How to Record a Remote Podcast Guest
If you want to interview and record a podcast interview guest remotely (i.e. they’re not right in front of you), how do you do it?
In this post, we’ll go through the best remote recording options and tips on getting the best result (highest quality audio) no matter which method you use.
Why is remote recording important? The obvious advantage is that once you get the hang of this ‘long-distance’ recording you’ll be able to nab people from anywhere in the world to be a guest on your show. But you can also record a podcast with a regular co-host who’s in a different city or country. Or simply a different location due to coronavirus restrictions.
There are a few different ways of going about this. There are some useful software options these days which enable you to record audio over the internet. Then there’s a simple, old fashioned phone recording. Let’s start with the software.
Software options for recording a remote interview
The recording software we’re talking about essentially uses the internet to hook up your computer to your guest’s computer. There are platforms specifically designed for podcasters to give you decent quality audio and make it easy for your guest to join.
How they work is that as you’re using them you’ll hear each other over the internet, but they actually record the audio from each person directly “locally” to their own computer. Then they make it easy to bring those recordings together for the host once you’re done.
Zoom and Skype are designed for video conferencing, but you can get them to record audio (and video) for your podcast. The upside is a lot of people are used to using them now. And they have versions you can use for free. Plus you get to see your interviewee (which does help build rapport.) The downside is the sound quality of Zoom and Skype is not as good as the dedicated audio platforms.
Let’s look more closely at the best call recording software options for podcasts and how they work.
Of the software options Squadcast is the platform I’d probably recommend. It’s specifically designed for podcasters to remotely record interviews.
It gives good quality audio recorded in WAV. (The best quality file format.) It’s pretty easy to use. When you’re in Squadcast just pick up and send a link to your guest to start the call. This will open Squadcast for them in their browser. A few things to watch out for – it works best in Chrome. And you’ll get a better sound if both you and your guest have external mics hooked up and selected. It also automatically sets up separate tracks for you and your guest(s) – which makes editing easier. You can see audio levels for you and your guest(s). It can record up to 4 separate people.
Something else about Squadcast that makes it unique is that it gives you the option to fire up live video so you can see your guest. Which will help give you better rapport for your interview. You can also see where they’re set up and the mic they’re using. (You may be able to give them tips on getting better sound.) As yet Squadcast can’t actually record that video. (They’re working on it.)
Other nice features with Squadcast are:
– the ability to schedule future recordings
– it retains a library of your recordings
– there’s a “green room” before you start recording for both you and your guest to test their equipment
– it backs up the audio
– it uploads the audio as you’re recording
This video shows how to record a remote guest using Squadcast –
Quick note on cost: Squadcast used to have an option where you could just pay for the time you use (which was good I reckon.) They’ve now moved everything to a monthly subscription model (unfortunately), though you can get a $9/month plan which is relatively cheap in terms of subscriptions for remote recording software.
Zencastr was one of the original platforms in this space. It works much in the way Squadcast does. It records locally at each end. At the end of the interview it uploads audio files to Dropbox or Google Drive.
The key differences between Zencastr and Squadcast are:
Zencastr doesn’t have video. Squadcast does have video – which means you see your guest – which can help build rapport.
Zencastr has a free option, though this only records in mp3 format. There is no free option in Squadcast.
This video will take you through ‘How to Use Zencastr’ for recording your remote guest or interview –
There’s some great stuff on Zencastr and useful advice on how these kinds of platforms work generally in this article by Transom’s Jeff Towne. If you want to understand remote recording software in more depth it’s worth a read.
Cleanfeed is another remote recording platform that has a free option.
This video explains how Cleanfeed works –
All of these software platforms aren’t perfect, but this review notes something to be aware of with Cleanfeed:
“Unlike Zencastr, Cleanfeed does not save the recording on the server, nor does it have an option to retrieve the recording from the browser’s local storage. You have to download your track before you close the window; otherwise it’s lost. It’s very scary to me how easy it is to lose a recording by accidentally closing the Chrome window.”
Whichever of these software platforms you use, it is a good idea at the end of your interview to ask your guest to wait until the file has uploaded before they close their browser window.
Since the outbreak of covid at the start of 2020 there’s been a big uptake of Zoom (video conferencing software.) Lots of people have tried it out and that may well have included your guest. So it’s likely they won’t be scared of using Zoom for an interview with you. It is easy to use and it’s free. Plus it gives you both video and audio. These are automatically generated at the end of your Zoom call.
There are lots of advantages of using Zoom.
The downside is the audio quality. If you listen closely to a Zoom recording you’ll hear the sound can be a bit metallic and sometimes gurgley. While the audio from the dedicated podcasting platforms previously discussed aren’t perfect, they are certainly better than the audio from Zoom.
Another thing with Zoom is that it’s best if your guest downloads the Zoom software beforehand. They don’t need to do this with the dedicated audio recording platforms like Squadcast and Zencastr. With these the guest simply clicks on a link in an email which takes them to the recording session in their web browser. Having said that many guests may have Zoom already and actually it’s not that hard to download.
If you’re thinking of giving Zoom a go you’ll find this article useful: ‘How to Record a Podcast Interview with Zoom Video Conferencing’.
It is possible to take the video from your Zoom interview and create a video for YouTube. This article ‘How to Turn Your Zoom Video Calls into a YouTube Podcast’ has some good tips on how to do that.
Here are some quick tips to help improve the quality of your Zoom recording:
- Do this on a computer, not a mobile phone.
- Use an external microphone plugged into your computer.
- Wear headphones.
- Use a reliable, fast internet connection. (Zoom says the minimum bandwidth should be 3Mbps up/down. You can check your connection is fast by doing a Speed Test.)
- Use a wired internet connection rather than a wireless one (to eliminate problems from your wireless wifi.)
- Close down other apps before your interview.
- Close down tabs in your Chrome browser (you could bookmark them for later) and re-boot it before starting.
- Tweak the settings in Zoom e.g. to set up your external mic. (See this advice from Resonate on configuring Zoom for podcast interviews.)
If you can have your guest do the above that’ll help improve the quality of their audio too (and lift the whole recording.)
‘Double-Ender’ (Using Zoom along with a dedicated audio platform)
To make up for the poor audio quality of Zoom, one thing you can do in parallel with your Zoom video interview is to set up an additional audio recording. This is sometimes known as a “double-ender”.
In this method, both you and your guest record their own audio at each end (as well as doing Zoom.) There are a few specialist programs for that like Audio Hijack for Mac and Total Recorder for Windows. Otherwise, you could set up the audio editing program you may be using already (such as Audacity or Hindenburg) to record your mic. There’s also a web-based recorder – the Resonate Recorder. (It’s free and simple to use.)
Ideally, each of you would use an external mic and headphones. The other recording tips outlined for Zoom above will also help.
Once you’ve finished the interview and the audio has been recorded at each end, the two audio tracks need to be synced up. One person needs to send the audio to the other to put it together. (Best to do this via Dropbox – as the file size will likely be large. You should both record in WAV file format.)
This method is a good way to go if you and your interviewee know each other well and/or they’re a regular guest. (You can ask them to make the effort to set this up.)
If you’re interviewing someone new every week you probably can’t do this. It’s a bit of an ask if you don’t know your guest well and/or they’re a big fish. Usually, the less a guest like this has to do tech-wise the better. (You need to make things simple and easy for them.)
Like Zoom, Skype is pretty well known as a video call or conferencing tool and has been used by a lot of people. It also has a few of the same disadvantages as Zoom – like having to download software and ordinary audio quality.
Skype will allow you to record Skype to Skype calls. You can also get an add-on ‘Ecamm Skype Call Recorder’ which allows you to record a Skype call if you’re on a Mac. If you’re running Windows there’s an add-on called Pamela for Skype.
If you use the Hindenburg audio editing program (the one we use), it will allow you to feed your Skype call directly into it. You need to set up a 3rd party app called Soundflower to do it (to route the sound from Skype into the Hindenburg editing software.) This video explains how to get it going for Mac and this video how to get it going for a Windows computer.
There are mobile phone apps that will record your phone conversation. The best of those at this stage is ‘Ringr’.
Ringr works like Squadcast and Zencastr recording audio locally, but to your smartphone.
The advantage of Ringr is it allows your guest to use their phone. Many guests will prefer the phone over setting up a computer.
It does require your guest to download and install the app to their phone. And there are reports of users having trouble getting the app going. If you’re going to try Ringr, I would practice using it a few times with family or friends before launching into a guest interview. (Though this advice also applies to all these methods.)
There are other phone recording apps around you’ll see like ‘Tape-a-Call’ but be aware that the sound quality with many of these can be a bit ordinary.
Other video conferencing and voice apps
There are other video conferencing apps like you could use. Google has been pushing its Google Meet platform to challenge Zoom. It does work well and is free to use. It’s still not as widely used and probably not quite as good as Zoom in terms of functionality. (Though that may change.)
There’s also Apple’s Facetime if you’re both using iPhones. There are other voice recording apps like WhatsApp and Google Voice (though Google Voice isn’t available everywhere in the world.) And some podcasters swear by Discord – a platform that started life as a communication channel for gamers.
If you use any of these you could simply record what’s coming across the internet from your guest using the recording program on your computer. As per Zoom and Skype, the audio quality will be ok but not great. It may also be impacted by your internet connection being glitchy.
Otherwise, you could set up ‘double-ender’ recording (as we’ve outlined above with Zoom.) this will help you capture better quality audio at each end.
All of these will work best if both you and your guest are using an external mic and headphones.
Price Comparison (Squadcast, Zencastr, Cleanfeed, Zoom, Skype, Ringr)
Squadcast has a ‘Dabbler’ starter plan that’s $9/month for 2 hours recording a month. The next level up ‘Creator’ is $17/month for 5 hours recording each month. Squadcast allows multiple guests and records in wav file format. (Wav is higher quality than mp3.)
Zencastr ‘Hobbyist’ is free for two guests and 8 hours recording a month, but only records in mp3 (which is ok but not as good as WAV file format.) Their ‘Professional’ version does record in WAV, but is $20/month. This plan also gives you unlimited recording hours.
Cleanfeed ‘Standard’ is free. It doesn’t have separate tracks. Which may mean more work editing. Their Pro version does have separate tracks and is $22/month.
Zoom is free for up to 40 minutes of recording and over that A$20.99 per host per month.
Skype to Skype calls are free but to call a mobile or landline from Skype, you need a little Skype Credit or a subscription (which can be A$5/month.) The price you pay can depend on the country you’re calling to.
Ringr’s basic plan is $8 per month, but that only gets you an MP3 file which combines both sides of the conversation. If you want WAV files and isolated tracks, it’s $19 per month.
Hardware option for recording a remote interview
This is old fashioned recording we’re talking about here – recording a phone with a recording device.
If you go this route, make sure you get consent from your interviewee to record the call and try to record somewhere quiet.
You can record a call by connecting up your phone to a device like a Zoom H5 or H6 recorder. This video from Resonate explains how you can do it (‘How to Record a Phone Call for Podcasting’) –
If you have the portable recording kit we’ve spoken about before (viz. a Zoom recorder, microphone and headphones), then the main thing you’re going to need is a cable to connect your recording device to your smartphone. (You’ll need a 3.5 mm to 1/4″ cable. If you have a newer iPhone you’ll need an additional adaptor – lightning to 3.5 mm.)
Essentially what you’re doing is hooking up your phone to one input and your own mic to the other.
Make sure the SD card in your recorder has plenty of room on it.
If all of the above falls apart and you get really desperate you can put your phone on speaker with a recording device near it to record your interview. It’s completely basic and not advisable, but better than nothing.
Advice for using software to record a remote interview
If you use call recording software, you and your guest need to be ok with how that software works.
Fortunately, the tech is getting better and easier to use. Mostly it’s straightforward and works well. For Squadcast, Zencastr and Zoom it’s largely a matter of your guest clicking on a link in an email that’s sent to them and following the prompts. The main thing is making sure they’ve selected their mic ok (if they are indeed using an external mic.)
In terms of the quality of the audio, the dedicated call recording platforms (like Squadcast and Zencastr) will likely give you pretty good quality audio. Better than Zoom and Skype.
Be aware that at the time of writing Squadcast and Zencastr only work on desktop and laptop computers, not mobile phones.
Here are some important things to help you get a good recording without problems or glitches:
- a fast, reliable internet connection*
- a wired ethernet connection rather than wireless
- a fast, modern computer
- recent versions of the operating systems on the computer (whether Mac or PC)
- free space on your computer’s hard-drive (Zencastr needs 20GB or more)
- Chrome as your browser
- a recent version of Chrome.
* In terms of internet speed, 4 or more mbps (megabytes per second) up/down is best. You can test your connection at www.speedtest.net.
These things apply to both you and your guest. If you’re interviewing new people all the time it can be hard to ensure that each new person has these things in place each time.
Getting the hardware right helps the software
Something to bear in mind is that these software recordings are only as good as the hardware you and your guests are using.
The software will work best if your guest can wear headphones (which usually isn’t too much to ask.) This will reduce the echo from the computer speakers.
It will also be better if they (like you) have an external mic plugged into their computer. (This is a bit more of an ask.) One possible option for your guest is to use iPhone Earbuds or AirPods which come with a mic.
The built-in mics on most modern computers are ok, but having an external mic gets it closer to the speaker’s mouth and will give you a warmer sound. It also lowers the amount of room noise that’ll get picked up. If your guest only has the built-in mic, it will suffice. (It may be a bit little metallic and won’t be as warm as an external mic.)
If your remote guest is a regular or you know them well, it’d be worth putting these things in place – the dedicated software along with both of you using a decent external mic and headphones.
About glitches and dropouts
If you read the reviews you will see some people talk about glitches and dropouts for all these software recording platforms. This is usually to do with the internet connection. This is less of an issue with Squadcast and Zencastr than using Zoom or Skype. The reason is that Squadcast and Zencastr are also recording audio directly on each person’s computer, rather than just the glitchy, metallic audio that’s coming across the net.
As Jeff Towne of Transom says of Zencastr:
“It’s important to remember that the audio quality of your live chat is NOT related to the audio quality of your recording! Remember, each person is recording directly to their individual computer, the internet audio quality has no effect on that. That said, it can be frustrating to have a conversation if the audio is dropping-out, or gurgling, or devolving into one of those robot-melting-down glitches. This can happen with any internet-based chat.”
Don’t forget to hit the big red record button
With Squadcast and Zencastr you can hear each other before you start recording. Make sure you hit the big red record button to start recording. Once you are recording you’ll see a signal coming through for each person talking (in the meter.) As can happen with a field recorder if you’re not mindful of this it is possible to forget to record.
Wait for upload at the end
One additional tip for Squadcast, Zencastr and Cleanfeed is to ask your guest at the end of the interview to wait for the recording to upload before they close out of the browser window. It does take some minutes for a WAV file especially to upload. Once you finish your interview you might want to have a quick chat with them so they don’t immediately close the window or disconnect from the internet. With Squadcast the program shows when the files are “available for download”. It’s then safe to close.
Paid plans can better for regular remote podcasters
In terms of cost, there are different options – as per our price comparison section. There are free options if you’re starting out. If you’re going to do this regularly and you want good quality audio the paid plans on platforms like Squadcast and Zencastr can be worth it.
Advice for recording a phone call using hardware
A good old fashioned phone call is a lot more straightforward to deal with in terms of the technology – especially for your guest. (All they have to do is answer the phone.)
Most phone connections work ok, but it can happen your guest is located in a bad spot for reception and the audio is not great. (Sometimes if you can get them to move to a different spot the line can quickly get better.)
Is the audio quality of a simple phone call acceptable for podcasts? I contend it is. (Others may disagree.) Phone calls are used all the time on radio and listeners are pretty used to them.
One of the other things going for a phone is that the microphone is close to the speaker’s mouth. In fact, compared to a guest just speaking at their computer (to the in-built mic) it’s a lot closer.
Smartphone mics aren’t brilliant, but they’re pretty good and you know what you’re getting. (Is your guest ok to hook up an external mic to their computer? It can be hard to know.)
Is the audio quality of a dedicated platform like Squadcast and Zencastr better than the audio quality of a phone call? Yes, if you’re using external mics and all going well with those platforms it should be better.
Both the phone method and the dedicated platforms like Squadcast and Zencastr I think are better than the audio quality you get from recording in Zoom or Skype.
External surrounding noise can be a problem whichever way you do this (whether you’re using a computer or just a phone.) With a phone, you can ask your guest to move away from the noise (at the start or even during the interview.) Your guest can’t really move if they’re using a desktop computer.
Sometimes guests will take your phone interview in a noisy place (like a busy airport lounge) which can sound terrible. It’s a good idea to brief your guest beforehand to find somewhere quiet to do the interview.
Apart from the gear, the phone method is largely cost-free. (If you’re interviewing people from overseas you probably should factor in the cost of the international call though.)
Conclusion: the best method for remote recording
Advising how to do this remote recording thing is hard. Things can go wrong whichever way you go. Audio quality can be subjective. And this recording technology is changing pretty quickly.
But for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve concluded from own tests and plenty of research (for now):
If you’re uncertain about your guest’s setup and you don’t really want to push them on the tech (e.g. setting up an external mic), a phone recording may be the way to go. Most people have an iPhone or smartphone and are happy to speak on the phone. They’re also free to speak with you from wherever they are.
If you’re interviewing someone who you think can organise an external mic &/or you’re reasonably confident of their computer set up, I’d suggest using Squadcast. Zencastr is ok too, but with Squadcast you can see your guest.
If you have a reliable co-host and they’re happy to put in a bit more effort, it might be worth organising the double-ender method where you can both see each other through a program like Zoom but also record audio locally. They would then need to send their audio to you for you to put together.
No doubt the technology will get better and easier in the coming years. So some of this advice will change.
Whichever method you use (now and in the future), there are simple things you can do to improve the end result. These are mostly about being organised and being sensible with the technology (rather knowing the intricacies of the tech.) I’ve put them together as a checklist below.
You could do a simpler (smaller) version of this to provide to your guest (with the key things they need to do.)
Tips for remote interviews: a checklist
Here’s a checklist of things you should do to record a remote interview for your podcast:
A. Prep before the interview
- Find a quiet environment to set up
- Preferably an environment with soft objects – like carpet, couch, bed, rugs, curtains – to dampen reverb
- Make sure you have clear questions written and ready to go
B. Get ready for using remote recording software
- Use a computer rather than a phone to do the interview
- Make sure your internet connection is reliable and fast
- Used a wired internet connection rather than wireless if you can
- Use Chrome as your browser
- Make sure it’s a recent version of Chrome
- Close as many tabs as you can (bookmark them and come back to them later)
- Reboot Chrome before you launch your recording software
- Shut down your other programs
- Make sure you have spare hard-drive space on your computer
- Turn off all computer notifications
- Put your phone on silent
- Plug in your microphone to your computer and test it
C. Get gear ready
- Wear headphones (so you can hear the audio and so you don’t get echo)
- Do a test interview (with family or friend)
D. Brief your interviewee
- Make sure your interviewee is clear on the time of the interview
- Let them know what they have to do at the time (e.g. click on the Squadcast link)
- If using remote recording software and you think your guest will be ok with it, also ask them to use an external mic (even iPhone earbuds)
- Encourage your interviewee to do the other relevant steps in A, B and C above! (You could copy and paste a version of my checklist if you want.)
- Be clear you’ll be recording the call for your podcast and make sure they’re ok with that (as it’s illegal to record a call without consent)
E. At the start of the interview
- Ask your guest to say their name and title at the start – to check sound levels and help break the ice
F. During the interview
- Keep on eye on your sound levels (to make sure they’re not too high or too low)
- If you get a noisy interruption, ask your interviewee to repeat their answer to the question or ask the question again.
G. At the end of the interview
- Thank the interviewee for their time
- Let them know you’d be stoked if they shared the interview on their social media. (Let them know you’ll email them the finished interview and will post it in your social media.)
- If using a software program, ask your guest to wait for the recording to upload before they close the window or quit out of the program or disconnect from the net.
Of all the tips, testing is probably the important thing you need to do. It’s a good idea to do a short test before the actual interview – of course with someone you know, but also if possible with the person you’re interviewing. (Ask to do this for 5 minutes the day before.) This’ll help you spot and sort out issues at each end beforehand the full session. You’ll also get a sample of the audio quality you’re going to get.
The following things are also key to getting a good result:
– how you conduct your interview
– how you set up your recording space
– your microphone technique.
(I’ll be writing more about them in future. They’re also part of my podcast training.)
Further learning resources
Resonate Recordings articles on remote recording
Resonate Recordings ‘Guide to Remote Recording’
Buzzsprout ‘How to Record Phone Calls for Podcasts’
Journalism.co.uk ‘How to Record Remote Podcast Interviews Using the ‘Simul Rec’ Technique‘
How have you gone with doing an interview with a long-distance guest or someone at a different location? Got tips on how to do remote recording for podcasts? Let us know in the Comments.