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Use Skype and GarageBand to make a podcast that sounds great

Jason Snell | Sept. 2, 2011
Call me a podcast snob if you will—I certainly call myself one—but I just can’t bear to listen to a podcast with bad audio.

Since most of the podcasts I do involve people who are not present in person, I use Skype to record most podcast sessions. It’s relatively reliable, works across platforms, and the sound quality is better than iChat’s audio chats. That said, I try to use the audio I record from Skype for syncing purposes only, and only use it in my actual podcast in case of a catastrophe. (Those happen more often than you’d think.)

When you record your own end of the conversation, your audio is doubly pristine: your voice is on its own track, and it hasn’t been heavily compressed and degraded by Skype in order to send it across the Internet in real time. It sounds a lot better.

As detailed by Chris Breen earlier this year, Ecamm Networks’ $20 Call Recorder is a must-have add-on for Skype. Call Recorder is great because it records your own microphone and the audio coming in from Skype on separate tracks, automatically.
I make sure that everyone on my podcasts is recording their end of the conversation. If they’ve got Call Recorder, that’s best—use the AAC Compression/High Quality options so that the resulting files aren’t gigantic. If your subject doesn’t have Call Recorder, QuickTime Player will suffice. (Choose File -> New Audio Recording, click on the triangle and make sure your microphone is selected and quality is set to High, and then press the Big Red Button.)

Before you press Record, though, ask everyone to speak individually, so you can check on their audio levels and listen to the quality of their sound. Chris Breen and I have both saved a few podcasts by telling someone using a headset to push it away from their mouth. It’s also useful to remind people to not fiddle with stuff on their desks, bang on the table, or play with the microphone cord. And, of course, remind them to silence their phones and put them in Airplane Mode.

To help make sure that everyone’s remembered to record their end, tell your panelists to start recording just before you start your session, and ask them to say the word “recording” right after they press the button. Even if your panelists mock you for it—and mine do!—it makes syncing up the audio later a lot easier.

And here’s a tip I got from Chris Breen about putting your panelists at ease: If someone is not very experienced and clearly nervous, let them know that they can stop and rephrase at any time. I’m editing this podcast, after all—I can (and will) fix it later. This often puts them enough at ease, so that they don’t mess up. I will usually write down (on paper or even with the name of a new folder in the Finder!) the time when the error happened, so that I can be sure to fix it later.

Once we’re done with a session, everyone saves their recordings and sends them to me. (By far the most popular method of transferring these large audio files is by dropping them in Dropbox and mailing me the file’s shareable URL.)


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