AIRdaily challenge: How to record a feast?

How to record a lobster diver under 90 feet of water. What kind of gear should be sacrificed to Burning Man. Why you need a shotgun and a dead cat to record in a CessnaQuestions posted to the AIRdaily are rarely boring.

The private community for AIR producers is a great place to find tape synchs, to post (and read) calls for pitches, and to discuss the vagaries of life and business as an independent producer—but the technical questions are where the conversations get specific, weird and wonderful.

Last month, Catherine Girardeau, an associate producer for “Marketplace” and the creative director for Earprint Productions, posed a fun question: How to record a dinner party?

We’re reposting the conversation with permission from all parties:

Catherine_headshotCatherine Girardeau: I’m producing a feature that involves a reporter sitting down for dinner with 10 people around a long table. (I’m hoping it’s round, but it might be rectangular. TBD.) I need to capture her conversation, but also want to capture the side conversations happening.

I’m thinking about hanging a stereo pair over the table, putting a wireless lav on the reporter, and using a shotgun mic to record her conversation partners. I could use two recorders, one with six channels and one with two.

This plan seems incomplete and not foolproof. Where should I position myself? Do I need more mics set up along the table? Should I rove, sticking the shotgun mic in people’s faces as needed?

It seems like we may need to be content with ambient conversation for the dinner and record people on mic in more controlled interviews before or after dinner. I’d be grateful for the brain trust’s advice.

Robert Auld: I would be glad to defer to others (Jeff Towne, etc.) on this, but a couple of things do strike me:

• You will have leakage between microphones at the actual dinner party, so you need to make sure all your tracks are in sync. While the easiest way to do this is to record everything to your 6-track machine, that may not be compatible with a roving shotgun mic. If you record your shotgun to the 2-track machine so you can rove without dragging a cable, make sure to get a sync-clap recorded to both machines after they are startedthis will help you line up the tracks later.

• As for recording other interviews separately, before and after, I would say do this if at all possible, AND record whatever you can at the dinner party. The more coverage you can get, the better.

• If you want more mics along the table, you could try renting/borrowing more wireless lavs and using them as plant mics, perhaps one for every two people. Depending on room acoustics, etc., this might work to pick up other conversations. But the only way I think you will get a really clear conversation is with the reporter lav and your shotgun. Putting lavs on everybody is another possibility, but that gets really complicated and pricey, production-wise, and you would probably need more recorder tracks than you’ve got right now.

K,headshotKaren Michel: Catherine! For a sonic answer, you may wish to check out “My Dinner With Menopause” on PRX, recorded many many years back in just such a situation:

• Rectangular table

• Omni mics on mic stands for each 2 people plus a dedicated mic for the host/ess

• Engineer: I had the marvelous Manoli Wetherell; as this was an all-women gathering it was essential to also have a woman engineer

• Ended up recording to two machines which were subsequently synched in ProTools

There are other solutions, but for what I was after, this worked and worked beautifully.

As it’s a dinner party, you also need to think about placements of the food, drink and utensils: There are many more considerations than the tech aspects of the recording, as the sounds of eating and drinking will also be part of the mix. I’d suggest not serving food that involves knives scraping on plates. Have enough bottles of wine or whatever placed on the table that folks aren’t constantly asking for someone to pass it to them. And many etcs.

Happy party!

Andrew Wardlaw: If you’re roving, you may want to consider using a boomit’ll allow you to move the mic between speakers very quickly with little handling noise. If you haven’t used one, you’ll want to practice with it beforehand.

SueSchardtSue Schardt: Jamie York worked with me on the technical side of a dinner party; a three-hour reminiscence with 10 other people about a friend who died. The table was oval. I think I made pork chops.

Jamie was set up in the next room behind a closed pocket door, mics hung from the chandelier. Jamie would have specs on the equipment, but him out of sight and mics inconspicuous made for a more intimate conversation.

GuyLivingstonGuy Livingston: Don’t forget a good tablecloth: thick fabric so you don’t get the percussive sounds of guests putting glasses and cutlery onto a wooden table.

Catherine Girardeau: Thanks everyone – lots of possibilities here! I’ll let you know how it goes.


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