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How to defy geography with the tape sync

As an independent producer living in northern Canada, Janna Graham is often stuck in a small subarctic city far, far away from the person she wants to interview. Also known as a double-ender, the tape-sync is the next best thing to recording someone when you can't be in the same room.
Don’t let geography hold you back — the world is your oyster with the tape sync.

Suffice to say, my radio piece, A Long Distance Solution was made possible by a series of long distance phone calls. As an independent producer living in northern Canada, I'm often stuck in a small subarctic city far, far away from the person I want to interview.

While I was able to travel to Whitehorse to interview one of my characters, I couldn't get to New York City or San Antonio, Texas, the hometowns of two key characters.

No problem.

In order to travel through time and space, I called on my loyal friend, the tape sync.

Also known as a double-ender, or a phone-sync, the tape-sync is the next best thing to recording someone when you can't be in the same room. The interview is carried out over the telephone with both ends recording their audio.

Here's how it works. You record your voice — and a radio producer in the home town of your interviewee records their voice with an audio recorder. The producer then sends you the audio file you mix the two voice tracks together. Then magic — it's like you're in the same room!

There are a few things you really need to keep in mind if this is going to go smoothly.

Finding a tape syncer

Of course, one of the most important parts of the tape sync is finding someone you trust to meet your interviewee and get a high quality recording that they'll upload to you.

Looking for a producer to record an interview in Toronto

  • Friday morning or Monday
  • Near the High Park Zoo  
  • Pay is $125 (Canadian)
  • Please respond off-list with your equipment and experience

Skilled producers are standing by ... and you can reach out to them via fabulous radio resources to find yourself a tape syncer in your desired locale.

Association for Independents in Radio (AIR) runs a terrific list-serve with members in both the U.S. and Canada (and abroad). If you're a member, you can post a message on their message board.

There are also various Facebook pages with communities of audio producers like Canadian Sound and Story Workshop.

Expect to pay between $100 and $150 for a tape sync. If you're expecting them to drive a distance, include extra for gas or mileage.

Once you've hired someone you feel comfortable working with, chat on the phone and give them the details of what the job entails. Then, introduce them to your interviewee if possible (I usually just copy them both on an email) and determine the location and time of the interview.

  • I ask the tape syncer to text or call me when they're ready to start rolling tape
  • Whenever possible try to use a landline, cell phones can be sketchy!
  • Discourage tape-syncers from using mic stands. I know, arms can get tired in long interviews, but you have way more control holding the mic
  • I can then ask questions and respond to my interviewee while the tape syncer focuses on recording the interviewee
  • Ask them to record one minute of room tone before or after the interview
  • Once they've uploaded the tape in your desired format, pay them immediately. I send an email money transfer

Being a tape syncer

Assuming that you have your own recording gear, picking up a tape sync is a great way to make a few extra dollars as an independent journalist or producer and helping a fellow radio producer.

Here's a few pointers on what you should do:
Janna Graham, our author, in the role of a tape syncer.

  • Chat with the producer and ask them for details. Which audio format do they want the recording in? What do they need you to know about the story and interviewee? At what point do they want you to start rolling tape (do they need the sound of walking up stairs, opening door or just the interview?)
  • Ask them about payment and how they will get payment to you (and when)
  • Check your equipment before you head to the interview and ensure you have a recorder, external microphone, extra batteries and, perhaps most importantly, headphones. Never, ever, ever, ever do anything without headphones (but you know that!)
  • Scan the room for noise. Is there a buzz coming from a light? Is the television on? Politely ask them to turn these off
  • Do a levels check: Ask your interviewee to tell you what they had for lunch so that you can set their levels before the interview starts
  • Make sure you're comfortable and micing the interviewee at a close range
  • If a noise happens in the room during the interview, ask the interviewer/interviewee to repeat the question/answer
  • Record a minute of room time after the interview
  • Once it's over, do not edit the tape. Just upload it to the producer

As a tape syncer, you are not there to ask questions of the interviewee. That said, I have occasionally missed an obvious great question that an enthusiastic tape syncer has piped in with at the end of the interview. I would say establish whether you're comfortable with this or not at the outset. After all, you are hiring a radio producer and they usually have pretty good instincts.

Bonus video!

Andrew Norton and our friends at Transom produced this "guide to professional audio recording" 😉  and the tape sync.

About the author

Janna Graham
Janna Graham is an independent radio producer and media artist based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Graham's radio documentaries tell the stories of risk-takers, caretakers, and underdogs, and, attempt to celebrate human goodness, in all its curious and tragic forms. Her stories have aired on CBC Radio's The Current and The Sunday Edition, NPR's Marketplace and, RTE Docs on One in Ireland.

A Long Distance Solution made its debut at the International Features Conference in Lublin, Poland in 2014. It was also featured as a Third Coast Audio spotlight. She currently lives in a shack with her two dogs on the shores of Great Slave Lake in the historical Woodyard neighborhood in Yellowknife.

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