If there’s anything positive that has come out of the pandemic, it’s been the realisation that we can do things better than we thought from a remote location - and this has opened up big possibilities for podcasting. We have come to terms with the concept that we can create a podcast with high production values even when one or more guests are attending remotely using their own computer.
However, you still need to ensure your guests provide the best possible audio feed, and managing this remotely can be challenging, especially when trying to troubleshoot issues with guests who may not be particularly tech-savvy. One of the more problematic issues can be if a guest’s audio is coming through too quietly - there’s a lot that can be done to boost volume levels in post-production, but that’s not much help if the other participants are struggling to hear them during the call.
Thankfully, there’s a good chance that this is due to the affected party’s input volume being set too low, which is easily fixed - if you know where to look.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’re using popular software such as Riverside or Zoom as your online recording software. Zoom provides built-in access to volume controls, and other software you may be using might also offer this. If you click on the Zoom microphone icon on the bottom left of the interface and choose Audio Settings at the bottom, this will call up the dialog for adjusting sound levels.
By default, Zoom will probably be set to “Automatically adjust microphone volume”, which might be good for meetings but can mean that when someone isn’t speaking their audio level increases and you get more background noise. Instead, it’s best to uncheck this and adjust manually when recording a podcast. You can preview the levels using the Test Mic button, which records a short piece of audio from your microphone and then plays it back to you so you can ensure things are working.
However, not all software will give you direct access to your microphone volume like this. In Riverside, the settings cog at the top looks like it will get you to the settings you need in a similar fashion to Zoom, but it only includes output volume, not input volume. Instead, you will need to go directly to your computer’s input controls. On a PC, the easiest way to reach these is to right-click on the speaker icon in the bottom right-hand-side corner of the desktop (next to the time and date), and choose “Sound Settings” from the pop-up menu.
Output devices are at the top, and you may have to scroll down to find Input devices, depending on your screen resolution. If you have more than one microphone attached to your system, choose the one you will be using with the podcasting software. You can then adjust the Input volume for that microphone to the required level. Speak at the same loudness as you will be using during the podcast to test the settings.
For a Mac, you can click on the Apple logo on the top left, then choose System Settings (or System Preferences on older versions of MacOS). This will lead to the icon array for configuring the Mac. Click on the Sound icon, which will open a dialog box. Choose the Input tab to reveal the attached inputs, which could be a built-in microphone, an external microphone plugged into a minijack, or an attached audio device. Adjust the slider near the bottom of the dialog box while talking at the level you will speak at during the podcast, using the meter underneath to preview the results. You want the level to be consistently between half and two-thirds along.
Riverside Studio has a meter for each participant, which allows the host to see their volume levels. You can ask each participant to adjust their levels as you prepare for the recording, so their microphone volume is neither too far left (too quiet) or constantly in the red zone on the right (too loud). The host can also adjust the mix for every participant, but you’ll want each one to be sending the best possible signal in the first place, which is why it’s important to ensure they have their local levels at the optimal point.