How to Create a Podcast with Remote Participants

Note: We’re Not Experts

There are multiple ways to create and mix a podcast that features remote participants; this post explores just one way that works for us on our podcast.  We’re not podcasting experts, and discovering how to make it work was a lengthy process for us.

Starting Out

When we first set out to create our podcast, my friend and I had the following situation:

  • Remote: We were not located in the same state and wouldn’t be in the foreseeable future.  Any regular podcast would need to involve remote recording.
  • High Fidelity: We wanted the sound quality to be as high as possible for arelatively cheap at-home setup.
  • Willing to Pay: We were willing to pay a reasonable cost for a service that would allow us to record together easily and handle multiple tracks.
  • Flexible but Minimal Editing: We wanted to do the minimal editing required to get a podcast out there but still retain flexibility to cut/trim/mute, etc and have multiple tracks in order to do processing and mixing.
  • Live Soundboarding: We wanted intro and outro themes and musical bumpers inserted live into the podcast, because – again – we didn’t want to spend a lot of time editing afterward.
  • Medium Technical Knowledge: We both wanted to share mixing and editing duties, so we needed a system that was reliable and didn’t require too much technical knowledge.
  • Cross Platform: He’s on a Mac, I’m on PC.  We needed something cross-platform.

Recording Options

There are plenty of options out there on how to record multiple people on a podcast out there.  Here are a few:

ISDN Line

I almost didn’t put this option in here because it is professional-level, expensive and reeks of 1990s technology, but it involves using plain old copper telephone lines to transmit audio directly into some various black boxes that connect together and allow a pro to get your audio.  You can find out a little more here but suffice it to say this was far too complicated a setup for a small podcast.

Record a Skype/Hangout Session

This has got to be one of the easiest methods.  You connect by any number of a methods (headset, external mic, laptop cam/mic, phone call, etc) and then use an external program to record the session.  If you’ve got a business plan, or pay for a service like Join Me you might not even need a 3rd party program.  Simple, effective, free and problematic.

For one thing, you are recording “what you hear” from a Skype call – that is, you’re recording your local and fairly clean audio, but everyone else’s audio as compressed and garbled over the internet.  If you hear a semi-robotic voice from another caller, that’s what it’s going to sound like on the recording.

Second, you are getting a single “mixed-down” track of all the audio.  If guests talk over each other, you can’t fix it afterward by muting one person.  If one person has a noisy mic, you’re going to have a lot of trouble trying to clean it up afterward.

Record Local Audio and Sync it Together

In this situation, you and everyone else on the call (yes, there is still some sort of call – more on this later) locally records their own audio track.  Each person uses a sound tool on their computer (Audacity is free and cross-platform and is the program we use to do audio work) to record just their own microphone input.  Then the locally record files are shared with the person who will do the mixing.  Note that you still need a service like Skype or Hangouts to hear each others voices live, but this is usually not recorded.

This approach has some strong advantages.  It can be done at little or no cost, and has very good sound quality.  However, there are plenty of disadvantages.  First, each user has to be able to record themselves, which is a non-trivial issue for some people, including any guests you might have.  They must also all remember to hit record, which is actually not as dumb an item as you might think.  Then, the raw audio tracks must be shared with the person doing the mixing.  Since you would want to record in high quality (probably using .wav files instead of .mp3), these files can be very large and probably need a service like Dropbox or such in order to share.  Finally, you must remember to include ways to sync up the tracks, as not everyone will start recording at the exact same time.  One trick is to count down from 3 and then have all participants clap at the same time and sync from there.  If someone starts and stops recording, you’ll need to remember to do this again.

I know there are multiple podcasts who do this method, including The McElroy Brothers who have a podcast empire despite living across the country from each other.  But we were looking for something a bit simpler and more turnkey.

Remote Podcasting Services

Remote podcasting services allow multiple participants to join a session and have their individual tracks recorded separately.  Notable examples are Zencastr, Cast, and Ringr.  Ringr in particular seemed poised at the call-in market : use their app, call in from your phone, etc, which seems very handy but not at all what we were going for to get maximum sound quality.  For that reason, we concentrated on Zencastr and Cast.

Each of these services allows (for a monthly fee) a host to record a podcasting session where tracks are individually recorded.  Then the tracks can either be auto-mixed, or downloaded separately and mixed offline.  In many ways these services are a hybrid approach – they do the phone call part of Skype, and also the local recording part (via your browser) and then sync everything up automatically.  Should we want to record guests, we need only send them a link to the session and we can get as high quality a recording from them as possible with no technical knowledge on their part (limited, of course, by how good their mic/audio setup is in the first place).  We then get individual mp3 and wav tracks which we can edit together.

We signed up for free trials for both services and while I won’t do a full comparison here, we did have some thoughts on both:

 

Zencastr

  • Cheaper “pro” level plan – this is basically unlimited recording
  • Live sound mixing – more on this later
  • Dropbox integration
  • No in-app editing

 

Cast

  • Slick, modern interface
  • “Editing” mixer with limited functionality – you can cut out all tracks for a bit, or mute one, but not selectively cut and paste, etc
  • Option to automatically host podcast

In the end, we decided that we wanted something closer to Zencastr’s workflow: have it handle recording and syncing, and we would edit and post the final podcast on a podcast service of our choice (in our case, this is Podbean).

Final Workflow

After deciding upon Zencastr as our service of choice, we then set up our workflow:

  • One of us hosts the the session for the podcast on Zencastr.  Once everyone has joined and audio is good, the host hits record.
  • During the podcast, intro and outros are played live and get recorded on their own track – this takes some trickiness with Zencastr which we talk about in a later post.
  • The podcast ends and we wait until all the uploads finish.  A rough mp3 uploads very quickly and the wav takes a little bit longer depending on upload speed.
  • The mixer downloads all the raw tracks, puts them into Audacity; they are already automatically synced because Zencastr started the recording at the same time for all tracks.
  • Each track is automatically cleaned up by an Audacity process chain.  We may go into detail on this step in later posts.
  • We edit out mistakes, fluff, coughing, etc and then output a final a mp3.
  • We post the audio file on Podbean and it goes out to the listening public.

That’s it.  Well, that’s not ALL of it, and there are more details we’ll go into in additional posts, but that’s 90% of it.  If you want to check out what our final audio sounds like, listen to our podcast Interrupted Tales over at iTunes. Or on Google Play.

Interested in Zencastr and how we do a cool live soundboard on its own track then check out this post.

Vol. 1, Chap. 5: “The Genie of the Dingle”

In this episode, we fall into the deep tapestry of Tolkein references and then follow the story of an author’s innocent dalliance with his very own dingle.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair (or oak log) and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. Sorry for some audio issues!

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, your dingle will thank you!

Vol. 1, Chap. 4: “Tartas the Terrible”

In this episode, we talk junk (in all its meanings) then get down to a narrative treasure involving bitter rivals in romance and their understaffed castles.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite straw-covered cell and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, it’s not like it costs you anything, gosh.

Vol. 1, Chap. 3: “The Test”

In this episode, we create a monstrosity out of cheap toys, then hear about the criminal justice system and the doctors who exploit it for their own perverse ghost fetishes.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair (you’ll get it later) and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. Chair. Hilarious.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, we’ll be your best friends!

Vol. 1, Chap. 2: “The Great and the Small”

In this episode, we talk kids halloween costumes and then proceed to interrupt a “thrilling” story of horse endurance racing across the turn-of-the-century West.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale, buckaroos.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales, Twitter @taleinterrupted, and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group

Vol. 1, Chap. 1: “No Place for Husbands”

In our inaugral episode, we talk about terrible candy from our childhood and delve into a tale of near-philandering among the financier-turned-movie star industry from Saucy Stories, August 1st 1922 with the story “No Place for Husbands.”  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. (Apologies for the audio quality, it’s episode 1!)

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales, Twitter @taleinterrupted, and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group

Vol. 1, Preface: “Introduction to Interrupted Tales”

Folks, Episode 0 has arrived!  If you don’t know what Interrupted Tales is all about – Interrupted Tales, the show where two friends take turns reading stories to you, the listen, while the other person constantly interrupts – dive in and give a listen to this carefully curated list of moments from the series.  If you think that “a carefully curated list of moments from the series” sounds a lot like a clip show, you can keep it to yourself, ok? Because this is some hand-selected farm-to-table artisanal level of clip selection. 

But it’s not just clips – no!  We also give you vital information about the show, like when it comes out (every week on Tuesday mornings) and provide some episode recommendations to fit your particular genre tastes.   If you like what you hear, go ahead and hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast player so it arrives without you even having to get onto your sweet little tootsies.  Already a subscriber?  If you could be bothered to sit through a clip show then you’re the type of listener we’d love to leave a review to help even more people learn about Interrupted Tales. Right over here.

Want more Interrupted Tales?  We regularly post cool covers and visuals onto our on Instagram at interruptedtales.  You can also reach us on Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on Facebook. We love our listeners – thanks for spending story time with us each week.