Although COVID-19 has, at least for now, fundamentally changed how many podcasts are recorded, many are still recording in-person. As life returns to normal, podcasts who were relegated to record online using platforms like Zoom will slowly get back to face-to-face recordings just like the good ol’ days of 2019 and earlier. We’re not discounting the many great benefits of online recording, but this article speaks to those who have or plan to do recordings on-location.
Benefits of Recording In-Person
One great upside of this is that you are in complete control of the audio recording setup. There are no connection dropouts, no lag, and no low-fi computer audio.
When selecting equipment to record podcast interviews in-person, there are a number of considerations: Budget, portability, number of guests, and available recording space to name a few.
If you’re meeting guests in public areas or their own places, then your options will differ from somebody who is setting up a stationary recording space and has guests come to them. Or, if you’re an avid traveler, perhaps you need a compact setup that can fit in a suitcase.
There are a variety of ways we could categorize and sort the different options, such as price, application, portability, or overall quality. The adage of “you get what you pay for” applies here, too. We’ll group options into the higher-cost best-sounding option and the lower-cost worse-sounding option.
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The Fundamentals of How to Record In-Person Podcast Interviews
From a recording perspective, having a microphone for each person speaking will always yield the best results. The farther a person is from a microphone, the more susceptible it will be to picking up noise and echo. As well, with each voice having its own microphone, the level and tonality can be adjusted independently. While these setups will be the most complex and on the higher end of the price range, it is possible to put one together with a fairly modest budget. Still, recording a podcast this way with 4 people would require a substantial investment compared to the lower-cost options.
Highest Cost, Best Audio – Multi-Mic Setup
As mentioned, a setup where each person has their own microphone will provide the best sound quality. Let’s take a closer look at these setups.
You will need the following:
- Recording device: an audio interface and reliable computer OR a standalone recorder
- Microphone: 2 or more
- Accessories: microphone cables, carrying cases, pop filters, desktop microphone stands
At the heart of the setup is the recording device. This can be an audio interface paired with a computer or a standalone recorder. If you already own a reliable computer that could be used to record, that may be the ideal method. You simply need an audio interface with the appropriate number of microphone inputs for your setup. The Focusrite Scarlett series is known for value and great sound. These devices enable you to connect microphones to your computer and then use a software to record the audio.
Zoom makes some great portable recorders like the Zoom H4n and the purpose-built PodTrak P4. In both cases, the recorders save audio files to removable memory cards. The H-series recovers even have their own internal microphone which can be used solo or as an additional microphone in the setup. They have some other cool features and are super-portable. If you’re on a tight budget and already own a computer, then an audio interface would be best to consider.
At the higher-end of the price range, and lower on the portability scale, are dedicated podcast recording devices like the Zoom LiveTrak L-8 and Rode’s RODECaster Pro. You’ll also want to read our article on why you may not need a RODECaster Pro.
When purchasing any equipment, be sure to think about the possibility of future expansion. You can always sell the equipment later to upgrade, but if you’ve been thinking about adding a co-host, or could have situations where 3 microphones are needed, it might be best to spend a little extra on something that has additional capacity.
After selecting your recording device, you will need some microphones to connect to it. This is done using what’s called an XLR cable. That means USB microphones have no place here and cannot be combined into this type of setup, unless it’s a combination USB/XLR microphone. Which, actually, are quite cool. One example of these is the Samson Q2U, which conveniently includes some accessories like a stand, cables, and pop filter.
There are effectively only a handful of these combo USB/XLR microphones on the market, so looking for this feature will limit your choices. However, it’s a neat flexibility to have. Plus, with all the accessories included, the manufacturers drive a hard bargain. You could have 3 of these microphones to use with an XLR audio interface, but then quickly grab one to plug directly to your laptop with USB to record a solo episode. Handy!
Getting back to traditional microphones, the sky is the limit in terms of pricing. The Shure SM7B is a popular choice for podcasters and broadcasters alike, but they run about $400 each. If you need 4 microphones, you can see why sub-$100 microphones would be appealing.
While extremely cheap no-name brands should be avoided, it is possible to get quite good sound quality these days from inexpensive microphones. Audio Technica, Shure, RODE, and other professional brands have microphones suitable for all budgets.
Don’t forget to factor in accessories such as stands or boom arms, cables, and pop filters if your microphone doesn’t include them.
Headphones are mostly unnecessary for typical in-person podcast interviews. If you’re using sound effects or having callers or a guest connecting remotely, then headphones would be needed to hear that. Depending on your setup, if you need headphones, you’d likely want a set for each guest. You may need a headphone amplifier. Headphones vary widely in price, so you’d be best doing some research to determine the best option for you.
Do lots of research if you’re building a dedicated recording studio for your podcast. If you’re using an existing space but not totally transforming it into a studio, there are some things to keep in mind. The location should be free of noise, have soft surfaces to prevent echo, and the proper amount of room so that you and your guests will be comfortable. Aim the microphones to focus in on each person’s voice. You can do simple things like add some blankets or acoustic treatment to any space to reduce echo.
There will be more variables in recording in-person podcast interviews if you are on the road. Do your best to locate quiet, echo-free areas to record in. Recording at a noisy bar or cafe, while fun in concept, is anything but fun to listen to.
Aside from higher cost, one of the other slight troubles with a setup like this is the portability factor. If you are meeting guests at various locations, whatever equipment you have will need to be transported and setup each time. It’s not too severe, but a good thing to keep in mind. Imagine you have to bring around a laptop, audio interface, 3 microphones, cables, stands, and maybe even headphones. Then, you have to hook it up and subsequently unhook it each time. That may become annoying after a while.
Lower Cost, Worse Audio – Single Mic Setup
If a multi-microphone setup is not in the cards, that leaves one option: a single-microphone setup. Passing a microphone between 2 or more people won’t work. So, the only thing to do in these cases is setup a single microphone in the most optimal way.
All microphones have what’s called a “pickup pattern” which indicates how and from which direction it picks up sound. For example, a cardioid pattern picks up sound with a narrow focus in one direction. Cardioid patterns are great because they focus in on whoever is speaking directly into the microphone, rejecting excess noise and echo. They are not ideal for more than one person, so if you need to record multiple people, this is not the way to do it. Maybe you could record sitting side-by-side, but that would be weird.
Enter the Blue Yeti USB, arguably the most popular podcasting microphone. The Yeti has a pickup pattern selector switch. This means that if you’re the only one using the microphone, you can use the cardioid setting. If you’ve got another person in the same room, you can switch the microphone to bi-directional or omni-directional mode. Bi-directional picks up sound from two directions – the front and the back of the microphone. Perfect if you and a guest are sitting across from each other. Omni-directional picks up sound in all directions.
The downside here is that less-focused pickup patterns will pick up more noise and echo. All voices will sound more distant than if they had a microphone each.
You can minimize these problems by choosing the quietest, most echo-free recording space possible. Ensure that everybody is spaced an equal distance from the microphone. Be sure to avoid making unnecessary noises like tapping or movement.
The Blue Yeti is a great choice due to its flexibility and simplicity. It’s compact, portable, and connects to your computer with a single USB cable. This is great for a variety of applications, including travel, as long as you have a laptop with you.
Another great option is one of the aforementioned Zoom recorders. The Zoom H4n combines both the recorder and microphone into a single compact and portable unit. No laptop needed. Its internal microphone sounds quite good and can be used to record a solo voice or multiple voices. It’s a little more expensive than the Yeti, since it’s also a recorder, but gives you the potential to upgrade later by purchasing a couple of XLR microphones.
Whatever you do, please do not purchase multiple USB microphones and try to use them together.
Dirt Cheap, Bad Audio
Considering how often we chirp about bad audio, this section exists solely as a warning of what NOT to do!
The lowest cost, or effectively no-cost option, is to record in-person podcast interview audio with a smartphone or laptop built-in microphone. These are already of lower quality. Add in the effects of talking from a distance, in a potentially noisy and echoey room, and you’ve got a terrible recording on your hands that nobody wants to hear. When thinking about how to record in-person podcast interviews, throw this idea out the window.
In the previous two sections we outlined a great solution and a not-as-great solution. The great solution is the gold standard, while the not-as-great solution is the minimum-acceptable standard for those working on a tighter budget.
Wired for Sound
There you have it, the lowdown on how to record in-person podcast interviews to get the best results. We hope this helps you narrow down the exact best solution for recording your podcast.
Need more help? East Coast Studio offers audio consulting. We can work with you one-on-one to choose the best equipment and help you get it up and running. Click the chat box at the bottom-left of the page, email us, or schedule a free call now!