I’ve been recording field audio for NPR since 2004, and many of the techniques I’ve used to tell stories on the radio are implemented at the Tiny Desk. From the iconic stereo mid/side shotgun microphone to spaced omni-directional mics above the audience, the DNA of NPR is what makes Tiny Desk recordings so distinct. I’ll answer any questions about the live set-up, post-production and mixing processes. Come with your questions about any specific episode recorded after July, 2015, when I took over as audio engineer for Tiny Desk from my mentor, Kevin Wait.

I’ll start answering questions at 2PM Eastern. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Proof: https://twitter.com/NPR/status/1219716350840582145

Comments: 238 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

KirnMX117 karma

Why do you not simply get a bigger desk?

npr56 karma

HAHA yes please....

npr45 karma

Thanks everyone for joining me for this AMA! I'm always happy to share all the gory details about Tiny Desk audio production. My twitter handle is joshrogosin I'm always posting pix on Instagram too. If you haven't seen it, here's a video I made a few years ago for the Tiny Desk Contest about setting up some mics.

TheeHaroldClurman38 karma

I think Tiny Desk is such an awesome example of meaningful internet content, it's been awesome to watch every artist regardless of if I know them or not. Two questions!

  1. When you started the job in July, what were your concerns or expectations about the job? Did you feel like you had shoes to fill?
  2. I'm turning a play into a podcast and I've been so overwhelmed by creating an 'audio world', when you feel like you're not capturing sounds right, how do you get over the technical challenges?

npr33 karma

Kevin Wait, my predecessor and mentor, left HUGE SHOES TO FILL and I was PETRIFIED. But I trusted my ears — as did Kevin and so does Bob. I'm very very very lucky. Trust your ears and get the tech to make it sound good. Try to ignore the tools — trust your ears.

listeningpartywreck32 karma

Hey Josh, quick question, why do you decide on using shotgun mics for vocals (and sometimes other instruments) instead of say an SM58 or similar mics which are usually more common for live sound uses?

npr70 karma

Comes from NPR.... The shotgun mics sound WAY more natural without all that proximity effect you need to EQ out. Plus they can be placed a bit further away so you can see the performer's face and emotion! Also I don't have a PA or monitors and therefore FEEDBACK to worry about (lucky me!!).

Sunburn7930 karma

I have a few questions:

  1. Which band/artist has given your favorite performance over the years?
  2. Do the artists have a lot of input in the sound set up, or are they pretty hands off so that you can do your thing?
  3. How early are you notified of any special requests for extra musicans, strange instruments or large bands, or to ask another way, are you ever surprised when something/someone crazy shows up that you weren't planning for?
  4. What's up with the lag between publishing performances on NPR's website versus getting them out on YouTube?

Regarding question three, I'm thinking about stuff like Golden Dawn Arkestra. They were wild.

npr66 karma

I have sooo many favorites, but Monsieur Periné comes to mind. They're from Bogata and we had to stuff them behind the desk clown-car style. I love latin artists because they usually come with an amazing rhythm section. The artists absolutely have some say, but usually trust me now that the series is so popular. Today I asked the band to bypass all of their reverb and delay effects on their acoustic instruments and once they got comfortable without they were happy. We really want to capture something raw and natural and NOT what they get from their studio recordings. Things show up I don't plan for at least every other Tiny Desk and I'm constantly flying by the seat of my pants. The lag between YouTube and npr.org is usually 1 week. I love watching on npr.org to AVOID AD's MID CONCERT!! But it's so fun to read the YouTube comments.


BobNotBobby27 karma


Have you ever had to do a second take of anything?

Is it challenging to ride the line of achieving the highest sonic quality while keeping the nuances and intimacy of the atmosphere of the Tiny Desk?

Thanks and happy Wednesday

npr44 karma

Bands are allowed to retake, but it happens rarely. And if I'm not happy I'll stop everything and make an adjustment. It's important to get what I need to make it great and if I don't interrupt, I'll regret it. That said it doesn't happen often. Yes, it's a huge challenge to ride the line of perfect audio vs. Tiny Desk aesthetic. Everything is a compromise, but I do the best I can. I want mics closer at times, but I also want them to disappear so it's all about the performance.

wgbh_boston27 karma

Who is your #1 bucket list musician that you haven't done a Tiny Desk with... yet?

npr85 karma

Radiohead or Vulfpeck

The_Raji23 karma

Do people actually work where the Tiny Desk is recorded? What's the space like where people are watching and listening while bands record?

npr30 karma

YES it's actually the desk of All Song's Considered host, Bob Boilen. Check out this link from a 360 shoot with Wilco to really get a sense of the space!

tjrowl092622 karma

How do you go about combatting mic bleed in such a small live setting while still maintaining clean open mixes where everything is present?

npr36 karma

Lots of muting mics when they are not being used and tons of level riding so I only hear things when I want to. Sometimes the bleed is inevitable.

lukeisheretic21 karma

Can you please free Smino's tiny desk concert that was supposedly recorded over a year ago?

npr18 karma


camilocedeno20 karma

What’s the mix turnaround time for the episodes and do you have a favorite plug in suite that you use for mixing? What techniques are you employing to make sure you’re capturing sympathetic bleed from all of the mics (placement/mic selection for certain instruments).

npr31 karma

I do a rough mix the same day so it's fresh in my mind when I mix (we tape 3x a week). Then I live with multiple mixes on my phone for about a month and listen in many different contexts on different headphones and speakers. I'm constantly making tweaks but I never take notes. I like waves renaissance and Izotope ozone. The bleed is a part of what makes Tiny Desk and I'm constantly struggling with it. I mute mics when they're not playing to them and ride levels like crazy in post. Plus I use directional mics but try not to block the performer's faces.

coryrenton20 karma

What was the weirdest bit of improvisational techniques you've used to solve a recording problem or obstacle?

npr25 karma

Clipping on a wireless mic to the tuba for the Root's walk-on entrance!

kingmauro20 karma

How much time does it take to you to set up everything before bands can actually start recording? Thanks!

npr22 karma

Typically 3 hours.

VulfpeckFan12318 karma

I have to ask about Tedeschi Trucks band. How does recording a huge band with a huge sound in a small space effect how you direct the artists. Do you want them to play like they would in a bigger venue?

npr23 karma

YES I wish I had more space so musicians could be further apart and afford better separation.... But I LOVE the vibe and the way things look when they're all crammed together back there. I direct the artists to play as quietly as possible and to really LISTEN to each other. It's AMAZING when you take away the monitors. The entire dynamic changes for the better and the performances are spectacular. I love bringing up the gain on my quiet preamps and make the mics work for the music, not the other way around.

BakedInTheSun9817 karma

This is not specifically about production so I can only hope you answer.

Was Mac as genuine of a guy as he truly seemed to be? It just seems like he connected with the person, any time he did an interview or anything. The crowd/band/production staff etc. Or was he just in and out, and self absorbed?

I probably wouldve cried if I got a live performance of 2009.

(And I would have, just over a month later, if he didn't pass..)

npr25 karma

Mac was a sweetheart, as was the entire band. When musicians come to the desk they're always really happy to be there. Mac's sole priority seemed to make things easy and sound great, with a great attitude and no drama. His team mentioned to me "all we care about is that the bass is on top" (after Mac of course.)

GenerallyConfusedEd16 karma

How many mics have you had for a performance, and how have you run the audio during the performance with that many sources?

After the performance, are you doing much adjusting to levels?

Do you typically add any effects in post? How does Tiny Desk have such a full sound?

Do the artists have monitors behind the desk?

Thank you, Josh!

npr22 karma

I limit the inputs to 16 (2 always go for audience and 2 for the m/s stereo shotgun that my mentor and predecessor Kevin Wait started using in the early days for Tiny Desk). But I have a keyboard amp I love that can take 8 inputs I can submix to 2. So if you count those channels it's 22 MAX channels. I ride levels dramatically when I have to, like for Liane Lahavas (which you can hear in the last song "Forget".) I EQ like crazy. I want to hear that THUMP and SPARKLE and add VERY LITTLE reverb. NO MONITORS NO PA. Cheers!

flag-nerd15 karma

What was your favorite performance you've witnessed? What's your dream tiny desk concert performer/band/etc?

npr41 karma

Loved Superorganism because all of the foley! I WANT RADIOHEAD

SingShredCode12 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA and for all you do to make tiny desk concerts sound great!

-What have been the most technically interesting tiny desk concerts to do audio for? What made them interesting?

-Can you talk about how you approached doing Imogen Heap's concert with the glove?

npr28 karma

It was a really tough challenge to record Red Baarat walking in from the greenroom at the top of the session and transitioning to behind Bob's desk. I worked REALLY hard to make it sound seamless. Liane LaHavas was also tough because she sang so dynamically. The volume automation was ALL OVER THE PLACE but I'm super proud how smooth it sounds. For Imogen Heap, I had to set up a PA so we could hear all the effects in the room, then I took a stereo out for the recording. I originally mixed the stereo image in reverse and had to swap L/R once I saw the video (before it published, thankfully).

Vengabus_driver12 karma

Were Bob Boilen to end his drought of booking 90s Euro Dance and Trance artists like Vengaboys, Alice Deejay or Aqua, what sort of challenges would you as an audio engineer face in capturing the essence of these acts?

npr19 karma

I want to feel the BASS.

ducttape3612 karma

What is your most versatile dynamic and condenser mic? What do you have that you use for nearly every performance? What post effect (e.g. compression, reverb) do you use most often?

npr29 karma

I really like the dynamic's from Heil sound (Chicago based). I use the PR40 on kick and bigger brass and ususally put a PR30 in front of all the guitar amps. I love the Sennheiser 418s mid/side shotgun mic and the 416 mono version for vocals and the Neumann KM84 for percussion. The Blue Hummingbirds are great 'cause you can angle the capsules and I love the look and sound of Ear Trumpet Lab mics from Portland, OR. I use waves renaissance for EQ and compression and Izotope Ozone to master

For more info check out Tiny Tech Tips

Mr_Megalomania10 karma

What has been your biggest challenge working on the Tiny Desk sessions, and what advice do you have for young engineers?

npr21 karma

Making bands feel comfortable and making sure they trust me. Move your head around until it sounds good then replace your head with a mic. Listen, don't look.

ichgneins9 karma

Thank you so much for doing this Q and A session!

I've been reading your answers and overall about the hardware that is used for tiny desk and when it comes to SD 788t - the series are discontinued and now replaced by 883 (it seems, sorry if I am wrong, maybe saw the wrong sources).

I wanted to ask, because you mentioned that 788t is part of the iconic tiny desk sound and the preamps are amazing, is it worth buying used 788t over the new one and is it the reason you haven't upgraded to 883? Or/and is it just because there isn't that much worth of doing so, because upgrade is too pricey compared to the result you get?

P.S. will this thread be deleted afterwards or can I just save the link?

npr12 karma

Buy the 788t's used!! They're WAYYYYY cheaper than when I bought mine. The link to this thread will work forever!!

LoudTsu9 karma

What DAW does it go into? And why?

npr15 karma

Protools because I want the sessions to be future proof and it's the most common DAW (vinyl anyone??).

Caer-bannog9 karma

Anderson .Paak or Lianne La Havas?

npr30 karma

I love all my children equally.

rsatz17 karma

Hey there, thank you so much for doing this!

I’m a senior music and sound recording student and have been fascinated by the mics that are used.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the microphones. How much better do you feel they are in audio quality to cheaper options?


npr11 karma

Please check out this article I wrote about this exact thing!

Cpl_Dragon7 karma

Do you have any artists that you wish would come back?

npr10 karma

themeerkatguy6 karma

Which tiny desk would you recommend to someone who has never seen the series before?

npr9 karma

I love H.E.R.'s.

Xhentil6 karma

What was a technically challenging act that you had and how did you make it happen?

npr10 karma

Tedeschi Trucks had 2 full drum kits and a horn section, so it was super tough to keep that all out of Susan Tedeschi's vocal mic.

420Prelude5 karma

How do I break into the professional radio business?

npr9 karma

We have lots of amazing internships throughout the year as well as jobs listed on this career site. https://www.npr.org/careers

RedditTrollin4 karma

Is there an "allowable" spectrum of ambient and breath sound that you shoot for in a finished session? Specifically will you adjust mics to capture more or less of these sounds for a performance? Also huge fan of NPR and tiny desk specifically. Tank and The Bangaz and T-Pain are two of my all time favorite performances.

npr12 karma

I don't like the sound of air handling when the music is super quiet, so I'll use iZotope to remove it.

eolcott2 karma

A few questions as well (disclaimer: I'm the author of Podcast Studio for macOS)

  1. Specifically what software do you use to record? Is it a full DAW or is it something specialized?
  2. How many channels are use to record a typical episode, and do you mix to mono or stereo?
  3. What is one thing that is the annoying/hard-to-deal-with that you believe software could improve for you?

npr12 karma

NPR field recording is in the DNA of how every Tiny Desk is captured so I record to 2 sound devices field recorders with really nice built in pre amps. They are the 788t series and record to compact flash (I know ancient format) and internal SSD simultaneously for a built in back up. Everything gets transferred to Protools where I use plug ins from waves and izotope for EQ and mastering. I purposefully limit inputs to 16 channels and mix to stereo. Software is just the tools you need to learn. It's all about listening and knowing how to manipulate the software —to make things sound the way you like.

[deleted]0 karma


npr3 karma

Thanks! The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest launches in early February. Keep an ear out for our announcement!

Mariana-Hutten0 karma

Hey! My question is regarding your use of helmholtz resonators. I quickly read somewhere where it was mentioned that you use it for the Tiny Desk concerts. Could you expand on how you use them and for what purpose? Thanks!

npr11 karma

I don't use them.