Recording Skype Calls for a Podcast: The Definitive Guide
The world is flat, so we're told. Flat? I thought we'd figured out it was round quite a few decades ago…
Well, I'm assured that this is just a slightly cryptic way of saying, it's not that big after all. Now, that I can agree with.
One of the many reasons that our world is shrinking in relative terms is the proliferation of free, high quality communication systems. There's no excuse not to stay in touch now! But, not only can we stay in touch, we can collaborate, we can create, we can Podcast!
Skype is one such tool, and probably the best known. I'm going to concentrate mainly on recording Skype calls for Podcasting in this guide, but a lot of what I say can just as easily be applied to Google Hangouts, Appear.in or one of the many other Voice over IP (VOIP) systems.
If it's a Skype specific tool, I'll tell you, otherwise it'll work just fine with anything that lets you speak to someone on your computer.
Why Podcast with Skype?
Podcasting with Skype is ridiculously common these days, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a more common format than any other, including solo. VOIP just makes it so easy to collaborate with others on creating great content. How else could two people on different continents work together on a regular Podcast? Never mind different continents, I do a Skype Podcast with someone that lives less than 20 miles from my house – it's way easier than driving!
But, why Skype over other communication devices? Well, firstly, when Skype works, it's about as good quality as you can get short of a dedicated ISDN. Granted, it doesn't always work perfectly, but having recorded dozens and dozens of Podcasts via Skype, I can say it's let me down on probably less than 20% of attempts, which isn't too bad I'd say.
You could record via normal phone – this isn't a terrible choice, not exactly – but the audio resolution offered by standard phone lines isn't a patch on that offered by Skype. The up-side of a phone is that it wont drop out, and it wont turn flaky – something that Skype can be prone to on those 20% of times, or even just once or twice on otherwise good calls. But if you listen to a Podcast recorded by normal phone, you'll quickly hear the difference.
Recording a Podcast with Skype – The Options
Ok, down to the details – how do we do it? There are a few different setups, all with their own pros and cons. Let's have a look, from beginner level to Pro:
1. Entry Level – Record Using Skype Itself – 2018 UPDATE
When this article was originally published, Skype was not capable of recording calls itself. But that changed in mid-2018.
You can now record Skype calls without the need for any third-party software or additional equipment.
This is a really simple process. Make your Skype call in the same way as you normally would, then, once connected, click the + symbol in the bottom-right of the call window.
Click ‘Start Recording' which will – funnily enough – start recording the call. Your guest will be notified that you're now recording the call too.
You can stop the recording prior to the end of the call, or end the call and the recording will stop with it.
The recording will then appear in the text chat section of the call window, and you can go ahead and save it to your computer.
It'll save as an mp4 file, even if you've been running an audio-only call. You can convert this to an audio file by simply dragging it into your podcast editing software.
At this moment in time, Skype is recording all calls as mono files so both sides of the conversation are meshed into one. That isn't always ideal as it reduces the flexibility you have to clear the call up and balance the volume levels during post-production.
- Pros – Extremely simple to record without any need for additional software or equipment
- Cons – Mono recording only, and video file needs converted to audio
2. Intermediate Level – Skype Call Recording Software
This is the easy way in – simply install a piece of software that records your Skype calls, and then make your call as normal. An example of this for the PC is called TalkHelper. TalkHelper installs on your computer, and then, whenever you want to record a call, you boot up both Skype and TalkHelper, click ‘Record' on TalkHelper, and then make your Skype call as normal.
At the end of the call, TalkHelper will package up a recording of your call, save it as an audio file, and then you can edit it, produce it and release it to the wild.
The Mac equivalent of TalkHelper is imaginatively called Call Recorder, created by Ecamm. Call Recorder is a good package, and works in exactly the same way.
Both of these packages are paid products, so this isn't a free way in, but they don't cost a lot – between $30 and $50 – so it's not going to break the bank.
The big downside to this approach is that it relies entirely on your computer and the software itself. If something goes wrong during recording, the computer crashes or otherwise, then the whole recording is gone. Imagine that happening when you've managed to line up the biggest interview of your life…
- Pros – Quick, simple, no barriers to recording
- Cons – No options to control your recording. If computer crashes, you lose everything.
3. Mid-Level – Skype and the Digital Recorder
The next level requires a new bit of hardware – a digital recorder. This is something that is part of the normal lifecycle of a podcaster, so as you build your skills and your kit, you'll be looking to get one of these at some point. Have a look at my digital recorders for podcasting article for recommendations. Or, if you want a quick recommend, the Zoom H1 is a good low-budget option here, and the Zoom H5 for higher budgets and heavier future-proofing.
The benefit of a digital recorder is that it's build to record audio, and it's damn good at it. It wont crash, it wont fall over. So, when your computer explodes mid-interview, you'll still have the recording on your external device. Plus, a digital recorder is useful for so much more than Skype recording, so the money you spend pays for itself just a little more than that spent on something like TalkHelper.
Recording Skype on a digital recorder takes just a little bit of settings wizardry, mainly in how the PC handles your microphone. The aim is to turn on the volume of your own mic so that it's audible in your headset output – this is turned off by default as normally you don't want to hear yourself speak. In the audio settings, though, it's pretty easy to turn this on and adjust the volume. Then, when you speak into the mic, you hear your own voice in your headset.
Now, all you have to do is to plug the headphone output into your digital recorder's external microphone input. Now it'll record both the Skype output AND your own voice.
The only problem here is that now you can't hear your Skype co-host because you have something else plugged into the headphone socket! You can get around that in one of two ways.
- If your digital recorder has a headphone monitor, then use that. Easy.
- If there isn't a headphone monitor on your recorder, then get a splitter and plug in both your recorder and your headphones into it.
A splitter simply has one 3.5mm (headphone) socket on one end, and splits that into two on the other, so you can plug two devices into one socket.
The big improvement here is that now you can control each channel separately (not to be confused with recording each channel separately – see next section). This means if your co-host is loud and you're quiet, you can turn him down via Skype, and you up via your PC settings. You can match levels much more easily and create a better balanced podcast recording.
A downside to this is that you have to then hear your own voice on the headphones and this can cause some people a bit of trouble, especially is there is a little latency and it's a bit behind, creating an echo effect. I've found you can get used to it quite quickly though, so it can work well for some.
For more on such setups, check out our post on recording Skype with a digital recorder.
- Pros – More reliable. More value for your money in buying a multipurpose device. Control over individual channels.
- Cons – Can be complicated to adjust settings. Echo can put people off. May require a splitter.
4. Pro Level – Recording a Podcast on Skype with a Mixer
The final, and most powerful way to record Skype calls for a Podcast requires the introduction of another piece of equipment. This is one that many people have a love/hate relationship with – the Mixer.
A mixer really is the proper way to manage the previous approach, and brings even more advantages besides.
Firstly, mixers allow fine control over every channel, and much more readily than your computer settings. If someone's loud, push the fader down instantly. Done. You'll have Skype on one channel and you on another, so you can handle each one in any way you see fit.
Next, with a mixer you don't have to hack the settings to record your own voice. You'll be bringing in both your mic and Skype separately, combining them in the mixer, and outputting to the digital recorder.
On top of that, because it's a dedicated audio device, there will be no latency and so the echo problems associated with hearing your own voice associated with the previous levels are gone. You'll hear yourself, but dead on-time, and actually this allows you to monitor your own levels and audio quality, which is an advantage in itself.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, only with a mixer can you effectively bring in external audio and allow your co-host to hear it. This means you can live produce, playing your intro music, FX, recorded calls and short interviews, and it can be played over Skype to your co-host so s/he can react to it. This allows you to record as if you're running a live radio show, cutting down on post-production and massively speeding up your podcasting workflow.
To achieve this, you need to use a mix-minus setup, something I explain more on my article on mixers for podcasting, so check it out if you're interested in that and in recommendations for good mixers.
On the downside, it's pretty simple: mixers cost a lot, and they can take a lot of practice to learn fully. If you want a mixer, I'd recommend getting a decent one, with room to grow, and that costs a fair bit. It also means there are a lot of knobs and buttons to get used to. Don't get me wrong, once you've figured it out, it's a big advantage, but it's definitely a barrier to recording, and takes you away from quick, simple workflows that allow you to get content out there easily.
- Pros – Full, instant control over channels. Reliable. Live production capable. No echo of your own voice.
- Cons – Expensive. Complicated.
5. Luxury Option – The Double-Ender
Depending on your show topic, and the kind of guests you have on, you might have the option to record what's known as a “double-ender”.
This route puts the onus on the interviewee to record his or her own side of the conversation and send it over to you afterwards. Both audio files are then synced together in post-production.
The reason this can be guest/topic dependent is that the person needs to have a decent level of technical experience to be entrusted with this task.
If you're interviewing fellow podcasters, for example, then this is definitely the way to go. But if you're interviewing folks who've never recorded audio before then this is an option to avoid.
With a double-ender, if both sides are properly recorded, the finished product will make it sound like you're in the same room. Not only that, but if Skype drops out whilst you're recording, it's not going to affect the audio you've both recorded up until that point.
But we've all experienced a situation where we've sat down to record a podcast and neglected to actually hit record. With a double-ender, you increase the chance of that happening by 50%!
- Pros – Potential for same-room studio quality recording
- Cons – Heavily reliant on your guest
I've now explained all of the ways you can record Skype calls to create a podcast, so it's up to to choose what might suit you best.
Remember, if this all seems a bit daunting, we can help you 1 to 1 within our Podcast Host Academy. We can chat through your context, your setup and how to get it all going in the forum, or during one of our live coaching calls. Check out the Academy here to see the details.
In summary, though, I'd say that it's worth trying out Skype's own recording option to start out with. Then, if you feel a bit limited with your production options, you can upgrade to TalkHelper or Call Recorder OR upgrade your equipment to utilise a digital recorder or mixer.
As I always say, start simple and work your way up. Your wallet will thank you in the long run, and you might find yourself reverting to the simple option sometimes for quick calls that just don't justify the complication of a mixer.
Fancy Avoiding Skype Altogether?
There are an increasing number of tools for recording a podcast online, and you can read that article to find out about our favourites.