Recording a GoToMeeting Session on the Mac

Recording GoToMeeting sessions or any other type of online conference call gets tricky on the Mac, because often the system sound actually doesn’t get recorded; or just your own side will.

While GoToMeeting is sometimes packaged with a built-in recording capability (depending on your country and the tier you purchased into), you can find the GoToMeeting service discounted at $19.95 per month if you sign up on the Canadian website and get the basic plan without the ability to do recordings. This is a $30/month savings over the standard monthly plan, if you can get it. Pricing jumps like these often make the difference between purchasing the tool (subscription) or not.

But what about when you do need the odd recording done? Using a screen recording tool and the default settings on your Mac will typically result in a screencast with partial or no audio.

There’s a long technical explanation for this, but basically, we need to loop your audio output into (or rather, alongside) your audio input device. That way, when you elect to record ‘input’ audio from a chosen device, it’ll carry your computer’s normal audio along with whatever input (i.e. your voice) that you’re also sending in.

In my case, I have a USB Plantronics headset with a boom mic that I wanted input captured from and on which I wanted to hear the computer’s audio with (because that’s how I’d hear other participants in the online meeting).

As I’ll explain below, I will create an aggregate input device on my Mac, comprised of my Plantronics headset (so I can hear others during the call) and the Soundflower (2ch) device, which is going to loop output from the rest of the system into the input device we’ll select when recording with a tool such as the built-in QuickTime Player.

Here’s a concise summary of the steps involved:

  1. Install the latest Soundflower app, if you haven’t already. You’ll need to reboot before configuring.
  2. Watch this video if you need help with setup. The instructions below are an abbreviation of what was learned in the video just linked to.
  3. Open Audio MIDI Setup in OS X.
  4. In Audio MIDI Setup, create an ‘Aggregate Device’ with two devices: your microphone and the Soundflower (2ch). I use my Plantronics Headset for the microphone.
  5. In Audio MIDI Setup, create a ‘Multi-Output Device’ with three devices: ‘Built-in Output’, ‘Soundflower (2ch)’ and your headset (i.e. Plantronics Headset in the illustration)
  6. In Audio MIDI Setup, make ‘Aggregate Device’ the default sound input.
  7. In Audio MIDI Setup, make ‘Multi-Output Device’ the default sound output.

Here’s what the Aggregate Device input looks like, once configured:

Input - Aggregate Device

And here’s what the Multi Output Device looks like, once configured:

Output - Multi-Output Device

Because we’ve included the Plantronics headset as one of the items in the Multi-Output Device, we’ll be able to hear audio from the computer too (crucial for hearing other callers in an online meeting!)

GoToMeeting

Select your headset/mic for the input device as you normally would and set the output device within the GoToMeeting control panel to the Multi-Output Device. Even though you may mute your headset’s mic in GoToMeeting, it is still sending what it hears into the Aggregate Device for audio recording. Therefore, to truly mute yourself, do it with a hardware switch on your headset microphone.

ScreenFlow

You can select ‘Aggregate Device’ as the input device, and unselect ‘Record Computer Audio’, since the latter option won’t even let you start recording in this configuration. Now once you record, I’ve found that on Mac OS X 10.9 with the latest Screenflow 4.5 (current in Feb 2014), that my own audio comes in with static. So, I don’t recommend ScreenFlow for this use case. I’ve sometimes gotten it to work, but it seems that Quicktime handles the audio better (less or no static).

Quicktime

The built in recording facility with the Quicktime Player actually does a great job, and there’s no static sound! Again, before recording, we must select ‘Aggregate Device’ as the input for recording. We can also select which screen or even give QT a rectangular region of the screen to record into.

After the Recording

Once done, set the default input and output sound devices to what you’d normally use from the Audio MIDI Setup app, and they’re back in your control.

Sound Settings back to their defaults

Configuring your audio setup for Skype

Skype is great for calls over the Internet if you have a broadband connection.

If your audio hardware is decent and your configuration of such is optimal, you should be able to enjoy excellent sound reception and transmission for all your Skype calls. Of course, both parties in a call need to have a decent setup in order for the conversation to be as effortless and as smooth as regular phone service.

I’m often asked and help out with getting an audio setup configured right for Skype. The two main sources of audio problems are:

  1. Low end audio hardware (i.e. cheap sound card)
  2. Feedback in non-headset mode

Audio Hardware

If you’ve got a Mac, you have less to worry about here. Your audio hardware is very good.

If you have a PC, you may have an issue here. Low-end sound cards that sound decent for basic sounds and some music often have much worse audio in (mic input) sub-systems. Furthermore, if the sound card is really cheap, the driver software and utilities that come with it usually are too. Not being able to properly configure mic input volume levels and basic things of this sort can make it frustrating.

In my Dad’s computer, we had a basic sound card that used to do the job well before we pushed it with two-way voice over IP telephony. Frustrated with the confusing driver software and performance, I picked up an external, brand name sound “card”. The beauty with these, is that they can move with you to the next computer, much like your keyboard, mouse and monitor.

For about $70 CDN, you can get an entry-level SoundBlaster external sound device from Creative Labs. These guys are a mainstream brand name. Therefore, decent software and driver support (as well as above average sound hardware) is something you no longer have to worry about.

As for mics, I’m a big fan of the Logitech USB microphone and for headsets, I like anything Plantronics makes. In both cases, there’s an above average quality you can trust in that makes the configuration/troubleshooting phase that much simpler.

Audio Feedback

This is where the bulk of the problems come. We often have our speakers so close to our computers for every day applications, that we don’t realize this is just way too close for using Skype, in most cases.

If you are using a computer headset (more common with PCs), you pretty much eliminate the feedback issue. If you are using a microphone and your speakers, then you have to be careful that the sound from your speakers doesn’t feed back into your microphone. If you’re not sure this is the problem, replace your speakers with regular audio headphones, but continue to use your microphone. With no other sound except that going to your ears, you eliminate the possibility of feedback. Does this sound better? If so, then as far as you think your speakers are, they are still too loud and/or too close. Only experimentation will tell you what works.

If all else fails, use a headset or headphones to kill feedback.

I have found that placing the speakers on the ground created more feedback and rumblings, but that placing speakers behind me and pointing sideways (instead of having the sound come directly at me from behind) worked very well.

In my own setup, I keep a couple of speaker sets around the room. If I’m doing a Skype call, I’ll kill the power on the nearby speakers to eliminate the feedback. Now I can walk around the room and have a Skype call, hands free.