(AKA: How to get great audio from a guest who knows nothing about audio and doesn’t have a recording mic)
TLDR: Have them use a computer/tablet for the Skype call, with an earbud in one ear (with built-in mic). They record themselves with a smartphone and send you the file to sync and edit.
Many of the guests you want to have on your podcast don’t know anything about recording, don’t have a recording mic, and probably aren’t interested in learning about it or buying a mic good enough to give you decent sound out of it.
You could just record a phone or skype call… but chances are the audio quality will be bad, and then you’ll either have a horrible sounding recording, or you’ll spend hours trying to edit and tweak the audio only to still have sound that will drive listeners away. All that time and effort reeling in an awesome guest only to have it ruined by bad audio
The Three Common things a guest needs to sound great on your podcast
- A smartphone. Everyone (or pretty much everyone) has a smartphone these days, and this will be key to getting some great sounding audio from them.
- A set of earbuds with built in mic (the kind that comes with pretty much every phone these days)
- An iPad, Laptop, Desktop, or any similar device that can be used to make a skype call from, and that also has a earbud/mic combo jack
How to make the call
The idea is pretty simple: Most smartphones get pretty great sounding audio recordings, it just gets all messed up when it gets compressed and sent over the airwaves or internet. We are going to have your guest use the phone’s built-in recording app to record themselves, while using the 2nd device to actually be part of the conversation. After the recording is over they will simply save the recording and email/upload the file to you for editing.
The Three Steps to getting Great Audio from your Podcast Guest
First, have them connect to the skype call using the iPad (desktop/laptop/tablet… whatever), with the earbuds plugged in. This will allow them to hear and be heard on the skype call. They should only use one of the earbuds though.
Second, have them open up their phone and go to the audio recording app. There should be one that comes stock on their phone, but pretty much any basic recording app should do. For the sake of not screwing things up, the simpler it is for them to use, the better. Have them press record, and then they will hold it to their face (on the side that doesn’t already have the earbud in) as if they were making a normal phone call. Turns out phones are optimized to pick up sound in this position, and not when being held like a mic or on speaker phone for all the world to hear your conversations.
Third, it’s always good to test. Have them say a few sentences, and then check the phone to make sure it was still recording and didn’t stop when the screen locked. Also, you can have them test out stopping, saving, and sending you the file to make sure they can do that. An added bonus is that you can then check that audio and make sure it sounds good, before you even record anything important.
Make sure that their phone has enough free space for a recording to be saved! iPhones are notorious for being so full you have to delete a photo to take a new one. Make sure they aren’t going to run out of memory during your call. This depends a bit on how long your recording session is going to be, and the quality of audio they are recording. I was recently send some 1.5 hr long .m4a (native iPhone recordings) files that came in at right about 40MB, so they don’t need a TON of free memory.
Once the test recording is done, your guest feels comfortable with the setup, and you know they aren’t going to delete the recording at the end, you are ready to start the recording session. Do a final check to make sure your backup recording program is running. Are everyone’s phones are on airplane/do no disturb? Are all headphones are plugged in? Is your guest actually recording, and do they have the phone in position?
You’re ready to make an awesome sounding podcast!
General Recording Tips
Location, location, location
Make sure recordings are done in a decent recording space. A good mic is only one part of getting good audio. If they are in an empty concrete room, no mic or editing is going to save that quality. Rooms with lots of stuff on the walls, carpeted floors, and that are away from windows, kids, dogs, cars, music, etc… are preferred. One great sounding place to record is a full closet. They are usually quiet and away from people traffic, the hung clothes break up sound, and the only downside is that they get stuffy and make you feel a little silly talking to the world from your closet, but you’d be surprised how many podcasts “studios” are actually closets.
It’s a good idea when using this phone recording method, or for anyone new to being recorded, to mention that some care should be taken with their “plosives”. If you haven’t yet done any audio editing, you’ll soon learn that these are the parts of words we say that cause issues when close to a mic. In English, t’s, k’s, p’s, d’s g’s and b’s can all be trouble areas. Without getting into voice coaching your guest, the best thing to do is just ask them not to have the bottom of the phone super close to their mouth. Again, if they are holding it against their head as if they were on a phone call, the mic should be placed enough out of the way to avoid issues.
A nice trick for syncing up seperate audio recordings done this way is by doing a count and having everyone clap to the count. It won’t sound synced with the call lag, but the actual recordings should be pretty close to in sync, then when you have the various files uploaded into your editing software you can just line up the clapping spikes to get it pretty well lined up. When someone is holding a phone to their head though they might have to use one hand to clap on their leg. I like to do a “One, Two, One, Two” *CLAP CLAP* count, where I am counting and everyone is clapping. You might want to run though that once or twice to practice and make sure everyone understands what you want them to do before recording.
It’s a good idea to have a backup recording. Get a simple program like MP3 Skype Recorder, that will run in the background and record the skype call, just in case the worst happens. It won’t be great sounding if it is recording from their headphone or laptop mic, but it is better than nothing!