Podcast Recording Shootout

So many VoIP programs, so little time. What's a podcaster to do?
Recording the Podcast

So, you've got your guest on the line, your cohost on the other line, and all three of you are happily chatting it up in the conference. The podcast is off to a great start—if you can manage to record it correctly. Sometimes, this isn't as easy as it looks.

Skype is notoriously difficult in this area. Although the latest version works on ALSA instead of OSS, on many distros it still doesn't always play nice. It doesn't work well with the Windows or Mac sound systems, either. With full duplex sound hardware, this should be a no-brainer, right? Simply dump the DSP to a file in parallel with running the conference. Alas, some programs want to be front and center, end of story. Skype is one of them. In order to record a Skype call, you have to do one of two things:

  1. Hijack the DSP with a middleware layer. There are a number of packages that'll do this—for a fee—on Windows and Mac. On Linux, I've only ever found one solution that works, and it's a kludge. Twisted Little GNOME has cleverly cobbled together LAME, OggEnc, SoX, Vsound and Skype in an elaborate (though very dependable) script, available at sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=146056&package_id=160795&release_id=358917. Unfortunately, this script is not well maintained and tends to break when Skype upgrades. Worse still, this is the only hijacking option that I've been able to find for Linux. The other method of recording Skype calls is suitable only for audio engineers and people that like playing around with too many cables.

  2. The two-computer mixdown: there are a few permutations of this, but basically, you'll need two computers—one to conduct the call (Box A) and the other to record it (Box B). To do the recording, you either split your mic into two channels before it hits Box A, and split the speaker out after it leaves Box A, and run them both to Box B as left and right channels. The other option works only if you're running a mixing board: route your mic input to both Mains and Subs, and plug the Box A output in to the board as a Subs-only source, then send the Subs to Box B for recording (if you're not following this, don't worry—just be glad you're not an audio engineer).

Either way, if you intend to record a Skype call, be prepared to put up with a bit of misery.

Gizmo, by contrast, has a recording tap built in to the program, and when you press Record, it announces to all parties on the call that the call is being recorded. Thus, not only is recording the call painless, it also covers your backside legally (see the Legal Issues sidebar).

Carts and Extras

When it comes to live carts, on Skype, you're out of luck. Without third-party plugins, there isn't a thing you can do with Skype to make it play nice with other sound apps on the computer, and not a lot of those plugins are available for Linux.

With Gizmo, on the other hand, you have options. Gizmo comes with a cart interface where you can preload ten sound FX for playing at the touch of a button. You also can route XMMS through Gizmo and play your carts from there, if you need a longer playlist.

Skype and Gizmo also offer varying sets of extras to entice customers. Both have integrated text chat—a very useful feature for prepping your guests for their next question or conspiring with your cohost behind your guests' backs. Both have integrated file transfer—handy for sending outlines or PowerPoint slides to discuss.

Skype's two big standout extras are one-click video conferencing (even under Linux), which can double as a whiteboarding system and extremely easy-to-set-up conference calls.

Gizmo's conference call system, by contrast, can be a bit twitchy, particularly when trying to bring in someone from an external phone network. On the other hand, with Gizmo, you get free voice mail, which is lovely for handling show feedback. On Skype, voice mail comes only with a subscription to Skype Pro.