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What Equipment Will Be Needed? (β)

OK — now you're going to have to spend some real money to pull this off.

     As I had written on a previous page, if you are able to conduct your interview in a rented facility that has recording equipment already installed and available — great!

     If you have no equipment of your own but a friend happens to possess what you will need, hire them to be your audio engineer for the project (they would presumably know how to set up their own microphones & operate their mixer and recorder, but do some test recordings with them just to be certain).

     If you already possess a minimal complement of equipment — enough to get through the first few sets of interviews without spending a lot of money — good. You might only need to spend a little more cash to purchase some minor item (as well as the blank tapes or other sound storage media).

     No rentable facility; no friend with equipment; no personal recording equipment? That means that you will need to part with some cash. Fortunately, a lot of the entry-level stuff that you will need may be obtained (at affordable prices) on internet websites such as or on Ebay. Garage sales are iffy as a source of used recording equipment and "flea" or "antique" markets are often the worst places to shop — in addition to greatly overpaying for an item you will often be purchasing it on an "as is" basis, with no guarantee that it will work when you get it home (if you find it at a flea market or antique store it is not "collectible"; even if it does work — you are buying it to record your interview subject, not to place in a curio cabinet and gawk in awe at it's microphonistic magnificence). There is a lot of "affordable" (cheap) equipment on the market on the Ebay auction website (people pawn stuff & it gets listed; people move up to "better" equipment and sell the old stuff; recording studios go out of business and dispose of their equipment ...). If you don't want to risk your money on used equipment the website has lots of new (in the box) stuff for you to pick up.

     If you don't understand audio recording equipment, make arrangements to have someone that does know the ins and outs of recording equipment assemble your complement of equipment. In addition to being able to verify the working condition and reasonableness of pricing, they will also be working to avoid equipment incompatabilities — it doesn't make sense to purchase an item that can't be plugged into any of the other components that you already own or are planning to acquire (ply them with their favorite donuts, beer, chocolate, etc. — let them know that you do appreciate that they are sharing their knowledge with you). Have them give you a tutorial on what all the stuff is, what it all does, how it all works, how it all inter-relates, .... and act like you respect the value of their time and knowledge. And, if you don't want to learn how to run the stuff, hire them as your project's recording engineer — they will be very familiar with all of the hardware: how it works; how it connects; what limitations must be worked-around; ...

How little equipment might you need to do a recording?

Images swiped off of an Ebay offering from user "antiques1980".

An el-cheapo plastic dynamic-type microphone. The seller wanted $24.99 + $10 shipping, from Sofia Bulgaria to the US. Radio Shack has a bunch of equivalent mikes for around $10; most of their "better" mikes may be had for $25 or less. Also, looking at the plug end of the cord you will see an oddball dual plug ... would your recorder accept this as an input? (the second plug is meant to start & stop the recorder from the microphone's on/off switch)
     If you were planning to interview yourself, a single audio cassette recorder or digital voice recorder might be all that you need — most of them have a built-in microphone. Just insert a cassette (or make sure the built-in memory card is "cleared"), hit the "Record" button and talk at the machine. Even if the recorder doesn't have a built-in microphone it may have come with a (cheapie) external microphone that plugs into a jack along the side of the recorder housing (most of these little mics also have a little plastic stand that aims them upward for better sound pickup). If you are planning to interview someone else ... now you'll need to have two external microphones (in addition to the recorder).

     If the audio recorder has two microphone inputs or two internal microphones, great, you are still in business (you might need to purchase a second microphone to match the first one that came with the recorder if the mike is external). If the recorder doesn't have the two microphones «or» two microphone inputs, now you're going to need an additional, fourth, item — a microphone mixer. This is a piece of audio recording hardware that will combine the electrical output from the two microphones into a single signal that is then fed into the recorder's single microphone input jack. That mixer will also need a connecting cable to connect the output of the mixer to the input jack of your recorder — that would be hardware item number five.

     So far, I've only been speaking of a situation where you are interviewing yourself or interviewing one other individual ... the more people that you have around the table speaking the more problematic the recording process becomes. A lot of the mid-range (& mid-price) digital recorders might have arrows on them so that you may align the recorder on the tabletop to aim the two internal microphones at the interviewer and the interview subject. By necessity you will need to place the recorder exactly in line between you and the subject. The further out-of-line the recorder becomes the more likely the voices become distant and the ambient room noise becomes noticable. Or, the unit could be placed correctly in-line, but rotated so that the two little internal microphones are aimed away from the two speakers. If you add a third individual (either as a second interview subject or second interviewer — a one-on-two «or» two-on-one interview) the recorder's two built-in microphones will not be aimed at someone ... the third speaker will sound distant, with background noise possibly masking their words. Doing a one-on-three or two-on-two interview really muddles the quality of the recording. If you have one of those small digital recorders please limit yourself to one-on-one interviews, or, pony up some cash and acquire separate microphones for each speaker plus a mixer to combine it all into a single signal that is then fed into the recorder's input jack. (and set the recorder to "mono" recording mode)

     Even more to think about — if you are using external microphones they may need to be positioned someplace other than directly upon a table top — one (or more) microphone table stands will be required. One (or more) of the microphones may be too far away from the mixer or recorder for it's little cord to reach — now you'll need a microphone extension cord to permit it to reach from where the interview subject is seated to where the mixer or recorder is located.

     What might have seemed to be a simple, straightforward process, may soon transform itself into a planning and equipment nightmare for the novice project manager/producer — the more people that will be recorded at the same time, the more equipment will be needed to capture all of the voices that will be present. Two people sharing a single two-microphone digital recorder at the kitchen table only gets you so far. If you've got three people at the table, now you're going to need external microphones; five or six people all sitting around the table would require individual microphones + a mixer. And, if you are conducting the interview in the living room — with everyone sitting in separate chairs around the room — now you are going to need a microphone aimed at each one of them, mounted on floor stands (not to mention the longer cables, ... etc.)

     What starts out as a "simple" one-on-one interview recording will very quickly become a complex (excessively complicated) project as more concurrent voices are added to accomodate the additional participants. The optimal interview scenario is "one-on-one"; practically, you may often need to conduct one-on-two «or» two-on-two interviews to induce the multiple subjects (and interviewers) to sit down before the microphones. In a subsequent section (covering the chair & microphone layout of various interview scenarios) I will discuss the specifics of each hardware setup in more detail.

     And, dare we mention it now, what do you do if your single (or multiple) interview subject(s) decide that they would really prefer to be interviewed while they are outside, out and about on the town, walking around the block (or to the post office and back)? The simple little "recorder on the kitchen table" scenario is out the window. We've put together a page discussing the many considerations about this situation (found under wireless microphone technology). You'll really, Really, REALLY, REALLY want to record someone to put up with all of the hassle and expense of doing a mobile interview. The usual (sensible) response when asked if this will be possible is to respond "Nope!"

A General list of recording equipment

     Below I have listed a number of items that you may need to acquire (buy, borrow, rent) in order to conduct anything beyond the simplest "plain vanilla" (one-on-one) recording setup. Clicking on the (blue) words in the list will link you to the individual pages that will go into more detail about each item — what it does, a little of how it works, some pictures to show you what it looks like, and where you might need to go to obtain it. The list ...

  • Microphone — picking up the sound of a person speaking
  • Microphone Cable & Connectors — connecting a microphone to something else
  • Connection Adapters — matching the back of the microphone to the front of a cable
  • Microphone Stands — holding a microphone in the best position and orientation to "hear" someone speaking
  • Microphone Clips — attaching a microphone to a microphone stand
  • Microphone Mixer — accepting input from many microphones and permitting you to adjust the volume of each microphone separately
  • Sound Recorder — capturing the interview in electronic form
  • Recording Media — where the recorder will deposit the recording of the interview
  • Earphones — permitting you to listen to what the microphones are picking up & what the recorder is deposting onto the storage media
  • Electric Power — getting electrons to all of the things that require them
  • Storage/Equipment tubs — storing and transporting all of your "stuff"
  • A Computer — editing the raw interview / burning CD-Rs or DVD-Rs
     A general (comprehensive) list of audio equipment will be found at this page; use it as a checklist when assembling your complement of equipment.

Why the interviewer should not be the person making the recording.

     The interviewer should be exclusivly focused upon the interview subject — listening to their responses and formulating the next question (and writing down followup questions). Constantly futzing with the microphones and monitoring the status of the recording is too great of a distraction for the interviewer. Remember, distractions are to be avoided.

     A dedicated recording engineer is free to deal with potential distractions before they get out of hand (shooing a dog into the basement or garage; removing a child to the kitchen for ice cream to get them out of the way; planting a microphone in front of the errant "tourist" who has blundered into the room and becomes part of the interview).

     Something as simple as watching the tape to make sure that the interviewer stops momentarily when it runs out and is being flipped over to Side B. "Riding" the record volume settings of the microphones so that a change in the loudness of speech is accomodated with a change in the recording settings.

     And, having a second person available to do the setup and teardown of the recording equipment leaves the interviewer free to deal with other last minute issues or to "chat up" the interview subject prior to the actual interview — speaking for 10 minutes or so prior to the actual interview will limber up the vocal cords so that the voice sounds less strained and the spoken sound level is easier to modulate. (and, you get all of the phlegm hocked out of your lungs before the interview starts — which reminds us; bring along a bag of cough drops for the interviewer, the interview subject, the recording engineer, ... anybody that is in the room, just in case they cough)

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Setting Up The Recording Session

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