Tape Sync: A Killer Story

As I get in my car it’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon. The weather encapsulates my mood perfectly. I’m about to earn myself some money. I’ve got a job.

Most of the podcasts I have produced to date have been recorded in my home or a professional recording studio. I’ve done some event recording too but today is different. Today I’m heading to a stranger’s house.

I’m nervous. I think that’s allowed. I am going to meet someone I’ve never met before.

I’m also nervous about the job itself. I have to sit perfectly still for around an hour. I must be silent and fully focussed on the sound coming through my headphones. This job is not my interview. I am not the presenter, journalist or episode producer. My role is to record just one person. This is the person I am on my way to meet for the first time.

As the sat nav brings me off of the comfort of the M62 I’m steeling myself. I’ve already double, triple checked that my equipment is with me. It’s fully charged and the memory is empty. If anything goes wrong on this job, I’ve made sure it won’t be because of me. I’m still nervous though.

The person I’m going to meet is being interviewed for a podcast about female killers. When I accepted the job, 24 hours earlier, I joked with my friends that I may not come back alive. I don’t know who the person is and I’m beginning to think I should have Googled her name.

Too late now.

I’m driving high up over the Pennines. All my focus has to be on the road. I turn down the podcast I’m listening to. The crest of the hill is breached, revealing the most stunning view. No wonder they call Yorkshire, God’s Country.

As I arrive at my destination the nerves return. The sat nav says I should be here. I’m quite clearly not. I park up on the side of the road to check Google Maps on my phone. A small bus pulls up right behind me and beeps it’s horn. To say it made me jump is an understatement.

After moving out the way for the bus, I find the house I have been looking for. I gather my equipment in my bag. Checking it one last time for charge. When I knock on the door, my host answers immediately. She doesn’t look like a killer. Does anyone though??

Dr Helen Gavin is the Subject Lead for the Department of Psychology at the University of Huddersfield. She has written several books about criminal psychology including one about female killers. Not a killer herself then… hopefully.

Inside Helen’s house, I set up in her study. I take a 30 second sample of the room noise. This will allow the editor to remove any background noise during the post-production. Then my fear is realised.

No, Helen doesn’t come at me with a kitchen knife. The link I’ve been provided to chat with the podcast producer doesn’t seem to work. A quick email reveals the mistake was at their end, not mine and we are up and running.

As I press record I must look so uncomfortable. Actually, I know I do. I’m in shot on the video chat!

I’m sat, hunched, on a solid wood chair. A cushion giving my bottom slight comfort. Two pairs of headphones adorn my head. One is plugged into my laptop, ensuring I can hear the questions Helen is answering. The second pair is plugged into my Zoom recorder. I’m listening to Helen’s voice more than her words. Making sure the sound quality is what is needed. My left elbow rests on the arm of Helen’s chair. My arm is pointing up and in my hand is my microphone.

Before we sat down I warned Helen that I was about to get up close and personal with her. If she had thought I was joking, she know knew I hadn’t been.

I had positioned the microphone just under Helen’s chin. Everytime she moved her head, my hand, and the microphone, followed.

The questions flowed from across the pond. The interviewer is talking to us live from Canada. Helen’s answers are as you would expect from a university lecturer: detailed and interesting. I’m enjoying the experience. Everything is going well.

After about 20 minutes the pins and needles appear in my left arm. I can feel my grip on the microphone loosening. Helen’s answer has been a long one. I’m hoping it will be coming to an end soon, providing a break long enough for me to change position. The interviewer interrupts suddenly. I jump at the chance to shift my weight and move the microphone into my right hand. This brings a whole new set of problems. I’m now leaning even closer to Helen. In any other situation this would be full on awkward. I try to avoid eye contact with Helen, instead concentrating on where the microphone is and the sound in my two pairs of headphones.

Another 20 minutes goes by and I’m starting to think the end must be coming. I’ve moved the microphone back into my left hand and resumed my original position. The interviewer is checking her notes to make sure she has all the content required. I’ve started to relax and dropped my left arm into my lap. Then, suddenly, without warning even, there’s a new question.

Helen starts to talk before I have the microphone in position…

Calmly I raise my hand. Helen falls silent and I request she starts her answer again. I can see the producer on the video chat smile briefly. I’ve done a good thing and provided further evidence that I can do the job. Helen restarts her question and about 10 minutes later the interview is over.

I let out a cough that has been building since I pressed record an hour ago. I end the video chat having been thanked by the producer one last time and record a further 60 seconds of room noise for the editor. As I pack away my equipment, I jokingly tell Helen about my fears that she may have been a killer.

Helen laughs.

A few minutes later I’m back in my car. I’m still connected to Helen’s wifi so I quickly copy the recording to my laptop and upload it to the Dropbox account I’ve been provided. I sit back in my car seat, relaxed for the first time since I left home. My first tape sync was complete and I’d received good feedback from both the interviewer and Helen.

On the drive home I listen to a podcast made by the production team who I’ve just worked for. It’s good.

Tape Syncs

Sometimes known as Double Enders, tape syncs are a well used production tool in both radio and podcasting. It allows a person to be recorded professionally anywhere in the world. In this example the podcaster was in North America and their guest in the UK. The podcaster records their audio on their own equipment whilst hiring me to record their guest.

To find out more about how to perform a tape sync you should read this article by Transom.

If you want to see how it shouldn’t be done, watch this great video by Andrew Norton.