How to record a podcast using Zencastr

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Our team noticed some of our customers struggle while recording podcasts using tools such as Zencastr. At first, Zencastr may seem intimidating, not to mention that there are so many other factors at play. We understand that things can get overwhelming quite fast.

So, before jumping on a new podcast interview with your guest, follow this guide. It’s a step by step explanation of the settings you need to take into consideration on your side as well as on your guest’s side.

Step 1: Start this process 30 mins before the actual interview.

If this is your first time doing this, 60 mins might not be a stretch. Open the Zencastr room early, ahead of the interview. Verify if any element of your setup stops functioning. This gives you enough time to solve the issues or, in more extreme cases, cancel the interview and reschedule it. Spend some time testing your hardware and software (we will talk about this later).

Step 2: Clean up your setup as you would clean up your house- before the guest turns up!

  • Close all irrelevant applications, especially Zoom, Google Meets, Whatsapp, and Slack.
  • Close all irrelevant Chrome tabs.
  • Stop all notifications on your computer and your mobile phone, and make sure there’s nothing left to disturb your interview.
  • Make sure that you have at least 50GB of storage space available on your computer.

Step 3: Plug-in your equipment

  • When you record using a laptop, make sure that it is connected to an outlet. If living in the UK, remember to turn on that switch. The last thing you want is your computer powering off during the interview.
  • If using a USB mic: 
    •  Plug your microphone into the USB port on your computer. Check that it is plugged all the way through. Do a “wiggle test” to make sure it is not easy to disconnect from the port. Sometimes adding some tape as prevention could be a good idea, but not always. The tape can leave residue on your computer, so keep that in mind.
    • Most importantly, make sure that you use high-quality cables.
    • Plug your headphones into the microphone. Some really cheap mics don’t have this feature available so plugging in your headphones directly into your computer will do the job.

    If using an Audio Interface:

    • If using an Audio Interface, connect your Audio Interface to the USB port on your computer. Verify that it’s plugged all the way through. Do a “wiggle test” to make sure that the audio interface is not easy to disconnect from the port. Sometimes adding some tape as prevention could be a good idea, but not always. The tape can leave residue on your computer so keep that in mind. Also, make sure that you use high-quality cables.
    • Two extra steps are required here. One is to plug your microphone into the sound card using an XLR cable. The other one is to turn on the 48v (phantom power) if your microphone requires that.
    • If using a Sound Cardplug your headphones into the headphone port on your soundcard. Usually, the port is indicated with a headphone image, or with a “headphone output” label.

Step 4: Make sure the equipment is correctly identified by your computer

For MAC users:

1: From the Apple, menu choose “System Preferences” and then navigate to “Sound”.

How to access System Preferences

2: In the Output tab, select your USB Microphone or your Sound Card. As I said, some cheap microphones may not have a headphone output, so in this case, select the Built-in option. In our case, we selected “Steinberg UR22mkII”.

Input in System Preferences

3: In the Input tab, select your USB Microphone or your Sound Card. If nothing shows up in any of these tabs, it means your microphone/sound card is not connected or one of your elements is defective. Again, in our case, we selected “Steinberg UR22mkII“.

Output in System Preferences

4: Check the Input level of your mic. In simple terms, this level is how loud your microphone captures the sound. The level set in this section doesn’t need to be too low or too high. Our advice is to talk into the mic like you usually talk during an interview. If you usually laugh, shout or you are a loud talker, make sure to talk in the same manner while you do this revision. Generally, the input level should not go higher than 50% – 60%.

Input Volume System Preferences

If using a USB mic: 

Some USB microphones have a “gain knob” on the microphone itself. Keep in mind it’s “gain knob” NOT “volume knob” or “playback knob”. That gain knob can be used to control the input level of your mic.

If using an Audio Interface

Some Audio Interfaces don’t display the input volume slider from the image above. Instead, you can control the input level of your mic, using the knob on your audio interface. The knob is usually labelled as “gain” or “input”.

! IMPORTANT: Make sure you talk in front of the mic and not on the side of it. If you have any doubts please visit this article.

Step 5: Ensure that the equipment is correctly identified by Zencastr

1: Check that the microphone is available to use in Zencastr. Sometimes browsers ask for permission in order to access the microphone or the webcam. If that’s the case, hit accept and go forward with creating a new episode. You can verify if you are indeed recording using your microphone and not the built-in one (in Zancastr,  go to “Settings” (located in the top-right corner), click on it and you will be prompted with a pop-up window).

How to navigate to Settings in Zencastr

2: As you can see, in the Input and Output settings we have the same options selected as in the System Preferences / Sound. In the image below, Echo Cancellation is enabled. We strongly advise disabling this feature if both parties, the host and the guest, use headphones. (I’ll come back to this in a bit)

Audio / Video Settings in Zencastr

3: Hit record and check the waveforms. As you can see in the image below, there are a few spikes on the recording. The one highlighted in red is exceptionally loud. When something is TOO loud, it creates something called “clipping” which translates into distortion.

You really want to avoid having the volume of your recording too loud and it should look more like the one highlighted in blue. If you notice that the waveforms are quite large in size, lower the input gain on your mic. Double-check the steps above.

If the guest tells you that they can’t hear you loud enough, advise them to increase the volume of their speakers. Try to avoid increasing the input gain of your mic.

Step 6: Echo Cancellation in Zencastr *Note a bit complicated but read carefully*

The Echo Cancellation is a neat feature but in some cases, it can do more harm than good. We strongly advise that both parties, the guest and the host wear headphones during the interview. The headphones will isolate the speakers of your laptop from the mic.

Let me explain:

If the guest does not wear headphones, the following phenomenon will happen:

  1. You will tell the guest “Hey, how are you?”.
  2. That would be played on the guest’s side through his laptop speakers.
  3. What comes from the speakers will be captured by the guest’s microphone.
  4. (And then) In your headphones, you will hear yourself a bit delayed saying “Hey, how are you?”

That is how sound travels. In order to stop this loop, the guest would need to use a pair of headphones so that “Hey, how are you?” does not get captured by the mic.

The Echo Cancelation from Zencastr is able to stop this phenomenon by automatically muting/gating the guest’s mic, so when the host talks, the guest’s mic is not able to capture your voice through his/her speakers.

The issue appears once the host starts talking over the guest. When you talk over the guest, the Echo Cancelation software will try to mute/ gate the guest’s mic while he/she is talking, and that will end up affecting the guest’s voice.

Step 7: Welcome your guest and hit record

It is time to hit record!

Well, not so fast…Before you get to that, there’s one more thing to check. Your guest’s settings.

Usually, guests are not very technical and it can be hard for them to understand how Zencastr works, not to mention that a bad connection can make it hard to communicate with them. Telling your guest what to do is ultimately your decision but I have to mention, you give this guest exposure and if he/she comes unprepared for the recording, that shows a lack of respect and professionalism.

So, to avoid any bad situations, create a list of things the guest should prepare before the day of recording. Things such as checking your internet connection, bringing a pair of headphones, and recording in a relatively quiet environment. These aren’t unreasonable demands! At the end of the day, a bad sounding podcast can really drive your listeners away and it won’t do you or your guest any good.

I prepared a free guest checklist template to send to your guest. Use it!  Download it and customize it to fit your needs, and it will make podcasting a lot easier.

Download Checklist

Final Words

Generally, the guest would need to do a similar check of what you performed following this guide. With certain guests, this can be almost impossible to achieve. So, do your best! If you feel your guest is responsive and can follow guidance, then go ahead and guide him. Check his microphone (if one is available), make sure the input level isn’t too high and so on.

If the guest is not technical in any way, just hope for the best and send the files over to us! We will be able to restore them and make them sound much better.

I hope you find this Zencastr guide useful and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!