Josh Rogosin is the audio guru behind NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts. He’s a busy guy! If you can catch up with him, odds are he’s running off to record another band. Josh took a rare break from the action to share his approach to a Field Recording session, which records musicians “out of the concert hall and off the beaten path.” His rig provides lessons about being prepared while staying extremely nimble.
The challenge of recording stripped-down music sessions in unique locations is isolation. The shotgun mics help isolate vocals without the unnatural proximity effect from using a traditional vocal mic at close range. Using direct boxes and miking amps captures all the ingredients for a nice mix. But the real magic happens in post. Although I don’t add much reverb, I often stereoize mono sources and use equalization and compression to make every instrument pop.
In early 2017, NPR Music asked the shoegaze band Slowdive to record their new song, “Sugar For The Pill,” at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn. I requested that they strip their instrumentation and gear down to the bare essentials. No monitors. No PA. Just musicians in a room, turned down enough so they can hear each other acoustically.
Recording this way is a challenge for many bands, but it often yields refreshing takes on songs they play every night on the road. I think the video came out sounding great!
Traveling light and being prepared for anything are the keys to success. For example, locations for the SXSW Lullaby series are often finalized at the last minute, so I need to stay nimble. Here’s how I pack my bag for any possibility — and as lightly as possible:
- Sound Devices 788t 8-channel recorder
- Sony PCM-D50 back-up recorder with built-in mics (no longer made, but similar recorders are available)
- Shure se215 in-ear headphones. These are small and light, sound-isolating and sound good.
- Spare recorder battery
- Spare CF card
- Mini-to-mini cable for the line out to the backup recorder.
- 8-channel snake which acts like an extension cord to lengthen the connection between all of the mics and the recorder. This helps get some of the gear (and me!) out of the shot.
- 3 15-foot XLR cables to jump from snake to vocals and guitar amp mics
- 4 TA3 adapter cables to get into the last four channels of the 788t.
- 2 Whirlwind passive DI boxes to loop through bass and drum machine via amps and capture for record.
- 2 1/4-inch to 1/4-inch cables for DI boxes (DI boxes are used to interface the recorder with instruments like guitars and basses)
- Sennheiser e609 side address dynamic mic to drape over the jazz chorus guitar amp brought by the band.
- 2 Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mics to capture vocals at a distance and out of the tight video shot.
- 2 MERF collapsible tripod stands. They are made for portable lighting but make for capable lightweight mic stands.
- 2 Auray suspension shock mounts for the shotgun mics
- 2 stand adapters for mic clips
- 2 3/8-inch female to 5/8-inch male thread adapters
- Sharpie with gaffer tape wrapped around it (you never know when a strip of gaffer tape will come in handy!)
Yielding to the schedules of busy musicians and field producers takes a lot of energy, and passing out from dehydration or hunger is never a good look. So I’ve added these items to my pack over the years, and it continues to evolve.
Miscellaneous things in the pockets of my bag
- Prescription sunglasses w/ Chums eyewear retainers
- Leatherman Skeletool
- Chicobag, a collapsible reusable shopping bag
- Bag of nuts
- Klean Kanteen insulated water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- Press ID
- CF/SD card reader
- USB key
- USB battery with charger
- 5-port headphone party splitter. Great for listening with a producer and multiple band members who want to hear their performance on site.
- Carabiner lightning cord
- Wired Apple EarPods. I think if you can make your mix sound good on these, it’ll sound good anywhere.
Outside of the bag on the cross strap
- Microfiber lens cleaning cloth (with clip-on stuff bag)
- Swiss Army pocket watch in pouch
- Luggage tag
Special thanks to Alyse Young and Jenna Sterner for their help with this post.
What’s in your bag? is a regular series about the tools used by people in public media. We all use the basics (like a mic and headphones), but the way we personalize our kits is where things get interesting — and where we can learn from each other. Whose bag should we open next? Let us know at email@example.com or on Twitter!