How To Use Skype As A Phone Patch

skypeFirst, you have to choose how you would like to use Skype, and whether the director or client requires that you have the ability to play back recorded takes. I’ll outline two different methods, the software and the hardware mixer methods. First a little about how to setup your Skype account to prepare for making and receiving calls with standard POTS (landline) phones.

Skype Services
Skype has two services to interact with landline phones: “Call Phones” and “Online Number.” You need both for Skype to behave like an ordinary telephone. You skype_menucan place calls to landline or cell phones once you’ve purchased a “Call Phones” subscription, or get the “Premium option which also allows video chat between more than two Skypers. I use the unlimited subscription because it’s my business phone and it gets used constantly.

The “Online Number” gives you the ability to receive landline phone calls and assigns you a telephone number. In most cases you can choose an area code that matches your current one, or pick one for any city you like. You’ll pay a small yearly fee for this number separate from your calling subscription, but it is negligible. Once you have an “Online Number”, setup Caller ID so your phone number will appear if you have to call out. If you don’t the call recipient will see you as Caller ID unavailable, or a nonsensical number (that’s up to you, but not recommended).

Software-Only Skype method for Voice-over (no ability to playback)
First I’ll mention the easy way to share your studio microphone and headphones between your recording and Skype call duties. Whether you are using Mac or Windows, in most cases* you can choose the same input and output sources for your recording software and Skype. (NOTE: Those of you using Pro Tools will likely not be able to share the audio hardware with Skype, so you’ll need to use the technique outlined in the next section. Some Windows users also find they have problems with this technique as well; YMMV.)

When you connect with a Skype call, the caller will hear your voice through your studio mic and you’ll hear the caller in your headphones. Just record like you always would in your DAW software. No need to worry about the caller’s voice or line noise getting into your recordings. As long as you use closed headphones or open headphones at a low volume your recorded voice track will be clean.

Fortunately, a problem that previously existed with Skype for Mac has recently been rectified in version 5.7: You can now disable Skype’s ability to apply Automatic Gain Control (AGC) to your recording source. This was a problem for SOME audio interfaces previously as Skype skype_micwould ramp up the volume when you stop speaking, then have to turn it back down again when you speak. You can imagine the mess it would make of your tracks! Uncheck the “Automatically adjust microphone settings” box and you’re set (this is true for Windows as well).

Mixing Console for Skype method (allows playback to and record from Skype)
The advantage of this system is you have complete audio routing flexibility, including playback to the Skype caller. To use this technique you need to have an audio mixer with an “aux send” and make use of your computer’s built-in audio device, or have a secondary audio interface to use along with your primary recording interface (such as an Mbox). A cheap unit like the Behringer UCA-202 works perfectly for this task if your built-in audio isn’t functioning correctly, or you only have a mic input instead of line input (such as found on most Windows laptops). For this example I’ll use a Mac Mini, Mackie 802, a Digidesign Mbox 2 Mini and the Mac Mini’s built-in audio device.

Step 1- Configure the mixerskype_mixer
Either your mic or your mic preamp must connect to an input on the mixer for this configuration to work, in this example channel 1. Connect the inputs of the Mbox to the main outputs of the mixer (1/4” TRS cables are best). The monitor outputs of the Mbox will feed channel 5/6 of the mixer. Press the MUTE button on channel 5/6 and turn up the Aux Send knob to “U” (see illustration to the left).

skype_Y-cableNext, connect the built-in input of the Mac Mini to the mixer’s Aux Send output with a 1/8” Stereo to 1/4” Y cable using one of the 1/4” connectors (doesn’t matter which one). Connect the Mac Mini’s built-in audio output to channel 7/8 of the mixer with another 1/8” stereo to 1/4” Y cable and press MUTE on channel 7/8. Set the Aux Master Send mode switch to “POST” and the knob to “U”. In the “Control Room Source” section make sure “Main Mix” and “Alt 3/4” are pressed down, and “Assign to Main Mix” is NOT pressed. Your headphones must be plugged into the mixer.

Step 2- Configure the Mbox
Your Mbox or similar device has a mix knob that blends the direct sound from the inputskype_mbox (zero latency monitoring) with the playback from the software. This knob must be turned all the way to the right (playback). Assign the Mbox input and output to your recording software accordingly. Once again your headphones are NOT plugged into the Mbox. Turn the Monitor volume knob all the way up and make sure it isn’t muted.

Step 3- Configure Skype
In the Skype preferences or properties window find the audio settings. Choose the built-in audio device for input and output duties. Uncheck “Automatically adjust microphone settings.” Make sure built-in sound output and input are turned up (in Apple Preferences:Sound).

Step 4- Testing and Use
Start a recording in your DAW software as you normally would. Now try calling the “Skype Call Testing service” account in Skype, or a willing friend. Adjust the knob on mixer channel 7/8 to control the volume of the caller in your headphones. Adjust the Aux Send knob on mixer channel 1 to control the volume of the microphone signal sent to Skype. Now try playing back the recording you’ve been making all this time. Un-mute mixer channel 5/6 and adjust the playback level to Skype with the Aux Send knob until it sounds the same as your microphone to the other person (or the recorded audio in the Skype Test Call). If you don’t un-mute, the caller won’t hear playback. This lets you decide whether they should be able to hear your playback or not, in case you want to check playback mid-session without their knowledge.

Remember to keep the MUTE buttons pressed on every channel but the Mic channel of your mixer or you may have feedback, echo, or the Skype caller’s sound mixed in with yours on the recording. This creates what is called a “mix minus”, or a mix that contains everything BUT that which is muted.

If you decide you want record the Skype caller to a separate track in your DAW, its very easy. Pan the Mic channel 1 to the left and the Skype channel 7/8 to the right and un-mute channel 7/8 so that it will be recorded. Now record two tracks (or a stereo file) assigning one side to your Mic and the other to Skype. Yes, you’ll hear your voice in only one ear, but just place the ear cup with the Skype caller’s voice over one ear, and leave the other uncovered.

BONUS: iPad Users, Read This
If you use an iPad in your booth to read copy, you can also use it for Skype duties. This may be useful if you have issues running Skype on your DAW computer for any reason. You’ll use it in place of the built-in audio device in your computer. The trick is getting the right cable to interface the iPad with your mixer. Get the KM-IPHONE-2TRS-A22 cable from KVConnection.com, along with the other cables mentioned above, and you’re good to go!

There are other variations, of course, including a method to tie your iPad or built-in sound interface into an audio interface without a mixing console. A little creativity goes a long way!

As always, if after reading this article you decide all of this is intimidating or you just don’t have confidence in your abilities to achieve the desired results, I can personally walk you through the process and even create audio processing presets for you via computer remote control. Reserve some time through my website at eldorec.com/get-help to get started. And if you need a FREE audio file evaluation to check your audio quality, visit eldorec.com/dropbox and please follow the instructions on the page.

George Whittam

About George Whittam

George Whittam, owner of ElDorado Recording Services, frequently tackles a new tech topic or FAQ relevant to voiceover recording for the VoiceOver Insider. He also co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop with cohort Dan Lenard each Sunday evening. You can reach George through ElDorado Recording Services, or email him at his address below.

Comments

  1. Jon Eric Preston says:

    Thanks George! Great article. I appreciate your easy to follow instructions.

    Respectfully,
    Preston

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