Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

Do I Need to Upgrade My Home Studio?

Remote Work Tips From a Career of Remote Experience

I have a long history of expensive hobbies going back to Flight Simulator and music when I was a kid. In college, when both of those had been turned into (or were in the process of being turned into) a career I shifted to motorcycles and, later, a host of various hobbies up until about the start of the pandemic two years ago.

For a number of reasons, including this area isn’t safe for motorcycles and the opportunity and space to do many of my other favorite hobbies just isn’t an option anymore, I really haven’t had any outlet for the past two years. I work, then I write about work and then I talk about work, that’s it. I need to fix that.

Not coincidentally, 2020 is also when I stopped speaking in public as the world ground to a halt. Today I miss that interaction. I used to speak at WordPress events but they’ve proven completely incapable of hosting a safe event in the age of COVID. When the pandemic hit I actually thought it was a good time to take a break from speaking in general and have done very little of it online as it has just never been a format I was all that comfortable with. This year I’m starting to change that.

It turns out, when I learn how to handle all the tech involved, I rather enjoy giving talks online. While most of what I’ve done has been podcasts, I’m quickly learning that there is an art to recording a good event and, like any hobby (or career as so many I trust have made it), doing it right requires both knowledge and equipment.

A couple of weeks ago my Friend Matt Medeiros asked me to record a 1-minute segment on security for The WP Minute. Easy, right? For me it was anything but. To attempt to record that minute I spent, in total, about 6 hours trying to learn GarageBand and still wound up with 4 minutes of content. For someone who has given over 100 talks to live and online audiences I felt like the ultimate newbie for something that I somehow thought “wouldn’t be a big deal.”

In the process of learning how to record that minute (if you’re reading this, Matt, I’m going to give it another shot this week), I also found out that my audio doesn’t sound all that great. This started me down quite a rabbit hole and resurfaced comments folks had made to me in past videos where I was asked if I was recovering from a disease because the lighting was so bad (can we agree to leave out the implications of the question itself? It’s been asked a few times even by people who really did mean well and whom I trust implicitly). As I want to do more of this work, it’s time to up my game.

My current setup

Today, for recording, I’m using a 2021 16″ MacBook Pro with 64GB of RAM and an M1 Max processor. Connected to it I have a Blue Yeti mic and and decade, or so, old Logitech C930 webcam all in my home office where, I admit, audio quality and layout were never a concern. This hardware was bought when I first started working remotely in offices that weren’t remote. I bought them to not be the “odd man out” in meetings, not for recording anything for a wider audience.

For software I typically use Zoom, or whatever “simple” software I’m asked to use by the event I’m recording for. Forget transcripts or anything like that, I’ve never had an event ask for them. I tried Camtasia once, in 2013, when I last thought I would be recording more content but I never got past the simplest of screen recordings and I’ve long since dropped it from my toolbox.

This setup has served me well for a long time where meetings with my team was my primary use case. For anything else, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. From less-than stellar audio to grainy video and horrible lighting the production quality just can’t compete and, even in my limited recording experience, I’ve heard plenty of comments about it already.

What I’m looking at

So what am I looking at to upgrade to?

For audio I’m considering a system very similar to what Joe Casabona is using with a Shure SM7B mic routed through a Rodecaster Pro. Given the layout and shape of my office I’ll also add some sound panels to the walls which should help a lot in the space I have to work with.

Lighting it a bit trickier. Matt was nice enough to record this excellent demo of what he’s doing with his own space. In looking at some of the lights he has, however, I’m not sure how I will make a soft box, even the smaller one, work in my space without driving me crazy. As of writing this I’m not sure which direction I’ll go with this. There are so many options out there. I’m leaning towards a key light similar to what Matt talks about in front and an accent light or two behind me in the office but I still have a lot to think about it.

I also haven’t decided on a new camera yet, though I do think a mirrorless camera is where I’m going to wind up. The Logitech I have may be great for meetings, but I really do want something that will look better for when I do more.

As for software, I haven’t even gotten there yet.

What I know is I want to record more talks for both events and this site. I’m sure whatever road I take will be quite an improvement over what I have today.