How to Easily Record a Podcast Interview Remotely

Photo by  Fernando Lavin .

Photo by Fernando Lavin.

Congratulations! You’ve selected a niche for your podcast, settled on a name and managed to get your first few episodes posted and out on iTunes. As you begin to get excited about planning for the next series of interviews, though, you realize that your list of local interview guests for your podcast is already starting to dwindle. It also takes time to arrange meetings and in person recordings with each of your guests. The solution is to reach beyond your local community and learn how to easily record a podcast interviews remotely.

Not long ago, recording a remote radio interview left you with only two options: a very low quality phone interview or reserving an expensive studio with an ISDN connection for your guest and another for yourself. NPR and most syndicated public radio programs still prefer to have a guest visit their local public radio station and connect over their high quality ISDN connection for live or recorded interviews. That would be a bit much for most podcast interviews today, but luckily with online technology advancements and some simple audio production know how, remote podcast recording with quality results is within the realm of possibilities for any podcast producer. Here are several easy options to record a long distance podcast interview for your next episode.

REMOTE PODCAST RECORDING SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS

If you don’t have a lot of audio equipment or other hardware for your podcast, or you’re just starting out, you can do a lot with nothing more than a computer and podcast recording software. There are now several online services that operate within your web browser to allow a podcast host and guest to connect over the Internet and record their conversation in sometimes exceptionally high quality. Podcast software solutions don’t make up for things like a good microphone or quiet recording environment, but they do make it easy to connect and record a remote interview so long that you trust the software to save the final recording for you. 

While programs vary, most remote podcast recording software solutions work pretty much the same. You will send a link or otherwise connect with a guest over an Internet service, the platform records the conversation and then emails the host the final file or files. You may still need to clean up the audio or normalize your audio levels because most software solutions use an automatic gain function to make sure the audio levels for the guest and host are equal. Remote podcast recording software also generally allows you to record more than one person, so you could easily assemble a whole panel of people for an episode.

ZENCASTR: FREE PODCAST RECORDING SOFTWARE

It’s true that you get what you pay for and although Zencastr has two paid tiers of pricing, it’s free hobbyist option offers a lot of features for most podcasters to get started. It’s browser based and fairly simple to use. What makes Zencastr exciting is that instead of recording the conversation in the cloud, it records each guest’s part of the interview right on their own computer and uploads the audio file to Dropbox after the call is over. Ever have annoying Internet dropouts when recording an interview over Skype? This solves that problem. We’ve had audio dropouts as long as 3–4 seconds on a voip call, but the audio file Zencastr delivered was perfect.

To set up an interview with Zencastr, you create an event and send a link to your guest to join. Before you start recording, you can go through the settings, select the microphone you’d like to use and event double check that your guest has chosen the correct microphone. Don’t wait until after the interview to realize their computer defaulted to it’s internal microphone instead of the nice USB microphone they were talking into the whole time! And to hear each other, Zencastr will connect over its own voip service or you can opt to connect over Skype. Just remember that even though you may hear dropouts on the voip or Skype call, the actually recording should be clean because it’s recording right on their computer instead of in the cloud.

The tradeoff for Zencastr’s free podcast recording tier is that you’re limited to only two guests, a max of eight hours of recording per month and MP3 files of each recording versus high quality WAV files. That’s more than enough for many podcast producers. Unless you opt for one of their paid tiers, you’ll also need to merge the individual audio recordings from each guest in a multitrack editor like Audacity or Adobe Audition, but if you know what you’re doing or take a little time to learn, that isn’t difficult. The one other drawback is that at last check Zencastr required everyone on the call to use the most up to date version of Google Chrome. That may not be a problem for you, but you’ll want to give your guests some advance notice so they can download Chrome beforehand.

USING RINGR OR CAST TO RECORD REMOTE PODCAST INTERVIEWS

Ringr and Cast are two other software solutions to record remote podcast interviews, but their free options are limited to trials. Both offer the same kind of technology that allows you to record your remote podcast interview directly on the guest’s computer and then receive a much cleaner MP3 or WAV file. 

Instead of waiting until the interview is complete before uploading the audio file from each participant’s computer, Cast uploads the audio in real time. That means that even if your Internet connection fails or your call is interrupted in some other manner, you should still have access to all of the audio up until that point. Paid accounts with Cast also offer editing functions.

Appealing additional features for Ringr include mobile compatibility with apps for both IOS and Android devices. The Ringr app can be used by both hosts and guests, which frees both of you up from depending on WiFi access or being stuck in front of a computer (although they advise turning on the “Do Not Disturb” feature if you use the mobile app for interviews). Ringr is also compatible with Google Chrome and Firefox, broadening options and making it easier for guests to connect.

RECORDING ZOOM CALLS FOR A PODCAST

Zoom is a popular and easy to use video conferencing platform that many podcasters also use to record record interviews. Zoom’s free accounts are limited (at last check, calls are limited to 40 minutes), but if you want to record the call you should upgrade to one of their paid plans, which are comparable to Zencastr, Ringr and Cast.

Although it’s primarily marketed as a video conferencing software, you can easily turn off the video feed for maximum audio quality or even have guests call in on the phone. If you’re hosting a group of guests for your podcast, you could even have a mix of some connecting over their computer and some on phone. There’s also a mobile app. You can even coordinate the whole podcast interview with a calendar invite you set up through Zoom with all of the links and phone numbers they need to connect. 

Zoom is free for your guests to use and while it is browser based, they will need to download a small piece of software to their computer. That’s certainly something to be aware of if they’re in a corporate setting with strict rules set by their IT administrator. Also note that opposed to the above options, your recording will come as a single video file, even if you only recorded audio. For podcast editors, that means if one person has a noisy connection, that noise will show up for all of your guests.

RECORDING SKYPE CALLS FOR A PODCAST

Skype is the grandfather of online video and audio conference platforms and where a lot of podcasters turn first. One immediate benefit is that almost everyone seems to have a Skype account, even if they can’t remember their handle or password or haven’t logged onto the platform since Microsoft took over and can’t figure it out now. Like Ringr and Zoom, there is a mobile app too, which makes it easy to connect with people anywhere. Note that one big place where Skype differs is their terms of use for broadcast applications. This is the result of a huge marketing move in the early 2000s when Skype began requiring broadcasters of any kind to clearly highlight any interviews that were conducted over Skype. That’s why you started seeing Skype logos everywhere on news broadcasts. If you want to keep your podcast completely above board legally, be sure to review Skype’s terms of use for broadcasters.

For a long time, one of the big challenges of recording a podcast interview over Skype was that Skype did not offer an integrated way to record the calls within the platform itself, forcing users to rely on third party solutions. That changed in 2018 when Skype introduced a video call recording feature for both computer and mobile app calls. Now you can set up a one-on-one or Skype conference call pretty much anywhere in the world and come away with a cloud based recording for your podcast to edit later. 

One quick caveat for recording interviews over Skype and even Zoom, though. Instead of recording the audio on the individual devices and sending the audio files once the interview is complete, these platforms tend to record in the cloud in real time. That means connectivity matters and if you hear dropouts in your call or have connection issues, it’s likely you’ll hear those on your recording as well. You can always ask a guest to repeat something to make sure you get a clean recording for your podcast, but it does add an additional complication.

HOW TO MANUALLY RECORD MULTIPLE REMOTE GUESTS FOR A PODCAST USING AN AUDIO MIXER AND AN IPHONE OR EXTERNAL RECORDER

By introducing a basic audio mixer or soundboard like the Behringer Xenyx 802 and a field recorder into your podcast recording setup, you also introduce a lot of flexibility and new opportunities, like recording multiple remote audio sources for your podcast and easily mixing them to a single file. This is what audio mixers were designed for. Have a four person podcast setup? No problem. Have two of them in the room and two you need to record remotely? An audio mixer is your high quality, versatile solution to manually record everyone to a single file and focus on the conversation, not the technology.

You can use an audio mixer to easily record remote podcast interviews or conversations with people anywhere in the world. There are a couple ways to do that, but here is one simple solution. First, connect your microphone. Most audio mixers use XLR inputs and even provide Phantom Power to use the full array of professional microphones to record your podcast. If you’re looking for a basic microphone to start that will give you amazing audio quality and isolate your voice better in a noisy environment or home studio space with background noise or less than ideal acoustics, the Shure SM-58 is a great option. It has a very directional audio pickup pattern which means even though you hear your neighbor’s dog barking during your interview, it may be able to block or at least heavily minimize those distractions on the recording. It also uses a standard XLR male to XLR female cable to connect to the audio mixer.

Then decide how you want to connect with your interview subject. If you are recording a phone call for your podcast, you can easily use an iPhone or other smartphone’s headphone connection. Alternatively, using an iPhone or even a computer, you can connect over SKYPE, Facetime, any high quality VOIP service or even a normal phone call to record your podcast. For the video conference or chat options, remember to disable the camera so you only have the audio feed. That absorbs less bandwidth and should result in less signal interference or interruptions in your recording.

To connect your iPhone or computer audio source to the audio mixer, you can use a common 3.5mm stereo plug to RCA adapter cable that you possibly already have lying around somewhere. Connect the 3.5mm stereo plug to your iPhone or computer headphone out and connect the RCA left/right plugs to another pot on your audio mixer. You may need RCA to ¼” adapters, which are easy to find and will last forever. Then you can adjust the volume of your microphone and the volume of your guest independently. You’ll need to adjust the volume levels carefully because in addition to the audio mixer levels, your iPhone or computer volume for your remote guests will also affect the recording because we’re using the headphone out.

Note that the plugs on your iPhone and likely your computer are TRRS, but be sure to use a standard TRS stereo cable. TRS cables have three prongs on the end meaning there is no additional microphone connection like the TRRS connections common with iPhones and other smartphones. If you use a normal TRS connection just like any normal headphone jack, the iPhone reverts to its own microphone for the interview subject to hear you. For your recording, though, you’ll only be recording your microphone and their audio, ensuring a much cleaner and higher quality recording all around. Just be sure to keep your headphones on so you can hear your guests as well.

After you’ve connected with your guest and carefully adjusted audio levels to make sure there is no unwanted humm (common if the source volume on the iPhone or computer you’re using to connect with your guest is too high), it’s time to record. For that, you need an audio field recorder like the Zoom H5 or Tascam DR-100 MkIII to record. Find the “Audio Out” on your audio mixer (usually RCA Left Right plugs) and use another RCA to 3.5mm adapter cable to connect the audio mixer to your recorder’s microphone input. Make sure you plug your headphones into the recorder, not your soundboard at this point, to ensure everything still sounds good. You’ll need to tap the Record button to go into Record Pause to hear everything on the field recorder. Make any adjustments and once everything is set, hit record again and confirm that the timer on the recorder is counting.

If you don’t have or want to pick up a dedicated field recorder, you can also use an iPhone or iPad to record a remote podcast interview through an audio mixer as above. You’ll just need a few simple adapters and the right Apps. If you’d like to try that instead, here are thorough instructions on how to connect a professional microphone to an iPhone or iPad to record podcast interviews.

HOW TO COORDINATE MULTIPLE RECORDINGS FOR A REMOTE PODCAST INTERVIEW

Another common solution to record remote interviews for seasoned podcasters is to have each person independently record their side of the conversation and then email the audio file to the host. This requires a lot of trust on the host or producer’s part because they cannot monitor the recorded audio to ensure the quality is perfect or even that the guest remembered to hit record. If everyone knows what they’re doing, though, this is a great way to get high quality audio for your long distance podcast recording.

This solution also removes a lot of the technological challenges with software or balancing multiple audio sources in a mixer. All you need to do is connect everyone on a phone call (and make sure they’re wearing headphones). Then each podcast guest records their own audio with the equipment they have. Maybe one person has a full studio setup with a professional microphone like the Blue Yeti USB Microphone, another person is recording on their laptop and a third just has their iPhone. It doesn’t matter so long as each of them is getting the highest quality recording of their own voice and can share the file afterward. This is actually how NPR records most of their quick remote interviews when a reporter or correspondent can’t be there in person, but they generally use a dedicated app that will automatically email the file to the producer when they’re done.

Once the remote podcast interview is complete, it’s then up to the producer to sync all the different audio files together in a multitrack editing program like Audacity, GarageBand or Adobe Audition. And while the producer cannot independently verify each audio recording is clean during the remote interview, having the individual audio files to work with means they can clean up the audio with each of them independently with noise cancellation, etc.

CONCLUSION AND BEST PRACTICES FOR REMOTE PODCAST RECORDING

If you’ve been holding back from starting a podcast because you didn’t know how to easily record remote podcast interviews with guests or you’ve been unhappy with the audio quality of your remote podcast interviews, you should now have a few additional tools in your tool belt. The important thing is to experiment and find out what works best for you and your guests.

The comfort level of your guest is an important thing to consider as well. If the process to connect and record your remote podcast interview gets too complicated or frustrating, they’re not going to be at their best and most comfortable once the interview begins. That means your podcast won’t be its best, regardless of the audio quality. You’ll need to find the right balance for your podcast. And remember that podcast content is universally more important than podcast quality. If you can guarantee both, though, you’re on the path to great things.