How to Record Podcasts Remotely
A guide to recording a podcast from two different locations. From equipment and software to how to ensure your guest gets a good recording.
It’s a great luxury as a host to be able to meet your guest, chat for a few minutes in person, sit down at the same table, and record your podcast together. Unfortunately, even at the best of times this isn’t always practical and right now, during the pandemic lockdown, even possible.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know to get a great sounding interview when you can’t be in the same room as your subject or co-host.
In the wake of COVID-19, we've been asked by all our clients, and lots of other people, 'how do we record our podcast remotely?' I always come back with a similar set of recommendations, so I wanted to document them here in case it's helpful to anyone else.
The good news is that many of your favourite podcasts include interviews that were recorded with the host and guest miles apart. With a few tools and techniques, and good editing, a well recorded remote interview can be indistinguishable from one recorded in the flesh. Or at the least good enough to make a professional sounding show.
Obviously, recording in person is always best when you have the option. It may be worth making the trip yourself when you land a significant guest and travel restriction are lifted. But until then, here are some tips.
There are steps you can take to smooth out this process as much as possible, and the correct one will depend on what your priorities are.
Do you want it to be as simple as possible for your guest with minimal friction, even if that comes at the cost of lower audio quality? Or are you okay with making your guest do a little extra work if the end result is far superior?
We’re going to walk you through what works best for our clients to get consistently good sounding podcast interviews that you can take into your next recording session.
The conventional wisdom is wrong
There are methods that have been around for years and have been used by countless podcasts to record countless episodes remotely, yet despite that, they are a terrible way of doing it.
They’re popular because it’s the only method that many people know about, but they leave you with terrible quality audio, skips, disconnections, and dropouts - an editor’s nightmare and a bad experience for the listener.
We’ve all heard podcast episodes, even from very popular podcasts, where the sound is just subpar. Whether it’s a one-off due to unexpected technical difficulties, or the earlier catalogue of a podcast that’s gone on to grow and upgrade their quality since then, these early growing pains can be avoided.
This is one area where it truly pays to get it right as soon as possible. Because for all the magic that can be worked in post-production, audio quality is fixed at the state it’s recorded in. Nothing has a bigger impact on the overall sound of a finished podcast interview than the way it is recorded. Luckily, with a few simple tools, you can get great results right out of the gate.
How to record a podcast on Skype or Zoom
The short answer is “don’t.”
The long answer is that Skype and Zoom compress your audio and often have such poor connections that it’ll be borderline unlistenable, and at the very least it’ll require a lot of editing just to make it semi-presentable. We’ve had clients approach us with the goal of getting setup on Skype to record their podcasts when they have remote guests, but this is simply not a good way to achieve that goal and not what we recommend to them.
Discord is a bit better, but the best route is to use software that’s actually designed for the purpose of remote podcasting and has relevant features. Skype and Zoom were great back in the day to avoid long distance fees and to keep in touch with family, but they were never meant for podcasting.
If you have to do your podcast via Skype, it’s still possible to end up with acceptable (ish) quality, but it requires a little more effort on your guest’s behalf and ensuring you have a reliable internet connection on both ends.
This can create extra work for some guests, but most will be happy to contribute to a much better end-product.
The one way you can conduct the conversation via Skype and get professional results is if both parties are also recording a direct feed of the audio on their own end. Then you can take both audio feeds and edit them together, so you’re hearing the recording directly from each party’s microphone rather than the audio that was transmitted over Skype.
So, for example, if your guest records themselves using a Zoom H1n while on the Zoom call with you, and meanwhile you record yourself using your regular set up. Your guest can send you their H1n recording and it can be stitched together with your audio in post-production.
This is like a cheap version of what's known in the industry as a tapesync or double-ender. Something we'll explain later on.
In this case, Skype is used solely for the purpose of hearing one another while recording the podcast, but the Skype audio is not the audio that gets released.
If you’re going to have your guest record their own audio, however, there are more streamlined ways to go about this.
The aforementioned example is only good if your guest insists on using Skype, but ideally, you’ll go with one of the following solutions because they work a lot better when you’re trying to figure out how to record a podcast from two different locations. And the bonus is they’re still super simple for your guest to use.
Here’s how to record a podcast with remote guests (the right way)
Okay, we’ve talked about how not to do this and offered some band-aid solutions. Now, here’s how to do it the correct way, like the pros do.
The best remote podcast recording software
When recording over the internet, even the best software for remote podcasts isn’t perfect, and you’ll have to make some trade-offs. Keep your goals and your recording process in mind while looking over these options to see which one could be your best fit.
After this list are some best practices to get the best results from your remote guest.
We’re happy with Squadcast, it’s what we typically recommend as the best option out there, and it also includes video so you can see your guest. When you can’t sit face to face at the same table, video is the next best thing.
Note Squadcast doesn't record video - audio only.
You can see facial expressions, and make a much more human connection than a simple voice call. The quality is very good as it records each participant client side. Meaning it isn’t compressing your audio like Skype or Zoom, but recording at source at full quality and then uploading the final audio file after the call in WAV or MP3 format (we recommend WAV).
Squadcast makes things very simple for your guest. You simply send them a link and they can connect to the call right in their Chrome browser.
This browser-based podcast recording suite is used by some heavy-hitters including the BBC. It does compress the audio a bit, but it’s not something that the average listener will ever be able to differentiate in this case, especially using computer speakers and consumer headphones.
On a set of studio monitors with a trained ear, sure, you can hear a difference… but the trade-off is a much more reliable experience that’s still very easy for your guest to use.
The interface is simple and straightforward - which is always a plus, since guests aren’t always the most tech-savvy. It has some fool-proof features, too. For example, if your guest loses their connection or experiences a crash, you won’t lose anything.
One drawback to Cleanfeed is a lack of video, but if this isn’t a big deal for you (and it isn’t for the BBC, apparently!) then it’s a great way to go.
This is one option, but it’s not the best option in my experience. It’s better than trying to wrangle something together on Skype, but we’ve had issues in the past where clients have lost their recordings so it’s not the most reliable.
There have also been issues in the past with ‘audio drift’, where the two or more recorded files don’t sync up properly in post. This isn’t an issue for any audio editor worth their salt, but if you’re editing your own show and want things to be as efficient as possible, it can be a pain. Zencastr reports they are reducing this or fixing it entirely, but it’s hard to recommend it over other choices.
If you’re using Zencastr, we recommend also having a backup recording (this is a good idea regardless).
This is a decent tool to have in your back pocket, but once again it suffers some serious issues. The key feature here is that it allows a guest to call in via telephone, which is very bad for audio quality but sometimes that’s the best you can get out of a guest who doesn’t want to use (or doesn’t have access to) a computer or internet connection.
There’s not a ton you can do to take super-compressed audio recordings from a phone and make it sound great, but a good editor will be able to touch it up a little bit and if the host is well recorded, you can often get away with it for shorter segments.
Ringr is a great solution for anyone who is trying to figure out how to record podcast interviews over the phone, but if using a phone isn’t at the top of your list, there are better solutions to try first.
How to get the best recording from your guest
These are the things that will have the biggest impact on the quality of your guest’s recording. Ensure that your guest is made aware of these suggestions before it’s time to record so they have a chance to prepare.
Ship your guest a mic
This is the ideal scenario. When you can't be in the room with someone and you want to get the best audio quality possible - and social distancing rules out the double-ender (we talk about what that is in a moment) - ship your guest a microphone.
The trick is to strike the balance between quality and ease-of-use to be sure your guest's setup is idiot proof. Nothing worse than spending an hour on a call trying to get complicated gear set up over a video call: "Okay, now hit menu. No, the button next to it. Okay now go to the option on the left. No the other left..."
For this reason, we typically recommend a simple USB mic. Plug it in and you're good to go. This isn't going to sound like a studio recording (more tips on improving that below), but it sounds infinitely better than a laptop's built-in mic or a pair of AirPods.
For great and easy-to-use options check out:
- Audio Technica ATR2100
- Samson Q2U
- Audio Technica AT2005USB
- Rode Podcaster (a bit pricier)
These options are all great for recording using Squadcast or one of the other platforms listed above.
Pro tip: DO NOT get a Blue Yeti mic. These are often recommended, but they're much harder to get good results with.
But as mentioned before, you could ship your guests a standalone recorder and ignore Squadcast entirely. With this technique, you and your guest can speak on a regular phone call or Zoom session, but record audio at each end and stitch the two together in editing.
Some entry-level options for recorders:
- Zoom H1n
- Zoom H2n
- TASCAM DR-07X
Also make sure whichever mic or recorder you choose comes with a stand. You don't want your guest holding their mic in their hands!
Oh, and buy from independent retailers where you can - not Amazon - support your local small business!
...OK, I'll get off my soap box :) But seriously, it might take a day or two longer to ship, or cost an extra couple of dollars or pounds, but your local economy will thank you. Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, headphones.
In a pinch? Voice memos on your phone work great. Again, jump on a Zoom call and have your guest hold their phone to their mouth and record their answers right into the voice memos app. Then they can email you the audio afterwards.
This can save a ton of time and effort and can get you the stuff you need.
Your guest needs to wear headphones
Without headphones, your podcast recording will have problems with feedback since their microphone will also be picking up your voice from their speakers. Headphones help them focus and zero-in on the conversation.
If your guest doesn’t have a professional microphone, then a pair of headphones with a built-in mic (like Apple Earbuds) will still pick up the audio much better than a mic built into their laptop.
Encourage your guest to record in an ideal location
Your guest should be in a quiet place that doesn’t echo. If they’re at home, a bedroom works great. There’s a lot of soft furniture, blankets, and pillows to soak up the audio reflections. A hotel room also works great for this same reason.
On the other hand, an empty basement is not ideal because the open space will be much more prone to echoing. A meeting room at a hotel or a glass-walled boardroom are poor choices for the same reason.
Eliminate background noises
If your guest has a fan on in the background, an air conditioner, or if they’re chewing food, this will all get picked up by the microphone and will be a huge distraction to your listeners. It will cause many people to stop listening on the spot.
You should also prep your guest about closing browser tabs and apps ahead of time to avoid any unexpected notifications (but headphones help with this, too). Remind them to put their phone on silent if they don’t mind, too. Let them know that any humming sounds, or tapping on their desk, or even breathing loudly into the mic will all get picked up.
Remind them to speak clearly into the microphone before you get started, and during the interview as needed. You can always edit that part out (more on that in our how to edit a podcast guide here), and it’s worth the brief interruption for a better finished product.
Another option: The double-ender (also known as a tape-sync or simulrec)
When social distancing rules are relaxed: For VIP guests that you can’t travel to, another approach if you have the budget is to find an audio engineer who is local to them and can meet up with them to record the conversation on their end. You simply connect to the guest on the phone or Skype, and then record your end at high quality, with the remote engineer doing the same at the guest’s location.
It’s the technique used by all the major podcast networks. If you’ve ever listened to This American Life, the BBC or Gimlet and wondered how they got an Alaskan fisherman or some other remote character into their NYC studios, they almost certainly didn’t. A local reporter would have gone out and recorded a tape-sync.
This is likely less costly than travelling yourself, but a talented engineer isn’t going to be too cheap (industry rates are typically $150-200 plus travel). You still miss out on the face-to-face element, but it’s a good middle ground if you want that professional sound.
Your best option & final thoughts
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your best bet is always to record with your guests in person. When that isn’t possible, like right now, it becomes a matter of balancing convenience and getting something good enough, with the extra effort it takes from both parties to achieve something closer to perfect.
It’s never a great idea to rely on one single method of capturing your conversation, either. It’s good to have a backup recording, just in case, even if it never ends up getting used, or if it’s only used to fill in the blanks here and there. Your audio engineer will thank you.
But if you are recording a podcast remotely, hopefully, this guide helps you find the option that’s best for you. In most cases, we recommend Squadcast or Cleanfeed.
We would love to chat with you about putting together a solution that will best fit your needs. We can also help you grow and promote your podcast, figure out the right monetization strategy, and even land better guests.