Interviews on-the-go

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Moderator: Moderators

Interviews on-the-go

Post by Airborn »

TLDR: I'm looking for a lightweight audio setup for doing interviews on the go with 2-4 participants.

Hey,

I always bump into people emigrated from my home country and I thought it would be fun to start a series where I'd interview them to learn about their journey, see where they live, work, etc.
I'm a total audio-noob so I spent the past few weeks researching tools, equipment, recorders, mics, and I'm a bit overwhelmed by the tons of information online.
I'd mainly aim for 1:1 interviews but sometimes, e.g. if I'm talking with a couple, the number of participants could go up to 3 and I'd say rarely up to 4. The audience is mainly people watching/listening to stuff on their phone and laptops so it shouldn't be Hollywood quality, just good enough to enjoy listening to people talking, without picking up much of the noise that could occur outside a studio – machines rumbling at somebody's workplace, neighbors drilling their walls, wind on the street, etc.

Since I want to have a small pouch I could throw in my backpack while traveling I basically boiled it down to 2 big categories I'm thinking of:

A) Buy something like a Zoom H5 and 2 lavalier mics
Pros:
  • Cheaper to scale to multiple participants (just buy additional mics)
  • Having the recorder in front of me would give me feedback, control and the confidence that I'm surely recording
  • Room for upgrades – use different mics, XLR, stereo recording, phantom power, etc
  • Using the recorder's mic I could record sound for B-roll or other fun stuff
Cons:
  • Cables would tie us to a table pretty much
B) Buy 2 bodypack recorders like the Tascam DR-10L or Zoom F2
Pros:
  • Recording without participants being tied to a single recorder. While the majority of the conversations will happen in one place, I can imagine having conversations walking around the neighborhood, a workplace, etc. Having long cables could be an alternative but not very convenient
  • No knobs, level bars or other distractions, just start recording and focus on the guest
Cons:
  • While starting with a 1:1 setup could be about the same price as option A, scaling out would mean investing the same amount per participant again
  • Having an ad-hoc extra guest is impossible – 1 recorder = 1 mono channel. With option A I could have a few spare mics with me, borrow one from someone or worst case buy something cheap in a local store that's still better than the built-in mic of the camera
  • I don't see what's going on with the audio, if the battery dies or whatever
So that's what I came up with and I'm wondering if you have any suggestions, which option to choose, are there other options I didn't think of or are there some other aspect to consider?
Also, if you'd go with option B then which recorder would you choose?

Thank you!
Airborn
New here
Posts: 4 Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2021 6:25 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Mike Stranks »

Welcome! :thumbup:

Ageing radio reporter here...

Firstly, walking interviews can be problematic as with some people their voice can change as each foot hits the ground - honestly. A very odd effect.

In these situations mono is usually better and ensures across-device compatibility.

I'd suggest a decent stereo recorder and a mono omnidirectional reporter's mic. Likely candidates here: https://www.thomann.de/gb/reporter_micr ... ilter=true NB. Not all these are omnidirectional and some have fancy add-ons that you won't need.

Be careful when handholding the mic. The first 20-40cms of cable nearest the mic is highly sensitive to knocks and bumps and needs to be kept still to avoid unwanted noises-off.

And, as a matter of course, always record with the hi-pass (lo-cut) filter engaged.

If you really must go lavalier and walkabout then I'd suggest that you consider some of the small wireless systems from say Rode: https://www.rode.com/wireless

Hope that helps... come back if you want more info... :)
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9172 Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

Seconding what Mikes said. I don't have his depth of experience (huge respect!) but I do have some from radio and TV, and I teach it.

With a lav your'e getting it to people's personal space, and it's time and faffing about to place it. It's a whole skill in itself to put people at ease. I've seem some directors/ producers who are amazing at this. It's almost like hypnotism with them. Recently experienced one with the national broadcaster she even managed to get a very reticent psychologist to chat freely on camera for a national news item.

You want to avoid all that and you can because there's no camera.

Mike's recommendation of the reporter mic is the way to go. I've not used those models (only the older Beyerdynamic M58 and AKG D130) but I'd imagine the Rode would be very decent. They're a great way to gently direct the conversation too, almost like a conductor with the baton. Also a skill. You will get much more natural conversation that way.

So any recorder with an XLR in will do. The current Zoom H5 is solid as is the Tascam DR 40X. I've used both.

For post production you probably won't need it at all but Izotope RX9 dialogue isolate might get you out of trouble on the odd occasion you forget about background noise and pick a poor location, or have no choice. Any version of RX is probably the best tool you could have. Although you can do a lot with the bundled plugins in Reaper.... RX9 makes it easier and quicker.
User avatar
Tomás Mulcahy
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2221 Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2001 12:00 am Location: Cork, Ireland.

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Brian M Rose »

Yes the ZoomH5 is fine. Depending on location and the current Covid situation, I prefer to use a hyper-cardiod such as the Rode NTG-1 on a shoert boom. It does take getting used to but at least you can keep at a safe distance.
But I can't help thinking that the skill as an interviewer is far more important than technical skills.
Research, research, research. Put the interviewee/s at ease, and LET THEM SPEAK.
All mistakes I've made in the past. OK, my job is made much easier at a hospital/community radio station because in general people and organisations are actuallly asking us to do the interview.
I prefer to approach things as a conversation rather than firing a list of questions. I am NOT Jeremy Paxton, nor do we do confrontational interviews.
But again, at the moment (and things are likely to get worse befroe they get better) most ofthe interviews I do arfe over the phone.
Brian Rose
Radio Harrow
www.radioharrow.org
Brian M Rose
Regular
Posts: 182 Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2011 12:00 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Airborn »

Thank you everyone, I really appreciate your responses and support!

Just to clarify – and sorry for the confusion, English is not my native language :oops: – the conversations would be prepared somewhat so it's not the "talking to random people on the street" kind of thing but more like a podcast style where I have a dedicated guest(s) and talk with them about their experiences abroad – mainly seated somewhere but sometimes maybe walking around their office or home. By "on-the-go" in the title I meant that I won't have a studio where guests would come but it's rather me going to their home/neighbourhood/work/etc, sometimes during a vacation, and that's why I'd prefer something lightweight like these bodypack recorders. Also talking with them with a reporter mic could be somewhat intimidating, I assume, so that's why I thought having an unobtrusive lav mic on them would help somewhat to make them feel comfortable and have a more natural conversation.

Speaking of the technique and skills: could you recommend any good sources to learn from? I'll do some research of course but I actually started with the gear and you're totally right that no gear will help if the conversation is lame :)
Airborn
New here
Posts: 4 Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2021 6:25 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Mike Stranks »

The 'standard text' which was used by everyone back in my day was 'Radio Production' by Robert McLeish. It has an excellent chapter on interviewing technique as well as loads of other information relevant to podcasting.

The book is not written for technical people and assumes no technical knowledge.

Thoroughly recommended!

(The book has been constantly updated... you don't need the latest edition (6, I think) to get lots of very useful information.) Available second-hand in numerous places...

As for the technique of interviewing and gear being obtrusive, you don't need to push a microphone into peoples' faces - and certainly don't need to keep waggling it about between you and then. Find a place where you can hold it still between the two of you. And 'walking about' is not a relaxed way of interviewing. Either stand still and talk then move and talk again or, preferably, sit down together at 90 degrees to each other and talk over the microphone.

I could go on at very great length about interviewing, but shall resist the temptation!

As far as gear is concerned, some of my significant interviews over the last few years have been made on one of these:

Image

set to record in mono-mode and non-auto level with no external mic(s). Held and positioned correctly it produced quality perfectly acceptable for BBC broadcast... It cost me about $50!

... so simple is good! :)
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9172 Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

Brilliant thanks Mike :) I've done some good ones with an iPhone 4 on the table in a fairly dead room (a little bit of hiss needed to be removed). Is that a coincident pair on the DR-03?
User avatar
Tomás Mulcahy
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2221 Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2001 12:00 am Location: Cork, Ireland.

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Mike Stranks »

Tomás Mulcahy wrote: Wed Dec 08, 2021 4:02 pm Brilliant thanks Mike :) I've done some good ones with an iPhone 4 on the table in a fairly dead room (a little bit of hiss needed to be removed). Is that a coincident pair on the DR-03?

Impossible to know... :( the blurb just says 'stereo microphone'...

I've never tried to discern a pattern plot as it's always used as a handheld in mono-mode. Held between two people it's pickup has been fine as long as the room is acoustically acceptable.

I've always been a bit nervous of placing recorders/phones on tables because of the possibility of reflections from hard/polished surfaces. On the subject of iPhones, a significant amount of material has been coming my way during lockdowns/restrictions that's been recorded on phones either with or without external mics. Needs a bit of RX cleaning if not in WAV format, but surprisingly good...
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9172 Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by shufflebeat »

The Voice of the Untrained but Nevertheless Opinionated Idiot here -

Is it possible to provide someone with a lav mic to plug into their own phone then get them to record and email (or otherwise send) the file to you for compilation in a popular audio editing programme? This is something that has become very well rehearsed for distanced podcasts.

Close-(ish) mic, tangle free, Covid friendly.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7436 Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:00 am Location: Manchester, UK
Hot tip:
I find keeping the good coffee in an old marmalade jar in the fridge makes it last much longer - the kids don't like marmalade.

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Mike Stranks »

shufflebeat wrote: Thu Dec 09, 2021 12:04 am The Voice of the Untrained but Nevertheless Opinionated Idiot here -

Is it possible to provide someone with a lav mic to plug into their own phone then get them to record and email (or otherwise send) the file to you for compilation in a popular audio editing programme? This is something that has become very well rehearsed for distanced podcasts.

Close-(ish) mic, tangle free, Covid friendly.

Yup! This is exactly what I've been doing for pushing two years now...

It works very well for 'opinion' pieces - provided the contributor has been given some rudimentary coaching on suitable recording spaces. However, there's nothing like a well-conducted interview for holding the listeners' attention and keeping the conversation lively, informative and relevant.

Of course, there's now free software available for uncompressed, quality, two-location recordings, but in my experience a 'down the line' never works as well as a face-to-face interview...
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9172 Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by shufflebeat »

Actually, I was thinking of adapting the "down the line" interview tech to the "in the room" scenario, mainly to accommodate use of the lav mic for each user. Any number could sit round the table, press "record", check with interviewer that each one is recording, then chat as normal.

Gates on each channel could concentrate the edit on the speaker, interviewer ungated for consistent ambience.

I'm basing my suggestion on some experiments I did myself for a musical case study I did which required a couple of performances and chats to be transcribed and analysed. The first one I did with a stereo mic but room sound was intrusive, great for the tunes but not for speech, in the end we swapped rooms. I did consider this for an option but in the end we didn't do any more.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7436 Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:00 am Location: Manchester, UK
Hot tip:
I find keeping the good coffee in an old marmalade jar in the fridge makes it last much longer - the kids don't like marmalade.

Re: Interviews on-the-go

Post by Airborn »

Thank you everyone for the tips and hints! I started reading the book Mike mentioned and it's really interesting :)
Also trying to pick up the jargon like "down-the-line" :D

Thanks a lot!
Airborn
New here
Posts: 4 Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2021 6:25 am
Post Reply