Recording Memories (technical help)

Audio interviews

Digital voice recorderGenerally recording interviews tends to involve a tape or digital voice recorder. If you're thinking about buying a digital voice recorder always buy the best you can afford. Find out how much recording space the recorder has as well as the quality. You can get a good idea about whether it's value for money through online reviews, or by talking to friends/family who have recording equipment (maybe they'll let you borrow it!)

Lapel microphoneIf you have a digital voice recorder you might also think about buying an external microphone for the recorder in the form of a lapel microphone. A lapel microphone is a miniature microphone that can be attached to the interviewee's clothing (usually to a collar or tie as it does have limited range). You don't really need to do this but it will improve the quality of recording if it really matters to you. Buying a unidirectional microphone will be good for outdoor interviews as they don't pick up so much background noise.

IPhoneAlthough using a tape or digital voice recorder is popular, new technology means there are many other options out there. The IPhone QuickVoice® Recorder is one way to go. Once the application is downloaded and installed, it lets you record the interview on an IPhone. However there is a small charge for this application and the recording can only be listened to on the IPhone. There are many more applications that can be installed on IPhones and new mobile phones to allow you to record. You can also get microphones for portable games consoles such as the PSP.  

Skype logoThe Internet is an increasingly popular way to do an interview. Recording an interview through Skype© might not require a digital voice recorder if your computer has a microphone connected and the right kind of recording software. There are many free applications you can get your hands on such as Free Sound Recorder, but also more powerful tools such as Soundforge. These more powerful ones allow you to edit your audio files so that you can remove hissing or distortion. Whatever the software used in computer recording, make sure that the volume of the microphone is at the right level by adjusting the levels on the computer's volume control as well as the sound blaster volume.

Video and audio interviews

Adding moving images to your interview will make it more captivating and enjoyable, just like the YouTube® videos you watch. Also it will deepen your interview by letting you see the emotions of your relative.

Video recorderA traditional approach would be to use a tape or digital camcorder on a tripod. If you go down this route, you need to be very careful about choosing your video equipment. Depending on the camera, there are various ways in which the video is recorded and each has advantages and disadvantages you should find out about. For example, digital camcorders with large hard drives tend to be more expensive than those that record to DVD, but you might have to buy a lot of DVDs. Check out the zooming potential and sound quality of the recordings. You can judge most of this from online reviews and some shops will let you try out the camcorders on display.

WebcamCamcorders tend to be quite expensive, so if you don't want to buy one some of your existing gadgets might serve a similar purpose. For instance, mobile phones with a video recorder. Although the quality, sound and capacity won't rival a camcorder, you can get good footage at a fraction of the cost. Another gadget you can use is a webcam. Webcams are useful when conducting an interview over the internet and you want to see the other person, and when you want to do a video recording. You do need the right software though, for example if you're using MSN messenger® with your webcam you'll need MSN Webcam Recorder®.

How to use video and audio equipment before and during the interview

  • Test the recording equipment to make sure that it is working properly and make sure it has enough space or additional tapes. Also remember to charge the device/have a decent amount of battery life.
  • Find out where you are going to place your audio recording device (and if you have a lapel microphone where you are going to attach it). Put the recorder between you and the interviewee on a surface that isn't going to wobble. Or if you're using a computer microphone, don't place it too close to the speakers.
  • If you are doing a video recording, make sure that the lens is level with your relative's eyes. If you are using a camcorder on a tripod, place it beside you as close as possible (when you watch the recording back, it will look as if the interviewee is keeping eye contact with you rather than starting into space).
  • Whatever the device you're using, make sure that there isn't too much background noise. Turn off televisions, radios and your mobile phone. Be aware of clocks chiming, telephones ringing etc. and repeat the questions if you need to.
  • Run a quick test recording and play it back to see how much background noise is being recorded (or if using a camcorder check the lighting of the video and positioning).
  • Don't hold the recorder or microphone during recording - you'll get tired and your hand will shake.
  • Ask your interviewer to ignore the recording device and look at you - this will get easier for them as the interview goes on and especially if you maintain eye contact..
  • Don't talk over your relative, this will make the interview more difficult to hear when you play it back.
  • If you're using something like Skype you should adjust the speakers to make sure that the sound reaches the right recording level – raising the level too high will distort the sound.

After the recording

  • Label tapes, video or audio files;
  • If you have used a digital voice recorder transfer the files to a computer via USB. Always make a copy;
  • Transcribe the interview and send a copy to your interviewee.


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