Introduction: THE PODCASTINATOR: a MOBILE PODCASTING STUDIO
I work in student affairs at a large university. I had the idea a while back to launch a podcast featuring all the interesting things and people that students do and meet. It's been going well, but there's been one thing I wasn't happy with: the equipment, or rather, its mobility.
Since I didn't have a fixed studio, I couldn't just leave everything set up until it was time to record. So I kept it in a low file cabinet in my office, and had to drag it all out and connect it up every time in whatever room I was scheduled to use. This took about a half hour, and a similar amount of time to pack it all up. In addition, it meant I had to troubleshoot my connections every time. Even then, it was possible to screw up such that it looked like you were recording, but you weren't; if you didn't notice in time, that session was gone, and you looked like an idiot. Another drawback: cables everywhere, a trip hazard for guests and hosts, and impressive for all the wrong reasons (as in, "Wow, that looks impressively messy."). Interviewing a Pulitzer Prize-winner is less stressful for everyone if they haven't just broken their ankle on your cables.
Eventually, I decided to mobilize the whole setup. The requirements were:
* I had to be able to roll it into a room, whether in my building or across campus, plug it in, and go.
* It had to fit in my office, which is small, when not in use.
* It had to be comfortable for five so people to sit around while in use, with enough space so we weren't all up in each others' grills.
* It had to store all the stuff that might be used so that it was hard to forget anything I might need, especially important if I'm taking the equipment to a location distant to my office.
* It had to hold all the equipment necessary for me to record a complete podcast, live, with as little post-production (such as adding in intro and outro music or audio clips) as possible.
* In the unlikely event that I had to record in a room that didn't have enough room for us to gather round the Podcastinator because it already contained a conference table, I had to be able to revert to the old mics-on-tables setup.
Update: while looking to see if this Instructible was a candidate for any contests, I accidentally entered into the Build my Lab contest. I just clicked the wrong doodad, I guess, but to my surprise it was accepted. Who am I to question the admins, amiright? Anyway, vote for the Podcastinator, if you like.
Step 1: The Virtual Prototype
The images above are some Sketchup models of what turned out to be the prototype. I thought I would build this, at first, but decided that a) I'm not the best carpenter and b) I don't have any tools in my office since Student Affairs jobs don't usually call for the use of saws, screws, nails, and other construction materials.
But, it did help me solidify some concepts.
* to enable a group of people to record a session comfortable, yet fit the equipment in a small space when not in use, the cart would have to expand. This would require some simple moving parts, like the wings that would have held microphones and a sliding shelf for the mixer, shown below in the extended position.
* I realized that the file cabinet (represented by the largest block in the middle of the pictures below), which I would have used as part of this design, was too low for comfort. Any microphone arms I would have attached to it would have been extending up towards the guest from between his or her knees, kind of. Hence, the elevated platform from which the wings rotate out toward guests.
* Cable management would be a problem with this design. I'd need more of that than it could provide without buying more stuff anyway.
Despite some drawbacks to this design, the concept seemed sound. But I decided to look at AV carts, which seemed to have some obvious advantages, including that they were pre-manufactured, adjustable, and would have built-in cable management.
Step 2: Podcastinator Materials
To replicate the Podcastinator isn't very expensive over time. Not including the actual recording equipment, it cost around $400. It'll pay for itself in a year-and-a-half.
The single biggest expense was the AV cart. If you can find one of these second hand, you'll be all the better for it. I couldn't, so here's what this project cost, bought from a popular online retailer with a South-American-river name:
On Stage Microphone 19-inch Gooseneck, Black: 5 x $7.95
On Stage Microphone Table Mount, Black, Black: 5 x $6.99
Mount-it! MI-1401 Wall Mount for 7-Inch to 10-Inch TV, Black: $27.64
Height Adjustable AV Media Cart with Security Cabinet - Two Pull-out Shelves: $284.79.
VideoSecu 1/4" x 20 Threads Swivel Security Camera Mount 2-6 Inch Adjustable Universal Pan Tilt CCTV Camera Mounting Bracket with Ceiling Clip: $6.99
Cable-ties: I had a bunch of these already.
self-tapping sheet metal screws, 3/4": ~15 x pennies each.
Neodymium magnets: 2, which I had on hand.
(Instructibles won't let me upload images anymore, so you'll have to imagine what these items look like. Now, close your eyes, and let your imagination go! Or visit the website of that famous retailer and search for them, if you're tired.)
Step 3: Assembly
Follow the assembly instructions for the AV cart. You'll need a screw driver and another set of hands to hold things while you tighten screws.
The cart is adjustable during assembly, so here are the choices I made.
* The cart features two slide-out shelves, which I elected to install in the uppermost locations.
* I left about 8 inches between the bottom of those shelves to the top of the cabinet portion of the cart. This would be a place to keep the headphone amplifier and allow easy access for attaching headphones. It would also allow enough access to get my hands in there to run wires.
Next, I placed the mixing board on top of the AV cart's table.
Then, following the directions included with the so-called TV wall mount (which is really an iPad mount), I installed that to the right of the mixing board using the self-tapping sheet metal screws. I chose that location because I could rotate the iPad mount in toward the center while rolling the cart, and rotate it to the outside for access during recording.
I installed mount for the host's microphone gooseneck to the left of the mixing board using sheet metal screws.
I pulled out the slide-out shelves, and installed the four mounts for the guests' microphone goosenecks using the sheet metal screws, one mount in each corner of the outside edges of each shelf.
I installed each of the goosenecks on their mounts.
I installed the microphones and pop screens on the other end of each gooseneck.
I placed rubber mat included with the AV cart on the top of the cabinet, and placed the headphone amplifier on the top of it.
I installed the camera mount in a spare hole in one of the uprights for the top shelves. This provides an adjustable spot to hold the digital recorder I use to record the audio, which happened to have a threaded hole that fits on standard tripods and camera mounts like the one I chose.
I installed all the wires:
* mic cables from microphones to mixer;
* stereo cable from headphone amp to mixer;
* stereo cable from ipad to mixer;
* stereo cable from headphone amp to digital audio recorder
* power cable from mixer to AV cart's included power strip.
* power cable from headphone amp to AV cart's power strip.
I pushed the excess wire into the grommetted hole on the top of the cabinet, and bundled them together neatly with cable ties. I made sure to leave enough slack in the wires to the outermost slide-out shelves to allow the shelves to fully extend.
To prevent the shelves from extending while the AV cart is in motion, I used two neodymium magnets in strategic places to keep the shelves in the retracted position. This works okay, but a better solution may be necessary; time will tell.
Step 4: Using the Podcastinator
When it's time to set up for a recording session, I roll into the room, plug the Podcastinator into the wall, and plug in the headphones. Everything else is already plugged in and ready.
I extend the slide-out shelves and pull the microphones from their vertical storage positions into a more horizontal position that will be comfortable for my guests.
I slide some chairs in front of the microphones, turn on the power to the mixer, and do a quick sound check, being sure to test each microphone, each headphone, the digital audio recorder's indicated sound levels, and the iPad's sound.
(Note: I use the iPad to play the intro and outro music as well as any audio clips; this is what allows me to record an entire podcast without having to do much in post-production; it reduces the amount of time needed to release the episode immensely, since podcasting isn't my only job).
When my guests arrive, all I have to do is orient them to what's about to take place, and hit record! We're off and running. After we're done, I just reverse the steps and I'm outta there.
In the event that there just isn't enough space in the room to gather everyone around the fully deployed Podcastinator (say, we're in a room with a fixed conference table that takes up most of the available space), I can simply put the microphones on the table-top stands we used to use and put those on the conference table. The Podcastinator still serves as the host's workstation, and everyone else sits around the table.
If you're curious about the recording equipment, here's a list:
* Behringer Xenyx X1222 mixing board
* MXL 990 microphones
* Behringer Mini-Amp 4-channel headphone amp
* Tascam DR-07 digital audio recorder
* Sony MDR-XC100 headphones
* 2nd Gen iPad (mine, which I generously use for work-related purposes).
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