While the world seems to be moving towards more virtual interviews, the face-to-face chat is still one of the best ways to really get to know someone. When you’re recording in-person, you can really tease out individual stories and personal experience.
And, that’s not to mention the fact that you don’t need to rely on internet connections, as well as your guest’s environment and equipment (and knowledge of how to best use it!).
Sure, recording in-person comes with its own potential issues and obstacles. But these can be minimised by opting for the simplest kit possible.
In this article I’m going to cover one of the easiest ways to record an interview in the field, really concentrating on a balance of ease of use and quality. This means I won’t be talking about complicated iPad, USB mic, mixer setups, but just the most simple, reliable, cost-effective method I know of, and one that I use all the time.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for the best quality interview kit you can get, then be sure to check out my Gold Standard In-Person Podcast Interview Equipment series here.
Recording On-Location Vs Studio or Online
First off, a quick qualification of what we’re talking about here. There are three main places where you might record an interview:
- Online, recording remotely
- In your standard studio, recording in-person
- Out in the field, recording in-person
If it’s the online recording you need help with most right now, then check out the best tools on the market for recording remote conversations.
If it’s a studio setup you’re after, take a look at our ultimate guide to podcast equipment, as well as our guide to sound treatment.
If it’s the on-location setup you’re most interested in though, then that’s what we’ll cover right here.
Recording on the move requires a few particular things.
- Light and portable – you need to be able to carry this kit around, so out go bulky mixers, heavy microphones and unwieldy stands.
- Noise isolation – you might well be recording in a noisy environment so you need to be able to get the mic up close to the speakers’ mouths.
- Simplicity – this needs to be point and shoot. You wont have the space or the time to spend 10 minutes setting everything up and testing it works.
- Quality – just because we’re on the run doesn’t mean we’ll put up with bad quality audio. It needs to work!
Luckily, there’s a great setup that meets all of these criteria, and it’s not even very expensive!
The Best Equipment Setup for Recording In-Person
Let’s get straight into it – here’s what you need to record a great in-person interview.
- 2 Lavalier or lapel microphones
- A decent, lightweight digital recorder, or, your smartphone
- A Headphone Splitter
- (optional) A 3.5mm jack extension cable.
Let’s look at these in turn – the why and the what.
The Microphones – Lavalier or Lapel Mics
The most important part is the mic – this is what captures your voice and turns it digital after all.
No doubt, if you’re already Podcasting, you’ll have a decent microphone at home. The issue is that most mics are big, bulky, sometimes fragile and usually in need of a stand.
Lavalier (also known as lapel) microphones are the ones you see clipped to a speaker’s shirt buttons or collar. They’re tiny little microphones that sit about 6 inches below your mouth and do surprisingly well at isolating your voice.
Lapel microphones definitely fit our needs for being light and portable. They tend to be not more bulky than a little set of earbud headphones – just a wire with a 1 or 2cm bulb on the end really.
They’re also good for our second requirement: noise isolation. Because they sit so close to your mouth, you’ll be a lot louder than the background noise. You’ll get a bit of the background for atmosphere, but you’ll be nice and clear to the listener.
What Lavalier Microphone Should I Buy?
I’m going to keep this simple and only recommend one lav mic – the Rode Lavalier Go. This is a great little mic and it’s very affordable. Here is our full review of the Rode Lavalier Go. Just a quick heads up that we use an affiliate link here, so we’d earn a small commission if you were to buy through it – though at no extra cost to yourself.
If you want to explore some other lavalier options though, here’s our full roundup.
Want to Record With Your Smartphone?
We’re seeing more and more smartphone recording options on the market nowadays.
Our favourite mobile setup here at The Podcast Host is to use two Rode Smartlav+ mics plugged in via the Rode SC6 splitter.
This will record your audio directly onto your phone, which can be a very handy and convenient setup. It offers a decent level of sound quality too, when paired with a good recording app (see the options for iOS and Android right here).
For a premium-level sound quality though, it’s worth considering using a dedicated digital recorder.
The Digital Recorder
Good digital recorders don’t cost the earth and they make up a pretty useful part of a larger Podcasting kit setup anyway, so it’s often worth having one for other reasons too.
Digital recorders let you plug in external mics, but they also come with their own built-in mics, too.
On that question, why not use the internal microphone on your digital recorder? Well, because that defies the law of noise isolation. A digital recorder sitting on the table between you is miles away from the course of both of your speaking and so you’ll be quiet, drowned out and bad quality. You need those lavs.
I’ve written about digital recorders extensively elsewhere on this site, so I won’t labour it, but my recommendations for a budget-but-quality setup are either the Zoom H1 or the Tascam DR-05x.
There are definitely more powerful (and more expensive) digital recorders on the market, that’ll let you plug in XLR mics instead (like the SM58). Again though, that’s all covered in our Recording In-Person Gold standard Interview kit series.
Sticking to our current setup though, we now have some lavalier microphones and a digital recorder – how do we connect them together?
The Microphone Splitter
A big barrier to great quality face-to-face interviews can be trying to share a mic with your guest. However, that isn’t an issue with our lav mic and splitter-based setup.
A splitter is nothing more than something that lets two 3.5mm jacks go into one 3.5mm input (ie; your recorder). It just ‘splits’ the input, allowing use by 2 devices. These cost next to nothing and you’ll find a range of splitters on Amazon, or in any decent music store. You can even find some, like the Belkin, that can take 5 inputs, so if you have enough lavalier microphones and enough guests, you can have a huge round-robin and include a range of people.
Here’s our guide to using lav mics with your Zoom H1 digital recorder.
The optional extension cable mentioned above comes in at this stage too because sometimes the cables on your lavalier microphones won’t quite be long enough to allow you to sit at a comfortable distance from your interviewee – especially in this era of social distancing. Just use an extension cable and you can sit as far away as you like and still achieve great audio quality.
An Example Final Setup
The picture opposite shows an example setup using an old Sony Recorder that I still break out from time to time (one of the smallest and lightest I’ve ever found that still does good audio) plugged into two lavalier microphones.
If you connect everything up like this, sit the recorder on the table and the lavalier microphones on each person’s shirt, you’ll be recording amazing quality interviews in no time.
Of course, this setup comes at a trade-off. What we gain in convenience, low-cost, and portability, we lose a little in flexibility. The chances are, you’ll be recording each speaker on the same audio track, which can sometimes give you a bit of volume level consistency issues.
If this is a concern for you, and you have a bit more budget to dedicate to your on-location setup, then check out our Recording In-Person Gold standard Interview kit series. We cover the more premium options right there.
And remember, we’ve got loads of equipment setup tutorials, as well as weekly live Q&A sessions inside Podcraft Academy. We’d love to see you in there!