Blog: History of the Banana Stand, Part 1

When I started consulting (the day job), I worked in an office in downtown Indianapolis. Every day, I'd cart my 17″ Macbook Pro (that piece of shit) to work instead of using the office's toolbarred-to-fuck, IE-only Windows machines (those pieces of shit).

One day a visitor to the office took notice. I'll try to recreate a barely-remembered conversation:

Him: “Hey, are you an Apple guy?”

Me: “Yeah, they're awesome (1). ” 

Him: “Do you ever listen to MacBreak Weekly?”

Me: “I don't know what that is.”

Him: “It's a great Mac-focused podcast from Leo Laporte, who also does This Week in Tech.”

Me: “What's a podcast?”

Him: “Oh, it's like an internet radio show, but basically anyone can record a show and put it up on iTunes for people to listen or subscribe to.”

Me: “Wait, what? That's amazing.”

And then I started listening to podcasts. A lot of podcasts. Almost all the time. And, for the first time, started to think about recording audio.

The awful thing is that I can't remember the guy's name. He was visiting his wife, who worked across the hall from me. At some point I'll track him down — this conversation was the first step towards recording, moving to Portland, and the Banana Stand. 

The Goal

So: podcasts, podcasts, podcasts. Seriously, podcasts. 

Diggnation was part of my weekly digest at the time. I haven't listened to it in years now, but at the time it was pretty bohemian. Diggnation featured Kevin Rose, fresh from the cover of Business Week and one of the hottest names in the Valley, and his buddy, the intolerable (2) Alex Albrecht. These were heady days for Digg. Rose and Albrecht would drink beer (sometimes a lot of beer), sit on a couch, and talk about the hottest stories on the site. They would often be pretty toasted by show's end, and I remember on-air anecdotes about one or both hosts booting immediately after some tapings.

The show was engaging at the time, but certainly not debate at the highest level. My thought: “Drinking a bunch of beer, talking technology — this is something I can do.”

The Gear

So, on a whim in early 2007, I purchased the amazing BSW PODCAST SOLUTIONS STARTER PACKAGE. I thought I was so hip. The bundle consisted of:

  • An Alesis MultiMix8 USB – Four XLR in, then stereo quarter inch inputs for channels 5/6 and 7/8. Recorded a main-mix stereo-out via USB. It was a start, but not much more. Later traded for an Shure SM57, a decision that we regretted almost immediately. The Alesis wasn't the best piece of gear, but it would have given us four more XLR inputs, which we often needed when using eight XLR mixer.
  • An Audio-Technica AT 2020 – Cheap but solid side-address condenser mic. This gets a ton of use. It was for a long time my preferred vocal mic for podcasts (3). The vast majority of the content available on our site was recorded with this being used in one application or another, most often as an overhead on drums (though we've recently upgraded to a pair of AKG C1000s). This is still Au Contraire's go-to mic for scratch tracking. Grab one for $99 and it'll probably be decent to you.
  • An On-Stage Stands DS7200B Desk Mic Stand – It is what it is. Not terrible for live recording applications (can generally get where you need to on an amp), but we greatly prefer On-Stage's MS7920B, which has a more solid base and a 16″ boom arm (essential for kick drum, wonderful for most snares, also awesome for amps.) We have three MS7920Bs now, and will probably still pick up 1-2 more.
  • A book called Podcast Solutions – Still on my bookshelf. I've read…some of it. Recently helpful for some tips on podcast mixing, which I'm still not great yet.
  • A 5 ft. mic cable – Can't have enough cables. Still in use today. 

It's all pretty chintzy stuff, but for $250 bucks it was exactly what I needed to get started. Also purchased at that time:

  • Three Shure PG58 mics – Just $129 for all three from BSW at the time. Used in many recordings for vocals and kick drum, but we probably stuck with these for too long (there is, in fact, seldom money in The Banana Stand). Decent if you're on a budget, but SM58 or SM58 Beta mics are a huge improvement and not much more expensive (PG58 normally retails for about $50). In the end: capable of but not extremely good at capturing vocals and other things. Not highly recommended (just buy SM58s).
  • Several cheap Tripod Boom Stands (similar-to but probably cheaper-than On-Stage's MS7701TB) – If I'd given this more thought, I'd have purchased the MS7920B (mentioned above) instead. More trouble than necessary for podcast applications, where we were typically at a table anyway. Glad we have them, (there's constant attrition in our mic stand ranks) but there are much better choices for most applications.

Anyway, I could now talk into microphones, record it on a computer and distribute it to the world. So what did I do? Surprisingly little. I had no clue what I was doing, but knew that it would be fun to do something. A catalyst was needed to actually get something going.

Portland, Beautiful Portland

Then, in October 2007 (nine months after the gear purchase) I moved to Portland to live with Jott Robertson, Ross Faulkenberg, Shawn Pike and Aaron Colter (4). This was critical. I'd visited Portland twice before and had been entirely charmed. There was music and art and culture and people who cared about such things. This was a city where people did things. People I met (and lived with) had both vocations (work to feed their belly) and avocations (work to feed their soul). It inspired me, and, largely, inspired The Banana Stand.

“I” became “we.” The nascent 'Stand had come together, and there were people living within 20 feet of me that could be convinced to participate in bullshit podcasts. So, what did we do? Drink, curse, and offend. Goal achieved. 

The Product

Still surprisingly little.

Eight episodes of The Tech Offensive. This was an early, offensive tech podcast from the nascent 'Stand, you'll hear more about it in later posts.

Early experiments in music. “Hey Shawn, come here, bring your guitar.” We had no idea what we were doing. But, one evening we experimentally set up our three PG58s and the AT2020 around The Greater Midwest as they were practicing. The recordings sounded surprisingly good. There were limitations due to the Alesis, but we were on to something.

Our first run of gear whet our appetites for audio capture but, the limitations were very frustrating. We often wanted more inputs for podcasting, not to mention the ability to record in multi-track (very helpful for podcasting, necessary for our music aspirations). 

The Future

In an early episode of the recently-resurrected Gear Media Tech, Leo Laporte talked up his Mackie Onyx 1620, which he was using as a firewire interface to record his podcasts. It looked amazing. Eight XLR inputs, eight more quarter-inch inputs on the remaining four channel strips, plus multi-track. We asked Adam Pike (Toadhouse) (5) what he thought, and he strongly supported the purchase. 

In December 2007 we ordered the Onyx 1620 and its plug-in firewire interface — what I still describe as the single best purchase I've ever made. This began what could be considered the second phase of our gear collection, and the first phase of the Banana Stand. But that's for next time.

Hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the beginning of the Banana Stand. Comments, critiques and questions are highly appreciated. Check back soon for more behind-the-scenes Banana Stand blog posts!

Louie's the Executive Director and Chief Recordist for Banana Stand Media. He recommends you check out the Banana Stand's Facebook page and BS Mailer email newsletter, because he isn't on Twitter very often anymore. He also recommends that you stop by the 'Stand for our July 31st show with Curious Hands and Ether Circus. It's going to be raaaaad.

(1) I almost used “rad” here, but that didn't exist in the Indianapolis vernacular circa 2006. Also, I use rad too much.

(2) I feel the need to qualify this. On Diggnation, Rose was always the straight, information guy, and Albrecht his silly comedic foil. Albrecht is probably an alright dude, but when he made a serialized web video show focused on him and his friends playing World of Warcraft I decided he sucked.

(3) This was pretty much because I thought it was cool, not due to any sonic quality imparted by the mic.

(4) This was a while before we were joined by Evan Thompson, Jake Schmitt, Chris Anderson and Nick Mokey.

(5) Adam is a very talented audio engineer. He spent several years at Jackpot before opening Toadhouse, his own studio. After moving to Portland, I asked him to check out our gear because I really didn't know what was what. It had to have been difficult, but he didn't laugh at or ridicule our paltry gear/abilities. Sweet dude.