How do you record podcasts in the era of social distancing? Read Chris Nichols’ guide to the hardware, software and teddy bears that helped CG Garage go remote.
When I started the CG Garage podcast over 5 years ago, I had three goals: Make sure the audio quality is good, be consistent in terms of weekly release and do them in-person so I can make eye contact with the guests. Before we were all forced to work from home, I had only done two episodes where I recorded the audio remotely — but it was stressful and the audio quality was hard to manage.
So I had to make a choice: Either I stopped recording podcasts while we all work from home or I had to find a different approach. Luckily, I’ve come up with a great solution that allows me to video call with guests and still record multitrack audio.
As some of my listeners might know, about a year ago we redid the podcast room with some nice furniture and a great setup for recording. On my last day at the office, before the shelter-in-place order came in Los Angeles, I grabbed as much of the podcast gear as I could get home.
I had no idea where I was going to find a nice quiet place to record podcasts with minimal echo, but luckily my son’s room has a large bunk bed with lots of stuffed animals that ended up being perfect.
The second challenge was the Polaroid. Based on a suggestion from our Creative Director Melissa, about four years ago we started to take Polaroids of all our guests. It was a great way of marking the moment after recording a podcast. I feared that we would have to give up the Polaroids. But, thankfully, another solution came up: Polaroid Lab, a device that takes a Polaroid of a picture on your phone. So all I needed to do was to do a screen capture of the guest then do a Polaroid of that. It turned out really well.
Going the distance: Chris’s home podcast setup
Key to my whole setup is the SquadCast remote podcast platform. It puts me and my guests into something that looks like a Zoom or Skype call, but there are a couple of key differences:
- My guests don’t need to install any software — all they need is a browser. They get a link from me just before we record, they connect to me and we can see and hear one another.
- Squadcast records each channel separately and locally, which means it’s not a problem if the internet glitches out and I lose what the guest says for a second or two, as they’re recording their audio on their side. Then when the podcast is over, the audio files are uploaded to the cloud and I receive separate uncompressed audio from each of the guests that I can mix like any other podcast.
When I decided to use the SquadCast system, I reached out on social media to see if anyone wanted to test it with me. I got answers from David Larson in Denmark and Mike Seymour in Australia. Which were pretty much the 3 most distant points on the planet from each other. We tried it and chatted seamlessly for about 20 minutes. Since then, I have had guests from Switzerland, Bulgaria, Canada, Florida, Maine — and even a few from right here in LA.
The only issue is that the audio is only going to be as good as the mics that are used. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything to help the guests but on my side, I am still able to use the Hail PR40 mics that I used in the podcast room through a Zoom H6, which serves as a pre-amp.
Once we figured out the recordings with Squadcast, I found the overall home setup didn’t differ from the Chaos Group suite too much. Kristin, the CG Garage Producer, and I simply exchange the files over the cloud and she mixes everything for me, just like she would in the office.
Scheduling the podcast has become simpler, too. (Plus, we don’t have to worry about telling guests where to park their cars at the moment!)
When we started recording the podcasts remotely, we realized there is also an opportunity to record a video of the podcast. So we are currently experimenting with that as well. And it could be really cool, but it will also be a lot more work. So we will see. Stay tuned.
The future of the CG Garage podcast
We will definitely go back to doing podcasts in person when it’s safe to do so, but I believe we’ll continue to use this remote system as well. Because it opens up the doors to many more guests around the world. And, while the idea of going out for a beer with a guest after recording an episode might seem like a luxury right now, it is just nice to connect with people no matter how we do it — and that is really great.
We are currently open to any podcast guest suggestions that listeners may have. You can send your recommendations via our Facebook page or email email@example.com.
Inspiration from the podcast archives
Finding motivation under lockdown can be tough. Fortunately, the CG Garage has featured almost 300 guests who can inspire you with tales of boundary-pushing creativity and help you understand the latest CG tech. Don’t have time to listen to every single episode? Chris has chosen 6 that are sure to power up your creativity while you work from home.
Adrian Graham and D. Ryan Reeb