How to Record Phone and Video Calls for a Remote Podcast

September 30, 2019

For various reasons, podcast guests cannot always make a trip to the studio to record in person.  Instead, podcast creators are often forced to record a phone or Skype conversation. Too often, these recordings sound imbalanced or the sound quality is just too distracting for listeners to finish the episode.  

To get the best recording quality, there are a few options.  In order of best to worst sound quality, we will discuss how to record the call like the professionals do it and we will also introduce a more innovative way to get much better sound quality from the person on the far-end of the call using just a smartphone.

Too often, these recordings sound imbalanced or the sound quality is just too distracting for listeners to finish the episode.  

Common Problems With Recording Calls

Overall Sound Quality

The reason a phone or Skype conversation sounds worse than it does in person is because audio is heavily compressed with a lossy format to reduce latency in the conversation.  This means that the system being used throws away audio data so that the files are easier to transport in an effort to prevent delay from one person to the other.  This has the effect of audio sounding dynamically compressed, noisy, and harsh.  No amount of EQ or Noise Reduction can restore the quality that has been lost. This means that most phone or Skype conversation recordings will be harder for listeners to understand and enjoy than a podcast recorded locally.  

All Participants Recorded To One Track

Often, call recording features (such as Skype Recorder) give you one audio track as a product.  The fact that everyone is combined onto one track means that you do not have independent control of each person speaking.  This becomes a problem in a few ways.  

First, even if you have a recording setup at your studio, the sound of your voice recorded by Skype is also degraded.  Ideally, we want to get the best quality wherever we can. This means that it is better to record your microphone directly, as if you were recording an in-person conversation. 

Second, if one person speaks more quietly than the other or uses a different microphone, you will not be able to change the level differences between the two guests without going through the entire conversation and changing levels for each person.  While it is possible to do this, if there are moments when both participants talked at the same time, it will be impossible.

To record two tracks, you’ll need a two-channel audio interface. If you don’t have one and you’re trying to be budget-friendly, I recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. I’ve used mine for years. It’s rugged, compact, and it sounds good.

Poor Internet Connection

One of the worst things about remote podcast recordings is that they are at the mercy of the internet connection.  This means that even the best conversation can be ruined by a hiccup in the internet connection. Despite if its freezing, echo, or distortion, it is annoying to the listener and we should do everything in our power to avoid it.  Beyond a momentary blip in our audio quality, a poor internet connection can lead to a call being dropped all together, in many cases deleting the audio recorded up until that point.

Unnatural Timing Due To Latency

Even though phone and Skype calls are an amazing technology, they don’t live up to the real thing.  Due to latency, or delay, there are about 500 milliseconds (.5 secs) between the time one person speaks and the other person hears it.  This makes for an unnatural cadence, or rhythm, of interaction.  One person may begin speaking before the other is finished, or pause for an unusual length of time to wait for the other’s response.  Although there is not much that can be done to prevent this, we can record in a way that will allow these events to be edited out.

Echo

If you experience echo in your call, it is because AEC, or Acoustic Echo Cancellation, is not working properly.  For this reason, it is recommended to always use headphones on both ends of the call so that no audio is playing through speakers in the room during the call.

Methods To Record Remote Podcast Interviews (From Highest Quality To Lowest)

1. Record On Both Ends Of The Call (Double-Ender)

The Double-Ender recording method will yield the best, most professional recording possible.  This is a method where there are two separate recordings happening simultaneously on each end of the call.  You press record on your end and the guest presses record on their end.  

If the guest has a recording setup of their own, that’s great news!  However, any method the guest has to record their audio will be superior to the sound you’ll get through the call.

In the past, this method required a lot of effort on the part of the guest, however far less effort is required in the modern world.  In fact, all the guest will need is a smartphone!

How to Do The Double-Ender Method Using A Smartphone

1. Start a call with your guest.

2. Record yourself as you normally would in your studio.

3. Ask guest to open the “Voice Memo” App on iPhone (“Audio Recorder” on Android)

4. Make sure you and the guest are using headphones to listen to the call.

5. Have the guest press record on their app and set the phone down on the table in front of them.  As long as it’s reasonably close, it will sound good.

I recommend using the Skype Recorder as a backup.  You can learn how to do this below.

6. When the conversation is complete, simply request that the guest send you the recording they made on their smartphone.

7. When you receive the recording, drag it into a new track in your software.

8. Synchronize the track of your voice to the track they sent you.

If the guest has a more professional recording setup of their own, even better!  Follow the same process as shown above.

2. Record Your Voice And The Guest On Separate Tracks

Although the sound quality using the Double-Ender method is the best possible, it is not always an option to ask for the guest’s cooperation in that way.  The second best option for recording a call is to record the guest’s voice and your own voice to separate tracks.  This method will, of course, require that you have the equipment to make two-track recordings.

You will be recording your voice directly from your microphone, while recording the guest through the call.  This means that your guest’s voice will be a much lower quality than if recorded directly, but at least you can get a good recording of yourself.

How To Record Each Voice To Separate Tracks

1. Start a call with the guest.

2. Plug your microphone into Input 1 of your recording device.

3. Use a 3.5mm headphone adapter to connect the output of your call (output of phone or computer) to Input 2 of your recording device.

4. Arm both tracks and record.

I recommend using the Skype Recorder as a backup.  You can learn how to do this below.

This will give you two tracks.  One with your voice and one with the guest.  You can now process the two signals differently depending on their individual needs. 

3. Record Using Video Conferencing Software Recorder

If you do not have the ability to record more than one track at a time, Skype Call Recorder is your best option.  The quality of your voice and the guest’s voice will be degraded and you now run the risk of losing your recording if the call drops.  Additionally, you will not have the ability to separately mix the two voices unless you spend time to adjust the level for each participant..  This is a free option, however, and will allow you to record a remote conversation.

How To Use Skype Call Recorder

1. Start a Skype call with your guest.

2. In the bottom right-hand corner, click the “…” button.

3. Click “Start recording”.

4. When the conversation is complete, click the “…” button.

5. Click “Stop recording”.

As mentioned above, it doesn’t hurt to use the call recording function of your video codec, such as Skype.  This will provide a great backup should another recording method unexpectedly fail. 

So whichever method you choose, I recommend also using this method as a backup.

Sound Quality Matters

The quality of sound in a podcast can make or break the listener’s experience.  Nothing points out an amatuer podcast like poor sound quality

Many creators have stopped doing remote sessions altogether for fear of poor quality.  However, today’s technology provides us the opportunity to overcome these obstacles if we use it correctly.

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