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Uncommon Sense

By Liz Covart · July 08, 2020

Tips and Tricks for Recording: Remote Interviews

Ben Franklin's World 11 min read

By Liz Covart

How can you record remote guests and phone calls? These were two questions people sent my way on Twitter when I asked what questions people had about mics, lighting, and sound for their virtual programs and courses. 

In this last post of our three-post series on the subject of mics, sound, and lighting, we’ll cover answers to how you can record remote guests and phone calls.

Plus, tomorrow you can join me for a live Zoom chat at 5:30 pm Eastern time where I can help answer your specific questions and we can go deeper on recording topics. If you’d like to attend the conversation, be sure you register here.

Screen capture of discussion between Holly White and Serena Zabin for the Ben Franklin’s World book club

Recording Remote Guests

There are many options for how to record remote guests. And which option you use will depend on whether you want to record both audio and video, just audio, and whether you have the budget for an app.

Recording Remote Guest Audio and Video

One of the easiest ways to record both the audio and video of a remote guest would be to use a video conferencing app like Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet.

Many institutions invested in Zoom subscriptions just after everyone began working from home. Zoom has a built-in recording feature. This recording feature will allow you to capture both the audio and video of your conversation or just the audio.

Likewise, Google Meet (formerly Hangouts) also provides you with a built-in recording tool, if you are a subscriber to their G Suite products and many universities do subscribe to these products.

Lastly, Skype also has built in recording tools for audio and video. However, the only way to record audio and video without a third-party app like eCamm Recorder or Pamela is for both parties to use Skype. So if you intend to place a phone call to someone through Skype, you’ll need to use a third-party app to record the audio.

Recording Remote Guest Audio

There are many apps that make recording remote audio super easy. You can use any of the options above plus web-based apps like SquadCast, Zencastr, and Cleanfeed.

My preferred app is SquadCast. I use SquadCast to record almost all of the interviews I conduct for Ben Franklin’s World. What I like about SquadCast is that it records a virtual double-ender. A double-ended recording means you record both sides of an audio conversation at the same time. This means that if I’m recording with a guest and we experience a temporary drop in our virtual call, SquadCast records what my guest was saying as if we never experienced that drop. And once we’re done recording, SquadCast automagically uploads both sides of the conversation to the cloud. Now I said “both” sides of a conversation, but SquadCast can record you and up to three guests during a recording session.

Like SquadCast, Zencastr offers a wonderful remote recording option to those who need to capture audio. Presently, Zencastr is also beta testing video so that in the future customers will be able to record both audio and video.

Both SquadCast and Zencastr require a subscription to use, which may place these apps out of range for those who need a zero-cost option. If you need a zero-cost option, you might look at Cleanfeed. Cleanfeed is a relatively new app that records multi-feed live audio with anyone in the world. This means that like SquadCast and Zencastr you can have multiple guests. Unlike SquadCast and Zencastr, Cleanfeed has both a free plan and a paid plan.

Recording Phone Conversations

Before the proliferation of apps like SquadCast and Zencastr, podcasters like me had to resort to all sorts of makeshift systems to record a remote phone call. I’ll describe the method I used for the first 191 episodes of Ben Franklin’s World and tell you how NPR records many of its remote interviews.

Google Voice + Audio Hijack Pro

When I first started podcasting six years ago many podcasters recorded their interviews with Skype and third-party apps like eCamm recorder or Pamela depending on whether you used a Mac or PC. This method would not do for my guests. Many responded they would not appear on my podcast if they had to record an interview via Skype. So I did some research and figured out that I could use Google Voice and a Mac-only app called Audio Hijack Pro to record a phone call.

If you have a Mac and intend to record audio, Audio Hijack Pro is a must. It’s worth the $59 you’ll pay Rogue Amoeba for the software because Audio Hijack Pro will record audio from any app you use on your computer. So if you want to record the audio from a music app or a YouTube video, Audio Hijack can record that audio for you.

In my case, I used Audio Hijack Pro to capture audio from phone calls that I placed with Google Voice. Essentially, I used my computer to place a phone call to my guests using Google Voice and I used Audio Hijack Pro to record the phone call.

The downside of recording phone calls like this is that most people don’t have a landline anymore so when you place a call it’s to their mobile phone. The use of this wireless device can create issues for your audio. Calls drop. Your recordings will playback with small crackling and audio distortions you didn’t hear on your call, but the recorder picked up. And all of these issues take time to fix when you edit your recordings. 

Still, I used this method for the first 191 episodes of Ben Franklin’s World and with a lot of work, my audio engineer Darrell Darnell and I were able to produce the best-sounding phone interviews in podcasting.

NPR Tape Syncs

Before the coronavirus pandemic, National Public Radio personnel used “tape syncs” to record many of their remote interviews. Tape sync is another term that describes a double-ended recording and NPR typically records them in two ways.

First, NPR producers will set a date and time to interview a guest. Sometimes they will arrange for a local person to go to the home or business of the person they want to record and at the appointed date and time, the hired hand will use a portable recorder and microphone to record the guest as they speak with the NPR producer interviewing them on the phone. At the same time, the NPR producer conducting the interview will also make sure they record their side of the conversation with a handheld recorder.

A second method NPR uses to “tape sync” an interview is that they will place a phone call to someone’s landline and ask them to hold their landline phone in one hand and their mobile phone in the other hand. While the guest is talking to the interviewer on their landline, their mobile phone will be set up so that it is recording their side of the conversation. In essence, this method asks interviewees to speak into two phones at the same time.

These are the basics for how you can record the audio and video of a remote guest. If you have more questions about this, please feel free to tweet or email me or attend the Zoom conversation I’ll be hosting tomorrow, Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 5:30pm (ET). If you’d like to attend the Zoom conversation, please sign up here so I can send you the link.

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