Recording audio or video podcasts at an event can present many challenges. Here's the onsite podcasting equipment I recommend to make your production great!
No one expects studio quality
Events are noisy, but that's okay for your podcast as long as the primary voices can be heard and understood above the noise.
You don't have to run noise removal. When your audience knows the context of the recording, they'll be more forgiving of a difference in quality. You don't have to apologize for it or explain it; saying simply, “I'm at [event] …,” is usually enough for your audience to understand the context and adjust their expectations accordingly.
Assuming that you'll be in a noisy environment, the biggest things that will affect your podcast are your microphone's pickup pattern and your own mic technique.
The closer you are to the microphone and the more you stay within its pickup range, the more it will pick up your voice over the background noise. So ensure you always have the microphone pointed at you, and that you're as close as possible.
Whatever podcasting equipment you choose from my following recommendations, test it and familiarize yourself with how to use it before you take it to an event. The worst audio I've ever recorded happened when I used someone else's gear at CES and the system wasn't configured properly, so my recordings had such horrible preamp hiss that it was impossible to edit out.
Cringe with me at this horrible audio:
Simple: handheld recorder
When I attended the NAB Show in 2016, I used a Zoom H1 as my handheld interview mic and I was very pleased with the results! With a windscreen and mic flag, it didn't even look like I was holding a tiny recorder.
Here's an example video (no noise reduction was done on this):
The microphones on the H1 and DR-22WL are condensers, but that doesn't mean they pick up more noise (that's a common misconception). The microphones are directional, so they do well to pick up the audio directly in front of the and reject more of the surrounding audio.
A handheld recorder like this can also work for video, as you saw me accomplish, but it means having to synchronize your separately recorded audio and video, which can complicate your workflow.
Higher quality: handheld mic and recorder
For higher quality, a more professional look, and more comfortable performance, consider a handheld interview mic connected to a recorder.
At NAB Show 2015, I borrowed a Sennheiser MD46, which is one of my two favorite handheld interview microphones! It has a long handle, internal shock protection, and it's more directional with its cardioid pickup pattern. This video demonstrates how I used it and the results I got:
That video also shows my other recommendation: the Tascam DR-10x plug-on XLR recorder. This recorder connects directly to your microphone, so you still have the cord-free freedom of a digital audio recorder, but with a fantastic microphone attached.
Another great microphone is the Electro-Voice RE50N/D-L. Like the Sennheiser MD46, this microphone is XLR and has a wonderfully long handle, but it's omnidirectional, so it's more forgiving if you're not good at pointing an interview microphone back and forth.
A long handle is really nice for single-mic interviews because your arm doesn't have to work as much and pointing the microphone back and forth could be a simple turn of your wrist. Watch how much I have to move my arm in the above Pilot Fly video compared to the DR-10x or EOS 70D videos.
Like a handheld recorder, using a plug-on recorder with a handheld mic can work for video (as you saw me do in the Tascam DR-10x video), but it still requires manually synchronizing the audio.
Sit-down discussions: mics, recorder, and headphones
The previous two options are great for “record and run” interviews where you have to move around a lot. The simple and compact solutions make the gear extremely portable, but do require some skill.
If you're going to an event where you'll be mostly stationary, such as having a booth or other designated recording area, you can use more versatile options.
I recommend the Zoom H5 or H6, or the Sound Devices MixPre-3 or MixPre-6. These recorders are good enough for directly connecting multiple microphones. You could optionally add a headphone splitter and a pair of headphones for each participant, which would help them stay on mic.
Then, your microphones could be almost any XLR mics with a reasonable desktop stand. I like that the repackaged Samson Q2u microphone (which is very similar to the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB or AT2005USB) now includes a riser for their tiny desktop mic stand. A couple of these, cables, and your recorder can easily fit in a small carrying case.
Many of the podcasters in my Podcasters' Society group have used this kind of setup and had great results! These include Lee Ball (This Is Rammy), Jason Bryant (Mat Talk Online), and Max Flight (Airplane Geeks).
Video interviews: camera, mic, wireless system
Everything gets more complicated when you add video because it's another dimension to your recording.
All of the above methods could work with video, but they would each require synchronizing the audio. So if you can afford it, I highly recommend upgrading to a wireless system so you can record your audio directly into your video camera.
I recommend (and recently purchased for myself) the RØDE RØDELink Newsshooter Kit. Like the RØDELink Filmmaker kit, this is a completely digital wireless system. It smartly adjusts to the best channel in the 2.4 GHz spectrum.
The Filmmaker kit includes a transmitter and RØDE's fantastic LAVALIER mic. That's great for solo video shooting in a controlled environment, but it's not very good for events, especially for interviews. Thus, I prefer the greater versatility of the Newsshooter because it's a plug-on transmitter for XLR microphones. Thus, you could get the Sennheiser MD46 or Electro-Voice RE50N/D-L and wirelessly transmit the audio from the great interview mic directly into your camera. This makes postproduction significantly easier!
When you do this, I recommend you turn your camera's input level to one notch above completely off, and then let the RØDELink's higher-quality preamps do the work to amplify your audio.
The next time I do video interviews at an event, you'll see me using an Electro-Voice RE50N/D-L, transmitting through a RØDELink Newsshooter into my Canon DSLR or a Sony Mirrorless camera.
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