Recording tips

While I have done a couple of in-person interviews, the vast majority are done remotely. Now having done quite a few, I’ve put together a few thoughts for how to make the best of what is often a non-ideal situation.

There are four main ways I’ve dealt with remote interviews.

  1. Talking over Skype and recording both channels using the Pamela call recorder. This can work alright, and has the advantage of recording in uncompressed wav format. But something usually goes wrong. When I recorded Rob Meyer, Pamela bombed after 45 minutes and I lost the entire conversation. Fortunately Rob was recording his end locally, so I only had to re-record my questions. Even if that doesn’t happen, Skype often loses connectivity or produces unfortunate distortion.
  2. A much better option is to talk over Skype, but for us each to record locally using Audacity or similar. Then, the guest can export the Audacity recording as a 16-bit wav file and send to me via Dropbox. I splice the whole thing together. The Audacity approach has worked extremely well, except for one time when the guest forgot to select the external microphone, meaning that everything was recorded using the computer’s horrific internal microphone, right by the very loud fan. We had to re-record the whole thing.
  3. Just like option 2, but this time you record using an iPhone and the Voice Memo app.
  4. This is usually a complete fantasy, but sometimes the guest can get to a recording studio at his/her institution, and have an audio engineer handle the details. This is a lot like option 2/3, but with hugely better sound quality.

So, assuming that we’re going with option 1-3, what can you do to increase the audio quality on your end? It turns out, a lot! Here are some suggestions:

  • Use an external microphone. Even a low-end unit will usually be hugely better than your computer’s internal microphone.
  • … if you use an external microphone, make sure to wear headphones. Otherwise my audio will come out of your speakers and get re-recorded on your audio channel (and it will sound … not good).
  • …alternatively use an all-in-one option like a USB gaming headset or even earbuds with built-in microphone.
  • If using an external microphone or headset with Audacity/Skype/Voice Memo, plug in the external microphone before starting Audacity/Skype/Voice Memo, and then make sure that you have the external microphone selected. To make sure you’re properly set up, try rubbing your finger over the microphone’s input and ensure that you hear it.
  • Place the microphone or iPhone to the side of your mouth, not directly in front. This will help to avoid “plosives” and breathy sounds.
  • Try to record in a quiet room with minimal noise from heating/cooling/computers/roads/colleagues.
  • Unplug everything that can be unplugged.
  • Try to record in a room with lots of soft surfaces like carpeting and drapery.