If you plan on featuring guests on your podcast, it’s rare that everyone will be available for an in-person interview. Unless you’re strategically coordinating your guest interviews with conferences, events or some other type of travel schedule, you’ll need a plan for what are often referred to as “remote interviews” – that is, an interview with someone in a remote location (i.e., not sitting in front of you). This post shares our thoughts on how to record remote interviews, including the pros and cons of the most popular tools and solutions.
Professional broadcast radio shows will often use an ISDN studio for their remote interviews. The host sits at a mic in one recording studio. The guest sits at a mic in another studio. The two are connected via a high-speed ISDN connection, and it sounds just like both people are in the same room.
Current consumer-level technologies make this a relatively moot option for most podcasters. You can get pretty close to studio-level quality using a computer with a good Internet connection.
You have a few options here that (surprise, surprise–) vary in cost, quality and complexity. (There’s that authenticity spectrum again…) The right choice for you depends on your budget, tech savviness, and desired level of production quality.
Regardless of which service/technology you use to record your remote interview, there are some things to keep in mind and impress upon your remote guest:
- Use good microphones on both ends.
If your guest doesn’t have a good external mic, you can send them one in the mail. Or at the very least, a headset.
- Wear headphones.
Make sure you and your guest are both wearing headphones.
- Don’t forget about environment.
Advise your guests to situate themselves somewhere quiet, keeping in mind the advice found in the next section on recording environment.
Most podcasts use some form of Internet recording for their remote interviews. There are a number of options to choose from, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Source-Connect Now is an audio-streaming service designed specifically for radio stations, podcasters, filmmakers, etc. to serve as a substitute for an ISDN remote studio. The service provides broadcast-quality audio that can be recorded and downloaded with a click of a button.
Aside from the recording quality and ease, another great benefit of Source-Connect is that your guest does not need to have an existing account (as is the case with Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts). You can simply send them a link and a guest login password, and they’re good to go.
Source-Connect Now only works with Google’s Chrome browser (Windows and Mac), so you need to make sure your guest follows your link using Chrome. The basic service is free, and if you want to add additional features like 10-person conferencing, there is a monthly subscription cost.
If not the most popular application for remote podcast interviews, Skype is certainly the most discussed. It’s probably because Skype was one of the first VoIP applications allowing people to talk over the Internet, and people are comfortable using it. You can connect via the Skype website or download the Skype desktop app.
Skype is free, as long as you’re connecting with another Skype user. If someone is on a traditional phone line, then there’s a small fee. If you don’t want to worry about paying for these calls, you’ll need to make sure your guest has a Skype account and is comfortable using the technology.
We highly recommend audio-only calls with Skype (unless you have a reason to record video). Video is much more demanding on your connection bandwidth, and it can cause glitches and hiccups during the call that can’t be fixed in editing.
The major downsides of Skype are that it has NO recording functionality, and the audio itself is mediocre at best. Often times the audio can get “crunchy” or make you sound like a robot. So you have two options to record your Skype calls.
First, if you’re OK with the sound quality of a Skype call, there are a number of applications specifically designed to record Skype calls for Windows (Free Video Call Recorder from DVDVideoSoft) and Mac (Call Recorder for Skype from Ecamm, $30). If you’ve set up your computer with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to record other parts of your podcast, you can also use your DAW to record your Skype calls.
Your second option for recording Skype calls is a bit more complicated, but avoids relying on the sound quality of your Skype call. In fact, in this scenario, you’re not actually recording the Skype call. Instead, you can use your DAW to record your voice onto your computer, and your guest does the same using their computer (something as simple as QuickTime will do). So each of you will be recording your individual voices locally on your own computers. Your guest then sends you his/her recorded track, and you’ll have both voices as two separate audio tracks. Perfect for editing. (Just send them to us, and we’ll handle it!)
If everyone is a Mac/iPhone user, you can simply use FaceTime to host your free call. The obvious downside is that it requires everyone to be on an Apple device.
FaceTime does not have its own recording function, but you can use QuickTime to record your screen, or use an application like Audio Hijack (or your DAW) that can record any sound coming through your computer.
Not to be outdone, Google offers their own audio/video solution called Hangouts. If you use Gmail and/or Google Calendar, or your business uses Google Apps for Work, there’s nice integration with Hangouts, allowing you to easily schedule a call and share the link.
People on a regular phone can join a Google Hangout, but they cannot dial in. You’ll need to use Hangouts to dial out to them. A small issue, but one to be aware of.
Hangouts differs from Skype and FaceTime in that it offers a recording function, but this being a Google product, it requires you to broadcast the conversation live on YouTube. This is great if you’re hosting live podcasts, but otherwise entirely undesirable. But, you can still use audio recording applications like Audio Hijack (Mac) or the Sound Recorder App (Windows).
If you want to make things as simple as possible for guests to dial into your show on their phone, you can get what’s called a hybrid, like the JK Audio Broadcast Host. You connect a phone line and your microphone to the hybrid inputs, and then connect the hybrid output to your computer/recording device. This ends up working just like phone calls you hear on the radio: the guest is on the phone, and the host is on your mic/headphones.
The benefit of a hybrid is that it can’t be simpler for your guests. They pick up their phone and dial your number. The downside, aside from the cost and setup of a high-quality hybrid, is that the guest sounds like they’re on the phone. Not an issue for a short conversation, but not very desirable for a long interview. You also obviously need a landline to connect.
Regardless of your recording software, there are certain best practices you should always follow to make sure your recordings are as clear and high-quality as possible.
Pay special attention to microphone placement–for you and your guests–to ensure you get the most out of your recording. Don’t forget to coach your guest if they are not familiar with speaking into a microphone.
If you want guests to be able to pick up the phone and call you on a landline, you’ll need a phone hybrid.
If you want to avoid sounding like someone is on the phone, there are many free VoIP options available. Not every voice application has a recording function, so you may need to also choose a second application to do the recording. There are free and paid options for those.
Skype is perhaps the most popular Internet voice application, but the audio quality sometimes suffers. We recommend considering other applications, or recording your source audio directly.