[Updated: February 21, 2017]
Whether you’re into online marketing, Liverpool FC or comic books, Skype interviews are one of the most popular podcast formats out there. For many of our podcast clients, their interviews regularly outperform other formats in terms of downloads and generating new subscribers!
If you’re new to podcasting, the idea of recording an interview — especially with the high profile guest of your dreams — can be downright terrifying. No matter how confident you are when it’s just you and the microphone, introducing another person into the mix comes with its own set of potential problems.
All those little fears boil down to one ugly worst-case scenario: What if the recording is a failure? Well, I hear you, and I’m here to give you all the information you need to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Why a Skype interview is worth the trouble
There’s a reason why interviews make for such a successful podcast format. Just think about it: is it easier to monologue for twenty to thirty minutes straight, or to have a conversation with another person?
Skype interviews with experts raise your profile, whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been behind the mic for ages. If you’ve got a “name” appearing on your podcast, you’re going to get noticed — period. Your guests will want to promote their appearance on your show, and will often link back to your site! Why should you care? In short:
- Great for publicity
- Boosts traffic
- Improves your SEO
“All right,” you’re thinking. “I’m sold. I want my next podcast to be a Skype interview. Now what?”
Tip #1: Variety is key
Just because listeners respond well to interviews doesn’t mean you should do them all the time. Many of my own solo shows are among the most popular. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
This applies to more than just your podcast format. If you’ve been listening to the other podcasts in your niche (and you have been, right?), you might have noticed that everybody tends to pull from the same pool of guests. How many times do you really need to hear the same person’s oh-so-unique take on your industry? Stay out of the echo chamber! It can negatively impact the success of your show.
Tip #2: You’re more than your audio
We all know those podcasters who obsess about their audio quality over everything else. Don’t get me wrong: audio is important. It’s just not the most important thing. Plenty of podcasts don’t have the high-quality audio that “The Moondog Marketing Podcast” (formerly Online Marketing & Communications) does (if I do say so myself)… and yet somehow they are more successful.
Goes to show, audio isn’t everything. If it were, we’d have entire shows devoted to people reading the phonebook in high-quality, buttery smooth voices. The topic, the interview itself, the rapport between you and your guest — all of these things matter, too. So don’t overlook them!
The right tools for the job
That being said, audio quality is still fundamental. You and your guest might unlock the mysteries of the universe in 30 minutes or less, but nobody’s going to listen if that interview is riddled with popped P’s and feedback. So let’s talk audio.
First things first: not all microphones are created equal, so choose wisely. If you don’t want to comb through all the market has to offer right now, here’s a brief primer.
- When it comes to getting your voice into the computer, your basic USB microphone will do the job. The wrong one, however, will also pick up breathing, popping and smacking sounds.
- A dynamic microphone will produce a higher-quality sound, but it’s not something you can learn to use overnight.
For outstanding sound quality from a USB mic, I recommend the Røde Podcaster. Fair warning, it’s bit more pricy than some, but worth the investment.
An important caveat: since you’re not the only speaker, good audio isn’t just about your microphone. If your guest doesn’t already know, tell them that the inbuilt microphone in a computer just isn’t good enough for great audio over Skype. Encourage your interviewee to use the best microphone they possibly can. Chances are, they want the interview to succeed as much as you do, so they’ll heed your advice.
At the very least they need a USB mic headset with headphones, otherwise you’ll get a lot of echo. As my team will tell you, I personally recommend a Logitech headset. All the Moondogs have one, courtesy of me!
Going on the record
You have two options when it comes to recording a Skype call: the easy way, and the good way.
The simple way to record a Skype call is to “capture” the sound of your voice and the interviewee as you talk with an application on your computer. For Mac users, I recommend Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro. If you’re on Windows, Skype Recorder or Call Recorder are worth checking out.
Once you’ve recorded your audio (preferably in WAV format), it’s time to edit. Garageband, Adobe Audition or Audacity are some of the most popular audio editing software, but there are lots to choose from. Once you’ve edited, you can then add music and polish your show for release.
Unfortunately, there’s a big downside to this recording method, and those of you with sound editing experience already know it is. Recording like this means there’s no easy way to split the audio into two channels. So if you needed to edit your voice and your guest’s separately, you’re out of luck. This can make the difference between a successful interview and a total flop.
So what’s the other option, you ask?
How I record a Skype interview
My approach is to record an interview onto a digital recorder. Fair warning: for this method, you will need to invest in a bit a podcasting equipment, but the benefits are massive. After all, you wouldn’t be reading this unless you wanted to get the best possible results, right?
For starters, I bring the Skype audio from my computer (iPad) into a mixing desk. I have no microphone plugged into the laptop/ipad other than the internal mic. Why set it up this way? It means is that the interviewee only hears my voice on their end, as served up by Skype. The quality of my voice on the call does not matter in the slightest because I am recording my own voice directly into a Zoom H4N digital recorder via a mixing desk.
So with Skype coming into my mixing desk, I pan the sound to the right. I bring my own voice into the mixing desk using the RE-20, which has superb sound, and pan it to the left. The mixed sound of my voice on the left and my guests on the right then goes into the digital recorder. The combination of the two channels then go into the digital recorder with each person’s voice on either side of a stereo track.
Once recording is finished, I open up the file in Adobe Audition, split the track into separate mono tracks, edit out any glitches or sound problems, sweeten each with a bit of compression and EQ, add the music and then mix everything down to a single mono track, removing the panning to the left and right.
Before, during, after: planning for success
Want things to go smoothly? Your parents, your teachers, and the Boy Scouts had it right: be prepared! The key to a great interview is planning.
Before the interview, take the time to really consider your audience and their needs. From there, find a guest who fits the bill. Remember the echo chamber: try to choose someone who hasn’t already been interviewed everywhere. So-called “nobodies” can really have a lot to offer, and sometimes end up being hidden gems.
Research the guest as thoroughly as possible. Spend some time with their blog, look into their book, familiarize yourself with their services. Use that research to guide the questions you’ll prepare for your guest. Not only will this make your guest feel appreciated and welcomed, you’ll also get a much better interview out of the deal.
Just before you hit “record” for the interview, talk the interviewee through the goal for the show. This mentally prepares the both of you.
During the show, remember your manners. The most important thing to do is listen! Interviewees rarely follow questions in an orderly manner, and that’s okay. After all, wouldn’t it be boring if they always did? Keep the conversation on topic, but be open to spontaneous moments of insight and wisdom. The best part of an interview can be the meeting of two minds thinking creatively together (that’s why you did your homework).
All the planning in the world won’t prevent a guest who only wants to sell — or worse, a boring guest. It’s happened to all of us, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult, challenging, or provocative questions. You can always edit out the parts that didn’t really work.
If you’re not using video, it’s hard to signal over Skype that you want them to stop and let you speak. Learning to give clear vocal cues will come with practice.
While you’re listening, take notes. Think of it as a gift to your future self, since it will really streamline the editing process.
After the interview, stay in touch with your guest! Ask for an approved photo, and encourage them to share a link to the podcast with their networks, as well. Who knows? Maybe they can help you get in contact with other possible guests you’ve been dying to interview.