For those who do not know Skype, it is an application somewhat comparable with Yahoo Messenger or MSN. You can talk with friends or business associates by using a headset (headphones with build-in microphone). It is a free service and the quality of the sound is much better then telephone. But Skype goes a step further, because you can also call land lines and mobiles and setup conference calls. All of these can be recorded and if webcams are involved, video can be recorded too. In this article, I only cover audio interviews.
For more info on the workings of Skype itself, here is the Skype website. Skype is very user friendly and I used it even before it was bought up by eBay from the original creators in Luxembourg (Europe). Skype helped me slash my phone bill enormously. I call a lot to the US, Canada, Australia and so on, and it is just dirt cheap and hands free.
Recording audio with Skype
Ok, so how do we record audio interviews with Skype? For PC, This can be done with either Pamela or PrettyMay. There are more applications of course, but these two are the ones I use myself. For Mac, I use Call recorder. They are applications you can download and install to work with Skype and they are about $25 each.
How do they work? Basically, they all work the same:
- Start Skype, if it isn’t active already
- Start the audio recorder application (Call recorder starts with Skype)
- Connect with your interviewee(s) either by calling a land line or connecting as a Skype member when they are online.
- Normally, a popup comes up asking you to record the conversation. Click Yes
- Otherwise, if nothing happens, click the arrow or the red button (depending on the application)
- It will now record your audio.
On the Mac with Call recorder there is an exception, because you first have to select what you want to record, video or audio. Use the dropdown list in the little control panel to select Audio only, otherwise, it records video as well.
How to set up a quality recording
PLAN A: The ideal is to interview from Skype member to Skype member because the quality of the audio is far better then connecting by phone. But it is not evident that your interviewee(s) will have Skype.
If they have, ask them if they feel comfortable using it for the interview. In that case, you best ask for a short rehearsal to make sure technically everything is fine. Both parties need to work with a head set.
Never use speakers as they can echo on both ends.
Don’t waste too much time on the rehearsal, if it doesn’t work because the interviewee has problems with their computer or headset, go to plan B immediately, because you do not want to put the interviewee off.
In most cases, you won’t get the chance to do a test first. If that is the case, go to plan B directly because you cannot afford messing this up, especially not if the interviewee is a public figure.
PLAN B: When you call from Skype to a land line, your voice will be of good quality while the interviewee will have that typical pinched sound you here on radio interviews with a caller. This kind of setup is acceptable since we are used already to this sort of interview. In this case, there is no need to rehearse with the interviewee as yu just will start to record when the connection is made.
Calling mobiles is never a good idea because of the dropouts, but in some cases, you have no choice. In a situation like that, one can only hope for the best.
What hardware do you need?
Now with both plans, you have to keep in mind that the quality of the audio is only as good as your equipment, so it is important to buy the right material. There are of course loads of options, but for Skype, we only mention those that fit within the quality range that Skype offers. An audio recording studio would be pointless, because although the produced sound of Skype is superior to phone quality, it is not thát good.
So, that leaves us 2 down-to-Earth options:
- USB Headset with build-in microphone, is the minimal setup. Make sure the usb connector is not just an adaptor for a mini plug. The wire should go straight into a usb connector. I cannot recommend a headset because I haven”t found one I really like. I tried Sennheiser PC 166 USB but it clamps too tightly around my head, while Logitech ClearChat Pro USB is very fragile. Whatever you do, never spend less then $80, and avoid buying wireless because of the dropouts and static.
- Headphones with a separate, good quality USB microphone is the best option for interviews. The Blue Snowball USB Microphone gives you a really nice quality, not only for Skype conversations but also for podcasting and video tutotials. It works on PC & Mac. Use the mic only with a headphones because speakers echo.
Which apllication do I use best for recording on Skype?
Pamela mixes all voices together which is convenient if you don’t want to fiddle around editing the audio.
It can export to several formats: MP3, WAV, OGG. I would recommend WAV if you do want to edit the audio, otherwise use the MP3 option and publish it as it is. Pamela has several convenient options to warn other parties to stay away while an interview is in progress, so that you will not be disturbed as sometimes happens. PrettyMay does not have that option.
PrettyMay can save both ends of the interview into separate channels, if you want. That means that your voice is in one channel and the voice(s) of other parties in the other. Unprocessed, that sounds quite weird because your voice will be heard in the left earphone while the other voice(s) are in the right. You definitely want to mix both together, but there lies the beauty of PrettyMay, the fact that you have that choice. Why having separate tracks? For example, if you want one part to sound slightly from the left and the other slightly from the right, that can be easily done with an audio editor. Pamela does not to have this option. You have two audio formats: MP3 and WAV. Use WAV if you use the separate channel option, otherwise you can use MP3 and publish immediately. There is a video tutorial about using PrettyMay on Skype, including how to configure the audio setting: How to do an interview on Skype with PrettyMay
Call recorder is for Mac. It also records video but I will not go into this here. Read the next article Recording video interviews with Skype. Call recorder saves audio automatically in 2 audio tracks and exports it to a QuickTime movie. The tracks can be split or kept together with the utilities provided in the Movie Tools folder. You can export also to AAC audio, MP3 and AIFF. AIFF is comparable with WAV, both are uncompressed video formats. Call recorder has also a cpuple of options to warn other parties when they try to connect with you through Skype. In this sense, both Pamela and Call recorder are the best options if you have loads of Skype contacts who can call you unexpectedly.
Tips for a successful recording & avoiding problems
You can never rule out problems. Even using a call center service can give problems, like static, dropouts, etc… But you can avoid a lot of problems upfront:
- 10 minutes before you start the interview, restart your computer
- Do not open any applications except the Skype recorder and Skype itself.
- Turn off all applications running routinely in the background, like MSN, Yahoo Messenger, the screen saver and basically any utilities that do not have anything to do with Skype.
- Make sure your anti-virus software will not scan for viruses during the call, but do not turn of your firewall (if you have one).
The reason for these measure is that recording audio is an intensive activity which takes a lot of resources from your computer. Any interruption by utilities in the background can disturb this process, generally in the form of static or dropouts. therefore, the more powerful your computer is, the better the result.
Environmental disturbances to avoid:
- Turn off your mobile as it can create static and it might ring unexpectedly.
- Unplug the land line phone if you have one. Certainly unplug wireless phone units.
- If you have a dog, let someone take a walk with it during the interview.
- Cats hate it when people talk into small objects to imaginary friends, get them out of the room.
- Anticipate other unexpected disturbances like a shimming clock, the ice van, garbage collection, etc…
- Try to set an hour when activity in the house is minimal.
When you have all this covered, chances to a successful interviewed are (almost) guaranteed. What can spoil the fun is a bad connection. In that case, disconnect and try again. If it doesn’t work out in 3 trials, ask to reschedule, because you have really done all you could to avoid a disaster.