Even someone with years of broadcast experience makes mistakes when they set up remote interviews.
I have spent the past fourteen years recording weekly interviews for Federal News Network. Last year, they invested millions into state-of-the-art recording studios.
The COVID crisis has robbed me of a $25 million studio and now I record the my interviews remotely. Here are ten lessons learned.
1. The Wire
Think of the well-known television series (The Wire) when you think about doing remote interviews. Always use a wire; don’t rely on your home Wi-Fi. Even better, make sure your guest has a wired connection.
Although the magic of a Wi-Fi router is impressive, please remember it is subject to dozens of variables that a wired signal is not. You can delve into electrical engineering articles for details, but your signal can fade for a wide variety of reasons. Your router could be failing, you could have interference, if you do not own the router, it could be subject to throttling from the provider, and other devices could be using your channel.
Let us not forget your Wi-Fi signal could be competing with frequency signals from neighbors, possibly even home appliances. Today, we have baby monitors, garage door openers, a myriad of wireless devices that can harm the wireless signal.
In addition to a more consistent signal, you will also get a tremendous speed bump. Here are the results of my speed test when I compared wireless to wired:
If you record company podcasts from home, get a wired Internet connection. It solves many problems.
2. Closet beats the box
At the start of recording interviews from home during the COVID crisis, I had noise issues. On guest asked about my next door neighbor cutting the grass. An audio engineer suggested that I make a box that would block that noise. So, I made a box for the microphone.
This was great until the next guest asked about the garbage truck in the background. The guest could hear every truck start and stop. Obviously, it distracted him from the interview.
My solution was to move to a walk-in closet. The clothing certainly did act as a sound shield. I still had the door to worry about. I got an acoustic blanket from Audimute and is fantastic.
A manufacturer called Audimute makes a variety of sound absorption options. I chose a blanket that fit nicely over the door.
It isn’t a million dollar studio, but is a very good solution.
3. Never let a guest introduce themselves
Mark Twain once said a novice river pilot makes just as many mistakes as an experienced one. He held the new pilot has no knowledge of the river; the old timer one has over-confidence and ignored some dangerous new developments.
That applies to podcast guests as well.
A rookie may freeze up if asked to give a background. On the other hand, an experienced subject matter expert may give a rambling discourse that included trips to Disneyland, diesel locomotives, and snowstorms in Calgary.
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Traditional old school public speakers know this rule all too well. They physically will hold the microphone and pull it if the guest starts to ramble.
Control the introduction. If you don’t know the guest, you have LinkedIn to do your research. Name, title, company, possibly include education, experience, and publications. Make it short and to the point.
A pro tip is to go to YouTube and listen to the last ten interviews from your guest to hear accent, vocabulary, word usage, topic preferences, and obvious biases.
4. Tuco’s lesson from the Good the Bad, and the Ugly
Tuco’s advice holds for podcasters as well. “When you have to shoot, shoot.” Give a short intro, then begin the interview.
Nobody cares that you and the guest met once in Calgary during a snowstorm. Today’s attention span is so short, you must begin with the benefits of listening to your interview.
5. $100 solution
In the world of software development, there is a concept called user experience, commonly referred to as UX. In other words, a website must load under three seconds, be phone friendly, and not have confusing touch sequences.
Podcasting is now a mature industry and listeners expect excellent audio quality. Apple announced one million podcasts. A recently coined phrase is Listener Experience, or LX. Quality of audio directly impacts the LX of the listener.
Have guest upgrade to a USB microphone, they are less than $100 today. It is a great investment for all parties.
6. Zoom + mixer = backup success
Today’s Internet is certainly fast, but a Zoom interview with many participants can tax its resources. You don’t want your interview with a hard-to-get guest get accidentally erased.
If the interview gets destroyed it may not be possible to re-record.
The solution: backup the interview using Zoom and a mixer. During a Zoom interview, use a Rodecaster Pro mixer to record. This allows you modulate voice levels and record. At the same time use the Zoom option to record to the cloud as a backup.
7. Robo calls
One of the most entertaining moments of 2003 was when Congress passed the “Do Not Call” legislation. The idea was that the FTC would be able to have citizens register to not have solicitors call.
This one act precipitated a deluge of automated systems that plague us until today. The monthly peak occurred in October of 2019 with an all time monthly total of 5.7 billion calls!
Switch to “Do not disturb” during the interview; best to have all parties turn off their phones.
8. Calendar notifications
Everyone has been reminded of an upcoming meeting or call. However, getting bombarded by these notifications during an interview is a distraction.
Have all participants go to their calendar and mute announcements.
Here is a step=buy-step example for Google Calendar:
9. Reduce group size
When on Zoom, minimize the resources the connection takes by just having video for moderator and guest. Too many people can slow the connection. Even Zoom can recommend no more than 3 participants. Here is a recent screen shot.
With so many professionals working out of their houses, do not be surprised by a dog or child interrupting the interview. Rehearse a comment for when it will happen.
“Well, I guess it is mandatory to have a dog bark in the middle of the interview.”
“Some estimate there are 76 million dogs in the United States, looks like we have of man’s best friends here”
There are so many podcasts out there you cannot afford to have poor quality audio. About the only place you won’t get wireless interference is in the middle of a field in Iowa. If working from home, find a quiet room and put some sound shielding on the door.
A wired connection will be faster and more consistent. Do the introduction yourself. Do not ramble, start right into the interview. Go through the hardware checklist mentioned above to have good quality audio. Expect interruptions and have several phrases memorized so the interview can continue.
Go forth and podcast.
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