Tips for Recording Professional Audio Remotely
Sound quality is key in podcasting. Listeners are ruthless with their attention and time, and they’ll tune out and turn you off if the sound is lousy or irritating or they have to strain to catch what’s being said.
The best sound you can get will come from an interview inside a professional studio. On the other end of the spectrum is what we call “phone tape”—sound recorded over a phone line. At best, it’s distorted and hard on the ear. In the public radio world, most national programs are so picky about this that they refuse to use phone tape. But those folks have the resources to be picky. As podcasters, how do you get the best sound if you’re stuck trying to record a phone interview?
Two Options for Recording your Phonecalls
1. The cheap double-ender (your best bet):
A double-ender is where both ends of a conversation are recorded separately. The easiest way to do this is for you, the interviewer, to record yourself using a mic (your field microphone on a mic stand would work) while your interviewee also records their own voice.
Of course, your interviewee probably doesn’t have a nice microphone and recorder. They probably do have a smartphone, however, and that phone’s built-in voice recorder app is remarkably good, and it’s easy enough to share the MP3 files directly from the phone. A lot of public radio reporters resort to this, actually.
The downside is that you’re relying on your interviewee to record correctly and send you the file. Sometimes that’s no problem; sometimes it might require a little coaching. Some tips:
- Give your interview subject a heads up during your initial contact with them that you’re going to be asking them to use their phone to record, and walk them through how to do it. You can also send them this tutorial video from Aspen Public Radio that will show them how.
- If they seem unsure of themselves, do a test run once you have them on the phone/Skype: Have them record themselves saying something, save the recording, and email it to you.
- If the conversation is a long one, it’s best to break up their recording into chunks. Every 20 minutes, have them stop the recording, save the file, and start recording again. It will be easier for them to send you the files if they’re not enormous.
2. The Skype recording (a good backup method to do in addition to your double-ender):
Skype doesn’t have a built-in option for recording your sessions. But there are lots of third-party apps that will let you do just that. Skype has a list of them here.
If you’re using a Mac, a good option is eCamm—it’s pretty user-friendly. It’s $30, but you can sign up for a free trial. Whichever app you choose, follow the app’s instructions to install it on your computer and use it along with Skype. Most of these app makers have tutorial videos or FAQs if you get stuck.
At the end of your interview, you’ll end up with some sound files: MP3s emailed to you by your interviewee and/or files captured from your Skype call by your third-party app.
You can import these sound files into your Audition multitrack session just as you would import audio files from your Zoom recorder.
A note about disclosure
Whenever you record somebody over the phone or via Skype, be sure to make it very clear to them that you’re recording the conversation. In some states, it’s illegal to record without informing the other party. Of course, if you’re talking to somebody for a podcast, they’re probably aware of the fact that you’re recording—but it’s always good to get them on tape giving their consent.
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