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 – 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 Pamela. Pamela installs on your computer, and then, whenever you want to record a call, you boot up both Skype and Pamela, click ‘Record' on Pamela, and then make your Skype call as normal.
At the end of the call, Pamela 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 Pamela is imaginatively called Call Recorder, created by Ecamm. I've not used it, but by all accounts it's 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 – perhaps around $20 – 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.
2. 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 Pamela.
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.
3. 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.
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.
I'd say the middle option is not optimal, and most people will start with option 1 and move straight to 3 when they develop their skills and expand out their kit.
Try a call recording package like Pamela first and see how much you enjoy using Skype to record your Podcast. If it works well, and you consistently get a good connection then you can think about the mixer in future. 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.
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