If you’ve booked an interview with an expert for the first episode of your podcast, the next question you might ask yourself is how you’ll record them while you speak to them on Skype. Most creators come up against this problem early on in their podcast production. Thankfully, there’s a common solution that many shows employ to get a clean guest recording. Today we’ll discuss how you can avoid using phone audio in your podcast and instead make your guests sound like they’re in the studio with you using the “double ender” recording technique.
The problem with using Skype for podcasts
Most podcast creators, if they’re independent and not associated with a radio station, will not have access to a studio with call technology like ISDN. Skype is likely the calling software that most creators will be using, as it’s great for reaching a guest anywhere in the world. However, Skype has a notoriously spotty connection. What’s more, if you use Skype audio in your podcast, your interview will have a less intimate feel to it. Listeners will be able to tell that you’re speaking to a guest via Skype, the result of Skype’s voice encoding not recording the full spectrum of the human voice.
To have the most professional sound possible for your listeners, you need to record your guest locally. That means getting a recording of your guest from the room they’re sitting in, while they’re speaking to you on Skype. This is the “double ender” solution: each party records themselves separately on their microphone or recording device while they speak to one another using Skype. Skype facilitates the conversation, but the audio you’ll use for the podcast is the two independent recordings, edited to make it sound like you’re both in the same room.
The Double Ender
If you know your guest has a microphone—like a Blue Yeti podcasting microphone or at least a webcam microphone—and they know how to use it, the double ender technique becomes much simpler.
The questions you need to answer at this point are: does my guest have a microphone to record with? Do they know how to use it, or are they technologically savvy enough for me to teach them how? Am I comfortable asking them to change their recording setup for the interview?
Read the following section depending on the recording situation of your guest:
Your guest has a microphone: Recording with Audacity
If your guest has a microphone they’re comfortable using, have them either launch or download the open source recording and editing software Audacity.
The most important settings in Audacity that your guest will need to set are underneath the Play/Record/Pause buttons at the top. After they’ve plugged in their microphone, they should choose their USB microphone from the drop down menu to the right of the microphone icon (in the image above, Audacity has recognized my device as “ATR USB microphone”.) Then, they should look for the other microphone icon above that (underneath the blue Pause button), and pull the slider all the way to the right end. This ensures a hot signal from their microphone.
They also need to set the other drop down menus. Set the middle menu to Mono recording (common for almost all guest interviews). The last drop down menu on the far right is next to the speaker icon. It should be set to the same USB microphone if they are plugging their headphones into their USB microphone, or to their computer’s speakers if they are plugging it into their regular computer input as they would normally to listen to audio. Most USB microphones have an audio jack to run headphones through for monitoring purposes.
At the bottom of the window, have your guest confirm that their Project Rate is set to the same bitrate as your recording software (most podcasts record in 44.1 kHz or less commonly 48 kHz).
When you’re ready to start recording, have them hit the red circle “record” button and a track should appear in the dark grey space. It will show a waveform as they speak. Right before you begin your actual interview and while both of you are recording your sides of the conversation, you can do a “clap sync”. To do this, count down from 3 and have all parties clap into their mics at the same time. This trick can help you sync your recordings together by creating a large spike in the audio on each file, allowing you to align them during post production.
After your guest is done recording their side of the interview, they should hit the square Stop button. They then need to go to File > Export Audio and save the the audio to their computer, usually as a 16 bit WAV audio file. Have your guest send you this file using a file service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or WeTransfer.
Your guest doesn’t have a microphone: The Book Stack Method
If guest doesn’t have a separate microphone to plug into their computer nor a webcam with a microphone, or if they aren’t very tech savvy, you can use the “book stack” method. They’ll need the following to do this:
- An iPhone or Android phone with a voice recording app (like iOS’s built-in Voice Memo app)
- A stack of books (at least 6-8 depending on thickness)
- A table or surface near their computer.
Instruct your guest to set up their stack of books next to where they’re going to be doing the Skype interview. This could be their desk, or if they’re on their laptop, any surface off to the side of where they’re working. The guest will need to create a stack of books high enough that when their iPhone is placed on top of it, the phone sits at the same level as their mouth.
Once they’ve made the stack and are ready to have their interview with you, they should put headphones in so that your voice isn’t on their own recording. Then they need to silence their phone’s notifications and open the Voice Memo app (or equivalent Android app). They should hit the big red button to start recording, at which point a waveform will begin showing. They will place their phone on the book stack off to the side of them, with the bottom of the phone (the microphone) pointed toward their mouth. Tell your guest that the phone should ideally be no more than six inches away (around a fist’s length) from their mouth, and certainly no more than a 10-12” away. Emphasize that the phone should be off to the side of them (they should not be facing the phone during the interview), as their breath could go into the microphone and cause distortion.
Before you begin your actual interview, you should do the above mentioned “clap sync” to align your audio files.
After you’ve finished your interview, your guest should hit Stop on the recording. Then, the app may ask them to name the recording. When they’ve done that, they should click the three-dot symbol and select “Share” to share it with you via a file sharing service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or WeTransfer.
The Double Ender: more work, better audio
And that’s the double ender method! Remember with this technique that your goal is to spend a bit of extra time on both your and your guest’s part to achieve a better audio recording. It may take some time and patience to explain to your guest, but the end result is a much more professional and quality sound for your podcast.
If you have the budget for it and would like a local recording of your guest without asking the guest to change their setup, you can hire a freelance “tape syncher” to visit them and record for them.