Podcast and Business Interviews Can Sound Great Using Skype
Preparing the interviewee before a Skype call can help you get a better quality recording from a Skype interview. Beyond preparing the guest, there are different ways to make the actual phone connection which will affect the quality of the final product. A Skype-to-Skype call has the best quality you can get, but don't make the mistake of having your guest install Skype just to do the interview. They should install it and call a few friends to familiarize themselves with the way Skype works. Otherwise the person may be more interested in playing with Skype than giving you the stellar interview you need.
If Your Interview Guest Has Skype
If they have a Skype account, and know how to use it, then you can use Skype to get the best audio quality. This is even better than the quality you hear when people call in to radio stations using a regular phone. There is much more dynamic range in a Skype-to-Skype call. Prepare the other person with some of the following tips.
Ask them to have an external mic of some kind. This can be a USB headset mic, which are typically inexpensive. USB is better than using the sound card on the computer, especially a notebook. The USB connection introduces less noise into the audio of the call.
Another type of mic they can us is one of those pencil looking desktop microphones. Even though they are very sensitive it is possible to get decent sound out of them for an interview. Chat with the person a few minutes before getting into the meat of the interview. This will give you an opportunity to hear if they need to get closer or further away from the mic to get a good sound.
What you are trying to avoid is having the person use the mic that is built into their notebook's screen. These are omni-directional microphones that do a great job of picking up your voice from one side of the room to another. However, because of that, the interview will be flooded with lots of background noise. The person should not be typing while you are conducting the interview, but the built-in mic will pick up key clicks much easier than other types of mics.
Your guest should make sure they have a good Internet connection. Most Internet connections are faster receiving than sending. This means that they may have a good enough connection to surf the Internet, but may not be fast enough to get a good steady stream uploading their half of the phone call. Most broadband connections today are more than fast enough for a good Skype connection. Ask your interviewee to not surf the web while you are on the call. You shouldn't either.
If Your Interview Guest Does Not Have Skype
If they do not have Skype, the next best option is to call their home phone. It may be that they have Skype but not a good connection or microphone setup. A Skype-to-landline phone call is the next best connection. Telephones sound like telephones because of the way they are made. There isn't a lot of dynamic range.
Calling a wired phone is better than a cordless phone or cell phone. Cell phones and cordless phones use heavy compression. This means that when you talk to your guest, their phone will make a whisper and a yell sound equally loud to you. This is great for helping you to understand what is being said. This also means that the birds chirping in the background, which you probably would have never heard otherwise, become much louder. On top of their phone compressing the audio, so does Skype. This means that any noise in the background (kids crying at the neighbor's house) often sounds as loud in the recording as the intended voices.
Both cell phones and the cordless phones have the potential problem of interference. Cell phones can also lose their signal unexpectedly. Cell phones are the least optimal choice.
The options then, best to worst, are: Skype to Skype > Skype to wired home phone > Skype to cell phone or cordless home phone.
Record a Double-Ender With Skype
The best sounding audio is done by recording a "double-ender." You record your end and your guest records theirs. They will send you the recording and you can put the two together in your sound editing software. This is obviously a lot more work for you, but the quality of the audio is the best you can possibly get. Many times when you hear a recorded interview on a radio program, this is how they get such amazing sound. Each party is in a sound booth talking on a telephone connection, but having the two sides of the conversation recorded in the individual studios. The sound engineer puts it all together in post-production.
Here is how you can record a double-ender using Skype.
You will use your Skype recording program to record both sides of the conversation. When recording a call for an interview, it is best to record it in stereo so that you can edit each side of the conversation separately. Assuming your guest has the skills and equipment, have them use one of the Skype recording programs to record the conversation too. Again, in stereo if possible. After the call they will email you the audio they recorded. You can use your editing software to put the two sides together. This gives you a recording of each side before it gets transmitted through the Internet.
Even if you are calling them from Skype to a landline or cell phone, you can do a double-ender. They will need to have a separate digital voice recorder that they can record into. Or, they could record into their computer. But realize that the sound will still be much better if they have some type of external mic.
General Skype Interview Tips
- Both parties should be in a quiet room
- Both parties should not be bothered by pets or children
- Let the family know you are recording and to not use the Internet
Using these tips you should be able to get better interviews using Skype. While you probably won't have the great sound quality NPR has for their interviews, you can at least take little steps to get much better quality recordings using Skype than you are getting now.