My Best/Worst Interview
by Noah Lugeons
Famous last words: “What could possibly go wrong?”
So I recorded my first Skype interview last night. Well, actually, I technically neglected to record my first Skype interview last night, but we’ll get to that.
I’ve been a long time fan or the Reasonable Doubts podcast and after hearing that on the upcoming episode, co-host Justin Schieber would be debating someone on the existence of God, I got it in my head that I should invite Justin on the Scathing Atheist to discuss the merits and techniques of publicly debating theists. Seemed like an interesting topic and he was certainly qualified to opine on it.
Now, I’m sure there’s probably a way that this is usually done, by I don’t know it. So I just sent the dude a tweet telling him I wanted to interview him about debating theists. Much to my surprise, within an hour he’d tweeted me back to confirm. Not only that, but he said he’d be available to do it that night.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous. I wasn’t really prepared and I’d never recorded a Skype interview before. Seems simple enough, but when it came down to it, it was a bit trickier than I expected. I got Heath on Skype and we experimented a bit until I found the perfect setup to get good sound quality on the recording.
By the time we got all the technical issues sorted out, I only had about an hour to prep for the actual interview. I wrote out some questions, tried to predict his answers, did a little online research to fill in my intro and whatnot and before I knew it, it was time to call him.
And, like the loss of my virginity, it was a huge build up and a horrible disappointment. Turns out that we just couldn’t get a good Skype connection. Every time we’d get going, he would cut out or I would cut out and I’d end up with 45 seconds of me trying to get him to hear my question or I’d get half of a really thoughtful response. After half an hour of trying to get it to work and a disastrous attempt to hook my rig up for a phone interview, we decided to call it a night and try again the following day.
The following night comes and I set my whole rig up again. Keep in mind that there’s an easy way to record a Skype call, but you get terrible sound quality. To maximize the quality, I was using two microphones (a condenser mic that Justin would be listening to me on and a dynamic mic that I would be using for the show sound), a mixer and a digital recorder so that my computer didn’t have the added labor of the call. In other words, I’ve got a lot of shit hooked to a lot of other shit to make this all work well.
I said a quick atheist prayer over my computer (“fucking work this time! Amen”) and I called in again.
Luckily, this time everything went smooth. We had a good connection, and though I stumbled a bit through my first few questions, eventually I got my shit together and came off as somewhat-professional-ish. Justin was extraordinarily thoughtful and introspective and despite a few of my rookie mistakes, it was a really phenomenal interview. I was really excited to get such quality content for my first Skype interview. And then I glanced down at my rig and saw the blinking red light on my digital recorder. It’s the “record standby” light.
This is the stupidest mistake I possibly could have made. I remembered to hook the computer through the tape in on the mixer. I remembered to hit the “Add Tape to Main” button. I remembered to adjust the levels on the digital recorder to match the ones on the mixer. I remembered to reset my audio output from the condenser mic so that I could hear Justin. I remembered to shut down all the ancillary programs on my computer. I remembered all my questions, all my follow ups and all of my jokes. I remembered to split the stereo tracks so I’d have separate tracks to record both of our voices. And I forgot to hit the goddamn record button.
I seriously forgot to push fucking record. I couldn’t believe it. We were 9/10ths of the way through a really good interview with really good content and I hadn’t recorded a lick of it. Talk about rookie mistakes. I was so embarrassed at that point that I actually considered not saying a word and then telling Justin a few days later that my computer crashed and I lost the file.
But I couldn’t do that. I had to let him know. If nothing else, I had to salvage what I could from the time we had left. I had to bite the bullet and tell him that just what a stupid mistake I’d made.
“Can I make a terrible admission, here, Justin?”
“Sure…” he answered dubiously.
“I’ve somehow failed to record a big chunk of this. I don’t know if I forgot to reset the timer on this thing or what, but I’ve missed a huge chunk of the interview” I explained. It wasn’t exactly true, but I wasn’t quite ready to admit that I just forgot to hit the fucking record button. I wanted to seem inept, but I didn’t want to seem like an idiot.
“Oh no!” he replied, mirroring my exact feeling.
“I know, we had such great stuff here, too,” I lamented.
“Well, you know what,” he says calmly, “I’ve got a program here that auto-records all my Skype calls so if you want, I can send you the audio.”
You can only imagine my relief. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same audio quality as what I would have gotten if I’d been less stupid, but at least the interview was saved and all the good content wouldn’t be lost. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been kicking myself in the ass all night and all morning as well over it, but in the end it all worked out. Heck, he even did a bunch of the post-production for me before sending along the file.
I’ll be airing this interview on March 28th (Episode 6: The Zombie Jesus Edition) and I’m laying the groundwork now for the subpar audio quality in it. The end he was recording wasn’t really the end I was hoping to use, but despite a few issues with the sound, it’s a phenomenal interview and Justin’s insights will undoubtedly raise the IQ of the show about 25 points or so.
Hopefully I’ve learned this the hard way now and I’ll go all the way through the checklist next time, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this that I can pass on to other novice podcasters (other than “ALWAYS HIT THE FUCKING RECORD BUTTON!”) it’s that if you’re new to the whole interview thing, try to pick an interviewee who’s really good at it.