Recording Interviews remotely

As well as recording your own podcast monologues or interviews in your studio with guests, you’ll probably want to interview experts or guests who are not able to meet you at the studio. They may live in another part of the country, or even overseas.

There are a number of great tools for recording interviews with remote guests,  easily-available as free or paid platforms which can, with a good internet connection, result in high-quality recordings.

However, there are a number of pitfalls you’ll want to avoid as there are many factors outside your control which can affect your recording. Get your guests to check in advance so they’re as best prepared as they can be.

Ambient noise & reverberation

Quite often, your guest may not realise how much noise there is in their office or home – we all get used to our environment. Open windows may allow road or airport noise in (we interviewed one guest who lived under a flightpath), or machinery noise from, say, washing machines or TVs in other rooms.

Other room problems involve reverberation (like echo). Rooms without soft surfaces like carpets and curtains will reflect sound, and you will hear that in your recordings.

Ask your guest to use a room that’s as isolated from outside noise as much as possible – close windows and doors, and have as much soft furnishing in the room as possible. A hard floor will reflect sound.

Equipment

Quite often, your guest may use a laptop for the interview. This is fine, but do see if your guest can wear a headset with a microphone.

Not only does this make recording better as they might move to and from a laptop microphone as they move their bodies which will result in variations in sound level, but you will normally get a better sound quality.

Your guest should at least wear headphones to prevent a loudspeaker feeding your speech back into their microphone.

This particularly applies if your guest wants to use a Smartphone an app.

Internet

Get the best internet connection you have, both of you. Make sure you have any programs like Dropbox or OneDrive paused or off, as these will consume internet bandwidth and can ruin an interview. Also, try to stop other devices in your studio using the internet (turn email off on your computer, for example – these may also play ‘alert’ noises while you’re recording and get recorded too!).

Ask your guest to use a wired internet connection rather than Wi-Fi if possible – this should not only be faster, but be more stable over a long interview (we’ve recorded interviews lasting an hour or more).

If they use Wi-Fi, ask them to try to avoid having other devices connected to the Wi-Fi at the same time – especially if children are streaming video or playing online games.

Another issue that can arise is when you both speak simultaneously – this could affect the internet connection and one voice could sound garbled and distorted. Suggest to your guest before you start that you’ll try not to talk over each other or at the same time. If you find such ‘interactions’ useful, you can edit these in if you follow the recording advice below and record your voice and your guest’s separately.

 Movement

If you’re sitting for a long time during an interview, you naturally want to move your body from time to time. Some guests may even use hand gestures as they speak if they’re used to presenting.

Jewellery and clothing can make noise in these situations which will be picked up by the mic, so ask your guests to avoid wearing too much if possible. If they wear a headset, they may accidentally knock it while speaking which will cause horrible noises in the recording and, if the Windows option ‘automatically adjust microphone settings’ option is not turned off, can result in a period where sound levels are lowered because of the sudden loud noise caused by a hand knocking the mic.

The best way to record two voices

The absolute best way to record interviews like this is where you record your voice on one track, and your guest’s on another. Why?

  • It gives so much better results and makes for easier editing:
  • You do not need to worry about any noises made on one side while the other is speaking – these can be quickly edited out later.
  • You can easily overlap parts of the interview to give an ‘interaction’ feel.
  • You can process each voice for equalisation, filtering or effects separately.

Once you’ve got your track into your editor, you’ll have to split the stereo track into two mono ones so that you can edit each layer independently.

Recording software and hardware.

You’ll probably be using a sound recorder and editor such as Audacity, Adobe Audition or other software solution in the studio. While this is fine for studio-based interviews where you can pan microphones to left and right channels, some software by default will feed your record inputs in stereo, with voices mixed, so the opportunities to edit are drastically reduced.

Some online platforms can record voices on separate tracks, see Zencastr and Zoom below.

Our studio has a separate USB interface which feeds left and right channels separately, and our mixer can feed those channels independently from the microphone channel and PC input.

If your system does not have these capabilities, take a look at Amolto Call Recorder for Skype.

The basic version is free for private/home use, but it does allow you to record each voice on separate tracks (you open the Amolto recording in your editor software afterwards) and starts recording automatically when a Skype call is started. The Premium version for commercial use is not too expensive either at about £30, and will record video if you need to. There are also automatic transcription options (chargeable per minute) which means you can create a transcript of the interview to accompany the podcast as a blog article or document download.

Do I use video?

While it’s always nice to see who you’re talking too, we have found it can be a distraction from the interview itself, so we always turn cameras off. However, there are times where it’s useful, as we saw one guest was wearing a lot of jewellery and a lanyard with a security pass, which were making noises as the person moved.

Available software and platforms

Skype: Free from Microsoft®, and easy to use as an app as well as desktop application. The sound quality isn’t as good as some other software, but it’s fairly universal. When used with the Amolto Recorder, you can create separate audio tracks for editing.

Zencastr: This is a great platform, and record voices in high quality MP3 on separate tracks. There is a free version and a paid version. Depending on how long your interviews are, the free version may be enough, but for higher-quality WAV files, you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription. Currently, Zencastr only works on Chrome and Firefox browsers, and not on a phone.

We prefer Zencastr over the other platforms for its ease of use.

Zoom: Pretty well everyone has heard of Zoom since the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is a free version which limits you to 40 minutes talk time. Zoom can also record voices on separate tracks. You can turn off video to avoid distraction. Zoom does have a phone app so can be used more remotely.

There are many others, such as cleanfeed.net.

So what if your guest wants to use a telephone? Well, there are several online conferencing tools, such as Webex and GoToMeeting  where you can call a telephone number and record that conversation. The downside is that most of these will record both voices mixed, so you’ll need a hardware solution as described above if you want to have better editing options, but as a last resort it is a workable solution.

Whichever method you use, we hope these tips will help you get a better recording for your podcast interview.