Basic Audio Reporting and Gathering

Here is an overview of some basic recording equipment and tips for avoiding common mistakes.

Basic Equipment Guide:

*You can check out these items in Bozorth 1050. Limited supply. First-come, first-served.

Best 

  • Digital audio recorder*
  • XLR Jack/Mini-Plug*
  • Headphones
  • Microphone*

Better

  • Smartphone
  • App that lets you monitor recording (i.e., Voddio $9.99)
  • Phone XLR Adapter*
  • Headphones
  • Microphone*

 Good

  • Smartphone
  • Built in App like Voice Memo

General Tips:

  • Make sure your battery is fully charged.
  • Note that if you are not using headphones (and many smartphone audio apps won’t let you listen while you record), you have no way of hearing the quality of the audio you are recording. So do a quick trial first. And check your levels.
  • Find a quiet place for interviews. Phones pick up a lot of background noise. If outside, move out of wind.
  • Cell phones can overheat on hot days. Be careful in direct sunlight.
  • Practice with your equipment before you go out to interview.
  • Test the quality of your equipment in different situations: inside, outside, and at various distances from your subject.

Step-by-Step:

If you are using a phone, place it in Airplane Mode so your audio won’t be interrupted by calls or texts.
To turn it on, go to Settings>Airplane Mode

If you are using a phone, locate the microphone.
For example, on the iPhone, the grill on the left is the microphone. The one on the right is a speaker used to play music.

Test before you begin interview. Check your levels.
Press record. Make sure it is recording and you can see the meter registering sounds. Move your device closer to subject until you are at correct levels.

Place microphone or device about five inches (or the width of a fist) from person’s mouth. 
If it’s further away, you won’t get quality sound. Sitting the recorder a table is fine if you only want to transcribe quotes, but it won’t produce audio worth hearing.

Keep your hand steady.
Fiddling with your device or microphone may be audible on your recording. Never hand your mic or device to the person you are interviewing.

Get and ID.
Have source say name, age, hometown, occupation. Have them spell their name.

Be silent when source is speaking.
Don’t say “uh huh,” laugh, or react audibly. Maintain eye contact. Give nonverbal cues.

Record multiple files or use add markers.
If you have a break in an interview, stop and then create a new file. It makes it easier to find good quotes later. Some apps allow you to add markers while recording so you can identify key places in your interview.

When you are finished with interview, make sure you have a saved audio file.
After you hit stop, don’t shut off your device and walk away. Look at the file. Make sure it recorded and saved. Play some of it back so you can hear it. Pay attention to how and where it is saved.

Record 30 seconds of room tone.
Press record and let your recorder capture the sound of the room. This can come in handy later when you edit and want to fill in gaps.

Record natural sound effects from location.
Capturing the natural sounds of a location – eggs frying in a kitchen, dogs barking in a yard, a dentist drilling teeth – can make your audio stories more vivid. Save or label each one after you record it.

Transfer files to computer.

Digital recorders connect through USB. You can drag and drop files.

For small files on your phone, you can often email them to yourself. Use the Share>Email option.

For larger files on your phone, you can use DropBox.

With many Android phones you can plug it into a USB and then drag and drop audio files. iPhones require that you sync with iTunes in order to download audio. (WARNING: Don’t do not synch your iPhone to a university iTunes account. This can erase your phone.)

Some apps, like the Voddio allow you to transfer files from a iPhone to a computer via a WiFi connection.

Other Audio Reporting Resources:

On Interviewing – Alex Blumberg, Transom.org
Audio 101: A quick and dirty guide to recording your story, Common Language Project
Gathering Audio by Brian Storm, MediaStorm.com

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About Nick DiUlio

My name is Nick DiUlio, a freelance writer and editor from New Jersey. I have been passionate about the craft of writing since I was old enough to spell, and this love has led to a successful career in journalism and creative nonfiction. As a freelancer, I have covered a wide range of topics and personalities, as my published work has focused on everything from profiles of artists and important political figures to hard-news stories with both national and local appeal; from restaurant and beverage reviews to tips on fashion and finance; from health and wellness pieces to celebrity Q&A’s. My work has appeared in several local, regional and national publications—both in print and online—including Philadelphia Magazine, Slate.com, Miller-McCune, New Jersey Monthly, Eating Well, and Delaware Today. Additionally, I am the South Jersey Bureau Chief for New Jersey Monthly and an adjunct journalism professor at Rowan University. To be sure, the broadness of my body of work seems only to be matched by my boundless interest in almost every subject imaginable (except Warren Zevon). Check out some of my most recently published work here.
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