New York, NY (May 28, 2020)—While the pro audio community was beginning to grapple with what COVID-19 could mean to the industry at large, podcasting pro Elia Einhorn was already in the trenches as one of the first people in the U.S. to get sick from the virus.
Listeners of the popular Talkhouse podcast, which pairs musicians, actors and filmmakers in one-on-one conversations with their peers, didn’t learn about Einhorn’s condition right away. But when it was time to track the intro to the March 26 episode, which featured Black Thought of The Roots and comedian Wyatt Cenac, the producer and host couldn’t hide his exhaustion. He had been in bed for two weeks straight.
“I was retching on the call and I had to stop recording a couple of times,” says Einhorn, who also hosts and produces Pitchfork Radio. “I couldn’t even get to my home studio. I couldn’t sit up. So I recorded it in the bed with extra pillows and covers around me just to make sure that it was usable.”
As Einhorn shared his experiences with listeners of the Talkhouse podcast, behind the scenes, he and chief engineer and co-producer Mark Yoshizumi began developing a game plan for how to keep the Talkhouse podcast rolling. Under normal circumstances, they would have put their guests in a proper studio or sent an engineer to their location, but neither of those options are available during a pandemic.
Instead, they are using conferencing platforms such as Cleanfeed and Zoom to connect the guests from remote locations, and creating a local recording as a backup. Yoshizumi prefers handheld condenser microphones like the Shure Beta 87A and Neumann KMS 105, but these days, flexibility is key.
“Mark is putting in tons of extra hours right now liaising with artist teams and artists themselves,” Einhorn says. “We always ask the artist to record some sample audio and work with Mark, [so he] can see if it’s up to our standards, and help adjust if not. A lot of Mark’s time now [is spent] making sure everyone’s setup is the best that it can be.”
Fearless audio production is a Talkhouse specialty, though. The team was recently nominated for a Best Live Podcast Webby award for an episode recorded at the Form Festival in Arizona in 2019 featuring comedian-musicians Fred Armisen and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
Using a pop-up studio in a tent as the sound stage, Yoshizumi combined some of his audio gear with the house system to pull off the recording. When indie rocker Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail joined the lineup at the last minute, Yoshizumi went back to dig up more microphones.
“We have worked with Fred enough to know that he can step into any situation and make magic happen,” says Einhorn. “I just thought how fun it would be to have them in front of their instruments the whole time. Of course, it’s a technical nightmare, and that’s where Mark came in to save it because it’s very difficult to record that kind of thing.”
The Talkhouse team’s usual production arrangements are more predictable, but with little room for error. Once Einhorn and Yoshizumi have the interview audios in the can, they work from a weekly production schedule to prepare the episode for publication, which includes recording the introduction audio to Pro Tools. On Wednesdays, they go over the edits, using iZotope RX for cleanup, before uploading the final files. The next morning, the completed episode goes live.
Managing listener expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Einhorn, has been the least of their production challenges.
“We know that people’s expectations are slightly changing during this time,” he says. “If you say in the setup, ‘this is the person’s situation, this is where they are,’ it just frames why they’re not in a studio. And of course, there’s no one in the world right now who doesn’t understand that situation.”