This question comes up a lot in forums. and we love it that podcasters are realising the creative potential of having guests from anywhere in the world. Though there’s some useful information to answer the question, there’s also some mis-information, and even downright complicated solutions.
Here at Cleanfeed we’ve got access to a range of broadcast and recording engineers, so let’s use some experience to discuss these options, and perhaps even set the record straight in some cases!
Before we start, here’s a rundown of Cleanfeed from the point of view of a podcaster, if you haven’t tried it already:
- Record an interview live over the web
- It’s free to do as many interviews as you like (pay for more features, not time)
- Great quality audio live, not just after the fact
- Record the final result, or record multi-track to get a separate file for each person.
- No “drift” with separate files. It’s not that we “fixed the drift problem”; we designed a system that doesn’t have this in the first place.
Now let’s run through some of the recommendations, and take a pragmatic look at some of the pros and cons of each.
Record at both sides
This is the “old school” method. A journalist would conduct an interview by telephone call between two studios. Each would make a tape or cassette recording of their side, and mail them to be combined later into the high quality result.
In the digital era, the equivalent recommendation is to use a conferencing app like Skype or Zoom, and start up Audacity or another recording software at each side, save the files and send them electronically.
There’s something that feels simple, and reliable about this method; it uses off-the-shelf tools which are tried and tested. Some people say this is the best option, though many describe it as a ‘fall back’ or compromise.
For us, one of the downsides is you have to compromise on the audio quality while you record. That reduces the rapport with your guest. “Quality” isn’t solely about audio quality; engagement with the guest is hugely important, too, as it’s the essence of a good interview that people will want to listen to.
The other major downside is given by a lot of forum posters: “drift” when you try and line up the recordings later. It means by the end of your interview your two participants are speaking over each other, not the reality where they responded to each other’s questions.
Reasons for the long-term drift are fairly technical. In the digital world it happens because separate recording uses a different ‘clock’; each piece of hardware counts time ever so slightly differently, and there’s one in each location. It’s the modern equivalent of the two tape recorders running at slightly different speed. For a short interview, the effects may be small so not really apparent. For a longer one, they can be extreme and you’re left to handle this when editing, splicing parts of the audio to make them line up. What’s more, it’s more work the more guests you have.
If you’re insisting on this technique for recording, consider swapping out your conferencing app for Cleanfeed; you’ll get to experience studio-quality audio and extra controls for the live interview. It won’t stop you recording either side in, for example, Audacity if you want to keep your existing workflow but explore what Cleanfeed has to offer.
A podcast interview tool
In recent years, several online tools have emerged specific to podcasters doing interviews. They’re not dealing with live radio, so they work by automating the “record at both sides” method. The general idea is to make this faster and easier, even to the point where it’s usable for a non-technical guest.
For many people, the result hinges on reliability, and how good, or bad, the tool’s ‘solution’ to the drift problem is. Information on forums suggests that your mileage may vary; some people swear by one tool, whilst others will swear it doesn’t solve the issue. As with any tool, it’s worth doing your own experiments.
What you will find on many forums is someone saying “I’ve tried them all and none of the browser-based tools work”; we recommend to treat this with caution! A lot of people are having great success with browser-based tools (not just Cleanfeed in professional environments, but these podcast recording tools.) Consistently bad performance with several pieces of software is more likely to be a problem with the person’s computer or audio interface.
The upside for many is that these tools may record video as well as audio. If that’s what you need they’re worth exploring.
Look out for any pitfalls, such as the need for a guest to wait beyond the end of an interview for their audio to complete or upload. Particularly with a non-technical guest, who feels the process is completed when the interview completed. If something goes wrong during this process, you could be looking at lost audio; it’s worth understanding if that’s a risk on your chosen platform. It’s a good time to emphasise that with any of these tools (and Cleanfeed, too) you’ll want to fully familiarise yourself with the process before that important interview; it’s surprising to see how many people dive straight in for the first time with a long interview and an all-important guest.
We’ve heard recommendations of these podcast recording tools instead of Cleanfeed in cases where you have a guest with a poor internet connection. We have our own preference of course, but we think that along with the complex internals of some of these tools comes quite a ‘choppy’ use of the internet connection. If your internet connection is too poor for Cleanfeed, we think it’s likely to be worse with these sorts of tools, and maybe even the cause of unreliability or glitches that some users talk about; though maybe your experience will differ. Don’t forget even a simple 4G connection can give you a smooth Cleanfeed-capable connection, and can be a great way to avoid competing for internet with family members and roommates.
So whilst it’s credible to automate the “record at both sides” method, we think that better ways can be found.
Finally, look at the cost of tools, too. The regular Cleanfeed is free, and that gets you unlimited recording. There’s a discount for individuals (rather than businesses) who want the extra features of the Pro version.
Recording in a conferencing tool
This seems to be rising in popularity, perhaps because it balances between something tried-and-tested without the complexity of recording at both sides. Either it’s an extension or ‘bot’ to an existing conferencing or VoIP (“Voice Over Internet Protocol”) tool, or in some cases built-in. You get the comfort of your chosen software, but a recording taken from the live stream.
Systems are designed in varying ways so you might or might not get quirks like synchronisation or drift. We’d hope not, but consult the support channel for your particular tool.
One feature we do like is conferencing apps may have a way to make or receive calls to or from a regular phone (limited to telephone quality, of course); something that’s useful when you need it.
The downside for us is that you’re tied to your conferencing tool. Very simplistically, Skype is designed for talking to your grandma and Zoom is designed for talking to your colleagues! The developers of these apps had features for these users in mind over audio quality. So for studio-quality audio, we think it’s better to look elsewhere.
Our design motivations for Cleanfeed were different somewhat to those above. Coming from a live radio background we were used to higher-grade (but expensive) solutions, and wanted to make the same sort of technology widely available to all over the web.
That means great quality audio live, as it had to be usable for live interviews on the radio, and great rapport with your guests.
It means no “drift”. Your recordings in Cleanfeed will line up perfectly, every time.
And with Cleanfeed Pro it’s easy to get a recording of each guest in a separate file, that’s ready the moment you finish the interview. There’s a huge advantage to “What you hear is what you get”, and extra controls means you can get the perfect recording first time; it’s not necessary to save up unnecessary post-production work for later.
Finally, it’s free. Once we developed this great technology we wanted as many people to benefit from it as possible. Cleanfeed Pro gives you access to more features, but the regular Cleanfeed is ready for you to sign up and use as much as you like.
We hope you’ve found this comparison useful. If you did, please share it. If you think we missed something, tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.