Podcasting From Home – Part Two: 7 Tips to avoid the ‘news channel guest’ sound

This is the second of a three part blog series called Podcasting From Home – The New Normal. This section – on getting your contributors to sound great – follows on from part one, which is all about getting you sounding great. 

Being a new dad for the first time, much of the last few months have involved watching news and sports channels to pass the time, as my daughter snoozes on my shoulder. Tough life, I know.

Video calls, using the likes of Zoom and FaceTime, are now prevalent on these channels post-pandemic. Even newsreaders were using them if they were self-isolating. And you have to take your hat off to the tolerance levels of TV news directors as we Brits struggle to learn how to use the tech.

We’ve witnessed guests in almost pitch darkness, people staring at their laptop camera down the barrel of their noses (nice!), people too close, people too far away. That’s before we mention the vanity bookcases, and Matt Hancock’s eye-catching portrait of The Queen! 

But there’s also been a real tolerance towards bad sound quality too. I watched Lib Dem Interim Leader, Ed Davey, on the BBC News Channel only this week sounding echoey and distorted in his kitchen.

Ed, like many others, seemed to be talking into the native mic on his laptop or desktop, without any sort of external mic attached. But to be honest, for a couple of minutes of airtime, that tinny sound isn’t going to upset anyone.

But it’s not the same for podcasts.

Imagine, your dream podcast guest sounding like that, and having to put up with it in your headphones for a full 45 minutes. 

In the last blog, we talked about how to improve your sound when recording a podcast from home. But, unless you’re Piers Morgan, it’s likely that your guest is going to be doing more of the talking than you. Therefore, you need to try and manipulate their sound quality as best as you possibly can from afar.

Here are a few things you can do to best audio possible from your guests when recording from home.

  1. First, try to establish how strong their Wi-Fi is. If they have an ethernet cable (clue – it’s probably in the box the router came in), tell them to plug it in. If they have never heard of an ethernet cable (or have thrown away the box), tell them to sit closer to the router if possible.
  2. If they have a microphone, ask them to use it. This step is often skipped on the assumption the answer is no. But people buy microphones all sorts of reasons, so always worth an ask. 
  3. If your guest doesn’t have a microphone, then a pair of headphones is a must. Any pair of smartphone headphones would work, as they’re all fitted with a lapel mic. If you do hear some distortion from this – a sort of crumpling sound – check the lapel mic isn’t rubbing against a shirt collar, or buried in a big beard. 
  4. Another often-overlooked step: if you are asking a guest to use a system like Zencastr or Cleanfeed, then make sure you’ve road-tested what it like to be on their end of the line first. It can be very frustrating or distressing if there are tech problems and you don’t know how to help them. Get a friend to be you and send you a guest link. Then, screenshot where the settings are, so you can firefight any tech issues with confidence.
  5. Be mindful of background noise. Avoid recording with a fridge nearby, watch out for the hum of electricity from sitting close to a television set, or the unmistakable sound of an aircon unit. And then there’s the audio editor biggest nemesis, the ticking clock! If there’s one nearby, either ask them to move away from it or remove it. 
  6. Don’t be afraid to stop if you get interrupted by a sudden noise or if something doesn’t sound quite right. Sort the problem and ask the previous question again. You’ll be thankful for doing so when it comes to the edit. 

Whilst these tips should help, rule number seven is perhaps the most important of all… 

7. Don’t let your guests get too flustered about the tech. All good if they are experienced podcasters themselves, but in a lot of cases, it’ll be the first time they will have recorded an interview ‘down the line’. Do everything you can to put them at ease and make sure the are more focused on what they say than how they sound.

Find out more about our podcast agency and our podcast recording, editing and publishing services.