Let’s talk about the Tape Sync. It’s a term you may not know if you work in music or film. However, the Tape Sync is a good gig in the radio and podcast work, because it can supplement your income, especially during relatively slow weeks.
“Tape Sync” is a technical term for a remote interview. If you listen to talk radio, often you’ll hear your favorite host interview a guest. They sound like they’re sitting in the same room—but frequently, they are not. Sure, the host was in the studio, but the guest was hundreds of miles away.
How does it work? Prior to the recording, the show’s producer puts out a call for a remote engineer in the guest’s location. This engineer travels to the guest with their recording rig, sets up a microphone, and begins recording.
The host and the guest then talk on the phone. The host records their end of the conversation in the studio, while the remote engineer records the guest on their end. When it’s over, the remote engineer uploads the audio, and the conversation is edited to sound as though it’s happening in the same place.
To do this work, you need the right gear, which includes
- A microphone: A shotgun or broadcast-dynamic mic
- A recorder: A handheld or field recorder is best
- Recording accessories: Extra SD cards and plenty of batteries are required!
- Stands or grips: A pistol grip for the shotgun, or a tabletop stand for the broadcast dynamic
- Screens: Pop filters for interiors, “furries” for exteriors
- Cables: Mic cables and power cords if need be
- Headphones: Closed-back, over-ear headphones to monitor the recording
- A computer with Internet access: Send the files to the producer as soon as possible.
- Spares: a spare mic, stand, cable, pack of batteries, etc.
Let’s go through some of the most popular gear for the job.
RØDE NTG2: This is a commonly used shotgun mic in the Tape Sync world. Plenty of interviews conducted on shows such as Love+Radio use this microphone. The sound quality of this mic is perfectly adequate for these scenarios, and its polar pattern is highly directional.
Shure SM7B: If you’re recording a single guest indoors, you can bring this mic with you, set it up on a tabletop stand, and have a virtually idiot-proof setup, thanks to the built-in pop filter and directional polar pattern. This microphone is a standard in broadcast, so it imparts a sound people innately recognize, even if they don’t know why.
Electro-Voice RE20: If the Shure SM7B is the Coke of dynamic broadcasting mics, the RE20 would be Pepsi. You will need to purchase a pop filter separately, however. If you’re a music engineer, this mic has the added benefit of sounding great on basses and kick drums, as well as vocals. As long as you’re careful with it, you can use it in multiple scenarios.
The Zoom H4n, H5, and H6 Recorders are pretty much industry standard, thanks to their portability, durability, and ease of use. Some use comparable recorders from Tascam and Marantz Pro—others make use of the Sound Devices MixPre3—but the Zoom Handy Recorders are ubiquitous.
Some people advise purchasing a Cloudlifter for a clean gain-boost on dynamic microphones like the Shure SM7B. They believe it makes the audio clearer, with less noise in the signal. If you’re using a condenser mic like the NTG2, you don’t need one.
Have a spare pack of compatible batteries at all times! Also, make sure you have plenty of compatible SD cards in case you fill up on space.
If you’re interviewing multiple people with a shotgun mic, a pistol grip is your friend. A good pistol grip lets you point the mic at anyone you choose without incurring handling noise. I like the RØDE PG2-R for the NTG2 because it sports Rycote Lyre mounts; these mounts minimize handling noise.
A sturdy tabletop mic stand can also be of use, especially in indoor situations where you can set the mic up in front of the guest and let them be.
Pop Filters and “Furries”
If you’re using the shotgun mic outdoors, get a furry that fits it. The unfortunately named RØDE Dead Cat fits the NTG2.
If you’re indoors, use a pop filter to minimize plosives. The SM7B is built with one, and the NTG2 ships with one. For the RE20, you can get a separate stand-mountable pop filter.
Get a few XLR mic cables in case anything shorts on you in the field. Kopul makes cables that are quite good for the money.
In this business, spares are essential. You are there to capture a live event. If anything goes wrong, you must fix the problem quickly, or else you are useless. A spare mic, a spare cable, a spare stand—and definitely, spare batteries—will help you out in a pinch.
How to Conduct a Tape Sync
When you get the gig, ask the producer for all the details. You need to know the type of location (indoors or outside), the address, the duration, and what kind of files to send (some outlets want 16-bit audio, some 24-bit).
Ask if you can show up a little early to scout out the location; there may be issues that cause sonic interference. It’s not uncommon to encounter AC or refrigerator noise, as well as other types of interference. Try to mitigate these as best you can.
Set up your gear and position the microphone relatively close to the speaker. Get a good level on the speaker by asking them some questions. I like, “What’s the last thing that made you excited?” Or, “can you give me a good fake laugh?” These questions get you a realistic idea of how loud your guest will be.
The closer you mic the speaker, the more full it will sound, and the less room tone you’ll capture (though you’ll always capture some). Angle the mic a little bit at the speaker’s mouth and you’ll mitigate plosives and sibilance to some degree.
Keep in mind that the pistol grip, after a while, may get uncomfortable, so try to position yourself with support for your arm. If using a table stand, this is a non-issue.
If an errant noise disrupts the recording—a passing siren, say—you are within your rights to interrupt the interview. Something simple like “hold for siren please” will be greatly appreciated. Then pick up where you left off.
At the end of the interview, capture a full minute of room tone. When the interview is done, do not under any circumstances edit the audio - that can mess up the sync on the studio’s end! Just send it off, and you’re done!
That about covers it for how to do a tape-sync—though doubtlessly, we can get more in depth. If you want us to enumerate on any of the variables, please leave us a comment below! Interested in expanding your knowledge, fine-tuning your workflow, or figuring out what gear to get? Visit B&H’s Audio Week page to read tutorials, comparisons, and buying guides about audio for video, podcasting, live sound, music recording, and more.