I got some new toys and wanted to share them with you, and it’s not photography gear, it’s audio equipment. It’s for recording interviews and hopefully at some stage uploading them as a podcast. So let me take you through a little bit of my podcasting experience as a listener and also as someone figuring out how it all goes together. I also want to think a little bit about how a podcast can work for architects.

My intro into podcasts

Last year I did an 8000km road trip from Melbourne to Cairns and then back again. I had a lot of time sitting there on the highway and so I decided to download a couple podcasts via Itunes (Apple now has a dedicated podcast app). I just randomly choose some topics that I was interested in like photography, social media and online stuff. I listened and listend and whole heartedly fell in love with this medium. Not only did I learn a hell of a lot about all sorts of things while just sitting in my car, but i also started to understand the value of this medium. Conversations (well good conversations) are easy to digest. There’s more story telling and it can be frank and honest and it can meander far more than blog posts. They can also be longer. They can sometimes be an hour or more of audio and coming from the 140 word world of Twitter, or being used to the 5 minute clip on Youtube, this long version format seemed to go against the “keep it short” rule of the internet.

The other thing I realised is that by hearing someones voice you start to build up a relationship with the host. You can know someone far better via sound then you can via text, and this is where it becomes interesting for architects, or others trying to connect with a larger community. I’ll talk about that more below, but lets jump onto the fun bit: the equipment.

What equipment did I start with?

My first attempt at podcasting was by doing a couple screen casts for Websites For Architects (my side project to help architects build better websites). The microphone I used was a Blue Yeti, which resembles a phallic hanging from a stand (see picture below). This is a USB microphone that plugs directly into a computer which simplifies the whole recording process. This is a basic version of what many podcasters around the world use, and it has great sound quality, but the process of sitting in front of a computer screen talking to yourself never felt comfortable to me. It works well for screen casts and recording Skype conversations but I felt a little flat in that environment. This may change with practice, but it lead me to investigate some other options.

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My office with laptop, 27″ Mac, Ipad and the Blue Yeti mic dangling from a mic stand.

The interview setup

Ever since I started using Twitter and blogging I’ve come into contact with a lot of people. I probably have coffee with a complete stranger once a week and i’m always amazed by how inspired I feel after that encounter. Sometimes they are related to photography, or media, or architecture, or sometimes something completely random. I’ve even had TV celebrities just wanting to grab a coffee and have a chat. And each time it happens I feel inspired. I feel like i’ve learnt something from someone else, and I think to myself, “isn’t this what life is about.” So i’ve been looking into how I could record these conversations and share them as a podcast. I want to keep things as natural as possible and avoid a formal sit down interview that you might have in a radio station. I want to hold onto the idea of a coffee shop conversation, but to do that of course you need to have a mobile setup and when you start investigating things like mixers and power the equipment starts to get in the way of the purpose. So with this in mind I bought some gear that is discreet and portable (it runs on 2 AA batteries) while keeping the audio as high as possible.

What did I get

I ended up going with a portable sound recorder and two lapel mics. I chose the Zoom H4N sound recorder which retails for about $270 and can produce better than CD audio quality. For a long time it’s also been a favourite sound recorder for DSLR movie makers, so it can serve a couple purposes. The important thing for me was that it has two XLR jacks which means you can plug in two professional mics (one for each person in the interview) and record them onto separate channels. This means that if one person is a quiet speaker (probably me) then you can balance audio level is post production. And it all runs on batteries, which isn’t always the case while XLR inputs.

As for the mics i went for Rode Lavalier mics which clip or pin onto the speakers shirt. They retail for around $250, so they’re not cheap, but very high quality and versatile. The rode mics have what’s called their MiCon connector system which means the mic, the cord and the plug are all interchangeable. The good news here is that you can buy different jacks for different devices like a 3.5mm jack or an XLR jack without having to buy an entirely new microphone. The bad news is that you end up having to buy a jack in addition to the basic kit for an XLR connection. I did also try an Audio-Technica ATR3350 mic which are only about $30 which have had some great reviews, but i wasn’t really happy with their performance, plus they have a 3.5mm jack which means you can only plug one into the recorder. I should also note that the Zoom H4n has two built in stereo mics on the top of the unit, so if you were in a quiet room you may be able to get away without using any external mics and make the entire sound recording kit much cheaper.

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The sound recorder with two lavalier mics connected via XLR mounts.

Zoom H4n packed away

The entire kit packed away for travel (each piece has it’s own hard case)

What does this mean for architects

A simple example of how an architect could use podcasting would be to interview clients during and after the architectural process. Think of it as your own Grand Designs. A candid and real conversation about the trials, challenges and succeses of a project. You might also include builders and other people from the deign team that you can convince to be involved. What you do by sharing this is give a behind the scenes tour of how you create what ever it is that you create. In doing so you also help to pre-educate potential clients before they arrive on your doorstep. But most importantly you share who you really are. I mentioned before that I felt I had a stronger relationship with a podcast’s hosts than I did with blog writers, well that’s part of the real value of exploring these different mediums. People build trust by hearing what you really sound like.

And of course there is just the shear volume of people listening to podcasts. If your aim is to share you’re ideas with as many people as possible then you can’t ignore podcasts or vidcasts for that matter… but that’s another story.

One last thing. If you’re an interesting person (and everyone is in their own way) and you’re in the Melbourne area then you should definitely come have a coffee with me sometime. It’ll be fun, and you never know, it may end up becoming a podcast.