music/audio: great recording of great playing

I listen to the NPR news summary on the main NPR page and the web page often features Tiny Desk concerts recorded at a not-so-tiny desk at some NPR office (and promoted by cute hedgehogs). Many are excellent. I grooved on Thundercat playing with Mac Miller, a guy I barely knew about, only to find he’d died.

What’s impressive about these live videos is the sound. Watch this thrilling performance by Tedeschi-Trucks band:

That’s 11 people including two drummers recorded in the middle of an office. It’s crazy how good it sounds! Listen to the turn starting around 9:20 from the sax solo that ends “Don’t Know What It Is” (by Kofi Burbridge who passed away in 2019), to Trucks’ sparse transition, to Tedeschi’s spine-tingling “Aooohuoooh” opening “Anyhow” (watch how she looks at him at 10:20 💕🎶), and into that building horn chart. You can hear everything by everyone as it crests.

Well, here’s why: two really good audio engineers, Josh Rogosin and Kevin Wait, a lot of high-quality sometimes expensive microphones, and a lot of experience putting them together. These live performances often sound better than the bands on the late night talk shows; performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live in particular often have thin hard-to-hear vocals.

Troll time

Someone commented on how great the sound is, and I made up this explanation, and someone else thought I was serious.

Watch the Tiny Desk videos where audio engineer Josh Rogosin talks about the care he takes selecting from a multitude of quality, some very expensive, microphones, then positioning them to get great sound from the middle of a ^%$#@! open-plan office. But… it’s all a lie! The beer bottles on the shelf behind Derek Trucks are disguised Helmholtz resonators. The shelves of vinyl LPs and books are actually CNC-milled diffusers, you never see an album out of place because they’re solid Sitka spruce. The desk divider in front of Susan Tedeschi is a $4,000 anechoic panel. The 3-D “Bob Boilen” and “AllSongs Considered” cut-outs are actually bass traps stuffed with shaved yak fur to tune ceiling reflections. Etc.

That is the only explanation why Tiny Desk Concerts consistently sound better than artists on Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the other late-night talk shows. That “office” is a $2,000,000 recording studio. The truth is out there.

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