How to Record a Podcast Interviewby Glenn Fleishman
Editor's note: This article was originally published in Jan. 2005. It has been updated to reflect minor but important changes in two software packages referred to in that original tutorial.
Call me a lemming, but once I understood what podcasting was, I jumped aboard as quickly as possible. Podcasting could be seen as just another way to push audio to people who want to listen to it, but it's really a unique combination of subscription and publication.
My stumbling block? Turning interviews into podcasts using entirely digital production methods that would allow me to make phone calls and record directly to MP3 for simplicity. I worked it out, but not until I went through a lot of trial and error that I'll save you from.
Podcasters, who are as varied as bloggers, create their broadcasts from interviews, personal observations, phone calls, music snippets, or random nonsense. The most popular seem to be discussions and strange programming -- news read in rhyme while tap dancing, for instance -- that's totally unavailable in familiar forms. The secret sauce is RSS: podcasts are syndicated, meaning listeners just have to find them once, and receive them every time a broadcast is issued.
In my line of work as a freelance reporter in Seattle, I spend most of the time that I'm not testing hardware, software, or services -- or actually writing -- on the telephone, interviewing people from companies, fellow authors, folks deploying equipment, and analysts. I write most frequently about Wi-Fi and related wireless networking, and have found a pretty fervent interest in that industry.
I decided that podcasting interviews and audio that helped elucidate about topics that I cover, in the first-person, direct from the source, would help my site better meet its audience's expectations.
I've tried to record from landlines and cell phones in the past, and it's all compromise. I happen to have an office with other freelancers that's mostly concrete and has windows facing north. We're in the north end of Seattle, meaning that cell reception is impaired both by a paucity of towers and the bunker I work out of. And I don't have a landline, nor have I been particularly impressed with nonprofessional -- read: not super expensive -- products that allow recording from a landline.
I turned to Skype, which offers both computer-to-computer voice over IP (VoIP) with extremely high quality, as well as a call-out service for the public switched telephone network (PSTN) called SkypeOut. This offers cheap rates and generally good quality (see Skype on Mac OS X: A Hands-On Approach Part 1 and Part 2).
Skype was the ideal place to start because it would provide a pure digital stream that didn't need to be digitized later. I could record a conversation live and ostensibly in high fidelity with little or no editing later. Or so I thought. The devil is in the details, and he had me by the ankles, thrashing me around until it was resolved.
Tools of the Trade
I'd read Phillip Torrone's excellent guide to podcasting, which was one of the earliest articles after podcasting became a realistic possibility. It's already a classic.
But I differed from Phillip in not wanting to use as many pieces of software, later convert to MP3 after initial recording, and in rejecting GarageBand for speed and simplicity's sake. I wanted something simpler, but also more powerful.
Here's the toolkit I assembled:
Soundflower (free): This virtual audio device (in 2-channel and 16-channel flavors) lets you mix sound in the computer by routing both input and output sound to the same virtual device. This becomes important in a moment. Phillip turned me on to this fine product.
Audio Hijack Pro (demoware, $32): Rogue Amoeba Software created this software to capture audio from any individual application or input device and route it to an output device or a file. The Pro version includes the ability to record directly to MP3.
Audion: This discontinued MP3 tool works in Panther and is now free -- which makes it the cheapest way to edit MP3 files natively without converting to AIFF and back to MP3.
USB headset: I picked a $30 unit with noise cancellation from Logitech, which has a whole lineup of USB headsets. A USB headset ensures no feedback and a much clearer sound for your end of the conversation when recorded. (Your interviewees will appreciate how crisp you sound as well.)
Skype: The last few releases of Skype include audio controls directly within the program: you can choose the source input and output, making it easier to set up the specific reroute needed so that you don't hear yourself.