How to get great audio for podcast interviews

How to get great audio for podcast interviews

Podcasts continue to be very popular, and more and more people are getting involved in them. Even if you’re not a podcast creator, at some point, you may find yourself being interviewed on or contributing to someone else’s podcast. In that case, it’s not enough to be ready to talk about your topic — you also want to make sure your voice comes through loud and clear.

We asked The Verge’s senior audio engineer Andrew Marino if he had any audio tips for people who are about to participate in a podcast. Here are his answers to our questions.

Is it better to use my phone’s mic or use my Bluetooth headset?
If this is a live show, the quality of the call is important, as there can be no editing later on, so you want to get good sound. (We’ll deal with a recorded podcast in a minute.)

In most cases, your phone mic is going to be better. Obviously, this depends on the model of your phone versus that of your Bluetooth headset, but I have not come across a scenario where I preferred the sound of someone’s Bluetooth headphones. We do a lot of audio tests of wireless earbuds and headphones in our Verge reviews, and I can’t think of any that compare to the microphones on the average smartphone.

Another thing to watch out for is the battery on wireless headphones. You don’t want your headphones to die in the middle of a recording. For that reason, I always prefer headphones you can plug into your device — the sound you get from the mic is usually better, and you don’t have to worry about the battery dying or the Bluetooth connection suddenly glitching.

Don’t use your phone on speakerphone if you can help it. If you’re using your phone to communicate, then either hold the phone up to your ear or use headphones.

The best thing to do if you’re not sure which microphone sounds best is to test your headphones versus your phone ahead of time by recording your voice on both and listening to the results.

Should I record the podcast?
If it’s not a live show, it is a good idea for you to record your end of the conversation for the podcast and then send the recording to your host or the podcast engineer. The audio quality on the podcast will be significantly better if it is edited together with your local recording instead of using the Zoom or phone call recording they may have on the other end. So let the person who arranges the podcast know that you are willing to do that.

For example, I usually ask guests who are being interviewed on Zoom to also record themselves separately on their phones or with another device. If you don’t have a good mic, even recording yourself using your phone’s app is better than not recording at all. Many phones have a default voice recorder app (Apple’s Voice Memos, Recorder on Android Pixels), but if you need to download one, I’d recommend Rode’s Reporter app.

If I’m using a phone to record, what’s the best way to set it up?
A lot of producers want you to hold the phone up to your ear the same way you would on a phone call. Phones are designed to pick up voice that way, so it’s almost foolproof.

But if you’re just using your phone to record your end of the conversation (rather than using it as the main way to communicate during the podcast), I recommend placing the phone about 6 to 12 inches from your face. This can mean putting the phone on top of a stack of books on your desk, on a music stand, or whatever you have laying around.

Also, if you’re using your phone to record, it would be ideal to have your phone in airplane mode so there will be no notification sounds disrupting the recording. And be aware that phone calls coming through during a recording will usually pause the recording app on your phone.

Should I buy a mic?
If this is the only podcast recording you’re going to do and you don’t want to spend the money, use your phone’s microphone. That being said, I always prefer a guest to have an external microphone. Most USB microphones sound better than what you can get with your smartphone’s mic, and a lot of them are able to plug directly into your phone if you need them to.

What kind of mic would you recommend?
This really depends on your budget.

What I’ve been recommending to guests lately is Audio-Technica’s ATR2100x-USB cardioid dynamic USB/XLR microphone. It’s affordable (it runs about $99) and very flexible; you can upgrade it with more gear or use it for other audio projects. I know a lot of people recommend the Blue Yeti, but I prefer the sound of dynamic microphones for podcast recordings rather than condenser microphones like the Yeti. They’re less sensitive to unwanted noises and have a sound that’s not all that different from professional gear.

An upgrade from the ATR2100x would be Shure’s MV7, a $249 mic that gets you a better broadcast-quality sound and some cool features like metering and the software-controllable effects that Shure has developed.

For both of these recommendations, you can either just plug them into your computer via USB or you can use an XLR connector to plug them into a recording interface or more professional setup.

If you really want to go pro, you can look at Shure’s SM7B or the Electro-Voice RE27N/D, both of which are probably used for the podcasts or radio shows you listen to. There are a lot of microphones you can try, but these two are pretty standard in the industry.

If I’m using a mic, what’s the best way to set it up?
If you’re at a desk, place the mic on a stand. Try not to hit your hands against the mic or the table, as that rumbling may pick up in the recording and cause a headache for the editor (or for the listener!).

Most problems I have with recording are clipping (a distortion in the recording from overmodulating the audio signal — that crunchy sound when it gets too loud) and plosives, which are the puffs of air from consonants like “B” or “P” that overmodulate the microphone. To avoid this, I usually recommend guests to be about a fist’s length away from the microphone, and preferably have a pop filter, which is a piece of material placed in front of the microphone that catches those bursts of air from your mouth.

Some USB microphones will have a built-in meter to show how loud the signal is. You don’t want it to be too low (low green level) or too high (in the red).

If you’re using your mic to record and you’re on a Mac, the desktop version of Voice Memos is a good way to go, as long as you make sure to set your mic as the default input in your System Preferences. Another option is creating an audio recording in QuickTime or GarageBand, both of which are free. Windows also has its own voice recorder app. If you want to download a more robust recording program, Audacity is a free and open-source digital audio workstation available for both Macs and PCs.

Is there anything I need to know about noise?
This can be tricky. If you’re able to control the sound of your environment, do it!

You should be in a spot where there is the least amount of noise. This may mean staying away from windows to reduce outdoor sounds, or closing the door to your room. Some noises inside your house will lower the quality of your recording as well, such as air conditioners or TVs on in the background. And you may want to temporarily turn off or unplug any home appliances that may start to hum or otherwise make noise during the podcast.

You should also try to dampen sound bouncing off walls and into your microphone. A lot of people try to record podcasts in their closets. This can definitely provide a lot of isolation from noise, but it may end up sounding too boxy and stuffy, with your voice bouncing back and forth against the short distance between the walls. Speaking into a closet is typically better than speaking in a closet.

I’ve also seen people build pillow and blanket forts on their desks or record in their cars. Though it’s not always an ideal sound (I really hate that boxy sound of close quarters recording!), it may be better than your microphone picking up sirens, big trucks, or loud music outside your apartment window.

Is there anything else I need to know in order to prepare?
If you’ve recorded your part of the interview and want to share it with the podcast creators, file size can be an issue. If the file is too big, you may not be able to send it over email easily. Most of the time, I send our guests a link to a Google Drive folder where they can drop the audio file. If that doesn’t work for you (for example, if you don’t have enough room left in your Google account), you can try a free service that handles large files, such as WeTransfer.

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