Over the past few months we’ve all had to figure out the best way to record our podcasts remotely. Naturally we all defaulted to Zoom.
Zoom is a great product that is quick to set calls up, the recording functionality is built in and most people are familiar with how it works. That being said, please don’t use it for recording podcasts.
Using Zoom was fine to start with while we’re all figuring it out. However, Zoom (and other video conferencing software) records the audio over an internet feed, meaning the audio is very compressed and doesn't sound great. Even if your guest has a good microphone. Although using Zoom (or others) is the easy option, if you care about the quality of your podcast you should start to look elsewhere for remote recording.
I will say that Zoom does provide features to make it the best of the bunch for recording, as it gives you options to record onto separate tracks so that you have more flexibility in the edit. What you’ll find often when you’re recording with someone without a microphone, if they aren’t using headphones, that there will be a lot of feedback where the microphone is picking up the other person’s voice.
Here is a podcast I recorded over Zoom with Patrick Campbell, before I discovered the alternative options. Patrick was using a high-quality podcast mic, yet it didn't sound amazing.
Since looking into improving the quality of the remote podcasts I’ve been doing, I’ve stumbled across a number of different options. They each offer slightly different features and price points. I’ve used a few in-depth, others not so much, so I’ll try to give you the most balanced feedback I can.
What all of these platforms do is record the podcast locally.
Recording locally means it records the audio feed directly from each individual's computer (if they are using a microphone or not), meaning you don't get that horrible compressed-internet-audio sound that you'll get with Zoom. This is what makes it seem like you're in the same room as your guest / co-host and it has given me the confidence to record podcasts remotely for a long time to come.
Riverside.fm was recommended to me by Olly from Roast My Landing Page and I was initially skeptical. From what I'd heard it was more focused on being a podcast live stream platform and I didn't think that was necessary to solve the problem I had. I was also very worried that the software looked quite 'DIY', compared to other podcast software such as Descript and Supercast.
When I decided to give Riverside a crack, I was pleasantly surprised at the results. After running a few test podcasts, I got to the point where I invited my client - Jon from Uncensored CMO - to potentially record with one of his guests on here.
We did our own test run to record a few promo clips for the upcoming series, which is when I ran into the first big issue. I sent Jon the invite link, which works well, and I start recording. We do 20 minutes of recording and all seemed well. When we left the call I realised that Jon's recording was nowhere to be seen. Turns out Riverside only has its full features when using Chrome, and Jon had been using Safari.
Luckily, the internet recording was still available (and sounded pretty good) so I could use that and our time wasn't wasted. Just please note that you need to get your guests to use Chrome if you want to get the benefits of Riverside.
We actually took the risk of using Riverside to record with one of our biggest guests of all time, Mark Ritson. It was a risk as we weren't 100% sure that Riverside would be reliable enough, and it was kind of embarrassing trying to explain the sub-par user interface. Thankfully, the recording went well, but not without Riverside completely saving me...
My internet is currently very suspect, often dropping out a few times an hour. It's a real problem if I'm recording with Zoom as I no longer get the recording for the time that I drop out, or sometimes even my guests are disconnected from the call. An internet dropout happened during this recording and Riverside had me covered. It continued recording the entire episode even with my 3 minute disconnection (and stress).
Here's the Mark Ritson podcast recorded on Riverside:
I haven't mentioned any of the live features of Riverside yet, because I simply haven't used them.
Their pricing model is strange, giving you the option to have audio, audio & video or audio, video & live for an increasing cost, but also increasing the amount of record time you have with each. I'd rather have a set amount of record hours across all plans, with the option to pay for more.
Riverside does exactly what it needs to do and I'm comfortable recommending it to people. It's the option I've used most extensively for that reason. Unfortunately, it does have a few kinks to iron out, such as the terrible design, mind-bending pricing and having it only work in Chrome.
I instantly had more confidence in SquadCast when I landed on their website. It had a very clear value proposition in their headline; "Record studio-quality podcasts from anywhere". The site gave far more information about how the software works and the problem it solves.
Note - having just looked through the SquadCast site, it has a great comparison on the differences I mentioned in the 'Why' section of this article.
The results I got from SquadCast were very similar to Riverside. It uses essentially the same technology so this was to be expected. However, where you can locally record video with Riverside (which has been very helpful for me producing video podcasts), SquadCast doesn't offer this option yet.
Despite having an impressive marketing site, the interface is still quite confusing. Don't get me wrong, it's a big improvement over Riverside, but I'd love for one of these companies to really take this seriously so it's more accessible to podcasters that might not be as tech-savvy.
As with Riverside, it's easy to join a session with just a link and it's simple to record. You're met with a 'Green Room' where you can choose your audio sources and name. Once you're in you can invite guests very easily. Interestingly, you can only invite up to 3 guests, which I don't think is a limitation with Riverside.
Once you've recorded, the recordings are easy to access and download, with SquadCast also giving you the option to download a mixed recording should you desire.
Their pricing is much clearer and also has an entry-level tier which is much more accessible. It still steps up the price with the number of hours recorded, which makes sense given that's the only variable cost for them (storage space). I wonder how this pricing will change when they introduce video? Because at the moment it's slightly below Riverside, but I can see that changing.
To give a summary on SquadCast, I'd say it's a better option for you if you only want audio, or if you only record 1-2 times per month. It does have a better interface than Riverside and I think they will execute nicely on their video option. You'll get the same quality, local audio as you'd get with other options and you won't be disappointed.
Fully local recording
This is the option I tried when recording remotely previously, but it does require your guest to have more technical expertise and there is far more chance of it going wrong.
Recording fully locally means that your guest / co-host records their microphone completely separately using audacity or an audio recorder, and then sends you the file(s) afterwards. This means you have high-quality audio directly from the source and don't have to worry about any software letting you down (in theory).
However, I've had to ditch full episodes this way because my guest on the other end wasn't comfortable with recording audio and have forgotten to select a setting, export or even select the right input.
One of the best examples of someone doing this is Tyler Stalman, who runs the Stalman Podcast. Tyler pretty much has the gold standard of remote podcast production, but interviewing camera nerds and YouTubers does help his case here. If you go through some of Tyler's podcast recordings you can see how much effort goes into his, and his guest's setups. It looks great.
If you have the expertise, or are co-hosting a show, this is a very viable option. You won't have to spend any extra on software and you'll have more control over the output. I imagine Tyler has to deal with some huge file sizes being sent over to him by his guests, but this isn't a problem if you have a fast enough internet connection.
I've been recommended Zencastr and Cleanfeed by other podcasters, but I am yet to use either myself, meaning I can't give my honest thoughts. It seems to me that they do a similar thing to both Riverside and SquadCast, but with little additional features or reasons for me to try them.
What you should do
I think there is still room for innovation, neither of these options are perfect. You look at a truly innovative product in this space (such as Descript) and you can be blown away by what it offers, the design and the features. All for a very good price. I will mention that Descript is VC funded, so they have the money to spend on creating an impressive product, but I ask the founders of Riverside and Simplecast to take some cues from them to make their products slightly easier to use.
However, these local recording options have been a huge upgrade for the remote recording game, and despite their small quirks, they solve my problem and do it well. I've been very happy with the audio quality I can get from both Riverside and SquadCast. Every podcaster, if they are serious about quality, should ditch Zoom and upgrade to one of these platforms.