Get a Room

1930sWhere do you record your show? Once the only option were large, expensive, recording studios.

In the 1970s a whole new "consumer studio" level was introduced with hundreds of options to record on reel to reel or multi-track cassette.

A few years later digital recording moved from the big studios and laboratories to regular use in studios and high level home enthusiasts through DAT - Digital Audio Tape. Editing the digital signal was another great breakthrough - eliminating the physical cutting of the tape with a razor blade and adhesive tape.

1920s or ealry 1930s Soap OperaToday you can record almost anywhere - with a laptop you don' even need to be in a room. Some successful productions have been done "on location". Plug in a microphone and GO!

Most recordings are made in a studio - that is a two room arrangement specifically for recording sound - voices and/or music. The key is to have one room, or area, and a control room, or area, where the engineer can hear what is actually recorded - to avoid buzzes, hums or extraneous sounds.

Sound Effects Crew 1940sSome people record in the same room as the microphones pick up the performance, but if you can avoid this - avoid it. When you are recording without such a control room or area, you run the risk of discovering problems in the recorded tracks after all your actors have gone home. A short in connectors may have set up a buzz. Interference may create a hum on your recording track. One piece of equipment - such as a microphone cable - may knock into the microphone stand, which creates an unpleasant "thump" on the recording.

Recording still requires an input device - a microphone of some sort - and a recording device - tape deck, digital recorder, or computer. We will discuss this in a moment.

Student productionSuccessful recordings have taken place in ordinary rooms, with some precautions to get the best signal possible for later production. In the room where your cast will perform you can make temporary changes to improver the acoustics and reflection problems common in recording. For example recording have been made in living rooms, classrooms, churches and warehouses. There are books on doing this - and your Engineer should know the tricks. Or your Producer.

If you wind up doing everything you can turn almost any room large enough to hold your cast can become a reasonable sound stage - this means a living room, dining room, office, garage or other room without open, flat, reflective surfaces to bounce sound waves and create echo or reverberation. These small rooms can be improved by using non-reflective surfaces across the floors, furniture or walls - blankets, furniture pads, large panels of fiber-paper egg cartons, or actual sound dampening foam panels.
With all of these options you need to take care that you don't create a safety hazard - nothing ruins a great radio experience like a broken tooth and a lawsuit. Play safe.

A carpet on the floor can deaden the ambient reflection, making the voices sound more intimate - not like they are in a huge chamber. Moving mats or blankets can be draped over furniture to avoid similar sound reflections which give subtle, psychological feeling to the space in which your voices are recording.

Microphones

Classic RCA 44 Ribbon Bi-Directional MictophoneThe limitations of microphones in the infancy of radio drama actually served to improve the experience for the audience. Until the 1970s there were only two real considerations for the right microphone to record radio drama.

There was a one direction, or cardioid (heart shaped pattern) where the microphone was sensitive in one direction. This is still the preferred microphone for radio announcers and most public speaking. (If you are using a microphone, it will probably be a cardioid.)
The second most widely used microphone for about 50 years was the β€œribbon” microphone, like the iconic RCA 77 and 44 series. These microphone were sensitive in two directions – a figure-8 sensitivity – which allowed actors to face each other. The lack of sensitivity off of the ribbon's axis mean the actor could move into the "off mike" position by leaning just a few inches away from the axis. The Ribbon mike allowed small groups of actors — three, four, five, even six actors — to face each other for more dramatic interaction.

Regular production set up, actors face each other
                or are on separate mikesOver the past forty years many options have become available - the "octopus", or central mike-stand cluster. Each actor has his or her own cardioid mike. This has allowed each actor to be recorded on a separate track in multi-track machines, but it also eliminated the subtle audio cues we hear while people are interacting with each other.

The internet it has made it possible for actors in different cities to record their parts individually. This is a difficult process. If the actors do not use the same microphone the frequency response will be different for each voice and even amateurs can tell they were not speaking to each other.

Vic and Sade, Chicago, 1942 with RCA 44This can be used to good effect when the characters are NOT supposed to be in the same location, such as the pilot episode of FREE SPACE, where colonists were reporting on their own microphones from different locations across the solar system. In reality they were all in the same room with isolation on different microphones for different sound qualities. Almost any technical restriction can be used creatively to make a different dramatic statement.

But generally it is considered to be best to keep the technical considerations to a minimum. Most modern recorded radio drama is recorded with two cardioid microphones facing each other to get some simulation of the bi-directional, or ribbon microphone, recording patter to allow actors to stand facing each other for dramatic exchanges.

Dick Powell with
                RCA B77 Ribbon MikeYour engineer will most likely have his or her own microphones with thei recording setup. They will have to worry about connectors - RCA, Mini-plug, banana plugs, XLRs, etc. - and the wiring to get from the microphones to the recording panel. But it never hurts to know the vocabulary so you can suggest ways to make your script recordable.
Pay attention to what is actually coming through the wires - it may sound great to you, but when the actors have all gone home you might find out the was a cable slapping against a microphone stand that is in your recorded track, or a hum or buzz was recorded because of a loose connector or a short in the electronics.

This is why we suggest a control area separated from the recording area - hopefully in a separate room.

But work with your engineer to get the best setup for your actors and sound effects.

Content

Contact the Author