Do Much with Little (Smartphone Edition)

This phrase — do much with little — has become a mantra that rolls around in my head. I used to work for a Christian nonprofit that fights human trafficking, and this line was one of our three catch-phrases. “Do much with little.”

Though not very systematically, I have tried to apply this idea to different parts of my life. In order to simplify well, we need the little that remains to be able to do a lot. This could be a pair of shoes that can be used in multiple pursuits, an appliance that can perform more than one function, or a backpack that can work around town, on a plane, and on the trail.

This post is focusing on one such device: the mighty smartphone. Since we still can’t get the Fairphone in the US, I’ve used the two standard options–Android (an early Samsung Galaxy) and the iPhone.

Consider our two week kayak trip. I used the Galaxy to:

  • track our miles with a GPS
  • take pictures and video
  • upload the media to our WordPress blog when we’d get a decent signal
  • watch the weather forecast
  • text trip updates to our team at home who were following our fundraising trip 

0069d-p1150990During the day, we generally used the smallest GoalZero solar panel to charge a battery, which we then used to charge the phone in the tent at night. Do much with little.

I also used that smartphone in my media work. When I went to Europe for 10 days to see some friends and report on a conference for a magazine, I wanted to pack light, so I just took my phone and a Bluetooth keyboard. Each night I’d prop up my phone and pound out my article. Do much with little.

So when I got into podcasting, I was again impressed with the many devices that could be used with a smartphone. At this point I’m back to using an iPhone, so that’s what I’ve been learning about (and thus listing here). Naturally many of the items I’ll mention here could work with iPads as well (and Android phones).

A little background: I started podcasting with a system centered on a mixer and audio recorder that the nonprofit Board approved (SoundCraft EPM6 $220 + Roland R-O5 $200). Then I simplified to only a Zoom H6 ($350, simple & complex configurations). But could it all be done on my phone? 

APPS

I have started experimenting with Bossjock (YouTube, $10). Instead of mixing my podcast intro (music fade, voice over, etc.) in Audacity (free and easy to learn software), I’m playing with using Bossjock for this. It’s pretty easy to do, and the auto-ducking is nice. This app includes sound carts similar to the ones offered by Sound Byte. And of course there are a lot of other good apps for recording audio that don’t have podcasting features. Be sure you can record in a high quality format like WAV

An app to record Skype calls would also be useful. I need to do this at times, but I haven’t experimented with it on my phone yet. In the past, I’ve set up a mix-minus on my mixer and compy to do this. Using an app to do this would obviously require turning Airplane mode off (normally have Airplane mode on to avoid interruptions), so incoming calls and texts could interfere with your recording unless Skype blocks them. I need to learn more about this.

MICS

Since the mic on the iPhone isn’t going to give you quality sound, you need to connect a good external mic. You have a ton of options here at all price points.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Connection type: 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone/mic jack on older iPhones versus Lightning only on the 7. Buy the right product for your phone or get an adapter.
  • Contacts: TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) on most non-phone connections and TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) on smartphones and some other devices, to oversimplify. Again, consider an adapter if needed. (Wikipedia)
  • Type of mic: XLR, USB, or 3.5mm (connection); dynamic or condenser (power); shotgun, clip-on lav/lapel, or regular studio mics  (location/design). Again, to greatly oversimplify.
  • Note on power: some dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B ($400) need more power. And condenser mics need phantom power. Keep this in mind as you think about the type of cables, adapters, and audio interfaces you might want. A Cloudlifter or Fethead can help in some configurations, but not all.

So buy the kind of mic that you want to use (dynamic or condenser studio mic, a shotgun, or a lav) and then figure out how to get from that type of connector (XLR, USB, 3.5mmTRS or TRRS) to the type of connector your particular iPhone has (3.5mm TRRS or Lightning). Here are a few examples:


In the above picture, you see the setup I’m playing with now. I’m using my Zoom H6 as an audio interface to connect my XLR dynamic mic to the lightning port on my iPhone so I can use the Bossjock app (theme music in one cart). 

Here’s the chain: ATR 2100 mic – XLR cable (low quality build) – Zoom H6 – USB mini out – Apple USB/Lightning camera adapter – iPhone 5S – Bossjock app.

Obviously, I wouldn’t buy an H6 for an audio interface. The other options above are cheaper and as good or better for that. But I already had it, so I’m experimenting with it. 

I like the ATR2100 for a few reasons: it’s affordable, it sounds okay (comparison), and it has both XLR and USB outlets (Ortega).

HEADPHONES

Use them. While you’re recording. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had.

And use them when watching these YouTube videos about gear. You’ll hear the differences much better. 

Earbuds are better than nothing, but at $25, the Sennheiser HD 202IIs are hard to beat (B&H).

VIDEO

So after you have the audio dialed in, you just might want to see what you can do with video as well. 🙂

These options show the diversity of ways you can maximize your productivity with the phone you already have in your pocket (since a lot of this applies to other operating systems, not just the iPhone). You don’t have to have a mixer, audio recorder, and video camera to make quality content. With the specific tools that fit your phone and your creative projects, go forth and do much with little….

YOUR TURN: What other tools do you use with your smartphone to get the most out of it?

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