Tips to get the best out of your podzine interview

You might think that the ideal situation for an interview is in a studio, with a decent mike and no distractions. This should give an excellent interview, but it isn’t always practical for both interviewee and interviewer to travel to the same location, and professional studios are expensive to build and maintain. Interviewing people in situ gives a different audio quality that isn’t necessarily worse. Interview someone at a show and the ambience of the show creates a different type of interview to interviewing them in a studio – a different ambience but not necessarily a worse one. We are aiming to achieve ‘radio’ quality, not necessarily perfect audio quality that you would get in a studio. This also makes the interview seem more conversational and current, rather than studied and produced.

That said, you want the best quality interview you can achieve given the situation. I’ve been doing podzines for a long time and over the years I’ve learnt a few practical tips to help you get the best out of an audio interview. Here’s a few of the most important do’s and don’ts.

  1. Not all networks are created equal
    If the interview is taking place via phone then think about the network you intend to use. Mobile phones usually give the worst quality of the options available. The quality can be acceptable if you are attached to a cell that isn’t overloaded but, in general, it’s preferable to use a fixed line based call for the interview. In terms of applications, Skype is actually a good way of recording the interview because it uses algorithms that help optimise the call. Bridges can introduce interference – if you have to use them then ensure extra participants are on mute during the interview.
  2. Not all devices are created equal
    You need a good quality device to record your end of the conversation. Most mobile and fixed line handsets are good enough to do this. Headsets can be better, but you should test them ahead of time to ensure the voice quality is acceptable. One thing to note on headsets is that if they have a microphone on an arm (like a ‘gamer’ headset) then that can click during the interview if you move around. Be aware of this. A microphone will offer the very best quality recording of your voice and it doesn’t have to be hugely expensive for a company to invest in one. A portable USB condenser mike can cost less than £50 and offer really good quality.
  3. Think about the acoustics
    Every room and every space has its own acoustic qualities. The *worst* places to try to record an interview are empty meeting rooms. These tend to have a lot of reflective surfaces – bare walls, hard flooring, desks. Sound bounces off reflective surfaces producing a hollow sound or an echo. These are both hard to improve and remove. Instead, you need a space that has soft absorbent surfaces in it such as curtains, cushions, carpet, books etc. And you need one that is not too big. A home office or bedroom are actually ideal spaces in which to record. An office space with sofas, carpets and cushions can also work really well. On the day of the recording ensure the door is closed.
  4. Background noise
    If the background noise is distracting, inappropriate or too loud it detracts from the recording. But a completely noise free environment can sound sterile. Think of the acoustic qualities of the background – a low hum of an office isn’t necessarily bad. The normal everyday noise of a home office could be fine. What you want to avoid are one-off interruptions such as phones ringing, alarms going off, people laughing loudly, very loud traffic noise etc. However, people talking at a normal level in another room doesn’t necessarily make a bad background sound.
  5. Your voice
    Our voices sound different at different times of the day. It’s important that you’ve had a drink so your throat isn’t dry. It’s also better if your voice has “broken in”. What this effectively means is that you’ve already used it and warmed it up (just like an actor). You can hear stress in a voice and many people are stressed when they are interviewed. Therefore we will have a little chat with you before the interview to help you relax and feel comfortable. That’s actually an important part of the process and not just us wasting time. Relaxing and laughing will help you get the best vocal sound. So ensure that you schedule your interview at a time when you’re not under huge time pressure and can enjoy the process.
  6. When it all goes wrong
    Interviews are never perfect. You might forget something, find yourself repeating things, start to stammer or have a vocal tick (eg ums and ers). You become conscious that you missed something, didn’t say it how you wanted or your mind goes blank and you forgot what you were saying. Don’t worry. We have a lot of control over audio and we can delete mistakes and reorder recordings. Our aim is to get an interesting interview for our listeners, not to make you look bad. If you make a mistake you should pause (there’s no need to apologise) and begin speaking from where you went wrong. The pause will allow us to identify in the file where the mistake was made and edit it more easily.
  7. Preparation is key
    We will send you a short summary that explains what we want to talk about in the interview. This is for guidance only. A good interview evolves naturally. However, we want you to be prepared because we’re not trying to trick you with questions but get the best out of the interview. Although it’s good to be prepared, reading from a script will sound wooden. Think about what you want to say – rehearse it mentally and approach this as though we are having a conversation and you are answering my questions. The key to a good interview is for it to stay on topic, not ramble and get to the point. A snappy ending that sums up your main points is important, because these are the key points that listeners will remember. Think about length – would you be prepared to sit and listen to someone rambling for 20 minutes? Or would you be more likely to listen to someone who has 10 minutes of really good ideas, opinions and data? Less is more. Concentrate the value. But, you don’t have to tell them everything you know – it’s important to stay focused and tell them how they can find out more (for example, by going to your website).

I hope that gives you some useful tips and ideas. Feel free to ask any other questions you might have.