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Podcasting and Audio Storytelling

Save yourself hours of frustration and hassle with this guide for podcasts and other forms of audio storytelling

Remote Recording Basics

Given the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, many projects will need to use some form of remote recording, rather than doing in-person interviews or going to studios. This following sections the guide will give you some resources on how to record yourself and others safely while also maximizing audio quality. However, you should not expect to the kind of quality you would get in a studio, since many people will be working with readily-available equipment (such as smartphones and internal laptop/desktop microphones) and in spaces that aren't designed for high-quality audio recordings. 

If you have questions about your own remote recording setup and would like to talk to someone from the Design Lab, please email shapirodesignlab@umich.edu and someone will get back to you soon!

Getting the Best Sound You Can

Recording Yourself

If you just need to record yourself (as opposed to someone else as part of an interview, which is covered below), there are a variety of apps and programs to do so.

If you plan to use a smartphone and a want higher quality recording than the default voice recording app may provide, there are third-party apps available, such as include Voice Record Pro (Android and iOS) and Recorder (iOS only). Regardless of what app you choose to use (default or third-party), recording with a microphone headset (headphones//earbuds with mic) will improve the quality as you will be closer to the mic. If you do not have a headset for recording with your phone, holding the device up it up to your ear, rather than holding it out in front of you, will result in better sound quality. Once you're finished making the recording, export it from the app and share it with yourself (email, text, etc). The audio file should be able to import any into any audio editing program. 

Every audio editing program will also let you record audio directly into it, though some are more complicated than others. For recording yourself, use some kind of microphone and headphones to ensure the best audio quality possible. Audacity is a free program for Macs and PCs that is very good for basic recording. Depending on your experience and project, you might also want to investigate programs like GarageBand (Mac only), Adobe Audition (Mac or PC), or Reaper (Mac or PC). While Adobe Audition requires a Creative Cloud subscription, these are available at no cost for members of the U-M community.  

There are tutorials for Audacity on the Design Lab's Canvas course. For more in-depth tutorials on these and other audio editing programs, please see the tutorials below that are from LinkedIn Learning, which all members of the University of Michigan community have access to. 

Learning Audacity

GarageBand Essential Training

Adobe Audition Essential Training [Please note this training is for Audition CC 2019, which means some things may not look or work exactly the same as the most recent version of the software.]

Interviews

Many projects use web-based recording platforms to conduct interviews. While you can use Zoom to record conversations, the audio is highly compressed which results in low-quality sound. There are a number of platforms that offer multi-track recording where each person in the interview gets their own track on the recording which allows for better sound and easier editing. Some options are Zencastr, Ringr, Squadcast, and Riverside.fm. Many of these services have free options due to the pandemic, but often there are limitations on the resolution of the audio (only offering mp3 recordings instead of wav recordings). The Design Lab has a paid subscription for Zencastr and we are available to help engineer a recording session. Please email us at shapirodesignlab@umich.edu if you'd like help with recording a session.

 
Using the Zencastr Platform

Below are instructions for using Zencastr to get the best audio quality possible, as well as some helpful things to keep in mind when using the platform. Much of the information, though, will be helpful regardless of the platform you choose. 

Preparation

  • Make sure all participants in the interview are in a quiet room with a lot of soft surfaces (bedroom, closet, etc). The quiet room will minimize background noise and the soft surfaces will minimize reverb, which can make editing more of a challenge.
  • Make sure everyone is on a strong internet connection. This is the biggest factor in determining audio quality. Wired internet is best, but if on wifi, make sure that there aren't too many people using the connection at the same time and that any automatic backup programs on your computer are paused for the duration of the interview. 
  • Have all participants use a microphone or headset if possible. Bluetooth headphones sometimes don't work with Zencastr, unfortunately. If you have nothing else, just use the internal microphone on your laptop/desktop, but try to be pretty close to the machine. 
  • Zencastr only works in Chrome or Firefox (and works best in Chrome) on desktops or laptops only (no mobile devices) At the end of the recording session, BEFORE closing the browser ensure that each participant allows their track to fully upload. Exiting the window too soon runs the risk of losing the recording.

 

Using a smartphone in combination with Zoom or other platform

Another option for recording interviews with better audio quality is to have the guest record themselves using their smartphone, which would allow you to use Zoom or another video calling service to hear each other, and then have them send the audio to the person editing the interview to sync them together. Using the smartphone will result in better audio quality, since it's not subject to the compression that Zoom or other video services apply to the audio. Here are step-by-step instructions (adapted from an infographic by Story Mechanics) for using this method: 

  • Connect headphones (with a microphone) to your laptop or desktop computer
  • Make sure you are in a quiet space with lots of soft surfaces (to reduce background noise and reverb)
  • You can either hold your phone up to your ear or place it about 6-8 inches from your mouth. Make sure to keep it level with your mouth; one way to do this is to put it on top of a stack of books
  • Put your phone in Airplane Mode (or equivalent) in order to prevent calls or other notifications coming through that could disrupt the recording
  • Open a voice recording app on your smartphone and start recording when the interview starts 
  • Once the interview is over, stop the recording and send the file to the person editing the interview
  • TIP: for easier syncing, also record the conversation on the platform that you're using to hear each other (Zoom, Skype, etc)

WBUR also created a similar resource that has screenshots and detailed instructions on how to use the built-in voice recording apps on iPhones and Android phones as part of this process. 

If you need help syncing the audio files, please email shapirodesignlab@umich.edu. 

If you'd like to record a phone interview, please email shapirodesignlab@umich.edu and we can help you get set up for that. That often requires specialized software, which the Design Lab has and can assist you in recording the phone interview remotely. 

Audio Editing Software + Tutorials

Your choice of editing program should be determined by the story of your project and the amount of editing you need to do to tell that story. Here are some rough guidelines to choosing the platform that would work best for your project:

Audacity (Mac and PC)

  • Only working with a single track of audio (no multi-person interviews)
  • Don't have to move a lot of pieces of audio around (from one point in the audio to another point)
  • Won't be mixing in music, sound effects, or other sources of audio. 
  • Generally, we do not recommend using Audacity for editing except as a way to work on individual tracks before moving on to a more advanced editing software because it is a destructive editor (meaning that you are working on the actual audio file when you make changes, which may make it difficult to go back and "undo" decisions you've made). 

GarageBand (Mac only)

  • Non-destructive editor, which means you're working on placeholders of the audio files, rather than the actual audio files themselves. 
  • Working with multiple tracks of audio (for instance, multiple participants in an interview) as well as music, sound effects, and other audio elements
  • Should not be used for very fine-grained edits (like removing "um," "uh," and other particles) as it can be hard to do very precise cross-fades
  • Unfortunately, there is no PC equivalent that has the ease-of-use of GarageBand. 
  • The interface is default designed for recording music, so you'll need to make some adjustments to settings to make it easier to edit non-musical audio. 

Adobe Audition (Mac and PC)

  • Contains a destructive editor and a multitrack non-destructive editor. Make sure to use the multitrack editor if you're editing something with multiple tracks. 
  • Precise fade-in/fade-out and cross-fade control, which is necessary for doing very fine-grained edits. 

Please note that Reaper is a very similar program to Adobe Audition that has the same basic functionality and does not require a Creative Cloud subscription. 

Generally, we recommend that users who have access to a Mac start with GarageBand if they're doing more than editing a single track of audio.

Here are three tutorials created in March of 2020 by Justin Schell. They cover the basics of editing in Audacity, GarageBand, and Adobe Audition. 

Audacity

GarageBand

Adobe Audition

There are additional tutorials for Audacity on the Design Lab's Canvas course. For more in-depth tutorials on these and other audio editing programs, please see the tutorials below that are from LinkedIn Learning, which all members of the University of Michigan community have access to. 

Learning Audacity

GarageBand Essential Training

Adobe Audition Essential Training [Please note this training is for Audition CC 2019, which means some things may not look or work exactly the same as the most recent version of the software.]

If you want to talk through your project and figure out what might be the best editing software for you, please send a note to shapirodesignlab@umich.edu and we'd be happy to discuss it with you.

Additional Information and Guides

Here are some other guides to remote recording developed by members of the audio community that go into further depth than what is covered above: 

  • A guide produced by radio professionals on recording remotely; a similar guide produced by the Association of Independents in Radio
  • Another one from Transom
  • One from NPR
  • One from the Bello Collective specifically on using Zencastr