great for interviews. The mic runs on a AA battery and is XLR (XLR is the fat little three holes/prongs attachment). There’s a lot of handling sound on this one if I use it handheld, so get a grip and one of those rubber band shock mount holder things to keep it from bouncing around. $239.
Shure SM58 and PG58: I ended up with two of these because one came with a boom stand and kit. The PG58 has an on/off switch. The other does not. Otherwise the same. These are the official handheld microphones, though I haven’t used them out of the house yet, still trying to get a handle (ha!) on whether I should be using one of these or the Rode, which I think sounds better (likely due to it having battery power to increase input level?). One of these stays set up over the girl’s piano to record her latest performance.
I’ve also been very happy with my iRig Pro interface for plugging microphones in to my computer and phone. I’d tried some other amp solutions that never worked with the phone. iRig is great, though I wish it had a headphone out jack to monitor (always monitor!). The light level indicator is just barely OK for having an idea of what kind of sound you’re getting. $150.
And I downloaded the WavePad audio app for my phone too. It’s $10, but very powerful. Otherwise I’ve used iTalk Recorder and like the “big red button” user interface. I think it was $2 and now there’s a “Premium” upgrade for $2, though I don’t know anything about it.
There were a variety of other learning experiences over the years, but these are the tools I’m happy with now. All of this kit has been accumulated over almost ten years, one piece at a time. I use something til I find a better option, and then pass along the old gear to someone via eBay.
This week I had three(!!) pieces on the radio: street artist Gaia, with video; Burnaway boss Susannah Darrow (audio only!); and an in-studio performance with cellist Shana Tucker (“I’m sorry this is taking so long,” said the musician. “No problem at all, I am happy to stand here and listen to you all day,” said me.).
I am thrilled to have the subjects in which I’ve placed value and put my energy for so long be recognized. I feel validated. Find something you’re pretty good at, and keep doing that. Or, find something you like to do and you are terrible at. Do that, and then keep on. Eventually you’ll get better (hello, guitar!).
Alright, that’s more than 1,000 words, that Super Hero Squad show I kind of despise is over, and biscuits are done. I’m three for three posts now.
Look/listen out for my upcoming interviews with photographers Andrew Moore and Steven Schapiro, recorded at Jackson Fine Art yesterday.