One of the greatest opportunities that comes with having a podcast is being able to talk to and get to know other people with similar interests. Being able to interview and pick the brains of your peers and heroes is a spectacular perk.
The challenge is figuring out the best way to maintain your high production quality without making it awkward for your guest or a massive struggle for yourself. There are a few different ways to approach this.
Recording Remotely vs. Recording Locally
When you record a guest locally, you have a far greater amount of control over the variables. You can set up the software; you can adjust the microphone’s input levels; you can make sure the sounds of your neighbor’s motorcycle repair shop stay where they belong: outside and not in your podcast.
The same cannot be said for recording with a remote guest. You are at the mercy of that person’s level of technological and audio expertise. To set yourself up for success, there are a few factors to take into account:
- Does your guest have a microphone and headphones?
- How will you be connecting with your guest: Skype? Google Hangouts? Facetime?
- Is your guest comfortable recording his or her own audio track, or will you need a way to make that work on your end?
The need for equipment that’s better than what comes built into your MacBook or laptop has been discussed to death, but what should you do if your guest isn’t a regular podcaster or A/V engineer?
First, suggest he or she use a pair of earbuds with an in-line microphone (like those that come packaged with an iPhone). If those aren’t available, any pair of working headphones is an improvement over hearing feedback from a laptop’s built-in speakers. The lag that comes along with hearing processed audio could disrupt the natural flow of the conversation. Plus, it’s jarring to hear yourself at a delay.
Microphones are less of a necessity, but having one dramatically increases audio quality and reduces echo. If you plan on having remote guests regularly, it might be a good idea to spend a little (no more than $30) on a lapel mic that you can ship to guests. It adds a bit of extra responsibility and logistical headache to your setup, but you’ll have a much higher probability of getting good source audio from your guests.
Now that you’ve got everything set up on the hardware side (at least for your guest), it’s time to start looking at your software setup. There are a few things to consider, not the least of which is how much responsibility you want to take on and how much money you’re willing to spend to get great audio content.
The industry standard for remote podcast connections is (unfortunately) Skype. While there are other options like Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime, Skype is used for the lion’s share of remote audio connections between hosts and guests. If you’ve spent much time using Skype, you know what you’re getting: a greater-than-zero percent chance of audio clipping, weird noise artifacts, and the possibility of a dropped connection. There are steps that can be taken to give you the best chance at ending up with great guest audio, but in the end, you’re at Skype’s mercy.
Keeping that in mind, there are a few commonly-used methods of working with remote guests that involve very little headache, extra equipment, or additional setup.
Setup 1: Everyone Records Their Own End
One of the most common ways to manage a podcast with remote guests is to do what’s commonly referred to as a “double ender”. The general idea is that all of the relevant parties record their local audio (that is, their voices into their computers) while participating in a Skype or Hangouts call.
This is the least complicated and expensive of the remote recording options because most operating systems come with the required software. It’s also the easiest to set up: all you and your guest need to do is open Quicktime or Sound Recorder, press record, and start the conversation.
Another benefit to this approach is that everyone has a copy of their audio track without the artifacts, drops, or lag that can occur with our second approach.
The drawbacks here are limited, but they do exist. If your guest isn’t the most technically-savvy, or if he or she prefers to connect via a mobile operating system (like iOS or Android), the setup process becomes more complicated, if not downright impossible. It’s also a bit of a pain to sync the tracks in the editing and production phases.
Setup 2: The Host Records Everything
The other common approach to recording with a remote guest is to place the responsibility solely on the host. It is his or her responsibility to record all of the audio for the podcast. That usually means recording the Skype or Hangouts track live and hoping for the best.
With only one person pressing record, there are fewer places that things can go wrong. You don’t have to worry about bitrates, syncing tracks during editing, or the possibility of getting well into an episode before someone realizes that they haven’t been recording.
The drawbacks to this approach are also limited. This can be a slightly more costly endeavor than using built-in software. Because most programs only record incoming audio from one side, a specialized program like Ecamm Call Recorder OR Audio Hijack needs to be used to get both sides of the call.
Which to Choose?
These options are not mutually exclusive. If you choose to record each audio track separately, you may still elect to run a program like Call Recorder as a backup plan. A good rule of thumb is to have as many copies of the audio as you can, particularly if you’ve booked that big guest that you’ve always wanted. What are some ways you get ready to host your awesome remote guests? Let us know in the comments, or tweet at us @PodcastMotor!