Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Hazel Jennings

Hazel Jennings

Systems designer, podcaster

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Hazel Jennings. "Who are you" is such a funny question, isn't it? I live in San Francisco with my husband and my dog. I'm originally from Pennsylvania and even though I've lived in California for nearly a decade, I still identify as a Pennsylvania girl. I love dancing, and I take 3 ballet classes a week. I work at a big tech company.

But, when it comes to things about me that require interesting equipment: I just launched my very first podcast. The Hardest Part is a podcast where I talk to people about the hardest part of something they've experienced, good or bad, and then edit those conversations down to be short enough that you could listen to the whole thing over a single cup of coffee. I have 6 episodes so far. We talk about things that are really serious, like the hardest part of having cancer when you're a teenager. As well as things that more people might have experience with: like the hardest part of training for a half marathon. Plus, some conversations that are just downright fascinating: like the hardest part of photographing male nudes. It's available on hardestpartpodcast.com, iTunes & Spotify.

What hardware do you use?

Since this was my first podcast venture, and I have a habit of starting creative pursuits and not finishing them, I wanted a setup that was viable but still low-cost. I also wanted a setup that I could travel with, because my apartment isn't a great place to record audio and I hoped people I knew had quieter apartments than I did.

  • Recorder: Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorder. My favorite part of this recorder is that when you turn it off the display says, "Good bye! See you!" and I just find it so charming. I find myself saying it to friends and colleagues sometimes.
  • Microphones: 2 Rode Lavalier mics.
  • Headphones, for recording: I use Moshi in-ear headphones with my recording kit. I wanted my kit to be fairly small, so I went with a pair of ear-bud style headphones instead of something over-ear.
  • Headphones, for editing: For editing, I need higher quality headphones so I that I can make sure to hear every sound. I use a pair of Bose over-ear headphones that have been in my apartment for over 5 years. Here's the closest thing I can find on the market now though. They're pretty old: they don't go wireless, they don't cancel out noise and they don't have a microphone for phone calls or anything. But, they have really good sound quality. Also, I didn't have to buy them because I already had them.
  • Notebook & Pen: I have a little notebook and pen that I carry around in my kit. I like being able to write down notes of things I know I want to ask before hand, or write notes of follow-up questions I think of while someone is talking. My favorite pen is the Muji .38 black gel pen. The notebook I'm using right now is a brown graph paper notebook that says These Are The Things You Make. I got it in the lobby of the Ace hotel in New York several years ago. I always find that I'm drawn to graph paper notebooks and dot grid notebooks, which is sort of funny because I very, very rarely do any sketching. I think I just find myself feeling smarter or more interesting when I'm using graph paper.
  • Transportation: I have all of my equipment in a Herschel cosmetic bag I got for free when I was upgraded to business class on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London.
  • Music: I wrote and recorded my own music that plays under my intros and outs on the podcast. I played it on a Makala Soprano ukulele that I've had since I lived in Pennsylvania.
  • Laptop: I do all of my editing and management on a 2014, 11 inch MacBook Air hooked up to a 27 inch Apple Thunderbolt display. I bought the MacBook Air off of a friend when I decided I wanted to start the podcast. At the time, my only laptop was from work and I didn't want to work on a personal creative venture on my work laptop. But, again, I didn't want to sink a bunch of costs into something I might not stick with. So, I paid him $250 for his used laptop and it's worked great!

And what software?

I edited my first season using Final Cut Pro. Final Cut Pro is obviously for editing film, and not necessarily audio. But, my husband is a film producer. I didn't have any experience with audio editing, so I wanted to use software that my spouse was super-fluent in so I could always ask someone my very specific questions. I'd like to try Adobe Audition, though. I use Dropbox for file management and Squarespace to host my website (like everyone else.)

What would be your dream setup?

I really like that my audio recording setup is mobile and I can interview people in their own homes or places where they're comfortable. But, it's tough to dial in perfect sound quality. I live in San Francisco, so people have upstairs neighbors with crying babies, creaky floors and traffic going by their windows. I also find that it's tough to feel like I have the exact-right levels when I'm just listening through my headphones and hoping for the best.

So, my dream setup would be an actual recording studio that is properly sound proofed and uses professional table microphones. The problem with lav mics is that people bump them or they bump into necklaces or they aren't placed exactly right so they sound weird or different from my audio. It would also be nice to be in a controlled environment. When I was interviewing my friends Spencer and Bryan, I had to ask them to pause their laundry because the mics were picking up the washing machine in the background. When I interviewed my friend Megan, you can hear my dog walking around on the hardwood floors around us. Audio is so fickle. Any little trace of sound is picked up by the mic and then is distracting when you're listening to the episode. My podcast is also highly edited. I am normally editing an hour or two of audio into a 10-15 minute episode. Any background noise can make cuts sound obvious or jarring. So, yeah, recording in a completely sound-proof studio with super high-quality mics would be aces.

I'd also like to upgrade my laptop at some point. The MacBook Air works, but it runs Final Cut Pro pretty slowly. The battery is also starting to die; it only lasts about 25 minutes before it needs to be plugged in again. I mostly work at a desk, so that's fine. But, it might be nice to have a more updated machine.

This isn't related to hardware or software, but time & confidence would be a great part of a dream setup. This 6-episode podcast has been in the works for nearly a year. It's really hard to get the confidence to try something new. When you're busy, it's hard to make time to do something that you're not very good at. Shout out to creatives everywhere who are taking chances. This shit is hard.