I love Skype, and I hate Skype. OK, hate is a strong word, but when Skype doesn’t work, when I find myself battling Skype, I feel like a goalie fighting the puck. I’m trying to wrestle with it, and make it do what I think it should, rather than what it wants to do.
Skype is a great tool, don’t get me wrong. It replaces hundreds of dollars of equipment with free software and a free service, and if you have someone on the other end of a Skype call who knows what they are doing, the results can be quite spectacular. But the service can be frustrating as well, from changes in audio quality mid-call, to the ducking that is inherent when one person talks over another. There are some solid tutorials on how to set up Skype for podcasting (like this excellent one from The Conversations Network), but in the end, if you record just the Skype call, one person will wind up sounding better and different than the other.
But my friends, there is a better way. And you can do it with Skype, or just with a phone if you needed to. It’s called the two-way.
A two-way recording is one where you record each end of the conversation locally, and then combine the two recordings later. The final output can often sound like you are in the same room as the other person, and will give you the best possible quality for your recording. Many radio interviews are done this way, with a host in one studio, and the guest in another. If you have ever listened to NPR, and they tell you that a guest is in a studio at a member station, this is what they are doing.
You already know how to record a Skype conversation so that you can split the audio of yourself and the caller into two separate audio files. For a two-way, both sides of the conversation will be recording the Skype call, in the same way. I recommend both parties record the Skype call, and not just their own audio. This way, if something were to go wrong with either person’s recording, you have the Skype call as a backup. Also, recording the Skype call will help with any timing drifts. Even though computers are good at recording audio very accurately, they tend to lose timing in tiny increments. You won’t notice this much in a single, local recording, but you may notice it when you combine the two recordings. Recording the Skype call seems to anchor this timing a little better.
OK, so you’re recorded your call, and your podcasting partner has recorded theirs. The next step is to transfer the audio from one computer to another. When I first started recording two-ways, I set up an FTP account for the other person to upload the audio to my webspace, which I would then download. This was fine after some initial hiccups, but since then, I have started using Dropbox to transfer my files around. Sharing a Dropbox folder allows me to transfer files with various people, and it’s drag and drop simple. I use Dropbox folders to send voice-over recordings to people as well.
Once you have the other party’s audio, you can combine the two audio files in your editor, each side of the recording getting it’s own separate track (and therefore, it’s own processing and mixing). Make sure that you have made the files mono, and mix them together in your digital audio software like you would any other audio.
As a quick tip, when you start your recording and before you start your show, have you and your partner count down from five. When you go to combine your audio, line up this countdown, and you will be very close to the correct timing. You may have to tweak the timing a bit (moving a track forward or back a half second or less) to really make it sound tight, but you will be very close.
The fun thing about recording a two-way is that you can do this with as many people as you like, at the same time. You could record three, four, or more people, and combine them all later. Doing this may seam labor-intensive, rather than just putting out a Skype call, but when you have multiple recordings, all with just one voice on a track, it can make editing out a section of audio a lot easier. You don’t have to fight the cacophony of voices to find a good edit point, you just edit it like any other two-side conversation.
If you don’t have Skype, or don’t have access to a solid internet connection, and you still want to record a show, you can use a cell phone, and record each end of the conversation. I did this when I was in Alaska and the internet was problematic, and other times when Skype was having issues beyond my control. Recording a two-way can free you from the shackles of the single point of technology we rely on all the time, giving us more recording options (recording from the field, for example).
One final thought on the two-way: It isn’t for guests. You have seen the setup involved in recording a Skype call, and for a two-way, you have to have this ability on both sides of the connection. Walking someone through the setup may be simple for a regular podcaster, or someone used to recording audio, but for a one-time guest, they may not be up to the task.
I record the Avs Hockey Podcast as a two-way most of the time, since I am away from Denver quite often and don’t get the opportunity to be face to face with my show partner. Jay and I have found that this is the best way to make our podcast sound as good as possible. You can hear an example of a two-way we recorded here. You would have to listen pretty hard to be able to tell that we aren’t in the same room.
I hope this helps, and if you have any questions, please ask. Comments are open.