Recording Podcasts with a Remote Co-Host

I previously wrote about my editing workflow for podcasts and I thought I’d follow up with some details on how I record both Not So Standard Deviations and The Effort Report. This post is again going to be a bit Mac-specific because, well, that’s what I do.

Communication

Both of my podcasts have a co-host who is not in the same physical location as me. Therefore, we need to use some sort of Internet-based communication software (Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc.) to talk with each other. Another simpler option is to use web-based communications platforms that are built for podcasting, including Zencastr or Cast. These platforms take advantage of WebRTC to record audio on each co-hosts machine (more on this later).

Web Platforms

For those who are just starting up, I would recommend something like Zencastr or Cast because they are easy to setup and basically “just work”. (One note: if you are using Safari 10.x on the Mac (which doesn’t support WebRTC), these sites won’t work. Use Google Chrome instead.) For these web sites, you need nothing more than a pair of headphones with a built in microphone (like the ones that likely came with your cell phone) and a computer. Communication occurs over the Internet, as you might expect, but the audio that is recorded is the audio that comes from your microphone. The audio that goes over the Internet is not recorded.

The advantage of this system is that

  1. You don’t have to worry about synchronization—the audio is recorded simultaneously.
  2. The audio quality is good because it is recorded locally.
  3. Files can be uploaded immediately to the cloud so that the editor can quickly assemble them (i.e. Zencastr uploads files to Dropbox).

The disadvantages of these services are

  1. They charge a monthly fee with tiered plans (Zencastr has a free “hobbyist” plan)
  2. They only can handle certain host setups
  3. In my experience, communications noise can still affect the audio (not sure why).

Both Zencastr and Cast are fairly new offerings and therefore occasionally have to work through some bugs and wonkiness. Hilary and I started out using Zencastr for Not So Standard Deviations but eventually moved off of it. This was in part because one time we thought we recorded an entire hour-long episode and it turned out the file was corrupted (we had to re-record it the next day). To this day I’m not sure what happened, but after that I resolved to have more control over the process.

“Manual” Platforms

The alternative to the web-based platforms is to use a more manual approach. I have found this system to be more reliable, if not a bit more complicated. Here, you can use Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or another Internet-based communications program. I’ve used most of them and I’ve found that Google Hangouts is probably the best (but it is pretty close all around). Obviously, the quality of your Internet connection will be more important than which software you use, and that may depend on exactly where in the world you are.

Recording

The basic idea is that there are two types of audio streams: the audio generated by each co-host/speaker and the audio that is passing across the Internet. The basic process here is

  1. Each speaker/co-host records their own audio file on their computer using a program like Quicktime or Audacity or something similar. On the Mac, this is super simple—just open up Quicktime Player and goto File > New Audio Recording…. After that, just click the red circle button and you’re recording!
  2. You can also record the Internet audio using a program like Ecamm or Audio Hijack. This is strictly speaking not necessary but it is useful as a backup audio recording and also for synchronizing the various speaker audio files in the editing phase.

If you’re going down the road of manual recording (and you use a Mac) I strongly recommend that you invest in getting Audio Hijack. It is a phenomenal program that lets you do basically anything on the Mac involving audio. If your Mac makes a sound in any way, you can easily record it.

With Audio hijack, you can set things up to record audio, save it to a file in various formats, and send the audio to different outputs. Here is my setup:

Audio Hijack setup

Here’s how it breaks down:

  1. I am recording my audio using an ATR USB Microphone (the exclamation point is there because my mic is not connect right now)
  2. I record my co-host’s audio through Google Chrome (via Google Hangouts).
  3. Both my and my co-host’s audio is saved to separate uncompressed 16-bit mono AIFF files that will later be imported into Logic Pro X for editing.
  4. I then route each audio stream through Peak/RMS meters to make sure our respective microphones are tuned properly and that the audio isn’t peaking.
  5. Then my co-host’s audio is routed to my headphones (Internal Speakers) so that I can hear her.
  6. The combined audio with both my and my co-host’s voice is then saved to a single 256 kbps MP3 file. This final file is the backup audio file that I can use to help with synchronization.
  7. The co-host then sends me her locally recorded audio file through Google Drive or Dropbox.

The advantage of this approach is that it can be adapted and modified in a variety of ways including a combination of in-person and remote guests (the web platforms can only really do remote guests). For example, if you have an in-person guest you can record both in-person audio streams and send it through a loopback device so that the remote person can hear it. “Multi-ender” podcasts are starightforward because everyone just records their audio separately and sends me the resulting audio file. I still have the combined recording as a backup just in case.

 
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