Tag Archives: Audio recording

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

In today’s Monday’s Link Roundup, be sure to read So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved. It speaks eloquently to why personal historians do the work they do.  And for a feast for the eyes,  don’t miss A Typographic Tour of New York City at Night.

  • What Good Is Listening Anyway? “I’ve observed that good listeners set themselves apart with a few key habits. These behaviors come naturally to some, but they can be practiced or developed by anyone. Here are a few tips to consider:”
  • Life Lessons from the Newtown Obituaries. “For adults, obits are about what they did. But for children, they’re about who they were. It’s about their spirit, that nebulous thing we sense when we’re around people we love and enjoy. As a result, the obituaries for the children of Newtown could end up less of a reminder of how they died than a lesson on how to live… I’m asking my fellow adults to reconsider how you’d like to be remembered, and then start living that way in small ways, every day. Live so that your obituary reads less like a résumé and more like a tribute to someone who will be dearly missed.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved. “I remember the regret I felt after my mom died, years ago, that we had no recording of her voice on tape. And yet when my dad died in 2008 — same thing. Plenty of photographs, but no record of the sound of his voice. I’m glad to have the photos, but I miss the immediacy of those voices, the way that even a recorded voice captures the movement of time and the resonance of the body with extraordinary intimacy.”
  • A Typographic Tour of New York City at Night. “In 2008, photographer duo James and Karla Murray took us on a breathtaking tour of New York’s disappearing face in their stunning visual archive of mom-and-pop storefront signage — a bittersweet project eight years in the making, documenting shops more than half of which are now gone. This season, they’re back with New York Nights (UK; public library) — a striking, lavish street-level tour of New York City’s typographic neon mesmerism, revealed through the illuminated storefronts of some of the city’s most revered bars, diners, speakeasies, theaters, and other epicenters of public life.”
  • I was writing my life story, but left myself out of the picture. “A few months ago I started taking a night-school course called True to Life: Writing Your Own Story…I decided I was going to learn to write what I thought was my life story. With Beth as our teacher, however, something more than just writing happened in class.”
  • Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay. “Lovers of ink and paper, take heart. Reports of the death of the printed book may be exaggerated. Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital…Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

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Encore! Do You Make These 5 Common Audio Mistakes?

Imagine yourself in this situation. You’ve just completed videotaping an hour-long interview. It was  nicely lit and framed. And the interview itself was fantastic! Excitedly you rush back to your editing suite,  put up your interview to screen, and then the shock. The picture looks great but the audio is terrible.There’s nothing you can do to fix it. The interview is ruined!

I know that getting flawless sound all the time is nearly impossible. But you can improve the odds if you avoid making these 5 common audio mistakes…Read more.

Don’t Do This!

Don’t worry. If you’re expecting this to be another New Year’s admonishment about unhealthy eating, excessive drinking, or lack of exercise, it isn’t. It’s about what not to do if you want to get the best life story interview with your client.

Recently there’s been some discussion among my colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians about the way to record life story interviews.  Some personal historians use a digital voice recorder. Others prefer taking notes by hand or typing the interview directly into their laptop.

The latter make it clear they can type as fast as people talk, edit on the fly, maintain eye contact, and save the time and costs of transcribing the interview. For those who take notes by hand, they explain that this helps them keep the story to the essentials.They may record the interview for reference to ensure the accuracy of quotes. All point out that this method of interviewing is what they’re comfortable with and their clients are happy with their work.

But achieving the best interview possible has nothing to do with the time and cost of transcriptions, what process a personal historian is most comfortable with, or editing on the fly. These are all factors that speak to the preferences of the personal historian not the quality of the interview.

5 good reasons to ditch the laptop and handwritten notes.


1. An integral and invaluable part of any personal history is recording and preserving the spoken word. Hearing  a loved one’s voice is a precious remembrance for bereaved families and future generations. Personal histories involve more than assembling edited transcripts into a story.

2. Laptops and note taking are distracting. I know this from having been interviewed a number of times by journalists. Imagine for a moment that you’re  talking to a columnist. You’re pouring your heart out but she’s writing nothing down. Then you move on to something that seems insignificant and the writer starts scribbling furiously. You wonder why these comments  elicited such a response. It’s unnerving. It’ll be unnerving for your clients too.

3. Multitasking doesn’t work. There is now sufficient research to show that the mind can’t process more than one thing at a time.  People can’t type or take notes and be fully engaged with a client at the same time. Trust me. It can’t be done.

4. Editing decisions are best made after not during an interview. It’s not possible to tell what portions of a narrative need to be dropped until you have a feel for the whole story. An item that seems of little importance at the time of the interview may turn out to be a crucial element in the story.

5. Listening to your interviews improves your skills. There’s tremendous value in recording an interview and being able to play it back. I do it all the time. For one thing, it enables you to see what follow-up questions to ask. But equally important, it gives you an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses as an interviewer.


Not all approaches are equal when it comes to recording personal histories.  Choose a good digital recorder and microphone over a laptop or handwritten notes. Your clients will thank you.

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Photo by DonkeyHotey

Do You Make These 5 Common Audio Mistakes?

Imagine yourself in this situation. You’ve just completed videotaping an hour-long interview. It was  nicely lit and framed. And the interview itself was fantastic! Excitedly you rush back to your editing suite,  put up your interview to screen, and then the shock. The picture looks great but the audio is terrible. There’s nothing you can do to fix it. The interview is ruined!

I know that getting flawless sound all the time is nearly impossible. But you can improve the odds if you avoid making these 5 common audio mistakes.

1. Using the wrong microphone

All microphones are not created equal. The worse choice is using the microphone that comes with your video or audio recorder. These are passable for family events but not for a professional interview.  Built-in mics  pick-up the electronic clicks and whirs of the equipment and are sensitive to any hand contact.

Don’t use wireless mics for interviews unless you plan to spend the big bucks. Inexpensive wireless mics can pick up frequency interference from a host of sources such as cell phones, TV stations, CD players, computers, and PDAs.

Your best bet for interviews is to use a lapel mic or shotgun mic mounted on a stand. This will ensure better sound quality because the mic can be placed close to the subject.

2. not eliminating Background noise

Nothing spoils an interview more than background noise. You need to have the ears of a bat to eliminate unwanted sounds..

Make certain to turn off or unplug everything that you’ve control over. This includes heating and cooling systems,  refrigerators and freezers, radios and music players,  cell and land line telephone, and ticking clocks. Also make sure to close outside windows and the door to the interview room.

Before starting the interview put on your headphones and listen carefully for any stray background noise. If you’ve done your job thoroughly, all you should hear is the faint breathing of your subject.

3. Not using headphones

If you’re not wearing headphones, you can’t adequately monitor the quality of the audio you’re recording. Over-the ear headphones are the best. Spend some money and invest in a good pair. Failing that, anything is better than nothing. Even the earbuds from your iPod will do in a pinch.

4. recording with Automatic gain control

Unfortunately,  most consumer video and audio recorders come with Automatic Gain Control or AGC. While it’s easier to record sound, it also produces poor quality.

The problem is that the gain control monitors the loudness or quietness of what you’re recording and automatically adjusts the level. For example, when the interviewee pauses, the AGC raises the recording level which in turn causes an increases in the ambient sound. When the person begins talking again the recording level is lowered. This produces a pulsing effect with the ambient sound that’s difficult to eliminate without time consuming sound editing.

Do yourself a favor and spend enough to purchase a recorder that has a manual gain control. It’ll mean monitoring your audio input continually, but you’ll end up with good sound.

5. Failing to eliminate electronic hum and buzz

Electromagnetic radiation or EMR  is produced by such devices as power cables, computer monitors, radios, and TVs. Placing your video or audio recorder and audio cables next to these EMR sources can result in an audible hum or buzz.

Make sure that all your recording equipment is separated as far as possible from these EMR sources. Even a few inches can make a difference. If that’s not possible, try crossing your power cable at right angles to your mic cables.

the bottom line

Don’t push the record button until you’ve done everything possible to ensure that your audio will be pristine.

Photo by Alper Tecer

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Encore! 5 Solutions for Recording Telephone Interviews.

5 Solutions for Recording Telephone Interviews. We all know there are times when the only way to get an interview is by using the telephone. And let’s face it, telephones weren’t designed for hi-fi sound. If you’re interviewing for a book, audio quality is not as critical as for an audio or video production.  Having said that, there are some ways you can capture a telephone interview that provides adequate sound.  Remember to use  a land line telephone because … Read More

The Secret to Recording Audio Like the Pros.

How would you like your voice to be remembered? If it’s recorded for posterity, hopefully you’d want the audio to be crystal clear, natural, and devoid of background distractions.

As personal historians we owe it to our clients to record the best quality audio interviews possible. I know some of you may be saying, “But I produce books and so the audio isn’t critical. I only use the audio for transcription purposes.”

I beg to differ. For families, hearing the voice of a loved one years after their death is a special gift. So even if you just produce books, it’s still essential to provide your clients with an archival set of well recorded interviews. Sound counts. Don’t mess it up!

I learned about producing high quality audio recordings from the sound recordist I used on my early documentaries. At first he drove me nuts with his perfectionism. But I learned valuable lessons from him that I still apply to my personal history interviews today.

Here’s how to record like a pro:

Use a top-notch digital audio recorder.

Good sound starts with good equipment and there are many choices out there. I previously wrote about some of these here and here.

Among personal historians there are those who favor the Marantz recorders – PMD661PMD 620, or PMD 660. Some like the Fostex FR2-LE . The Zoom H4 and H2 are popular with others. All are good choices with the nod going to those that have XLR microphone inputs. These inputs allow for the use of quality professional mics.

The bottom line is to use the best recorder your budget can afford.

Use a high quality microphone. 

Don’t rely on the built in microphones on your audio recorders or cameras. Trust me, they produce poor sound. Buy the best condenser lavaliere (lapel) omnidirectional microphone you can afford.  Expect to pay from $100 to $400. Quality costs  but you won’t regret it. Why an omnidirectional condenser mic? The sound quality for interview purposes is  better than with a directional microphone.

For more information on microphones check out these articles:

Which Lavaliere Should I Use?

Guide to Lavaliere Microphones

Record in a quiet environment.

Stay indoors. It’s nearly impossible to control outdoor sounds what with planes, car horns, kids shouting, loud birds, and wind. Inside a home find the quietest room. It’s usually the living room or bedroom because of the carpeted floors and draped windows. Make sure to pull the drapes closed and shut the door.  The more sound absorbing  surfaces that surround you, the better the sound.

Take a moment to listen for any unwanted background sounds – ticking clocks, air conditioner or furnace fans, refrigerator, fluorescent light buzz, radio or TV, computer hum. Ask your interviewee if you might turn these “noise generators” off. And don’t forget to disconnect the telephone! A word of caution. Before leaving, make sure you’ve turned everything back on.

Always use headphones.

You can’t monitor the audio without wearing a good set of headphones. My advice is to use circumaural headphones – ones that go fully around the ear. This type of headphone is comfortable to wear and produces quality sound.  Sony, Audio-Technica, and Sennheiser are good makes. Expect to pay between $100 and $200 for an entry level headphone.

Listen for unwanted background sounds such as those mentioned above. In addition, be attentive for your interviewee popping “Ps” or producing sibilant “Ss”.  Moving the lapel mic so that it’s not in a direct line with the subject’s mouth can sometimes help.

Run a short test of your equipment.

Before leaving for your interview check your recorder, mic, and headphones to ensure everything is working properly. Once you’re at your interviewee’s home, take a moment to test the audio. Ask your subject an easy question such as, “Tell me about a favorite meal of yours.” or “Describe the room we’re sitting in.”  Stop and replay the recording listening carefully to the quality of the sound. If it’s clear and free of unwanted noise, you’re good to go.


Poor audio is the mark of an amateur. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good recorder, microphone, and headphone. And you can quickly learn to monitor your recording environment to get the best sound possible. By following these tips you’ll record audio like a pro and leave your clients with a treasured audio legacy.

Photo by  flora cyclam

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Here’s a Wonderful Way to Preserve Memories.

I came across this wonderful site called Voice Quilt and really wanted to draw your attention to it. It is remarkably easy to use and of high quality. Check them out.

How It Works

Try us for FREE!

Step 1 Step 1
Pick an heirloom-quality keepsake that will play and preserve your VoiceQuilt. View this Step >

Step 2 Step 2
Pack it with memories by inviting loved ones to phone in greetings and toasts. View this Step >

Step 3 Step 3
Create a “best hits” list of recorded voice messages and have it shipped in your keepsake. View this Step >

VoiceQuilt Keepsakes Are Personalized With Voice Messages.