Putting Your Commute to Work – Mocha Vegan Podcast and Mobile Interviewing

Posted: November 22, 2014 in @mochavegan

Mobile Interviewing – a fictional application of mobile recording technology.

Note that this was an experiment to do an interview. I have been recording the Mocha Vegan Podcast by mobile using a digital audio recorder simply sitting it in the seat and talking.

Ensure you have the right equipment. For me I needed a mount for an actual microphone to try to reduce the background road noise. The freeway where I record my podcast (sounds kind of funny, I know) is under construction. Though the additional commute time provides more podcast recording time, the noise where the lane lines have been ground off complicates the recording process. It makes for dirtier audio, but that is the nature of a mobile recording studio. Motorcycles whizzing by in the carpool lane and noises during acceleration and an occasional phone call or phone alert that pops up in the background. The one thing I DO NOT have to worry about is any noises related to unplanned multitasking. When I am driving and recording, I am doing exactly that – watching the road and simply talking into space. I often wonder what it must look like to my freeway “neighbors” on a stop-and-go type of day…

I got a mount that clamps onto a flat surface that is the base for the boom / arm of the microphone. There are very few flat surfaces within a car by design. The closest thing I could find was the door of the glove box. **Side note about glove boxes on a chilly morning – how many decades ago did you actually use a ‘glove box’ for gloves?! There is so much crap – owner’s manual, insurance, registration, tire warranty, etc. in my ‘glove box’ that, if I put a pair of gloves inside, it would not close.** Clap the base to the open glove box door and then drop the arm into the hole on top of the base. Use a very good vibration isolation mount as the road noise will transfer through the tires, into the frame of the car, and up into microphone.

Position your microphone arm to keep the arm safely away from you. You would not want this between you and the dash, steering wheel or air bag in the event of a crash.

Mount the microphone in the arm and connect the cord. I use a Zoom Handy Recorder H4n digital audio recorder. It has the ability to record open air through two built-in mics or to plug into to other inputs and use those as a left and/or right channel. You can even use all 4 inputs at the same time! For interviews using Skype, I have previously recorded the call using my cell phone to make the connection over WiFi and connecting the incoming audio from my phone’s headphone jack into one of the two inputs of the Zoom H4n. At home I have my microphone set up for interviews and plug that into the other input. When I record this way, it allows me to have two tracks to edit in Audacity for varying noise / audio levels. The recorder lets me adjust audio input levels by looking at the bars on the screen. I typically have to turn down the volume on my phone to not redline the interviewee’s audio. Using this method requires that I monitor the audio by wearing headphones plugged into the headphone / monitor port of the recorder.

I decided to apply a similar tactic to a mobile interview using the boom arm mounted on the glove box. Simply connect the two audio signals into the recorder and make the call. I suggest a looser headphone so that surrounding sounds are not impaired for safety. Position your phone to allow the interviewee to hear your voice. The microphone will pick up your voice and carry it to the recorder, but you must also send your voice to the person on the other end of the phone. Once you have everything positioned, you can get on the road and make the call.

There are options for making the call, depending on your service and signals. Skype audio, allegedly, has the best audio quality. However, I did experience some negative results in that the audio seemed to ‘spool’ meaning that there would be a pause from the person on the other end followed by a higher-than-normal speed of audio playback. It sounded like a less severe version of the guy on car commercials reading terms at a-mile-a-minute. Whatever you do, make sure the person on the other end is a good sport and understands the challenge. I appreciate Jeff Sanders for struggling through the challenges with me. Thank you, Jeff!

Don’t freak out when you can’t hear the audio through your headphones. Two things may have happened:

  1. Your call may have been picked up by your Bluetooth stereo.
  2. You may not have hit record on your audio recorder. In order for the headphones to pick up anything from the recorder you must at least be in record standby mode (where the record button is flashing on mine).

Check your audio levels for both yourself and for the incoming call on the recorder and adjust so you are not redlining. The H4n blinks on the input that is over volume. I had one volume input on 85 and the other on 60 for this first attempt. When I increase my microphone volume over 85 the amount of road noise transferred was unacceptable to me.

Be safe and have hands-free fun with your call. I suggest that if you are used to a scripted call, this is not for you. I like to talk unscripted and prefer the interview to be about the other person and let that happen in more of an organic structure. It was a little hectic due to the audio challenges we experienced, but I still found it very fun and hope to try it again someday. J

My checklist for the call was as follows:

  1. Check batteries in recorder.
  2. Charge cell phone in advance. **Note that you cannot use the phone while on a charger as you will pick up a humming noise from the trickle of power going into the phone battery.**
  3. Install bracket on appropriate surface (glove box for mobile recording).
  4. Insert microphone boom arm into bracket.
  5. Set audio recorder in view (I had it in a tool bag in the passenger seat) to see levels when setting up. You should not need it during the call.
  6. Connect microphone – set in boom arm and plug cord into recorder.
  7. Connect phone – plug cord into headphone jack and connect with adapter into other audio input of recorder. This is simply ‘up-sizing’ the headphone plug to be the larger size.
  8. Turn on the recorder and allow it to ‘boot up’. Depending on the size of your SD card in the audio recorder, it takes longer to be ready to record. I noticed an increase in time between the 2GB card that came with the phone and the 32GB card that I now use. You do not need a huge card as I can get about an hour of recording time with 1GB of storage space. Experiment with your recorder in advance to ensure you have the right set up.
  9. Press record button / set to record standby mode. This allows you to monitor the audio inputs into the recorder.
  10. Set record input to stereo and (1) and (2) for the external inputs.
  11. Set mic volume to 85.
  12. Set phone input volume to 60 (adjust on cell phone after call is connected).
  13. Make a test call or calls in advance to ensure you can record the call at the right level.
  14. Prior to driving, ensure you have the contact information at hand to easily connect (or have them call you).
  15. Connect with your interviewee and put on your headphone / earpiece. Ensure that you can hear them, their audio is registering on the recorder and YOU CAN HEAR THEM once you have positioned your phone on the seat or wherever you leave it while driving.
  16. Check phone volume on recorder one more time – you cannot adjust redlined audio.
  17. Ensure your voice is being picked up effectively by the microphone for your audio track.
  18. RELAX, have fun and enjoy your hands-free drive.


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