Interview Your Podcast Guests Remotely
By Natalie Jones
How to record guests remotely is one of the most common questions new podcasters and audio producers ask. You will rarely have the budget or the time to report a story or episode exactly the way you want. There is little chance of flying around to interview all your sources, to ensure consistent, high-quality sound. Fortunately, technology has provided us with several approaches to remote recording. You can still record high-quality audio without being there with your guest.
Work Out Your Set-Up
If you are already working in audio, presumably you have a way to record yourself and other people in person. This might be your portable recorder, such as those made by Zoom, Tascam, or Marantz (ideally with an external microphone), or maybe it’s a USB mic plugged into your computer. Whichever it is, use the best available option while interviewing someone remotely.
You might want to get a mic stand, if you don’t already have one, so you don’t need to hold the mic throughout your entire conversation. Even if your end of the conversation isn’t being recorded in the same place or in the same format as the interviewee’s, you can sync them later, and it’s best to get the highest quality sound you can.
Set Your Guest Up for Success
First and foremost, your interviewee will need a quiet room with a door that closes where they can do the interview. The best rooms are small, with low ceilings and as many plush surfaces as possible—carpets, curtains and soft furniture.
- Quiet, preferably small, room
- Plush surfaces like carpets, curtains, soft furniture
- Closed door
Next, figure out how you’ll be talking with them. Do they have a landline (rare), a cell phone, and/or a computer with an internet connection in that room? Maybe even an external microphone? The option you choose moving forward depends on your interviewee’s situation.
Option A: Quiet Room + Computer with Internet Connection (Best)
+ External USB Mic
In the best case scenario, your interviewee has a computer with an internet connection, and an external USB mic. If they do, then those are perfect for them to use.
+ Headphones/Earbuds with Mic
It is likely your interviewee won’t have an external mic, and that’s fine. If they have a headset with a small microphone or a pair of earbuds, ask them to use that.
+ Internal Computer Mic
Alternatively, they can use the internal microphone on their laptop, but this is the least desirable option as it will pick up a lot of noise in the room—try to avoid that.
Create an account with a web recording service—Riverside.fm, Zencastr and Squadcast are some of the most popular. (Pricing varies for these, but they all have affordable options.) With these services, you can set up an appointment for your conversation, just like setting up a meeting. Your guest(s) will simply need to click a link to join the meeting. When you finish talking, their audio (as well as yours) will automatically be available to download as separate tracks. Note: this option does require that the guest have enough free space on their computer to record the audio.
Skype and Zoom also have recording options, but those services are recording the connection itself, not the voices coming into the computer’s hardware, so the audio quality will not be as good as on something like the services mentioned above.
+ Smartphone as Mic
If your interviewee doesn’t have an external microphone but does have a smartphone, they can use their smartphone as an external mic. Conduct your interview using a service like Skype or Zoom, and have them record themselves with their smartphone. If they have an iPhone, the voice memo app that comes standard works well. If they have an Android, they can download a voice-recording app like Easy Voice Recorder or ASR Voice Recorder.
The downside of this option is that it requires the guest to send the file to you after the interview. While this is not a complicated process, it can be tricky for less tech-savvy guests, and can sometimes cause trouble if the file is really large. (You may want to pause the interview in the middle to start a new file, to help prevent large file issues.)
It can also be nerve-wracking to put the onus of delivering the file all on your guest—you may want to have a back-up recording in this scenario. The phone also needs to stay pretty close to the person’s mouth with this method; you may want to ask the guest to create a stand of some kind—a tower of books works well—to lay the phone on and bring it up higher. They could also hold it throughout the entire interview, but this might get tiring and increase handling noise.
Aspen Public Radio made this great video explaining the process to guests—it’s a few years old, but still helpful.
Option B: Quiet Room + Smartphone (Okay)
If the interviewee only has a smartphone available, but does not have a computer and internet connection, there are apps designed for this scenario. Ringr works similarly to Zencastr and Squadcast in that it uses the phone’s microphone, not the phone connection itself, to record the person speaking, and then makes the file available to you to download directly after the call. But, it does require the guest to download the app onto their phone before the interview, and leave it open at the end while the file is uploading. Just follow Ringr’s instructions to set up a call, and have your guest click the invite link that comes to them to join the call. Other similar services we have not tested are Clearcast and Cast.
The instructions for the option below will also work for this scenario.
Option C: Quiet Room + Landline or (Non-Smartphone) Cell Phone
In this situation, you may want to try as hard as you can to reschedule or find other options for your guest—but of course, that’s not always possible, and this may be their only available set-up. In this case, you can use an app on your phone that records the phone call itself (rather than using the phone’s built-in microphone) to record your conversation. TapeACall is popular for the iPhone, and Another Call Recorder is a popular Android version.
The audio quality will be lower with these—it will sound more like the “phone tape” that you sometimes hear on the radio and in podcasts, and is not recommended if you plan to use long portions in your final release or broadcast. Another disadvantage of these options is that they don’t record each person on a separate track, which reduces your flexibility when editing. These services are really designed for people who just need the recorded audio as a reference, but not for broadcast. One major advantage, though, is that your guest doesn’t need to do anything on their end to make it work—the apps will send you the audio.
Long-Term Option: Serial or “Radio Diaries”
You plan to interview your guest several times over a long period of time, or want them to record “radio diaries” on their own.
With this kind of reporting plan, you may want to consider buying a simple recorder and sending it to your guest, with a quick tutorial on how to use it. Some recorders that work well for this are the Zoom H1N and the Tascam-DRO5.
For tech-savvy guests, you may be able to coach them on uploading the files to a computer and sending them to you. Alternatively, just have them mail the entire recorder back to you when they’re done. The obvious drawbacks of this approach are your reliance on the guest, and the time delay between when the audio is recorded and when you have it.
High Production Budget Option: Tape Syncer
If you can afford it, the best way to go about remote recording is to hire what’s known in the business as a “Tape Syncer.” This is a professional recordist who lives in your guest’s area and will physically go meet your guest at their home or office. They’ll hold a high-quality microphone connected to a digital recorder up to them while they talk on the phone with you, then send you the files afterwards. The standard rate for these jobs is about $150 per interview, plus mileage, for an interview of about 1.5 hours or less.
You can find a Tape Syncer through networks such as the Association of Independents in Radio (which requires a membership fee to join and search the network), or other local audio networks or listservs. You could also try reaching out to reporters at the local public radio station in your guest’s area—often those reporters are interested in doing tape syncs, or know someone else who is. With this approach, you’ll get professional audio quality on both sides of the conversation (assuming you’re also recording yourself with professional gear), and the closest you can get to studio-quality without going to a studio.
Sync + Edit
Recording went well, and now you have all the audio. It’s time to sync it up and start editing.
Hopefully you have at least two separate audio files, one for your side of the conversation and one for your guest’s. (Or more, if you had more than one guest.) You’ll need to open them both in whatever audio editing program you’re using (sometimes called a digital audio workstation—DAW); ProTools, Audition, Hindenberg and Reaper are popular with audio producers.
With some of these methods (using Zencastr, Squadcast or Ringr) the audio will already be the same length and synced properly because you started and ended the recordings at the same time. With others, your files might be slightly different lengths and start and stop at different times. You’ll need to match the two sides of the conversation with each other, which can be tricky. One way to help with this is to make a low-quality backup recording of the call with some other system—e.g. if you’re recording with microphones on either end, but talking over Skype, you can have Skype record the call. Then you’ll have a recording with both sides of the conversation—open that file in your DAW as well, and use it as a reference to line up your tracks, then delete it. Once your files are lined up, you’re ready to move on to editing.
Natalie Jones is the audio program manager for Berkeley Advanced Media Institute. She is also a reporter working in radio and print, based in Oakland, California. She has reported for The Guardian, NPR, KQED, and KALW in San Francisco, Aspen Public Radio in Colorado, Grist, Civil Eats and The Point Reyes Light.
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