Tips for Podcasting on Skype


Skype could be considered the best—and worst—thing to ever happen to podcasting. The ability to interview guests remotely is, of course, invaluable. Horrendous audio due to digital artifacts and bad microphones? Not so much. While the pros and cons of Skype recording are stark in contrast, it is certainly possible to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the drawbacks.

While probably the most common, Skype is just one of many voice over IP (VoIP) systems that you can use to interview podcast guests remotely. So, most of the tips here will apply when using other VoIP programs, like FaceTime or Google Hangouts, as well.

Basic Tips

No matter what VoIP system or recording method you use, there are some factors that will make a big difference that you’ll want to consider. First, make sure that the best microphones possible are used on both ends. DO NOT use an in-line earbud microphone. As a podcaster, it’s a great idea to purchase an extra USB mic like the Blue Yeti that you can send to your guests to use if they don’t have one of their own.

Blue Yeti USB Microphone

Another essential practice is for all parties on each end to use headphones to monitor audio during the recorded call. No one should be monitoring through their computer speakers, because doing so can cause audio to loop back through microphone, causing echoes and feedback. Using headphones will prevent this from happening. Even if the only microphone available is the built-in mic on your computer, you should still use headphones to monitor and avoid this problem.

While it may seem obvious, you should always instruct your guests to record in a quiet, non-reverberant acoustic space. This applies whenever you’re recording vocals, of course, and it’s no different here. Have them set up in a carpeted room at their home or office. Recording at Starbucks is strictly forbidden.

The Simple Method

The easiest method of recording Skype is by using a third-party application that records both ends of the call. See here for several programs that will allow you to record this way. This method has several key drawbacks, however. Number One, all your audio will be recorded to one stereo file, which will limit your ability to mix and edit your audio after the fact. Number Two, there will be no way for your guest(s) to hear other audio that you may want to patch-in during your recording, such as music, prerecorded interviews, or other audio clips. In any case, when using this method, I suggest disabling Skype’s video function on both ends, and making your call as “audio only.” This will improve the stability and audio quality of the call, because you’ll have less information being sent and received over your internet connection.

The Mix-Minus

As feared as it is coveted, the mix-minus setup requires a bit more gear and technical know-how than the method described above. A mix-minus allows you to mix a show in real time, with in-studio and remote guests, and gives you the ability to patch in external audio sources. However, to avoid the problem of your Skype guest hearing an echo of him or herself due to latency, it’s necessary to send them the entire mix, “minus” the Skype channel.

To set this up, it’s best to use a dedicated computer for running Skype, and an additional computer and audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 USB 2.0 Audio Interface for recording. You’ll also need a mixer with at least one auxiliary out for creating a separate mix for your remote guest, and if you want to record to separate tracks for editing and mixing, it should have direct-outs on each track, or inserts that can be used as direct-outs.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 USB 2.0 Audio Interface

The Mackie ProFX12v2 can comfortably support two in-house guests on microphones, as well as one Skype caller, and one MP3 player for music and sound effects. It gives you four inserts that can be used as direct outs for recording, as well as two aux channels that can be used for the mix-minus, or for an additional recording out. Let’s use this mixer for our example.

Mackie ProFX12v2 12-Channel Sound Reinforcement Mixer with Built-In FX

Let’s say we’ve got two in-studio guests on channels 1 and 2, each using Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Microphones, connected via XLR cables. We also have the headphone out of our Skype computer connected to inputs 3 and 4, and an iPod touch for sound effects connected to channels 5 and 6, both devices connected via Y-cable. We’ll then run an 1/8" TRS cable with a 1/4" adapter from one of our aux outputs back into the mic jack of the Skype computer, if it has one, and if it doesn’t have a separate mic jack, we can add one using a simple USB interface like the Griffin Technology iMic. We can then go ahead and send both mic channels on 1 and 2, and the iPod on channels 5 and 6 to the same aux out, without including the Skype channels on 3 and 4. Now we can hear the mix including the Skype caller on our end, while the Skype caller hears the mix minus themselves on their end, avoiding the annoying latency-caused slap-back echo that they’d hear otherwise. It may seem a bit complicated, but once you go through it a few times, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.

Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone with Variable-D

The Bad Internet Connection Workaround

So, you go through all the trouble of setting up your mix minus routing, and lo and behold, your Internet connection is making your Skype caller sound like they’re recording with Autotune. What now!?

Antares Audio Technologies Auto-Tune 8 - Professional Pitch and Time Correction Plug-In

One of the biggest complaints about VoIP is that there can be dropouts and digital artifacts in the audio, the severity of which depends on the quality of your Internet connection. However, if both you and your guest record yourselves locally, on your own respective ends, you can bypass this problem entirely. A good way to do this is to instruct your guest to call in on Skype using their mobile phone, while simultaneously recording themselves using a computer setup, like a USB mic and simple DAW like Audacity or Garageband. They would then send you their pristinely recorded audio file after the fact, so you can replace the bad Skype recording with it. Now, this takes a little bit of tech savvy on the part of the guest, and may not always be feasible. But, if they can swing it, it can really improve the sound quality of your final product.

Thanks for reading this article, and I welcome your questions about podcasting on Skype in the Comments section, below.