Since Coronavirus hit, businesses have been looking for different ways to communicate with their audience. Some kinds of content, such as video, have been limited by the government restrictions, but on the flip side, many businesses have discovered the capability of cloud conferencing solutions to record audio and video, and use that as the basis for content.
So, as demand for filming has largely dried up, one type of content we’ve produced more of over the last few months has been podcasts, with our clients typically recording conversations using solutions such as Zoom, Webex Teams, and Microsoft Teams, and sending us the recording to edit into a podcast.
In the circumstances, quality isn’t, and needn’t be, the be all and end all when producing this kind of content. However, It’s also true that people won’t listen if the experience is poor. With that in mind, I just wanted to throw out some simple tips to think about when recording for a podcast using a cloud conferencing app.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but covers common issues that have come up as I’ve been editing audio recorded in this way over the last few months.
Record in a quiet place, with windows and doors closed
Because many of us are working from home at the moment, I realise this can be easier said than done.
When you’re planning a recording, it’s good practice to go to the room you have in mind, and just sit in silence and listen for a minute or two. You could even record the ambient sound on a voice recorder, external microphone, or just with a mobile device. Here are some usual suspects which can spoil your recording:
So, make sure all windows are closed, and if possible pick a room as far away from the road as possible. And if your neighbours are putting a new bathroom in, you’ll need to postpone or find another location. Family members, friends and significant others can usually be bribed to be quiet with chocolate or their preferred snack, whereas if you feed your loudmouth avian friends, they’ll probably make more noise.
Keep an ear out for other unwanted noise
Other unwanted noise is most likely to come from you or your guest. One of the most common problems is people who sit at their desk and touch the desk for emphasis, or tap on their laptop, both of which can be made worse if the person wears jewellery on their hands or wrists. Also, listen out for creaky chairs.
Consider internet reliability and speed
Internet connectivity has obviously improved a great deal over the last decade, which is why most of us can comfortably work from home using Zoom or an equivalent for our meetings.
However, as you’ll know, not all internet connections are created equal, and depending on your provider, plan, and where you live, some customers experience regular drop outs and slow speeds.
So, when you’re picking which member of the team is going to record a call for a podcast, you need to take this into account. If you only have access to a temperamental connection, do some preparation and explore which room in the house gives the best call quality.
Don’t talk over each other
It can become a bit of a nightmare for an editor if the presenter and guest talk over each other on the call, as it normally results in some kind of distortion and loss of clarity.
An interview via phone or computer isn’t like a normal conversation. The interviewee should ask the question and then shut up, leaving the interviewee to answer. If you’re on video, feel free to nod and make thoughtful expressions to show that you’re listening, but try not to grunt your acceptance of a particular point, or say ‘yes’ a lot. It won’t sound good and will create problems for the editor.
If you’re using Zoom, this is less of a worry. This is because Zoom allows you to record each participant on the call to their own channel, whereas some other solutions, such as Skype, only record everything to one channel. In post production, having the audio on separate channels means that it’s easy to edit if people do talk over each other. That’s not to say you should do it, it’s still good interview technique not to.
One final caveat on this – if your interviewee makes you laugh, feel free to do so, as it’ll sound weird if they crack a joke and you meet it with silence.
So, those tips apply more specifically to recording from home using cloud conferencing apps. I also wanted to provide some more general pointers for podcasting:
If you listen to your favourite podcast, chances are it’ll feature music, probably at the beginning, end, and often in between sections or changes of topic. Using consistent music in your podcasts just gives them more of an identity and makes them sound more professional and engaging.
Use an external microphone
You can achieve better audio quality by spending some money on an external microphone, so you’re not relying on your device’s in-built hardware.
There are plenty of review articles out there, which can make more informed recommendations than I can. However, I have noted that every ‘best microphone for podcasting’ list mentions the Blue Yeti, so that may be worth looking at for something you can stand on your desk. Another option is a Rode Smartlav+, which is more portable and clips to your clothing.
Regardless of what you end up with, read the set up guide – a professional quality microphone being used incorrectly will make things worse, not better. One of the most important things is to make sure the microphone is mounted securely and isn’t wobbling around or rubbing against clothing. Also, experiment with how you angle the microphone, and where it’s placed in relation to your mouth. You should find that you’re able to make your breaths less obvious by placing the microphone a certain way.
Finally, just bear in mind that if you buy yourself a nice microphone it’ll only improve your audio, not the person on the other end of the call – so this isn’t a silver bullet for audio quality.
Introductions are good, but keep it brief
Most podcasts will need an introduction before you get into any interviews or testimony. But, it’s a good idea to keep them short.
A lot of people, myself included, find overly long introductions annoying, particularly if they are heavy on unscripted ‘banter’ and advertising messages. Any sponsorship, unless you really need to do otherwise, should ideally pop up briefly during the podcast, or at the end.
For a simple introduction, my advice would be to include the following:
Same goes for outros
It’s good to make sure your podcast doesn’t end too abruptly, but don’t waffle on.
One idea is to provide some kind of call to action, if you have any events or services to sell. Another is to have a short debrief just to reiterate some of the interesting points the guest may have covered, but only do this if you have something insightful to add, or you think it was a particularly important point.
Hope that helps! I’m aware that quite a few companies will have started their own podcast during lockdown, and time will tell if it’s something that maintains its popularity. Personally it’s a medium I like, as it feels quite intimate, and when done properly, it allows a presenter to form a good rapport with a guest and extract some really useful insights.