On finding a place to record videos

The first thing I want to report on, in my new series on working remotely, is the problem of finding a place to record videos for my MOOC. If I were in Chapel Hill, I could use the studio that ITS Teaching and Learning has set up for us MOOC instructors. Heck, I could even set up in my office. But I’m not in Chapel Hill, and I no longer have an office.

ITS T&L has lent me a bunch of video recording equipment: a webcam & tripod, a microphone, but most importantly, a Wacom tablet so I can write on-screen in my videos. The question was, where to set up all this equipment? I had a few requirements, some real & some self-imposed.

First, it had to be private. It was just a non-starter to record in a coffeeshop: the mike is too sensitive to record where there’s a lot of noise, or really any noise at all. Also, no library carrells: the MOOC videos would be mini-lectures, which of course means talking out loud.

Which led me to think of library study rooms. I’ll be a visiting professor at UW, come the start of their Fall semester… but I’m not yet. So I don’t have a UW ID, which means I don’t exist in the UW system yet. Basically, I’m just some guy off the street. And the library wasn’t willing to give me a study room without my having some affiliation with UW. Fair enough, honestly; I can’t fault them for that. But it was a bother for me.

So I investigated coworking spaces. Some of these do allow you to book meeting rooms, which would achieve the necessary privacy. But for one thing, just booking private meeting rooms all the time seems to run counter to the spirit of coworking spaces. And for another thing, I’d have to set up & break down my equipment every day.

Which brings me my self-imposed requirement: I wanted a space where I could leave my recording equipment set up, so I wouldn’t have to set it up & break it down every time. I was happy to pack my laptop in & out, but I wanted to leave the rest of it in place. Which meant a semi-permanent, private, and importantly, lockable space.

Finally I just gave up on finding a place I could rent or borrow, & I set up in our apartment. I tried setting up on our kitchen table, but that didn’t work. The light was bad & it was too loud: too many windows in too large a space, so too little control over the lighting angle & intensity. (The kitchen & living room were one big space, & the apartment was a corner unit, so we had a lot of windows.) Also there was too much street noise: our apartment was in the Capitol Hill section of Seattle, which is serious urban core, and frequently gets emergency vehicles screaming down the street, not to mention people yelling on the street. Even on the 5th floor, we got a lot of noise.

Finally I just caved, so to speak, and set up in a cave: in the closet in our kids’ room. Which we were still using as a closet. I took the shelves off the walls of the closet, and schlepped 2 nightstands (for a desk), a lamp, & a chair in. Then I went out to Jo-Ann Fabric & bought a 9×9′ square of dark blue fabric & hung it on the wall behind me. So it wouldn’t be so obvious I was sitting in a closet.

I recorded the first unit of my MOOC in a closet. I’m kind of proud of the setup I achieved, to be honest. But it was a total hack. Wires everywhere, our kids’ clothes hanging just off camera, and barely enough room for me to get around the desk to sit down. And with all that electronic equipment, a lamp, and a human in it, it got hot pretty fast.

After unit 1, we moved to the house we’re renting, and I now have a home office, thank goodness. Lighting is still an issue though: no matter where I put the desk, I’ll always have a window behind me, so I’m getting creative with blackout curtains. I bought a bunch of command adhesive hooks & stuck them to the ceiling, and hung the 9×9′ sheet from them, so the backdrop is consistent. I don’t think that’s really necessary, but I’d already bought the fabric, so what the heck. Plus my office is still full of boxes we haven’t unpacked yet, & that wouldn’t be the most attractive backdrop.

So, I suppose the moral of the story is this: space really matters when recording videos. I figured I could improvise a studio space once we got to Seattle, and I did, but it took me the better part of a month to finally come up with a workable solution. When recording videos, set up a studio — or better still, have someone who knows something about setting up a studio set up for you — well in advance.

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