Remote podcasting 101

When a client wants to record a podcast, there’s a lot to consider. Here’s our guide to the main considerations when working with clients based on our experience and journey. 

Podcasts have, in the past couple of years, seen a rise in popularity for businesses, whether these are in the form of sponsored/branded content, or corporate podcasts where companies speak directly to their clients. At times it can be a quicker way to produce regular commentary/updates for their audience, and they land directly in apps like Spotify/Apple Podcasts which both have large loyal podcast listenership - Spotify 28.2 million, Apple 28 million (source).

Why go remote?

In 2020, mass lockdowns saw a lot of content become home based or user generated. This normalised audiences to imperfect audio and video quality - to the point where you can still see and hear many contributors on audio and visual content with grainy picture, or choppy/glitchy audio. Remote is a real consideration when making content now, but may not be the right way to go in all situations.

The good:
Saves on studio costs

If you want the best quality audio, you’ll go to a professional studio - there’s no need to say much more on this. Professional equipment, acoustically treated spaces and everyone in one room lead to a great (in most cases) sounding recording with little to no noise, and a congruent listening experience. However, this can come at a cost of hundreds of pounds an hour, and this really racks up, particularly if a recording needs a lot of editing, as corporate podcasts invariably need to be heavily scripted to avoid issues with their legal and compliance teams.

Remote recording saves a lot of money, meaning either the client spends less, or can spend differently, for example, porting the savings into content amplification, and recording equipment.

Saves on time

When recording with representatives from a business, they are often high level execs who are very time poor. Recording remotely means they only need to book out the time they’d be in the recording session, rather than having the travel time of getting there and back. This can also mean that they can fit the podcast recording in sooner as they may have the small gaps in their schedule.

Reduces carbon footprint

With a real focus in 2022 on responsibility and commitment around carbon emissions, businesses want to do everything they can to proceed responsibly. And recording podcasts remotely is a great way of doing this, as it means zero travel.

Comfortable performers

For some people, everything changes a bit when they enter a recording studio. The stakes feel higher, they can be more nervous in these unfamiliar surroundings. And this can come across in their performance. Recording remotely, however, ensures they are in familiar, comfortable surroundings, which can help them to be more natural with in discussion.

The bad:
More responsibility on speakers

When recording remotely, everyone is ultimately responsible for the operation of their equipment; their mics, their internet connection, their laptops. If problems arise, then they have to click the buttons to resolve them, even with someone supporting them on the end of a phone or computer connection. And while they have nothing to worry about, this can add a subtle stress or pressure on them, which can impact their performance sometimes.

Less control over room ambience

With remote recording, you are at the will of the room ambience of all contributors. They may have pets or children, large echoey rooms, live on a busy street, have neighbours doing DIY - the list is endless. And there is some amount of audio processing that can be done to achieve noise reduction, but you can’t polish a - erm - really noisy recording. 

Different equipment

Unless you send the same equipment to all of the people you’ll be recording, chances are they’ll all be using something different. And while there are a lot of other factors (room ambience, mic placement and gain etc), this is going to guarantee quite different sound qualities for each speaker.

Recording spaces

As we’ve briefly touched on already, one of the key factors in how a remote podcast turns out is the room ambience of the speakers. A bright room with lots of reverb will make a speaker’s voice sound hollow. Recording in a room with lots of soft furnishings will improve the chance of having less reverb, so if in a bright/reverby room, try bringing in towels and duvets, closing curtains, and hanging duvets behind you. If your podcast guests don’t have the time or inclination to do these things, then suggest they record in a bedroom or lounge rather than a kitchen or dining room as these will likely have less reflective surfaces and more soft furnishings. Some people even record underneath a duvet or in a wardrobe!

The other key challenges are around background noise. There is little that can be done if people live next to a noisy street. Or if the neighbours are making noise. For non-live/scripted recordings, it’s worth doing retakes when noise dies down if that’s doable.

Mics

When working with clients, you might be at the mercy of their owned equipment, so might not have the luxury of choosing a microphone. If you do though, we’d largely recommend going for USB microphones to negate the need for any additional audio equipment.

Here are a few things to consider based on our experience of working with corporate clients.

Equipment they may already have:
Laptop internal microphone

This is something most will have, but isn’t great. There’s a large variation in quality of laptop microphones, and if a laptop is overheating/fans are going crazy, this will be really apparent in the recording.

Earphones with a mic (i.e Apple wired earphones)

These are ok to use - they lack warmth, but have good clarity. The mic is very sensitive if it catches on hair, jewellery or clothing though, so keep an ear out for any rustling sounds.

Bluetooth in-ear earphones

Any audio device that uses bluetooth is subject to a reduction in audio quality due to the signal being compressed to be sent wirelessly. These often cut off the high frequencies, which can be restored to an extent in post production, but it doesn’t make for a great sound.

Bluetooth headsets

Bluetooth headsets produce a very dry sound due to where the microphone placement is, and this really stands out against other speakers in the same recording who are using other microphones. Also, if they have noise reduction, then this can cause a degraded sound due to how the noise reduction works, as it quietens the whole frequency range of the noise rather than being any mystical, magical noise eliminators.

Smart phones

In some situations you may be reliant on a guest capturing their own audio on their mobile phone. The upshot of this is it’s really easy for them to share the audio via WhatsApp etc, but the downside is that it’s pot luck as to how it sounds based on their placement. 2 key bits of advice:

  • Be mindful that if it’s on the desk, it’ll pick up any sounds of banging on the desk, moving a mouse or anything similar.
  • If the phone is in a case, then remove it, as this will give the best chance of a good sound.

USB Podcast microphones

If you’re working with guests who contribute on podcasts regularly, they may have some decent equipment. But if you’re looking to buy equipment and have the budget, then USB mics are the way to go for simplicity for your end user. Budget-wise, you can find something usable from around £30, however when you approach the £100 mark you’ll reach a pretty decent level of quality.

Dynamic vs Condenser microphones

The main choice you will have in microphone types is dynamic or condenser - Dynamic mics tend to sound warmer, whereas condensers contain more high frequency detail, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the recording room, noise, and how the contributor speaks. Here’s a bit more info on choosing the right microphone.

Lavalier (lapel) microphones

Another option is using a lavalier (lapel) microphone with a usb adaptor (like this). Because these are clipped onto clothing, they don’t suffer too much from echoey rooms, but they aren’t typically as bright as the desktop microphones you may use.

Microphone placement

Microphone placement is another key issue in how your guests sound. If the mic is too far away, they may sound faint and distant, but if the mic is too close, they may sound too boomy, or distort. And the sound could end up with plosives (P’s and B’s) or sibilance (S’s) being overwhelming. When listening to a session, try and listen out for if the mic placement could be better for the speaker.

Headphones

Headphones are a really important part of recording - if your guests don’t use headphones, then your recording software will need to use echo cancellation, which degrades the audio quality - not to a point of being unusable, but it’s better to avoid echo cancellation if possible.

What type of headphones

No need to go into detail on this, but wired earphones or closed-back headphones are the best options to use. Open-back headphones let sound out of the back (the outside) of the headphones, so this will be picked up by the microphone, and bluetooth headphones can sometimes go a bit rogue, connecting to additional devices that they’re set up on, which can bring technical issues.

Recording platforms

There are loads of different ways to record podcasts - we’ve recorded direct from WebEx, through Cleanfeed, Riverside.fm, Iris.fm, and coached people through recording their own audio via Teams and Zoom. Each way is nuanced, and has different benefits for different businesses. Here are some considerations though:

To video, or not to video, that is the question

One of the best things about in-person recording is the non-verbal cues. In particular, when there are more than 2 people, and it’s more of a round table than a scripted discussion. When people can see the body language and facial cues of other contributors, it helps them know when to jump in, and when not to. And also being able to see the faces of others can add an energy or ambience that leads to a cohesive listening experience.

Conversely, you may find that some speakers hate having cameras on and find it a thoroughly distracting experience, so approach this with an open mind!

Access and firewalls

When working with corporate clients particularly, be sure to check any apps that you’d like to use. All too often, a lot of the web based solutions will be blocked by corporate IT, and so if your contributors don’t have personal laptops, this can mean you have to rethink your approach. Fear not though, some of the web options have iPhone and Android apps. If you still need a solution though, you may need to use their primary messenger - Teams, Slack, RingCentral, Google Meet, and even may need to record the session locally by using routing software like BlackHole.

What apps?

There are loads of options, so here are a few - we only know what works for us and our clients though, so it’s really worth researching this in more detail for yourself

Web based audio recorders

Cleanfeed, Source Connect Now, Session Link Pro

Web based audio & video recorders

Iris.fm, Riverside.fm, Zencastr.com, Squadcast.fm

Messaging/chat platforms

Zoom, Teams, RingCentral, WebEx, Google Meet

Self-recording apps

If you need your users to record their own audio, this can be done using native apps across devices; Voice Recorder on Windows laptops and Android phones, Quicktime on Macs, and Voice Memos on iPhone/iPad. There are a boatload of other options available, however these are the ones you can more or less guarantee that your contributors will have access to.

Technical support

As we’ve touched on earlier in the guide, some of the ways of recording require more technical operation from the speakers than others. And also, anything that can go wrong, probably will go wrong at some point. So it’s really handy to have someone who can provide tech support on recording sessions. Someone who can think on their feet to solve the unsolvable, and generally put your guests at ease.

Getting the best out of your contributors

One of the biggest compliments we get from our podcast guests is how much they enjoy the experience. They say we really make them feel at ease, and that they’re in safe hands. We’re lucky that our recording team are good with guests, so this somewhat occurs naturally. But here are some things we think can help:

  • Book in a longer session than you anticipate needing, so you can cover any technical hitches or guests running late
  • Have some small talk at the start and don’t be afraid to have a laugh - this will help to loosen them up
  • If any of your guests are a bit wooden, you can try stopping them to do further sound checks, but while doing this, ask them about their hobbies or passions. This conversation can elevate mood and give a bit of lift in performance
  • Stay calm no matter what happens - their emotional state will reflect yours.

Editing

Editing podcasts is very subjective. Some edit decisions are very simple, such as taking out anything that doesn’t meet legal or compliance standards, or incorrect dates etc. Some things are way more nuanced though. 

Some people have a lot of habits like saying umm/ahh before, and during sentences, or taking sharp breaths. This is where you need to take a holistic view of your edit. Do the umms and ahhs break up the flow too much? Do the sharp breaths jar? Does removing any of this reduce the authenticity of the podcast? Can I edit this out without it being noticeable?

There will be times when you just have to take a best view, but at other times your clients will be really specific. They may even want to speed up some of the audio if they have specific duration targets, or feel one speaker is way slower than the others.

The other thing you may want to tweak in the edit is the timing between questions and answers - does this feel natural? Chances are your listeners won’t really notice the subtleties like this, but you’ll get a feel for how you want it to flow.

Mixing & Mastering

The biggest challenge with mixing podcast audio is making it sound cohesive. Given the different equipment and room acoustics of your guests, they’ll likely all have quite different sonic characteristics. 

REMEMBER: Most clients will notice comparative differences between speakers rather than issues in the overall sound, which is something to consider.

The main things to look at, available in most audio software are:

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Hosting

How does podcast hosting work?

Hosting your podcasts means where the audio files are uploaded to and stored. Once uploaded, you can then push the data to Spotify and the other podcast players (Overcast, Apple Podcasts etc). Then when someone wants to listen from (for example) Spotify, your app downloads the file from your host and plays it in the app.

Choosing a host

As with all things digital, there are a whole host (excuse the pun) of services you can distribute your podcast through. Some of the bigger ones are:

  • Buzzsprout
  • Transistor
  • Captivate.fm
  • Libsyn
  • Acast
  • Podbean

    It’s worth going through some comparison guides like this one from TechCrunch and researching a shortlist in depth though, before you choose your preferred option.
Analytics

Because podcasts are effectively downloaded from your host, the host analytics are quite basic, around downloads and some demographic data (age/listening app). Beyond this, the data is the same but reworked for different timeframes, and split into episodes and such.

The listening apps all have engagement data, but this isn’t like for like - Apple Podcasts for example, uses different metrics for engagement to that of Spotify et al. For example, engagement for one platform might be average duration listened to, whereas on another it’ll be percentage complete, or plays longer than 50%. So it can be difficult to get a really good overview of engagement across devices. You might just focus more on trends.

The other way to look at analytics is guiding your audience from email/social, to a page on your website where the podcast is hosted and then links out to the players. Then you have the added bonus of web stats to look at - particularly worthwhile for a mini-series or campaign.

We hope this guide has been useful for you. There are a lot of factors involved in producing corporate podcasts, and they go from very simple to extremely complicated.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss our experiences further, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

Appendix 1 - Troubleshooting

Bluetooth headphones on but not working

Bluetooth headphones often cause as many problems as they solve. Sure they give you free movement to skip, do star jumps or whatever other movements you’d like while on a call, but they have niggling habits too. Bluetooth connections can be pretty temperamental, so if they stop working:

  1. Make sure all other bluetooth devices (phones/laptops in particular) in range are disabled.
  2. Switch bluetooth off on the device you’re using and also switch off the earphones.
  3. Turn bluetooth back on, and then power up your earphones.
  4. If this still doesn’t work, reboot the phone or laptop, and repeat steps 2-3
Flutter on USB mic, or USB mic not working at all

USB mics are generally pretty good, but will sometimes experience sound issues like clicking or fluttering. This is commonly an issue with the USB power on the computer in question, so the best things to try are

  1. unplugging the mic (and any other USB devices)
  2. Restart the computer (busy people rarely properly shut down their computers these days)
  3. Plug the microphone back in
Audio glitching

You might find a guest’s audio disappears and reappears, or glitches. This can be a common occurrence due to wifi and shared internet usage. If this occurs, encourage the guest to

  1. Turn off any other devices connected to the wifi
  2. Move closer to their router (ideally the same room)
  3. If possible use a wired connection to the router

Appendix 2 - Pre-record checks

Here are a few bits to go through before you record any remote podcast recording session:

  • Check guests are comfortable
  • People have been to the toilet if required
  • Check they have some water
  • Doors and windows are closed
  • Phones on do not disturb or silent
  • All other apps shut on computer
  • Correct microphone is selected
  • Local recording is set up (if required) with correct microphone

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