Improve audio & save money: the experts speak

Improve audio & save money: the experts speak - ATC Blog

Practice.  Study your recorder and your microphone and learn how they “listen” and record.  Then, understand how to optimize the quality of your recording so you can adapt to any recording situation.” Doug Boyd PhD, Director, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 I lead in with a quote from Doug Boyd, as evidence that this is not just a self-serving transcription service telling you what to do with your recording and interview techniques, but one of the pre-eminent scholars in the oral history world (and in full disclosure one of our clients who agreed to offer his two cents on interviewing and recording techniques) who spends his professional life making sure he’s able to capture high-quality interviews for archival purposes – while aggressively monitoring the overall dollars he spends on his projects.  Our motives, quite frankly, are a bit selfish.  By having the best audio to work with, our reputation as a high quality transcription service is enhanced.  But equally important is helping you find ways to record archival quality audio/video, and at the same time conserving your all- important budget dollars.  Additionally, on a more personal level for us, we want to save our transcriptionists’ ears and their sanity as well.
The key in all of this –
You or whoever is conducting your interviews needs to help us
in this improvement and financial conservation process.
We guestimate that 30%of the audio we receive each year is recorded as if the people talking are standing at the bottom of a well, and then are conversing with one another through the technological wonders of tin cans and string.  Maybe we exaggerate things (just slightly), but it is to prove a point.  If it wasn’t for those darn confidentiality agreements we’d be more than happy to share examples of this poor quality audio, ergo transcripts, with you as well.
Instead, we’ll do our best to offer some (what we think are) common sense tips, and as backup to our points, some key thoughts from experts in the art of recording and interviewing, answering the question of, If you only had one thing you could tell someone to help them improve their interviews to get the best interview recording possible, what would it be?”  You’ll see the challenge in their replies is that not many of them were able to keep their list to one thing.  In full disclosure, the quotes are not just from people who are experts in their field, but from people who are also our clients.  Who better to learn from than the people who are recording and interviewing in the best manner possible. 
But first, here’s our bullet point take on it.
·         Above all else: Use Common Sense (If only everyone would use some common sense)
  •   Test out the recording device and all of its features before using it.
  •    Place the recorder closer to the interviewee than to the interviewer.
  •    Check the batteries (if there’s no power chord), and bring extra batteries!
  •    Bring an extra memory card
  •    Don’t talk over the interviewee – let them complete their thought, and then follow-up.
  •    Pay attention to the place of the recording
  •   Is there ambient noise to be concerned with?
    •          Is the location in a quiet room, but under an air conditioner?
    •          Is the location a noisy coffee shop (chatter, dishes, etc.)?
    •          Will external conversations be picked up by the recording device?
  •  Be prepared with questions to keep your interview as cohesive as possible
  •  Don’t forget to bring and use a backup recorder (if possible).
See, we believe all these aforementioned bullet points are common sense, and we don’t know how else to classify them.  Our clients/the experts also offer some excellent points to implement in the interview and recording process, and we know you’ll find them helpful as well.
  lucky_budd_circle-300x300   The most important thing to keep in mind when interviewing is that capturing the interviewee’s testimony is the primary goal.  A recorder should therefore be placed 2 feet from the interviewee, pointed at their mouth.” –Robert Budd, Memories to Memoirs (He got his Master’s Degree in the field!)
    
    “I have told people before in oral history workshops to go ahead and spend the extra money and get two separate microphonesone for the interviewer and one for the interviewee – and make sure they are both the best quality that you can afford.”  –Anonymous (do to the aforementioned confidentiality concerns, this client/expert prefers to remain anonymous, but did want their thoughts to be included.)
      “Even on days where you’re most excited to get the interview started, be sure to spend the additional time it takes to test all of your audio equipment – in that specific setting, with that particular individual – before you dive into your conversations.” —Samuel J. Redman, Academic Specialist and Lead Interviewer for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front Oral History Project, Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley
    “Do as much research as time and money allow to avoid superficial questions and answers and probable frustration of the interviewee.” –Sally Smith Hughes, Academic Specialist, Science and Technology, Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley
      Know your recording equipment so well that you can be 99 percent focused on the interview and 1 percent focused on the equipment.”–David Dunham Project Manager, WWII Home Front Oral History Project  – Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley Web/Video Director
Take the time to implement these helpful ideas, and you’ll find in the long term you’ll have better quality recordings and more accurate transcripts that save you time, money, and our transcriptionists’ headaches.

Transcripts, timecoding, and you

Transcripts timecoding and you - Audio Transcription Center Blog

As the Director of the Audio Transcription Center, I am routinely in meetings with Sandy Poritzky, the owner who started this firm in 1966.  Over the course of my 5 years with the firm, I have listened numerous times to Sandy’s arguments for time-coding transcripts and had many an argument about the topic.

“Michael, my boy,” he’ll say, “why don’t we have time-coding as a standard for all client transcripts?”  “Sandy, the challenge with time-coding is that there is no standard,” I’ll tell him, and then we’ll get into a debate for the next 35 minutes about time-coding.

In the ensuing battles in his office, Sandy, in his inimitable fashion argued that we need to come up with a standard for time-coding that would be included in all client transcripts.  On the counterpoint, in my inimitable fashion, I argued that every client’s needs are so different that there can not be any standard inclusion of time-coding in transcripts.

To be fair, Sandy’s belief is that time-coding should be a standard offering in transcripts, and he understands that every client has very different needs in how time-coding should be included and used in transcription.

Five years later, the battles still linger on, but we now have a conversation with clients about their specific transcription requirements and how time-coding can be a major time-saver in reviewing and editing your transcripts in the long run.

Quite basically, time-coding is beneficial for clients on a few different levels.  One way is for clients to be able to sync up their transcripts with their audio/video files, so that visitors to an online oral history project may synchronously watch the video recording and read the transcript.

For instance, have a look at the website of the Kentuckiana Digital Library, which offers their video footage with a synced transcript.  As Doug Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries writes in his article, “Achieving the Promise of Oral History in a Digital Age”, published in Donald Ritchie’s The Oxford Handbook of Oral History [Oxford University Press, 2011], “By embedding time-code into the transcript, we enabled time correlation between the transcript and the audio or video, yielding an integrated final product where the components work together…Additionally, we created a customized software solution to more easily (albeit still manually) embed time-code markers into the transcript.  The decision was made to embed these markers at one-minute intervals throughout the transcript.  The five-minute interval proved to be, still, too much text to scan while trying to determine the specific location of the information being sought in the audio file.”

We also work with numerous production companies that are sending in their video footage prior to editing.  These clients actually have us time-coding their transcripts at even shorter intervals, so they can easily and efficiently edit sound bites by reviewing their newly time-coded transcripts.

Additionally, if a client sends in an audio file with with poor quality audio, and we are unable to transcribe a word that is said, we’ll put (inaudible) in place of the unknown word.  Time-coding these portions becomes an added feature to help a client easily locate the “inaudible” content in their audio, and review to see if they are able to replace the “inaudible” content with the word that was said.

So in the end, there is no standard need for our clients in how time-codes should be inserted in transcripts, but there certainly is reason to find the time-code formatting that will make reviewing, editing, reading, and watching your content that much simpler.

Analog vs. Digital: Pay Now or Pay More Later

Analog vs Digital Pay Now or Pay More Later - ATC Blog

Some of you have asked me why we still have information on our website about “going digital,” but clearly the fact that we still receive newly recorded audio on “old-fashioned” cassette tapes  tells me that some people just don’t understand the importance of upgrading technology (on a lot of levels).  After 44 years in business, we finally took the “tape” out of our name, because it’s all about the audio!

Today I’m writing about more than “going digital,” but I will also touch upon recording habits in general.  Remember, just because you’re recording digitally does NOT mean that you will automatically have broadcast quality audio.  (WHAT?! You’re thinking, ‘it’s digital, so it has to be better quality.’)  There’s a lot involved in recording, and as the person conducting the recording, you need to stop and think about the details of recording for more than a couple of seconds.  That’s right, we know that some of you already know these things, but do you truly take the time to learn your device before using it?  I know that’s a very personal question, so think about it for a moment.  You don’t have to share.

The quick points to remember:

First and foremost, it’s now 2011, so use a digital recorder!  You can walk into any electronics store, or jump online and find one.  Just do some research first.  Remember, in 2004, 90 % of our clients used analog equipment to record their interviews.  Now in 2011, 95% of our clients use digital equipment to record their interviews.  You’ll have immediate access to your audio recording.  Volume too low? There’s software for you to give the file a quick boost to increase the sound quality.  Is your transcriptionist next door or across the country?  It doesn’t matter where they are located, because you can upload your audio to them, and still have access to listen your audio.  Imagine never having to spend shipping dollars again!!

Clearly the facts demonstrate there’s been a near total reversal in the analog vs. digital battle.  Remember, your transcripts are only as good as the audio your transcriptionist receives, and better quality audio will save time and save those all important dollars in your budget.  Again though, just remember, it’s more than just “going digital”!

You’ve purchased that device, but you really don’t want to delve into the box with the paperwork and all sorts of wires that are tucked neatly inside.  Read the paperwork, and use the wires.  Of all the wires in the box, use an A/C power-supply – it might be 2011, but batteries die quickly, so plug in when you can.  For those times that you forgot it at home, bring plenty of backup batteries!!   Seriously, go buy stock in the major brands, because you will always want to have an ample supply of batteries quickly within reach!  You never know when you’ll have to record those unexpected longer interviews.  Think of it as practicing “safe recording”!

Now you’re sitting there ready to hit the record button, but stop and check recording volume regularly.  I can’t tell you how many interviews we get where the recording levels are so low you can barely hear the person, so don’t forget to check those recording levels beforehand.  If your recording device has meters, refer to them, but also be sure to listen to the audio levels with headphones at the start of the interview session.
Another important piece of equipment to use is an external microphone.  Different situations require different types of microphones, so you’ll need to do a little studying up on what your recording environment needs.  If you’re able, try more than one external microphone among the group, to be sure you have properly mic’d all of your speakers.  This is especially important for any group larger than 3 individuals, and be sure to place these microphones as close as possible to the people who are speaking.  Sitting at a long table with people at both ends of the table? Think about how the person at the end of the table will sound if there is only one microphone in the middle of the table.  Murphy’s law also says that person will be your most verbal in the group.  Conducting a one-on-one interview?   Drop into Radio Shack beforehand, and grab a lapel mic.  The difference in recording quality is remarkable, and you’ll thank yourself later (as will your transcriptionist).
Don’t forget about the longevity of your recording for your archives!  Your transcriptionists do not require large archival files for transcribing, they just require some good audio to hear those words clearly.  On that note, if you’re going to be storing these recordings for archival posterity, make sure you do your research on the latest technological advances in formats for saving your audio files.  .wav? b-.wav? .mp3? Spend the time, do your research, and know the facts on digital audio longevity.  (See our previous blog on thinking beyond the shoebox.)

For a more detailed read, look over our recording tips page, and check out some of the other service providers we recommend as well.

Always remember your ultimate goals when you’re recording.  If you’re going to have your audio transcribed, you want the best recording possible, so give your transcriptionists audio that they can transcribe both fast and accurately!  If you can believe it, we’re telling you to spend a little more up front, that will save you money on a service we provide.  Go figure…

Why Transcription?

Why transcription - ATC Blog

Over and over I read posts on online, and time and again the questions come up, why transcription? You read this and think, well surely you’ll tell me why, you’re a transcription company. Well, yeah we are, (www.ttctranscriptions.com – yes, a shameless plug, but I’ve got 3 kids to feed) but I digress and assure you it’s a lot deeper than that.

In our office, we see a wide range of diverse projects that flow through, and the transcriptions range from: oral history, personal history, archival, legal, academic, market research, financial, and surely the list goes on.

In the legal world, transcripts have been known to be an important resource for all parties, a document to easily read the depositions, examinations, and so on. People on both sides of the courtroom utilize the transcript to make sure no lies are being stated by anyone (there’s a lie)…well, possibly to catch people in those lies.

Why transcription? Well, think about this question. How “searchable” is your audio? Say you’re an Oral Historian, and you’ve just conducted hours of interviews with someone. The last thing you want to do is to go back and listen to all of these hours of audio. Through a transcript, you can easily read specific sections of text, copy and paste, and move on to the next part of text you require.

For more information on transcription, check out some listservs, and see what others are saying. SAA (Society of American Archivists), OHA (Oral History Association), and APH (Association of Personal Historians, though you have to be a paid member of APH to be on the listserv) are some great listservs to check out. As always you may contact us, The Tape Transcription Center, and find out more about how a transcript is able to help you!

The Tape Transcription Center
www.ttctranscriptions.com
617-423-2151
Never a charge for RUSH service, never!