My Podcasting Method for Face-to-Face Interviews
I received a couple of questions last week about podcasting. Klay writes,
I REALLY like what you are doing and I am excited to try this out at work. I would like to have a better understanding of how to conduct an interview for a podcast. Do you give the person the questions ahead of time? I had to conduct some interviews last summer and it would have been great to record those. Anyway, I felt like I was not well prepared and would appreciate any advise on conducting interviews.
I also received a question from Bill:
Do you record in a studio or just a quiet room?
Recording face-to-face interviews is different from recording phone interviews. To record phone interviews, I use Skype and Pamela for Skype. Or if the interviewee is tech savvy enough to work Audacity, the person records with Audacity, so do I, and then I layer the two tracks together. But in this post, I'm going to focus on face-to-face interviews.
Face to Face Interviews
For face-to-face interviews, I am now using the H4 Zoom Recorder with a Shure SM58 microphone. In how-to form, here is the general method:
To record face-to-face interviews:
- Slip a 2 gig card into your H4 Zoom recorder. (Certain cards are more compatible than others; 2 gig is the max size.)
- Switch to the input mode (rather than mic mode) and crank up the input level to the max, 127.
- Plug in your Shure SM58 XLR microphone (or other mic) into one of the XLR jacks at the bottom.
- Click the 44.1 hrz WAV button to record in WAV format. With a 2 gig card, you have 188 min. of recording time in WAV format.
- Press the Record button twice and then interview your subject. Hold the microphone about 6 inches from the subject's mouth and your own.
Note: Do not use two mics for interviews unless you have the subject's mic stabilized on a stand. If you hand the subject a mic, he or she will move it around while gesturing, and the audio levels will vary. Also, try to hold the mic about the same distance from your mouth as the subject' s mouth. This ensures the audio levels will be better balanced.
To process the audio files:
- Transfer the WAV files to your computer.
- Use the Gigavox Levelator to balance the audio of the files. This is a miraculous and free software program that fixes your podcast's audio in just a few seconds.
- Import the WAV file into Audacity and make any other edits as desired.
- Edit the ID3 tags, and then export to Mp3 format.
- Upload the file to your podcast site. I recommend using WordPress and installing the Podpress plugin.
- If you don't have WordPress but still want an audio player on your site, use this one from 1 Pixel Out.
To return to Klay's question, do I prep the interviewee beforehand? At the STC Conference, no. A few times I mentioned to the interviewee a question one minute before the podcast, but generally I didn't know who I would be interviewing, so preparation wasn't possible.
However, when I do phone interviews, I usually send the interviewee a list of 10-20 questions that I might ask. Giving questions to the interviewee ahead of time ensures that you'll get more thought-out responses. However, if the interviewee has a lot of experience and knowledge, he or she may simply scan down the list of questions and not think twice about it before the interview.
When you conduct the interview, go with the flow. I try to build on the interviewee's responses, like a conversation. If you ask a question that the interviewee is uncomfortable answering, you can always cut it from the audio file later.
I also like to let the interviewee talk in the direction he or she wants to go. This is more the ethnographer in me. If I were Orianna Falacci I would probably grill people on the hard issues, but I'm hesitant to put anyone on the spot who is sometimes apprehensive about the podcast in the first place.
Overall, if you are interviewing someone who is a known expert in the field, you don't need to supply a list of interview questions. You just need to be familiar enough with the topic yourself so you can know the right questions to ask.
At the STC Conference, I'm sure a more knowledgeable podcaster could have taken the discussions deeper and into more territory, but one can't be an expert on everything.
Recording in Studios
To answer Bill's question, Do I record in a studio?, no. I've never even been inside a recording studio. But I do turn off all the fans in my house and close the door to get things as quiet as possible. Paul Colligan says that if you put a blanket over your head, you increase the studio quality of your podcasts, and he's right. The problem is, if you put a blanket over your head, it gets dark, hot, and stuffy.
The H4 Zoom Recorder (which looks like a taser) has some incredible built-in microphones that deliver near studio quality. When you record, be sure you record in WAV format and plug the device into the wall. It will sound clearer, trust me. Also, attach the little windbreaker puff ball (not sure what this is called) so that it stops your puffs. I also bought a little tripod to set the recorder on.
I recorded this overview/explanation podcast using the method I just described. After recording it, I noticed that I could hear every breath I took, every swallow and non-verbal mouth movement. I have a lot to learn about controlling these extraneous noises, but for now instead of re-recording I just used a low-pass filter (one of the effects in Audacity) to minimize these sections.
I'll be giving a podcasting workshop in Orlando, Florida, sometime soon. If you're interested in attending, let me know.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.