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Interview shows are one of the most popular styles of podcasting. If you podcast long enough, you’re probably going to end up talking with someone over Skype, and you’re going to talk with guests who don’t have good microphones and don’t understand how important audio quality is, or what they can do to prevent common issues like background noise or room echo. It’s your responsibility to clearly explain what you need from your guest. If you leave it up to chance, don’t be surprised if they send you a recording with poor audio quality.
I’m fed up with listening to podcasts where the guests sound like crap, so I decided to do an episode about how to get better audio recordings from your guests (or even your co-hosts).
Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins
- Many podcasters are either scared to talk to their guests about audio, or they just aren’t thinking about it. This creates a poor listening experience for their audience.
- You should be able to clearly explain the benefits of coming on your show to your guests. Stop feeling like your guests are doing you a favor by agreeing to be on your show.
- Most people like talking about who they are and what they do, but make sure it’s something your audience will be interested in as well.
- You can’t just email someone instructions and assume they will read and understand them. Follow up with them.
- It’s better to fix audio problems before you record than to try to fix them in post-production.
- 1:34 Tell me if this has happened to you before. You think of someone you want to have as a guest on your podcast. You email them to ask, and they agree! Awesome! You schedule a time, and when that day comes, you jump on Skype to record the show.
- 1:48 Uh-oh. Your guest doesn’t have a good mic. The room they’re in sounds like it’s massive, there’s a bunch of echo and the air conditioner sounds like a jet plane. Their Skype connection keeps dropping, which means you’ll have to do a bunch of editing to make the conversation make sense. Bummer.
- 2:06 When you get the audio file from them (you asked them to record a local track, right?), you discover that it sounds like they are 10 feet away from the microphone, there’s a bunch of echo and it’s really hard to understand what they’re saying. What should you do? Scrap the episode? Fix up the audio as best you can and publish it? You had a pretty good conversation and you think your listeners would enjoy the content but the audio quality is almost unusable.
Why Do So Many Podcasts Have Poor Audio Quality?
- 2:39 You know what I’m tired of? Podcasts with guests that have crappy audio. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. I did, just the other night. A podcast I listen to regularly had a guest who sounded like they were using the built in microphone on their Macbook in a noisy room. It was painful to listen to. There was no warmth. There were no bass frequencies. There was so much echo that I struggled to hear what the guest was saying, and the dynamic range was all over the place so I was constantly having to turn the volume up or down.
- 3:08 This is a mistake a lot of podcasters are making. When I ask hosts why they don’t get higher quality audio tracks from their guests, they mumble something like, “they said it’s the best they could do”. You know what? It’s not your guest’s fault. It’s your fault. This stops now.
Many podcasters are either scared to talk to their guests about audio, or they just aren’t thinking about it. This creates a poor listening experience for their audience.
You Don’t Owe the Guest. It’s a Win/Win Situation.
- 3:31 Why did you invite this person on your show in the first place? I’d hope it’s because you think your audience will enjoy hearing them talk about themselves or what they do. Ask yourself: Why do you want to talk to this person? What is your guest going to get out of coming on your show?
You should be able to clearly explain the benefits of coming on your show to your guests. Stop feeling like your guests are doing you a favor by agreeing to be on your show.
- 4:03 Here are a couple of examples of how a guest might benefit from being on your show:
- If your guest can talk relatively well about a subject, they will be seen by your audience as an expert.
- They will have a chance to talk about their product or service and generate brand awareness and maybe even new work opportunities.
- Maybe they just like you and want to talk to you. That’s ok too.
Most people like talking about who they are and what they do, but make sure it’s something your audience will be interested in as well.
- 4:32 You are providing your guests with a platform to spread their message. You don’t owe them. You’re doing marketing for them. Their name is going to be on your website, on Twitter, and in front of a brand new audience (your audience). This is good for them too. Stop feeling like you can’t tell them what to do because you totally can. Know why? Because crappy audio is a crappy experience and people will associate them and their brand with a crappy experience forever.
Have the Conversation About Audio Quality with Your Guest Before You Record the Show.
- 5:09 Your guest might already have a good mic and be familiar with recording. You just need to ask if you aren’t sure. If they aren’t already an experienced podcaster, you’ll need to have a conversation with them to explain why audio quality matters.
- 5:36 Here’s a simple three step argument that you can give to your guest:
- 5:43 1. I need you to sound good because I don’t want a single listener to tune out or get frustrated with the sound quality. This may be that listener’s first time hearing your name or hearing you speak. If you sound good and they like what you have to say, it could be the start of a lifelong friendship or a customer for your brand. If you sound like crap, they might be vocal about it, but more than likely they are going to turn the show off and forget about you. That’s an opportunity wasted.
- 6:20 2. I want everyone to be able to clearly hear what you have to say. To do that, we need to make sure you can record a clean audio track in a quiet room. Big empty rooms with lots of echo are not good for recording. The echo will make it hard for people to understand you, and if they can’t understand you, they will turn off the show and give their precious attention to something else.
- 6:42 3. I don’t want anyone to remember you as the guy/gal that sounded like crap on a podcast. It’s important to make a good first impression.
Do People Really Care About Audio Quality?
- 6:51 Yes, they do. Most people just don’t know how to explain what’s wrong with audio in the proper terms, so they either over-simplify or don’t say anything at all because they don’t want other people to think they’re stupid.
- 7:10 Audiophiles, musicians, music nerds, and studio engineers complain about sound quality because they’ve learned enough about the terms to describe the problems they are hearing.
- 7:22 A normal person probably doesn’t know what dynamic range is, so they may just describe a track as being too quiet or not being normalized. A normal person might hear a track that needs de-esssing and think that it’s uncomfortable to listen to, but they probably couldn’t tell you that there needs to be some decibels removed from five thousand hertz.
- 7:42 I want you to grow your audience, not mildly annoy them. I’m sure there are many people who won’t complain to you about the audio quality (they are probably the really nice people), but for your show to be successful, you need a base level of quality. You don’t have to buy a $3500 mic and sound like NPR podcasts, but your audio has to be good enough and not have a lot of room echo, huge differences in volume, or sharp high end frequencies that hurt your listener’s ears.
Walk your Guest Through the Recording Process in Advance
- 9:02 Since most of your guests probably won’t be recording in the same room as you, you’ll need to tell them to record a track on their computer and you should also record the Skype call to use as backup in case anything goes wrong.
- 9:19 Christopher asked: What video/audio conferencing applications do you recommend when working with offsite guests? For talking with guests, you can use Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime. Skype has an small advantage in that there are some free or cheap programs you can use to record the audio from your Skype call (to have as backup). You can record Skype calls on your Mac with software like Ecamm Call Recorder, Audio Hijack or Piezo. If you’re on a Windows machine, MP3 Skype Recorder is a free option, but you should invest in a copy of Pamela because it gives you the option to record a .wav version of the call, which is higher quality.
Pre-show Checklist for Recording Template
- 10:34 I wrote up this template for you to use. Email this to your guest in advance, or put it on a page on your website and send them a URL. Feel free to copy, share and customize in any way you see fit!
Hey (GUEST’S NAME),
Thanks for agreeing to come on my show! I’m really looking forward to talking with you. Since I want to create a great sounding show for the listeners, I’ll need you to record a track on your computer while we’re talking on Skype. If you’ve never done this before, no worries, I’m always glad to answer questions. Here are the important things you need to know.
You’ll need to record a track locally (on your computer).
We’ll each record a track on our computers using Quicktime, Audacity or Garageband. After the show, you’ll export and share your file with me using Dropbox or Google Drive, and I will edit those tracks together to make the final MP3 file that will be published. Here’s a short tutorial video if you’ve never recorded an audio file on your computer before.
Having the track you record on your computer gives me a stable recording to work with in post-production, so please let me know if you’re have any difficulties or questions, and I’ll help you through the setup process.
Choose your microphone source in the recording software and Skype before you hit record.
If you are using Apple earbuds or any other headphones that have a built in mic, make sure you select the mic you intent to use in both your recording software and Skype before hitting record or getting on the call. You can find the option to select your microphone source in the preferences (usually under Audio).
If you only have Apple earbuds with the inline microphone, make sure you hold the microphone while recording, otherwise it will rub against your clothing and cause a terrible scratching sound.
If you want an affordable upgrade over Apple Earbuds, try the Plantronics 628 USB headset ($22 on Amazon).
If you don’t have an external microphone or Apple earbuds with the inline mic, please let me know so I can purchase and send you a microphone to use. The built in microphone in your computer or laptop will not produce a track with acceptable audio quality, so if you show up without a mic, we’ll have to reschedule the call for a different time.
You’ll need to wear headphones while recording.
You’ll need to wear headphones to avoid causing an echo in your track that will disrupt the show. Never use your built-in computer speakers (internal or external) on the call as this will cause echo. This echo will make it nearly impossible for listeners to understand you and is impossible to edit out in post.
Choose a quiet location to record in.
It’s important to find a quiet room to record in, preferably one without a lot of natural echo. If you have to record at your office, try to find an isolated room away from other people and foot traffic. If can even hang a sign that says something like, “On a call! Do not disturb!”.
Internet Connection: ethernet is better than wifi. Turn off syncing and backup services.
Ethernet connections are better for Skype calls and more reliable than wifi. If you have the option, use an ethernet cable. Turn off Dropbox syncing and any other cloud or backup services that may take up bandwidth as they will degrade your Skype connection and cause lower quality audio or dropouts, which will make it hard for me to hear you.
My shows usually run for about (INSERT AVERAGE TIME HERE). Plan on showing up 15-20 minutes early so we can test the recording setup and get comfortable. It’s not a bad idea to use the restroom before the call. If you have a hard stop time, please let me know in advance so I can plan for it.
Again, thanks so much for agreeing to come on my show this (insert recording date here). If you have questions about any of this, please let me know and let’s jump on Skype as soon as possible to get everything sorted out.
(YOUR NAME HERE)
Getting Good Audio From Your Guest is Your Responsibility
- 20:51 I want to reiterate that you need to have the conversation about audio quality and recording before you get on the Skype call the day of your show. You have to make sure they understand what needs to happen. That’s being a responsible podcast host.
You can’t just email someone instructions and assume they will read and understand them. Follow up with them.
- 22:01 It’s ok to say no to a guest or reschedule if they aren’t willing to follow your recording process. Thank them, but tell them that audio quality is important and you don’t want to put something out that would reflect poorly on them or your show.
- 22:35 It’s a good idea to get on Skype 15-30 minutes before the show is scheduled to start to answer any questions your guest might have and to get comfortable with them. Let them know you’re “off the record”, talk about the topics you’re going to cover on the show and ask them if there’s anything they’d like to talk about. Some of your guests might be nervous, so getting on early and talking with them should help them relax a little.
- 24:00 Sam asks: What do you do to doctor (or fix) crappy audio? There’s a few things you can do to make crappy audio sound less awful, but you can’t really make it sound good. The biggest audio problems are usually caused by recording with the built-in computer microphones. I’ve talked about the proximity effect before; the closer to the mic you are, the more bass you’ll get, which will make the track sound “warmer”. The problem with built-in computer mics is that you’ll be too far away from the mic and the track will sound really thin and harsh, and it’ll also have to have a higher input gain level which will pick up more background noise and room echo (if your room isn’t treated for sound or naturally “dead”).
It’s better to fix audio problems before you record than to try to fix them in post-production.
- 25:31 I’ve got a couple of plugins that I use regularly to fix the most common audio issues. The main plugins I use are equalizers (EQ) and compressors, but I also use two plugins from Izotope’s RX4 Plugin Bundle; Dialog Denoiser for removing background noise, and De-clipper for fixing clipping, which is distortion that happens when someone is too close to their mic or recording with the input gain levels set too high. If you want to learn how to improve audio recordings, I highly suggest watching my tutorials about how to use the EQ and compressor plugins.
- 27:47 Albert asks: What frequencies should I watch out for when mixing? The frequencies I end up cutting the most are low-mids (between 200-500), the 2200-2300k range, and 5k-10k. It really depends on the track though, so listen carefully for anything that doesn’t sound right and then try to reduce that range with an EQ plugin without making the track sound too unnatural.
- 29:50 Levi asks: What are your thoughts about doing interviews on the phone? Personally, I wouldn’t record interviews done over the phone. Phone calls are always going to sound like phone calls, because they are heavily compressed and don’t have as broad of a frequency range as most microphones.