A love-hate relationship with remote recording

It’s a fantastic tool - but it’s easy to become overreliant on

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the podcast industry wouldn’t be anything like as large, vibrant or successful as it is today without the innovation of remote recording capabilities. Modern technology allows us to bring guests (and indeed hosts) from all over the world onto our shows in real time, as smoothly as if they were sat opposite us in a recording studio. 

A huge part of this is the evolution of high-quality online video calling, allowing us to read things like facial expressions and body language during recordings. I’ve waxed lyrical about the joys of remote recording platforms before, but I do think they’re a genuine gamechanger for making it easier and more accessible to create engaging, high-quality audio content - just look at the explosion of podcasts that came about during the pandemic if you want proof of that.

Gone are the days of patchy Skype connections and low-quality headset mics that sound like you're dialling in on a landline from 1998. Modern remote recording platforms like Riverside and Zencastr will now record local audio and sync it to the cloud in real-time, perform automatic noise reduction and compensate for unstable connections, doing everything short of prepping your research notes for you - although with the rise of generative AI models, I'm sure that can't be far off.

Our podcast is a prime example; if it wasn’t for the existence of these tools, we would struggle to deliver PodPod as a weekly show. However, as great as remote recording tools are, I've come to view them as a bit of a double-edged sword. 

It’s far too easy to become reliant on them; their outstanding convenience and flexibility mean that you can go into a recording from a standing start in mere minutes, rather than having to coordinate studio availability and set up a full recording suite. If you’re anything like me, that means that you’ll often be tempted to fall back on this convenience, leaving recordings until the last minute so you don’t have to worry about them - and this can prove problematic.

Like any technology, they're fantastically user-friendly - right up until something goes wrong. When things do start to go sideways - which, as any producer knows, is always going to be at the worst possible time - they can be very hard to troubleshoot, and because they're comprised of so many different interlocking systems, it makes pinning down and fixing the cause somewhat challenging. 

For example, if someone's not able to join a remote recording, it could be caused by anything from a dodgy internet connection to overzealous security software, and if they're not being picked up by their mic, it could be caused by an issue with the microphone itself, their computer's software drivers, or a misconfiguration in the recording software. 

Compare that to the number of variables at play with an in-person recording session, and it quickly becomes clear that, while even a basic mixing desk setup can be intimidating for the uninitiated, once you're over the learning curve, there's only so many things that can go wrong (in theory, at least). 

Producers also have the benefit of being able to quickly triage any technical issues there and then - and there are few things more painful than having to remotely try and talk a non-technical guest through the intricacies of things like mic positioning, or adjusting their computer’s input levels. Physical recordings are a bit more foolproof, too - in a worst-case scenario, you can forget about the studio equipment altogether and record an episode around a table with somebody’s phone. It’s far from perfect, but it beats having to go through the rigmarole of rescheduling due to a technical issue.

The experience of remote recordings also just isn’t the same as being in the same room as your co-hosts; the chemistry and creative collaboration never has quite the same spark, and one inevitably loses some of that all-important energy that comes from a really great recording. That’s not to say that you can’t record a good podcast with remote tools, but an in-person session is almost always preferable if it’s a possibility.

With that having been said, however, I’m certainly not turning my back on remote recording tools. While there are downsides to their use as part of a production workflow, they’re just too darned convenient not to use - and when they’re working well, the whole process feels smooth and seamless. They’re an important part of any producer’s toolkit - but like any tool, make sure you’re using them with care, or you’ll end up doing yourself more harm in the long run.