The best way to record a high-quality audio interview for use on the radio or in a podcast is usually to record in person. But that’s not always possible. Fortunately there are a growing number of tools that let you record in a way that makes it sound like you’re in the same room.
One way is to have both the interviewer and the guest record their own sides of the conversation using a smartphone. Another is to use a web-based tool that lets you conduct an interview using a laptop or desktop computer.
While it’s possible to record interviews using general-purpose video chat or video calling software such as Skype or Zoom, you’ll get the best results by using a web app designed specifically for podcasters and audio professionals, since these applications have special features for capturing high-quality audio.
Some popular options include Squadcast, Cleanfeed, and Source Connect. In this article we’re going to look at Zencastr, one of the first online audio recording tools developed for podcasters, and still one of the best due to a robust feature set and affordable pricing.
Zencastr allows is a web-based service that allows you to use your computer to record an interview with one or more people. At the most basic level, all you need to do is set up an account, create a new episode, and send a link to your guest. They can click it to join the call, and you can use Zencastr to record the interview.
Below you’ll find a few videos that walk you through the process of using Zencastr to record a high-quality audio interview. The first video walks through the process of hosting a Zencastr interview, while the second video provides an overview of the recording process for guests. I’d recommend sending that video to the person or people you want to interview before you plan to record, so they can familiarize themselves with the process.
But there are a few more details to consider before you get started.
Why not just use Skype, Zoom, or Google Meet?
It’s true that there are many easy-to-use services designed to let you make voice and video calls to people anywhere in the world. What there are a few things that make Podcaster-specific tools like Zencastr different:
- Each speaker is recorded on a separate audio track, which prevents you from recording two voices talking over one another.
- Audio is recorded on each user’s computer and uploaded to the web afterward, which can minimize the digital glitches you often get when recording a live Skype call, for instance.
- These apps are designed for recording your calls. Recording isn’t an extra feature that was tacked onto a general purpose voice and video calling system.
Choosing a plan: Zencastr Hobbyist (free) vs Professional ($20/month)
There are two pricing levels for Zencastr: you can sign up for a free Hobbyst account or pay a monthly fee for a Professional account (there’s also a free 14-day trial of the Professional account).
Here are the key differences between these two Zencastr plans:
|# of guests||Unlimited|
|Audio format||WAV or MP3||MP3|
|Post-production||10 hours automated||pay-per use|
|Other||Live editing soundboard||N/A|
* Zencastr has temporarily lifted some restrictions on the Hobbyist plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you opt for a Zencastr Professional account, you will be able to save recordings in CD-quality, uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1kHz WAV audio and there are no limits on the number of recordings you can make or the number of people you can host in an interview at once. You also have access to a few special features including Zencastr’s automatic post-production services.
But the free account is good enough for many users.
Getting ready to record
Zencastr can use whatever audio hardware your computer has for input and output. If you have a laptop with speakers and a built-in mic, it can use those. But you’ll almost certainly get better sound if you plug in a mic and headphones.
So if you have a USB microphone or another sort of plug-in mic (a headset with a microphone will work), make sure it’s connected and set up before opening the Zencastr website.
The same goes for headphones. Zencastr can use automatic echo cancellation to prevent sound playing through your speakers from bleeding into the voice recording. But it can make the audio sound highly processed and digital, so I recommend putting on headphones and disabling echo cancellation whenever possible.
Ask the person you’ll be interviewing to do the same. Make sure they’ve plugged in a mic and headphones if possible before they join the call. If they don’t have a microphone or headset, suggest they keep the laptop’s microphone close to their mouth while talking, and record in a quiet room, preferably with carpeting or other soft surfaces to absorb echos. Recording in a walk-in closet is a great way to minimize echoes and other unwanted sounds.
OK, now we’re ready to record!
Recording (for hosts)
View a transcript of this video
In this video, I’ll walk you through the steps of hosting an interview recording session using Zencastr..
The first thing you should do before starting a session is plug your headphones into your computer. If you’re using a microphone, now is the time to plug that in as well.
It’s also a good idea to close any other programs that may be running on your computer other than the web browser.
Next — log into your Zencastr account and you’ll be taken to the Dashboard, where you’ll see any existing episodes, plus a Create New Episode button.
Press that button to set up a new project, enter a name, and click the Create button.
Note that if you have a Zencastr Professional account, you have the option to enable high-quality WAV recordings. If you’re using a Free account, your recordings will be saved as MP3 files.
On the next screen, your web browser will ask to use your microphone. Click the “Allow” button to let Zencastr record your voice.
Next, you’ll see an Allow Audio Playback button. Click this so you can hear the person or people you’ll be interviewing.
Before starting a recording, you should click the Gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen to view your Audio Settings options. From this screen you can make sure that the correct microphone and headphones are chosen, among other things. It’s probably best to leave most other settings at their defaults.
You can invite guests by clicking the Invite link — and then either enter their names and email addresses before clicking send — or copy the invite link which you can then share by email, text message, or any other way.
The free version of Zencastr lets you interview up to two people at once, while the Professional version supports unlimited guests.
Note that you can send your guests this link ahead of time. If you have an interview coming up tomorrow or next week, you can just give them the link and tell them to click on it at the appropriate time.
When the guest does click the link, their name will show up in the room, and you should be able to hear them talking.
Ask them to click the Gear icon to make sure the correct microphone and headphones are selected on their computers. They will not see as many options for audio settings as you do.
Now is also a good time to remind the guest not to close their browser tab or browser window — although if they do, they can re-enter the session using the same link as the first time.
If you’re having trouble hearing each other, you can use the text box below the recording window to type comments to one another.
When you’re ready to record, click the Start Recording button and it will turn red… and numbers will start counting up.
At the end of the interview, you can click the button again to stop the recording.
But don’t close your browser window until you see a message saying you’re all done, otherwise the end of the interview may get cut off.
If you’re recording with WAV, it may take a little while for the audio to upload to the cloud, so please ask your guests to be patient and wait until the upload is complete.
After the files have been uploaded, it’s safe for your guest to close their browser window to exit the session. And you can click the download links to save your recording to your computer.
Recording (for guests)
view a transcript of this video
In this short video we’re going to show you how you can use Zencastr to make a high quality recording of your voice for use in a podcast or radio story
The first thing to do is plug in a set of headphones — this will help prevent any echo during the interview. If you have over-ear headphones, those are the best option. But earbuds will work as well.
If you have a external headset or microphone, now is also the time to plug that in.
The person who asked you to participate in this interview probably sent you a link that you can click on or enter into your web browser — we recommend using Firefox or Chrome.
Once you click that link, you’ll be taken to a web page where you can enter your name and then click Join.
Next, you’ll see a pop-up asking if the web browser can access your microphone. Please click allow, so the person conducting the interview can hear your voice.
You may also see a pop-up message asking to allow audio playback. Clicking this will allow you to hear the person you’re speaking with.
If you have an external microphone microphone, please click the Gear icon in the upper right corner to open the Audio Settings. Make sure the mic you want to use is highlighted in the drop-down menu. And tapping on the mic is a good way to make sure you’re using the correct microphone.
If you do not have an external microphone, please try to stay as close as possible to your laptop or desktop computer’s microphone to ensure excellent audio quality.
The host will start the interview by hitting the Record button, and you should see numbers rolling and a waveform moving across the screen as you speak.
At the end of the interview, the host will end the recording. But please do not close your browser until you see a message saying that you’re all done. What you’re waiting for is for Zencastr to finish uploading your audio to the cloud so that the host can save a copy.
In some cases, the interview host may want to record using both an MP3 and a higher-quality WAV file. Note that it can take longer to upload WAV files, particularly over a slow internet connection. So please be patient.
And that’s it. If everything goes according to plan, it will sound like you and the host were in the same room!
Bonus: Make a backup voice recording with Audacity
While Zencastr should upload the audio of your recordings after the end of the interview, sometimes things don’t go according to plan and you’re stuck with a recording that has digital glitches, audio that drops out periodically, or other noise.
So it’s often a good idea to ask your guest to make a backup recording using a second method (and to do the same yourself). One way to do this is by using a voice memo app on your phone.
Another way is to use a free application called Audacity that makes it easy to record (and edit) audio on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. If you’re already using your computer to record an interview through Zencastr, you and your guest (or guests) can run Audacity at the same time and save a local recording to your computers. After the end of the interview, you can ask them to save their recordings and send them to you using Dropbox, Google Drive, WeTransfer, or any other service that supports sending larger files.
Audacity is a powerful, somewhat complicated tool for recording and editing audio. But the basic recording functions are actually pretty easy to use. Here’s how:
view a transcript of this video
In this video I’ll walk you through the steps of using Audacity to make a voice recording.
First, download and install the latest version of Audacity from the AudacityTeam.org website.
Next, if you have a USB microphone, now is the time to plug it into your computer. I’d strongly recommend using headphones as well.
Now, you can open Audacity — and you should see a screen that looks like this — with recording and playback buttons in the upper right corner.
If you’re using your computer’s default microphone, all you have to do to start a recording is hit the big red record icon. But you may notice that nothing seems to be happening — that’s because Audacity did not automatically detect the microphone I’m using.
So let’s stop the recording by hitting the black square STOP button, hit the X button to get rid of this track, and adjust our audio input settings from this drop-down menu.
We can also choose mono or stereo from the next drop-down, and change our audio playback device from the one next to that — so you can make sure you can hear yourself while you record. This is important so you’ll notice any unexpected noises that may occur if you bump the mic stand or a dog barks. You can always stop speaking for a moment and then start again.
Now that I’ve selected the correct mic, let’s start another recording.
When I talk, you can see the volume meters moving at the top of the screen, and the peaks and valleys of the WAV file show up as I speak.
It’s worth pointing out that if you’re using a laptop with a built-in microphone, you may accidentally be recording from the built-in mic rather than the higher-quality USB microphone. So it’s a good idea to tap the mic and see if you can hear it in your headphones. If not, tap the laptop mic and see if you can hear that.
You can always stop the recording and start over again after adjusting the settings.
To stop the recording, hit the black square button.
And to save the recording, go to the File Menu, choose Export, and then select the file type.
WAV gives you the best audio quality, but long recordings will result in very large files, which may take up more space on your disk or be a hassle to send over the internet.
MP3 files are smaller and take up less space, and may be easier to send over the internet — but the audio quality is not as good.