On the first floor of Mountaintop's Building C, just past a meeting room often bursting with students -- laughing and loud -- sits one of the quietest spaces on campus, a sparsely-furnished room padded from floor to ceiling with sound-dampening foam. Step inside, close the door, and suddenly all you hear is … nothing.
Opened in the fall of 2018, the Library and Technology Services do-it-yourself Audio Recording Studio is a CITL creator space stocked with professional grade microphones, a Mac computer, recording software, and speakers, everything you need to easily record quality narrations, voiceovers, interviews, and podcasts on your own.
Last summer, Kevin Kirner ‘G19 turned to the studio after working on a student-led research project as part of the Mountaintop Initiative that culminated in a documentary called Betting on Bethlehem, released in the spring of 2019. A collaborative effort between the Digital Media Studio and Lehigh students and faculty, the film explored the Sands Casino’s relationship with South Bethlehem. As the students researched, directed, and produced the film, they realized they had a lot of material that would have otherwise been left out for length.
Enter the studio.
“There were stories and perspectives that we didn’t want to leave out entirely,” says Kirner. “And so the team decided to supplement the project with a companion podcast called The Gamble. The four-part series, recorded and produced over several weeks and hosted by Kirner, included interviews with community members and some of the filmmaking team.
Kirner says that the decision to include it in library resources “came from this sense of ethnographic training and oral histories being included in a curriculum, but also a curriculum that incorporates digital tools.”
Exploding in popularity in recent years, podcasting offers an accessible, democratic way to explore and tell a richer story that might not be possible through other mediums.
No experience? No problem.
Students and others considering using the space, whether for in-class projects, club activities, or just personal use, needn’t worry about their inexperience. Everything is designed to be as simple as possible, requiring only a quick tutorial on how to use the equipment and software.
While Kirner has professional experience with equipment used for both documentary and fiction filmmaking, he says there isn’t much of a learning curve in the studio. “It sort of makes the technology transparent,” he says. “[The studio] lets you focus more on the conversation you’re having rather than focusing on your levels.”
Christine Kreschollek, Coordinator of Technology and Communications for Art, Architecture, and Design agrees. She used the audio recording studio for a video in Modern Art and has also used it to interview a student. “I think the room is great and I am so impressed with the sound quality and ease of use.” she says.
Advice for First-time podcasters
Kirner says the best advice he has for someone new to podcasting is to think about the radio shows and podcasts that they listen to. “Think about them analytically, how they're constructed, the soundscape that they're building. Then throw it all out and give yourself time to learn.”
He says while the studio configuration is straightforward, he does recommend making a reservation or two before recording to get familiar with the equipment. “You want the technology to be transparent, an extension of yourself, so you can focus on your ideas or on your guest. It's easy to get distracted by the tech. And accept that, at least at first (and maybe for a long time after), there will be a gap in quality between the work that inspires you and the work that you are able to produce.”
If you’re new to interviewing, he has some additional advice. “It depends on your guest and you. If you've both stayed on topic and were hyper-conscious about your "uh, ums," it can be relatively straightforward. But you actually have no idea how much filler noise humans make when they're searching for a word or an idea.”
As for editing the final product, he says “It’s OK to cut content that doesn't work for the topic - but know that you can always cut later. When in doubt, let your guest talk. You're there to listen.”
Rowan Brown '23 contributed to this story.