United Kingdom (November 12, 2020)—Where does a rock legend record his podcast? Anywhere he wants to. That’s certainly been the case with Digging Deep with Robert Plant, where the famed Led Zeppelin frontman and solo artist discusses his work across his long and storied career. Every podcast recording session is held in a different location with distinctive acoustics, such as Plant’s favorite pub, one of his homes or in front of an audience of 200 people at a London record store.
Faced with recording in such diverse environments, Matt Everitt, the producer and co-host of Digging Deep, sticks to hard-and-fast rules for microphone placement when tracking the music legend’s stories about songs he recorded with Led Zeppelin and his many post-Zep projects.
“When it comes to singing, obviously he’s got incredible microphone technique, but [for the podcast] we spend quite a bit of time beforehand making sure that wherever we’re going to be sitting, there’s a good kind of catchment area,” says Everitt. “You’ve got to keep an eye on the mic positioning—never handheld, always boom, always between the nose and the chin point.”
While the recording sites might occasionally pose a challenge, the reward, says Everitt, is that they foster engaging discussion. “We’re going to make sure the production standards are good, but it’s also about creating a space where Robert can really relax,” he says. “Part of the production is making it feel natural—not feel like you’re sitting in a chair under a spotlight being interrogated, because he’s not interested in that and neither are we. [We try] to make it a place where you feel like you are eavesdropping.”
Achieving uniformity in such a range of spaces can be difficult, so Everitt records Plant with a Beyerdynamic M201 microphone that has a hypercardioid pattern. “They’re pretty directional, which means that sometimes people are a bit scared of using them because the catchment is quite narrow, but they sound so warm.”
Another mainstay of Everitt’s on-location setup is to use extra-thick cables: “The thicker the cable, the more reliable it is, the better it sounds—simple as that,” he says. He tracks to a Zoom H6 portable recorder for its ability to maintain separation between channels.
During post production, Everitt and the audio team work up a fairly completed product for Plant to review, even if it’s only a first cut. Everitt compiles the audio so the mastering and EQ pros can clean it up and take out any clicks and hisses, and then he assembles a “version one” edit, occasionally moving pieces around to maintain story pacing. Plant then listens and gives his input on what does and doesn’t work.
“He’s more knowledgeable than anyone about how he wants the show to sound,” Everitt says. “A lot of that’s worked out pre-interview. We don’t talk too much about what’s going to be in it because it takes away the spontaneity, but we’ll know why this song is really interesting.
“I think one of the reasons it works is that there’s a real honesty,” he adds. “He takes his music very seriously, but I don’t think he always takes the world around showbiz particularly seriously, so he’s happy to puncture some of the myths around the kind of ‘rock god’ world.”
While many podcasts are leaning into the limitations of COVID culture and adapting to audio recorded over a videoconferencing platform or iPhone, Everitt is playing a longer game with Digging Deep and creating a podcast that isn’t tied to a particular moment in time.
“It’s great doing podcasts over Zoom, it’s fantastic, but we’ve spent a lot of time and effort investing in microphones and audio equipment to get people sounding great because the ears deserve a really well-produced show,” he says.
“They’re all good, all those approaches. Sometimes you need to listen to Fugazi, sometimes you need to listen to Steely Dan. Whether it’s a garage band or a beautifully produced L.A. session thing, both are good depending on what you want. That’s the power of the format, isn’t it? The power of podcasting.”