We are told: “Archers actors are recording the programme from the comfort of their own homes while guidance on safe social distancing prevents any work in the Archers studio in Birmingham.” Which is fine as far as it goes. But why are they recording monologues rather than doing a distributed recording?
I’m a self-taught amateur audio technician. I’ve worked on podcasts and on role-playing game groups where nobody’s in the same room, but each participant is using their own computer. The way we do this – basically 2-6 people talking, improvised in real time – is to use a videoconferencing service such as Jitsi (or one of the other, privacy-invading ones); each of us records our own voice (either on the computer we’re using anyway or on a separate voice recorder); then I load the recordings into an audio editor, each as a separate track, do noise reduction, sync them up using a recording of the conference which I then discard, and mix them together.
So why is the BBC not doing this? Some possible reasons:
- Audio colour and background noise. People recording in echoing or noisy environments sound quite odd, especially if other people in the scene have more neutral environments. The “street” way to fix reverberation is to hang blankets on the walls; books are also great. This isn’t generally much of a challenge but you have to fix it before the recording. This also applies to monologues anyway.
- Recording quality. Cheap microphones and noisy computers can make things sound fairly horrid even with quite aggressive noise reduction. I use a Tascam DR-40 which cost me £135 five years ago and goes for about the same now even after the collapse of the pound, and that’s at the high end of amateur kit. I feel that this shouldn’t break the BBC’s bank (especially since if the built-in mic isn’t good enough you can plug into it a standard XLR-jack microphone, which you’d think they could borrow from the studios and send out to the actors). This also applies to monologues anyway.
- Timing. Recording on computer is often a fraction of a percentage point out of time sync with other machines, so in a two-hour session you might have two people in sync at the start of the recording and ten seconds out at the end. That’s fixable in software, in return for some quality loss; but more importantly, in a two-minute scene it’ll barely be noticeable.
- Leakage. You need headphones good enough that the sound of the conference isn’t leaked onto your own recording. I use a pair of £2.99 earbuds so I think this probably shouldn’t be a concern.
I really cannot see why the techs of the BBC shouldn’t be able to create a “virtual studio” like this to allow the recording of multi-speaker audio drama, so I am forced to assume that there is some managerial reason for not attempting it.