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Recording the History of Jazz in a Pandemic

The creative industries have raced to find solutions to production set ups in this new era. 

Here, John Merriman discusses the unique rig he set up to record the history of some of the greatest names in jazz - over multiple rooms and across multiple locations.

Brief: To record multiple voice actors across our multi-roomed studio, while sending the feed and visual link-up to the rest of the remote production team, and additional voice over actors.  

Content: Five radio dramas, one for each of the greats: Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and Sun Ra. 

Multi-room recording isn't anything new, and thankfully something we undertake regularly at the studio. However, our screen linkups on-site, despite being latency free, have fast become less useful as many crew members work off site.

For video link up, we use Zoom to simplify connection for the off-site members since most people are familiar with it. For sound, we send a separate clean direct feed from the desk (far superior to the sound on any streaming platform). This is a browser-based system with very little latency, and stunning sound. 

Producer Mel Harris and production co-ordinator Eleanor Mein decided they would like to operate on-site for this job, making my job slightly easier since they were able to look after the actors. For many sessions during Covid, as engineer, I've also had to become very good at meet and greet; tea boy; cleaner; host and photocopier runner since all other production team have been virtually linked up. 

To keep everyone safe, recordings were created in batches of 4 actors at a time, each night cleaning down the workstations and preparing for the next day. 

Over the week, actors Madeleine Appiah, Peter Bankolé, Lloyd Thomas, David Carr, Beru Tessama, Elexi Walker, George Eggay, Lloyd Thomas and Wil Johnson tracked all scripts for 6 dramas, each divided into 30 minute scenes being broadcast each evening on Jazz FM, with an omnibus at the weekends. 

One of many challenges was ensuring everyone felt in the same space while recording such intimate and powerful scripts whilst in isolation. The solution was to use a range of tools: giving clear sight lines where possible, video or Zoom/audio link up and tea in the car park(!) made us all feel connected - not to forget the reason for recording - all while capturing uncompromising audio. 

Produced by Sparklabs for Jazz FM

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