How to record an interview
Audio quality is very important, and while in some circumstances background noise helps set the scene, if it detracts so much that listeners cannot hear what is being said then they will switch off (and that helps no one).
Recording in studio conditions is rarely possible, so don’t stress about recording in a dead silent room. If you are interviewing someone in their home or office, backyard, or the local park, or over the phone/Skype etc, then just say so – then the listener will understand.
Set the scene: “I was able to sit down with Terry at his home in Albany…”
Room reverb can be a killer to otherwise good audio. If you can hear that you or your interviewee’s voice is booming around a room then record somewhere else. Office meeting rooms are often NOT ideal. They can have lots of flat surfaces with no pictures, curtains etc to dissipate the reverb/echo.
Do the clap test. Clap your hands once and listen for the reverb.
Smartphones and digital recorders such as the those made by Tascam and Zoom etc are perfect for recording interviews.
Ideally you’ll be able to lay your hands on a good recorder, an external microphone, and be able to monitor what you are recording with a set of headphones.
But if not, don’t allow a lack of technology to stop you. A smartphone may do (although not all smartphones are equal). Remembering that the microphone of a smartphone is at the bottom of the unit (not the top), do a test recording.
If recording in MP3 set the quality at 128k. Mono is fine for interviews (and will be half the file size of a stereo recording).
Do a recording, name it and save it. Listen to how it sounds and think if the quality can be improved.
It must not be too loud as it can distort.
It can’t be too soft and raising the volume to broadcast level may increase hiss.
During the interview point the microphone to whomever is speaking.
Ideally your recordings should be no louder than minus 6db (-6db). Zero db is full volume, +1db is distortion. That’s why it is a really good idea to listen to the recording as you make it and keep an eye on audio recording levels. If they are banging up into the red (zero db) then the recording is too loud and risks being distorted.
Turn the auto volume control to OFF. Manually set the recording volume.
Once your recording is completed and saved, copy it to your computer. Here you can bring it into an audio editing program to tighten up the interview and remove any bits you don’t want. You could even re-record your questions if you kept your microphone pointed at your interviewee during the recording.
Again, keep a keen eye on the levels. Keep everything sounding natural.
A free open source audio editing app is Audacity and it works on PCs and Macs.