PoP #10 Recording a Skype Conversation

One of the easiest ways to do interviews, or to have a co-host for your audio podcast is to call the other person on Skype, and then record the audio coming out of Skype along with your own microphone input. I’ll demonstrate how to do this using WireTap Studio. Skype is a free application and service that allows you to make computer to computer calls for free, or from a computer to a regular telephone for a very small fee.

itunes badge

Listen to the Podcast Once (15 min 44 sec)
[tags]podcasting, Skype, WireTap Studio, recording[/tags]

Download and install Skype

Navigate to http://skype.com and click the Download Skype button. The site auto-senses your operating system (OSX, Windows, Linux, even some mobile devices) and begins the download automatically.

Skype Install Instructions

I don’t even have to give you install instructions because they come up automatically while you’re downloading.

Add Your Skype Contacts

Launch Skype and after you follow the on screen directions to choose a Skype name, you’ll see a window like the one above.
1 – Click the plus sign in the bottom left to find new Skype contacts and add them to the buddy list or
2 – Click on the phone icon to call a regular phone. You’ll have to sign up for a paid plan with Skype to call regular phones, but it’s not very expensive – for example one plan is unlimited US and Canada computer to phone calls for $2.95/month.

If you need help getting started, check out the instructions at http://www.skype.com/getconnected/ for more detail.

Purchase WireTap Studio

The instructions I’ll be giving here are for using WireTap Studio for recording the calls, which costs $69 and is available at http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/wiretap/

There are other options for recording a Skype call, such as Audio Hijack Pro from http://rogueamoeba.com/audiohijackpro/ but I personally prefer WireTap Studio, so that’s what I’ll be demonstrating.

Launch WireTap Studio

This is where things get interesting. The tricky bit of recording a Skype call and your own voice separately is that you have to ensure that WireTap Studio AND your system settings are set properly.

Above you can see that there are two pulldowns – one says Fast Track and the other says Skype. Fast Track happens to be the name of my USB interface to my microphone, so that’s the channel that will record me. Use the pulldown to find your microphone name which of course will be different from mine unless you just happen to be using a FastTrack too.

The other pulldown is set to Skype, which means that channel will be recording the one or more people with whom I’m conversing on Skype. These may set themselves automatically, but just when you get comfortable with the automatic method, it won’t work one time because of the order you launched things, so it’s good to know that you have to keep an eye on it.

WireTap Studio only records two channels, so all of the people on your Skype call will be combined into one audio track. For this reason it’s important to make a few test recordings and listen to the levels. I’ll show you how to set your level, and how to set theirs. It’s true that you will be able to adjust your levels relative to the Skype call in WireTap Studio after you record, but it’s not a bad idea to get them close before you start your real recording.

Check Audio System Preferences

Double check your input and output sound settings by opening the Sound System Preference

Make sure your Input is your microphone

It’s amazing how often this gets hinky, so it’s good to double check that your input is your microphone. You also adjust the input volume from your own microphone here. For some reason I always have to crank mine up to the top to compete with my callers’ volumes. Yours may be more well behaved!

There are other factors that affect your volume going in as well – in my case there’s a volume nob on the Fast Track that I can fiddle with and ruin the audio completely, and if you have a mixer in your setup that obviously has a big effect on your audio volume as well as that of your Skype callers. That’s one of the things that makes audio just so darn entertaining is how many variables there are!

Start Recording in WireTap Studio

Click on the black circle to begin your recording. As I mentioned before, I recommend doing at least one test recording. Have all of your Skype callers as well as yourself talk in the normal voices you’d use when recording, and then hit the square stop button.

Listen to Your Test Recording

After you hit stop, in a few seconds (for a short recording, you’ll see a picture like the one above. You’ll notice that the two channels are in two different colors – one represents you through your mic, the other is your Skype caller or callers combined into one channel.

If you have a good recording, the waveforms for the two channels will be about the same height. If one of them is a lot higher than the other, then you need to go back to your system preferences and adjust your input volume, or adjust the volume of your caller.

If they’re pretty close – you can drag the little sliders up or down to expand the volume or shrink it to make them equal in height, which will correspond to equal volume. I’m sure there’s technical terms for what I’m describing but this is the way I think about it.

Sliders (1) on the left correspond to channel 1, which is the upper of the two pulldowns or input devices you identified in the WireTap Studio record window, while sliders (2) on the right correspond to the lower input device. In my example, channel 1 on the left will be my volume on the FastTrack, and channel 2 on the right with be the callers on Skype. You don’t actually have to worry about keeping track of this, just grab a slider and start moving it up and down and you’ll be able to tell if you’re adjusting the correct one! Note that the sliders for a given channel move to compress or expand together.

The other thing you want to look for is to make sure neither of the channels looks squared off. You should see the wave form going up and down but not hitting the same vertical spot repeatedly. If it IS being squared off, it means your sound is peaking and it will sound pretty bad. Be sure to back down the input volume and retest before going live. The one thing you can’t recover from is if the audio is peaking, and it sounds very harsh to the ear.

Adjust the Volume of Your Caller

If in your test recording your caller is way too loud or quiet, you can adjust their input volume on the little Skype window representing them. This was a missing link for me for a LONG time – I kept having the caller adjust their volume on their computer and it would have no effect at all! Again, if you have a mixer even this volume slider may not have the desired effect so hunt around for every nob and slider you can find till you get it right. As I said earlier, you can get this set perfectly, walk out of the room to get a glass of water, and it will change on you so ALWAYS test your audio before starting a final recording!

Make Your Masterpiece Recording

You’ve finally got your levels set, you’ve tested your recording, you’ve had everyone on the call clear their throats, now give them the countdown and hit the black circle to start the recording by hitting the little black circle (1). Wait till you see about a second go by to make sure you don’t clip off the front and start your amazing discussion.
If for some reason you need to pause during the recording (the doorbell rings), just use the pause button (2). When you’ve exhausted the topic of left handed lug wrenches or whatever you were talking about, click the black stop button (3). If you’ve gabbed for a long time, it will take a minute or two for the WireTap Studio wave form window to appear.

Export Your Recording

I’m not going to go through a full tutorial on WireTap Studio here, you can go read up on it on their site, but there’s a little bit I want to explain about how to use it. One of the great features of WireTap Studio is that you can do non-destructive editing of your recording. Clip out parts, change the volume sliders, add special effects, everything can be undone so there’s no risk to experimenting.

Once you’re done with your editing, close the editing window and go to the Library window. You have some options on what to do with the recording – you can send it straight to iTunes, you can email it, send it to your iDisk or your server, or you can send it to your local disk. I recommend sending it to your local disk first so you can perform other functions on the file. For example, as we’ve learned in previous episodes, you’ll want to run the file through The Levelator to REALLY get your levels even between you and your other speakers. This will even help even out volumes between all of the Skype callers even though they were all mashed into one channel.

Once I’ve leveled the audio in the Levelator, then I pull it into GarageBand to add Jingles and combine in with other elements of my show.

Remember that after you publish your show, and you’re SURE it’s perfect, you might want to go back through you disk and throw away all of the extra copies of this audio laying around – you have one in the WireTap Studio Library, one on disk, one from the Levelator, a fourth copy if you put it in GarageBand too, and finally you’ve got an extra copy over in iTunes!

I hope this little tutorial has unwrapped some of the mysteries of recording a Skype conversation to use as a Podcast!

1 thought on “PoP #10 Recording a Skype Conversation

  1. Brad - September 6, 2008

    Two words…excellant tutorial. For those of you on the fence, buy Screensteps now and you too could become a master tutorialist like Allison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top