Recording Phone Interviews With Skype

A while ago, I wrote a post where I said that using Skype for interviews was a bad idea. I still stand by the premise of that piece – that Skype-to-Skype connections should not be used in most situations – but a few things have happened in the last few months to change my mind about the blanket statement “Skype is bad for recording interviews.”

The first thing was pretty simple. The telephone hybrid interface I had been using stopped working. This box took the sound from my studio mic (through a mixer) and fed it into the phone line so my interview subject could hear me. At the same time, it fed just the caller’s audio into a different channel of the mixer – allowing it to be recorded independently from my voice. These devices are usually very good at what the do (they are what professional radio producers use to put phone calls on the air), but I was suddenly without mine, and I needed to decide if it was worth it to get another one.Skype Unlimited Icon

At about the same time, Skype announced a new option for their SkypeOut service: Skype Unlimited. For $30 a year, you can get unlimited calling to anyone in the US and Canada. That’s unlimited calling to real phones – in other words, an inexpensive digital connection between your computer and your interviewees’ in-home recording systems (AKA their telephones).

These two developments prodded me to look into Skype as a way to record phone calls, and I was impressed with what I found: with some inexpensive third-party software, I get better sound quality using SkypeOut than I did with expensive dedicated hardware.

Call Recorder WindowRecording Software

Since I use a Macintosh system for my recording and editing, I downloaded a trial copy of Ecamm Network’s Call Recorder ($15, includes lifetime upgrades) to test out. Call recorder adds a small recording window (complete with level meters) to Skype, and is very easy to use. It adds a “Recording” tab to your Skype preferences, giving you full control over recording quality and compression (including an uncompressed option).

In my opinion, Call Recorder’s killer feature is the ability to have each side of the phone call output as an independent AIFF file. If you edit your interviews (or even apply any processing to them after the fact), this is a tremendously useful feature – it’s one of the main reasons people pay hundreds of dollars for a telephone hybrid. Because the whole phone call happens inside your computer, there is complete separation between the two sides of the call, allowing you to edit the interview as two separate recordings that can be spliced together into one smooth final product.

I don’t use Windows very much, but I did find a piece of software that seems to duplicate Call Recorder’s functionality for that platform: it’s called CallBurner ($50, trial version available), and what I have seen written about it so far seems good.

What’s the Catch?

There isn’t much of a catch, as long as you have a moderately fast, reliable internet connection. However, this could be harder to achieve than you think. When I started this experiment, I tried calling over a cable internet connection and (quite surprisingly) the results were terrible! After some research and experimentation on my part, I figured out that the connection was fast, but it was only fast in little spurts. Even though the average throughput was high, the speed dropped almost all of the way to zero many times a second. [I’ve gotten a number of question about this, so I want to emphasize that this was just my specific experience. Most people have no problems whatsoever using Skype with a cable connection.]

When I tried another test on a T3 connection, the results were much better. Don’t let that “T3” speed scare you, though – switching to DSL at home fixed my connection problems even though the speed is lower overall.

So You Want to Do a Phone Interview…

Now that we have this inexpensive tool for recording phone calls, it is far easier for individuals to capture famous or faraway voices for their podcasts or other audio projects. If you want to take advantage of this new access, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t use a cheap mic on your end.
    Use a good USB mic, or plug your mixer into the computer to get your sound as good as possible.
  • Always call a “traditional” landline unless cellular or VOIP is the only option.
    Cell phones are inherently flaky, and while VOIP calls are pretty reliable, there is the potential for some digital weirdness there – it’s better to divide the chance of this by two by only doing the VOIP thing on your side where it is necessary for the recording.
  • Don’t let the guest use a speakerphone or cheap headset.
    You can tell when someone is using one in a normal phone conversation, so your listeners will be able to tell as well.
  • Ask your interviewee to close the door, turn off their cell phone, and give you their undivided attention.
    You’ll be able to hear rustling papers, typing, and office noise in the recording – just like in a regular phone call.
  • Treat it like an interview, not a phone call.
    The phone is your recording system, not an excuse to have a casual chat (unless that’s what you are looking to record). If you need help with interviewing, read my Interview Basics post to get you started.

If you want a sample of what a Skype-to-phone recording sounds like, listen to the segment below.



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11 responses to “Recording Phone Interviews With Skype”

  1. Chad Bergeron Avatar

    If both parties in the phone call have recording equipment you can also use skype but get far better audio quality. Just use skype as normal, but one person records themselves shifted entirely audio left, and the other entirely audio right. Afterwards, pair up both tracks for quality comparable to being in the same space. This lets you use skype’s ability to let people talk for free, without having to suffer the audio pitfalls.

  2. Adam Avatar


    What you describe is called a “Double Ender” and is possible to do in many ways. The left/right split isn’t really necessary if you are able to get the two sides independently recorded and you’re putting them together in a multitrack editor. In fact, if you are each going to record your end, you could just connect through a regular phone call and talk into your respective mics while on the phone.

    The advantage of phone recording like this (or with a hybrid) is that the person you are talking to doesn’t have to know anything about recording – only how to talk on the phone.

  3. Sylvia Burgos Toftness Avatar

    I’ve taken your advise and I’m experimenting with Skype for my telephone interviews. But I do have a problem: what do I have to do to convert the “call recorder” QuickTime file to something that I can import into GarageBand (that’s where I create my podcast)??

  4. Adam Avatar


    Call Recorder comes with a folder called “Movie Tools” that contains little applications to do what you want. My procedure is as follows:

    1. Record the phone call using Skype and Call Recorder.
    2. Drag the resulting MOV file to the “Split Tracks” application in the “Movie Tools” folder.
    3. Drag the two resulting MOV files to the “Convert to AIF” application.
    4. Drag the two AIF files into GarageBand.

    If you don’t want to edit the two tracks independently, you can skip step 2.

    Hope that helps,


  5. Tiven Avatar


    Any update on what you’re using these days? I’m going to be doing some phone interviews shortly and I’m trying to decide which route to go in.


  6. DanM Avatar

    Likewise … would love an update. I used skype-to-skype and a program called Vemotion to record podcasts for a couple years … usually without any problems. (won’t say it was perfect.)

    but now i have switched to mac … and while i’m pretty excited about the possibilities garageband offers, i can’t quite figure out the best way to bridge the gap between skype and garageband.

    Are comments 3 and 4 on this post still the answer?

  7. Adam Avatar

    Dan and Tiven,

    I do still use Skype and Call Recorder for interviews. I haven’t found any better solution, and the price is certainly right!


  8. Jim Avatar

    Have you ever thought about how to take calls on a live podcast using Skype?

  9. Lenare Avatar

    For pc I use Skype Call Recorder & I love one working well and free.

  10. Levi Avatar

    Hi Adam! I am having great success recording the person I am calling via Skype with Call Recorder, but the combo of my M-Audio Fast Track USB interface with my Rode NT3 mike is not working too well for my voice. Can you suggest a microphone that I can plug directly into my iMac USB port that will sound good and is not too expensive?

    Thank you!

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