Field recording at Art of Retreat 2022

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During the Sept 24th weekend, I’ll once again be recording conversations with community leaders and movement enthusiasts at a retreat in the Cascades outside of Seattle.

I’m going to do my best here to post how this all happens. This will be a long Topic that I’ll be posting replies to as this project progresses over the next two weeks. I’ll be showing my work—preparation, packing, gear, field recording, and post-production. I’ll try to cover everything from ideation to the final deliverables.

(Regulars here will recall I did something similar before in, On the road: Movers Mindset field recordings )

Art of Retreat

The first piece of context is, what is the event that I’m attending?

An immersive gathering celebrating leadership in parkour. We bring remarkable leaders from the global parkour community together for 4 days of learning, sharing, and play.

https://www.artofretreat.com

The event is a concept which has been held in various locations over the years. It’s near and dear to me both in the sense that I’m into parkour and I’m into podcasting. I don’t think I need to link that second one. :stuck_out_tongue:

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What am I supposed to do at the event?

I’m recording what will become episodes for the Art of Retreat podcast. Itself a neat show because different people have done different episodes based on when and where the event has been held.

Aside: I’m also leading an interactive session about Creating Better Conversation. But my session has nothing to do with the recordings I’m doing for Art of Retreat’s podcast. So this is the only time I’ll plug my main mission. :wink:

I’m supposed to capture some conversations with the session presenters.

How many? Well… there are more than 2 dozen people giving all sorts of presentations, leading sessions, etc. I’ll pause while you imagine recording 30 podcasts, in three days, in the woods.

Important guide-star

Keep it simple. Whatever I do, has to be battery powered, done by one person (me!), able to move around, hide from rain, stay warm, and accommodate recording guests who really do not sit still well. And there’s no reliable Internet (not even cell coverage).

The last time we did this, we allocated a dedicated cabin—this is a literal retreat, with cabins spread through the woods and a main lodge, in a pine forest, next to a lake. Last time, I spent a lot of time setup in that cabin next to a cozy wood stove.

This year, after talking with the organizers, we wanted to create more “nimble” conversations. Shorter than last time, and with each conversation more clearly focused on the person’s (each presenter) main take-away, question, etc.

The plan

It can’t be over-stressed: Plan plan plan, prepare prepare, execute. I talked with the event organizers, looked through their internal planning and scheduling docs, and came up with this plan. I emailed this to them so it’s clear what I plan to do. It’s important that I don’t try to tackle too much, that there be no “feature creep” (oh, can we also get you to take a photo of each guest—aside: they have event media people for that), and that the event knows what to expect.

I’ll be referring to this myself any time I need to remind myself to stay nimble and stay focused.

Here’s what I emailed them. I know all of the coordinators well, so this isn’t a very “warm” message. But this works with our relationship…

Recordings…

I’ll focus on recording with the Deep Dive presenters. Shorter recordings, finished episodes ~10 minutes long. Four parts to each episode…

  1. Brief opening by Craig (“Hello… welcome to Art of Retreat…”)

  2. Brief guest intro by Craig (I’ll craft 1 or 2 sentences with the guest, right before we record. I’m going to mention this when I email them to see if I can get some preliminary work done.)

  3. …the actual conversation part

  4. I’ll end by telling people how they can learn more (I’ll get that on the spot before we press record.)

That should keep things tighter on time without being complicated. The focus of the episodes is on each presenter’s big idea, takeaway, etc.

We’ll also do one longer recording with you three. Adam pointed out Saturday evening/night might be a good time for that.

Logistics…

I’ll record them around camp wherever I can pull people aside. (So not having a dedicated cabin.) There should be plenty of time to record these during the open-schedule and other workshops times.

If you have extra event volunteers that you don’t know what to do with (hah, yeah right) I can always use help. By the time we’re at the event I’ll know exactly what times help would be useful so we can leave this for on-the-ground.

Deliverables…

For each episode (after the event) I’ll create…

  • episode title
  • blurb (their intro sentence plus a sentence summary)
  • audio file (mp3, ready for uploading/publication)

You’ll also get the raw audio files from each recording in case you ever want to do something else with them.

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@craigconstantine, hullo! :blush:

You know, I live near the Cascades outside Seattle.

Will you have any down time in the city? It would be lovely to meet up.

:sunflower:

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I should take some stuff with me

This is the majority of my podcasting gear, just thrown on a big table so I can think.

I’ve two challenges to balance:

  1. Do the recordings this Topic is all about.
  2. Be some level of prepared to do long-form, sit-down, in-person recording with people for the Movers Mindset podcast. (I’ll have some time before and after the retreat, and a car.)

That makes planning “challenging”. Also, get on airplanes. The TSA loves coils of wires and gear. (To be fair, they know exactly what audio equipment looks like. This stuff doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. They regularly make me take out my bar of soap though.)

I’m currently working on coming up with the exact set of stuff that I’ll be carrying around at Art of Retreat to do their recordings. That will be my next reply.

Any questions about stuff in the photo? The cylindrical bag bottom–right contains two portable (ie, not super heavy) full–size microphone stands.

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Looks exciting and nourishing for body and soul!

If you’re planning on hanging out closer to Seattle before or after, I’m in Edmonds and it would be fun to meet in person.

Safe travels!

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What a wonderful gathering this will be!

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@craigconstantine
All the best on the retreat! Sounds like a challenge, and I’ve no doubt you’ll be great!

Gear question: just to the right of the red lined earphone case, I see a piece of audio equipment I don’t recognize. I see the attachments for your Zoom h4n(?) and wonder what the other gadget is.

Have a wonderful time!

The shiny metal box with four knobs on it? …that’s a headphone amp. It takes line-out from the Zoom H6 and has the power (it plugs into a USB battery) to drive four separate sets of headphones, with a volume knob for each.

It’s mentioned in, Evolution of my field recording kit – Craig Constantine

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/HA400--behringer-microamp-ha400-4-ch-headphone-amplifier

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Looking for low-hanging fruit

One thing I have to do when recording is open by reading in a one or two sentence introduction, and close with how to contact the guest. Those are intentional bookends to reduce the chances for guests to be nervous or ramble. I want to preserve as much time as I can for them to share about the thing they’re passionate about.

I’ll have an iPad with me, with all my notes. So if I can get any of the guests to give me any information up front, that will save me time. They don’t have to stand there while I’m tapping away.

Recordings are happening Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So today should be just enough time for them to answer before they have to travel to the event. I’ve just emailed them each… also, no mail merging, I wrote separate emails (pasting this in, of course.)

What (if anything) jumps out at you about this message? :slight_smile:

Subject: For podcast recording at AoR - 2 quick questions

Hi Bobguest,

At this year’s Art of Retreat, as in previous years, we’ll be recording short conversations as “sparks” for Art of Retreat’s podcast. If you’ve done them before, this year we’re making them quicker and easier for you.

You can speed up the recording process further by answering these two questions for my notes. You’ll be able to review and change this before we record.

How would you like me to introduce you?
A sentence or two is best. If this feels hard, just dump a few phrases; that’s enough for me to work with.

What are one or two ways that people should contact you?
Just drop me your preferred socials, a website, an email address, etc.

I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and looking forward to seeing you there. Thanks!

~Craig


My mission is creating better conversations to spread understanding and compassion. Drop by https://constantine.name for my weekly email, podcasts, writing and more.

Finalized gear packing

Here’s a shot of the final collection of audio gear that is going. This was rather hard to decide on. Everything I take adds flexibility or features, and takes up space. I’ll be traveling with a carry-on bag (a properly sized carry-on bag) which holds all of this stuff (and a few other handy on the plane things.) The rest of my stuff goes in a check bag.

There are only two “extra” things…

  • I have a spare cord for my headphones (at far left). I need to wear those a lot, and (thanks to having hearing aids in my ears at all times) I cannot simply grab any old set of headphones in a pinch.
  • The coiled blue cord is a headphone extension cord. Normal headphones have relatively short cords on them, and sometimes that’s a handy thing to have.

Neat things in that photo…

  • There’s a white thing poking out of the top of the lower-right container. That’s an Apple Lightning-to-SD-card dongle. I can plug that into my iPhone or iPad to copy audio files off of the SD cards.
  • There are two, table-top mic stands in this photo
  • The “shotgun” mic at the top will not be riding in that case. I’ve a tube for that for travel and the tube is handy in my shoulder-bag when I’m moving around between recordings.

What’s a shotgun mic? You will really be happy if you watch the short video that explains what they are and how they work. Just scroll down this page a bit…

https://www.sweetwater.com//store/detail/AT8035--audio-technica-at8035-shotgun-microphone

Now for the fun part — well, I think this stuff is fun :wink: Three use modes for this entire kit…

1. Walk around and record short conversations

  • Headphones for me, a recorder and a mic.
  • Mic nerds: Notice my H6 has a tiny yellow indicator on channel 1— that’s 48v “phantom power” to power this condenser (alternate word for “capacitor”) mic. This mic can also take a AA battery if your recorder didn’t have the phantom power feature. Its acoustic performance is better with phantom power, but it works in a pinch.
  • The H6 recorder has “slots” in its chin for straps. One has a velcro strap to hold the wires so they don’t yank on the connectors, the other I threaded a strap through so I can hang it around my neck.
  • Recorder has 4 AAs in the back for power.

2. Record “tabletop” in an intimate setting with one guest

  • It wouldn’t be this smashed together when used!
  • For this setup I’ve sacrificed my usual (lightweight, portable) floor stands for two mics to save weight and space.
  • This adds a headphone amplifier (top-left) so the guest gets headphones (my folders, or they can use their fave pair)
  • This also adds the battery brick at left that powers the amp. And it has a USB port so it can also power the H6 in this setup.
  • Two mics (my fave Shure SM58s of course) and two cute little mic stands. They’re just tall enough to take the slouch out things.
  • The cable far left is the “line out” (it’s a specific loudness and has no volume control) from the recorder going to the input on the little amplifier

3. Record with the 3 event coordinators

  • This is the same setup at 2. just without mic stands, and with a 2nd and 3rd guest. Everyone gets a mic, headphones and their own volume knob.
  • I do have 4 of those little tabletop stands… and I’m on the fence about taking them… I need a table to set this up on, and so I just may take the 3rd and 4th little folding stands.

I’ve written up more—how could there be more?!— about how I came to have this kit at, Evolution of my field recording kit – Craig Constantine

( @GermanWithNicole , new mic!! )

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Wow, that’s quite a kit work-up, Craig! Very exciting. :slight_smile: And congrats on the new mic.

I had no idea there were headphone extension cords, I might get one of those. Did you also buy that at Sweetwater? I have a great sales guy there, he’s really helpful.

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Not sure where I got that extension… might have just been a random cord I already had.

The mic is really neat. It’s eerily directional and very sensitive. I can be like 6 feet from someone and pickup good voice… if you’re close, so you dont have the gain way up, it’s a really different experience than my “cardioid pattern” SM58s.

Lots of travel. Caught up with Shannon from Pod6… drove out to the camp….


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I’m beginning to organize the raw recordings. This year I did far fewer than previously—by design. Rather than make a big deal of it (dedicated recording space, scheduling times with each guest) we left it to them to find me in one of several timeframes. (“I’ll be over there from now until dinner. Come find me…”) This led to recordings with only 10 of the 15 presenters that I’d hoped to talk with.

This also meant that the 3 event organizers themselves didn’t organize enough to pick a time to record… so there’s no recording with them from this year. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

As I was recording, I was jotting in a little notebook…

These are basically dates (Sep 23, 2022 and Sep 24, 2022) with a serial a, b, c, etc. added. The numbers down the right are number assigned by the Zoom H6 recorder. In the recorder’s storage you just have “ZOOM_0007.wav”… hopelessly confusing if you don’t take notes.

The “iPad” and checkmarks are me copying the raw WAV files from the SD card onto storage on my iPad. That way I have 2 copies of the work in different pieces of hardware.

Finally, the two crossed-out rows are where I had to stop and completely restart with that person. One of them I horribly messed up reading-in their brief introduction, and another was a surprise visit from a large tractor. :slight_smile:

First step today was to copy all my work so far onto the file share for permanent storage…