This article is intended for journalists, students or professionals who need to record interviews one-on-one sessions or, more generally speaking, meetings of any kind. These tips are suited primarily to face-to-face meetings, not to recordings of telephone conversations.
Tip 1: use a recorder
Video or just audio recording?
Will the interview or meeting be filmed or simply recorded?
This question has implications beyond technology alone. Today, with smartphones, it is as easy to make a video recording as it is an audio recording. A face-to-face interview can easily be made into a video if the person holding the camera or smartphone feels up to the task.
If you’re leaning in that direction, Philippe Couve, journalist at Samsa.fr (in French) has put together an excellent online video showing “ how to use your iPhone or smartphone to produce an interview video ” (in French). Conducting a video interview will require more time, preparation, takes, etc. It will probably also require the use of video editing software (we recommend Movavi, a small software programme that requires payment, but is worth the cost.
Depending on your how you intend to use it (thesis, research, series of interviews), an audio recording might be the best option.
Under most circumstances, it enables you to better control your recording quality, as you can strategically choose where to place your device. You will also be able to edit your recording very easily using a free editor, such as Audacity, the benchmark.
The advent of the all-in-one Smartphone is now an unchallenged fact. It is also said that an iPhone or Android smartphone is perfectly suited to recording a one-on-one session. But is that really so?
As professionals in this business, we believe that the Smartphone can only be a backup solution or a way to make a video at a lower cost.
For a more professional outcome, it is best to invest in a digital sound recorder.
Why? A recorder offers far better sound quality than a smartphone.
The problem with a smartphone (especially for iPhone owners) also lies in its storage capacity, which is often limited. For example, a 5-minute video will require 1GB of storage space. Ouch!
A recorder, on the other hand, will have an SD card, the size of which you can choose. If it is not provided with the recorder, it will require a (small) additional investment — but also guarantee your peace of mind and ensure that your interview is recorded in its entirety.
The X/Y microphones found in most mid-range recording devices offer an excellent sound result. They capture both sounds that come straight on and those that arrive from the sides. With a smartphone, the device must face the source as well as be set very close in order to capture well.
If, despite these points, you continue to prefer using your favourite smartphone, remember to:
- Put the telephone in airplane mode;
- Recharge your mobile or leave it plugged in while making the recording;
- Make room in your memory so as to have enough space available.
What type of digital recorder should I choose?
To record one-on-one sessions, we recommend digital sound recorders.
For the sake of comprehensiveness, it should be mentioned that the market offers spy voice recorders (which are designed to look like any ordinary object, e.g., a USB key) that are less expensive but of lower quality. Yet another option is a multi-track recorder, more expensive and to be preferred for musical recordings, to capture sound performances live or in the studio.
According to this site’s benchmarking test (in French), the digital recorder, e.g., Zoom H1 should be preferred if you are a journalist, doctoral student or meeting organiser.
At Ubiqus IO, we tend to agree, as our colleagues from Ubiqus Group have been using the Zoom digital sound recorders for many years for on-site recordings (made by our staff writers).
Available at less than €100, the Zoom H1 is very compact and offers superb sound quality.
Its two microphones, placed in X/Y mode, accentuate the quality of the recording by simulating a stereo effect.
The Zoom H1 has an SD card port and needs only one battery to function. It offers excellent battery life and is very easy to use.
As with the smartphone, before the interview, be sure to:
- Check the status of your battery or even change it before the start of the interview, to be extra-safe;
- Check how much storage space you have left on your SD card storage.
Tip 2: use accessories
As a transcription agency, we recommend the use of a digital sound recorder for your recordings rather than a smartphone (see Tip 1 on this point).
Digital dictation devices offer good sound sound quality. However, their limits will start to show when the source is more than 5 metres from the microphone or the environment is saturated.
To improve the sound quality produced by a digital recorder, you can add a microphone.
The Zoom H1 described in Tip 1, for example, has a mini-jack entry on which you can connect a second microphone if the sources are set far apart.
Hand-held or lapel microphone?
There’s no right answer: it all depends!
To be frank, the budget will not really make the difference. P. Couve recommends the following microphones, all compatible with the iPhone:
- Lapel: The SmartLav Plus microphone by Rode (remember to buy a cable extension with 4-contact TRRS jack);
- Hand-held: Micro iRig Mic by IK Multimedia.
Both are around €50.
The deciding factor will lie more in the type of interview you wish to conduct or your “dexterity” when using a microphone.
If you have only a tie-clip microphone, questions will not be audible on the recording. You will thus have to ask the other person to repeat the question and answer it or speak in complete sentences incorporating your question (see Tip 3).
If you choose a hand-held microphone, you will need to make sure that you continually direct the microphone: towards yourself, first, to ask the question and then to the interviewee to record the response. Be careful not to leave the microphone in the hands of the interviewee, otherwise you will lose control over the sound. One pointer from P. Couve is to form a loop with the cable to hold the microphone. This helps you prevent “microphone noise” and, at the same time, keep control over operations!
Tip 3: make sure the recording conditions are right
Prefer a quiet setting
It goes without saying that the sound environment will play a key role in the quality of your recording. As there is naturally a loss in sound quality with any recording compared to the original, what kind of quality can you expect if you are already struggling to hear the other person while the interview is taking place?
Ideally, find a place away from the hustle and bustle, with minimal background noise. Places with recurring or untimely noise pollution should be avoided like the plague.
If you have no choice but to make your recording in a noisy environment, make sure to keep the recorder close to the person speaking or, better, use a hand-held microphone (see Tip 2) tilted toward the speaker. Lastly, when possible, keep the microphone turned away from the noise.
Tip 4: brief the person(s) involved
Smile, you’re being recorded!
In one-on-one sessions and interviews, more than in any other situation, courtesy and transparency are of the essence. This naturally begins with informing the participant(s) that the interview is being recorded.
If the person is uncomfortable with the idea, try to find out why (many people don’t like the idea of hearing their own voice). Reassure them by establishing a trusting rapport and ensuring them that the recording is a guarantee of professionalism and accuracy. A recording also makes it possible to quote accurately and without distortion (see our conclusion about a legal requirement and not only professional ethics for journalists).
If your interviewee’s reservations persist, agree to stop recording as soon as the person wishes. Cut off the recording yourself, out of politeness, as soon as the slightest interference occurs in the conversation, for example should a telephone call come in.
Before the session or meeting, brief your contacts.
Explain to them the limits of the recorders or microphones (see all previous Tips) and ask them to make an effort, specifically to speak loudly and clearly.
Depending on who wears the tie-clip mike, for example, or the sound conditions, ask your counterparts to rephrase the questions, integrating them into their answer or more simply repeating them and then responding.
When recording a meeting, even if the participants know each other, it can be helpful to go around the table and have them each introduce themselves, so that you them doing so in their own voices. This can be particularly helpful if you later entrust the transcription work to a professional such as Ubiqus IO, not present during the discussions.
We know that it is difficult, but ideally, especially the first time each person speaks, ask your participants to identify themselves before proceeding with their comments. It may feel as though you are overdoing it, but once again, this can be very useful for the future.
Tip 5: clarify as many details as possible while still recording
During a one-on-one session or meeting, take every opportunity to clarify the points that might appear hazy to you later, such as acronyms or proper nouns.
During a meeting, you will need to play the role of moderator to maintain an orderly atmosphere if speakers start cutting each other off or speaking at the same time. This just goes to show how keeping the quality of your recording in mind can also make for a smoother meeting!
Also keep in mind the transcript writers who are not familiar with your internal jargon, if you want to save time later and outsource the transcription of your recordings.
Without being rude, it can also be useful to clarify or rephrase the contributions of anyone speaking with a heavy foreign accent or hailing from another country.
Similarly, think “identification” if someone has responded in a single syllable or with just a sound, which will then not be identifiable on audio on its own. Feel free to comment and specify the name of the person who has just responded.
Tip 6: take your time at the beginning and start with a test- recording
Once all the optimal conditions are in place for your interview or meeting, test your sound recorder and/or microphone. To do so, don’t dive right into the main topic, as your interviewee could provide you with answers that would not be (well) recorded.
Choose to ask test questions, about the weather or other topics, while specifying that it is simply a matter of testing the equipment.
Listen immediately to the recording you have made, and adjust your microphone or distance between the recorder and speaker(s) to ensure optimal audio quality.
If the background noise is too loud (see Tip 3), seek a quieter place if possible.
Once your meeting or interview has been completed, don’t assume you are home free, and keep your eyes on the prize.
Is your audio optimal? The question is easy to answer. Put yourself in the shoes of a Ubiqus IO copywriter . Had you not been on-site, would you understand each of the speakers and what was discussed?
If the answer is no, it may not be too late to do another take, or clarify a point that was not captured by the recorder. After all, as we often say at Ubiqus Group, if a meeting is worth being held, it is worth being written up, so long as we are at it, let’s get the job done right!
Conclusion: why is it important to make a good recording?
Congratulations! You have read this article to the end and now know how to make a quality recording. But how will this help you?
For videos, think SEO and brand image
If you have chosen to produce a video, of course, good sound quality, with the speakers’ voices distinctly heard, will already be a plus.
However, the second positive aspect of quality audio is that you will be able to more easily have it transcribed. And having a properly-spelled script of your audio will make it possible for you to produce the subtitling (for example using YouTube).
This works to the benefit of your SEO and thus the (future) popularity of your video (posted on YouTube for example).
It’s true that YouTube offers an automatic video transcription service. However, if the audio is good, the transcription will be adequate at best. Proper nouns and overly “technical” expressions will not be properly transcribed. To remedy this problem, you will need to insert your own transcript yourself: the image of your video and your own image depend on it. Call on Ubiqus IOto transcribe your video, then incorporate the subtitles in the video under YouTube or call on a professional for the latter part. You keep full control over your communication.
With regard to audio recordings, the same applies. To keep control over your communication, it is important that people’s words be reported accurately. Without wishing to frighten our readers, the law firm LMC Partenaires details in a highly-instructive article (in French) what a journalist (potentially) risks by not properly conveying the words of an interviewee. They titled their article “Transcript-writing: more than a journalistic duty, a legal requirement”. Depending on the context, this can quickly slip out of control, as Edwy Plenel can attest. In his capacity as publication editor of the Mediapart news site, he was convicted in 2013 (appeal in 2015) for defamation after a complaint filed by Florence Woerth. The erroneous transcription of a telephone interview between Eva Joly and a Mediapart journalist suggested that the judge was charging Ms Woerth, when that was not the case.
Though the stakes may not be as high, let’s just say that professional rigour requires attributing statements as faithfully as possible, something that can only be done with a professional transcript of a recording in hand — as offered by Ubiqus IO, online and any time you need.
For this article, we have considered the question from our own perspective, that of an online transcription agency that uses recordings to produce faithful transcriptions. The recommendations, brands and products mentioned in this article are included ex gratia. Ubiqus IO is an online transcription and translation agency. When we recommend a product or service or quote a source, it is because they have helped us produce this article or because we use them ourselves, or at Ubiqus Group. Many thanks to all of them.
Your comments are also very helpful, so please feel free to comment on our 7 Tips for successfully recording your sessions, interviews and meetings.
List of sources, services and products:
Movavi, video editor
Audacity, audio editor
Zoom H1 recorder
Tie-clip microphone: SmartLav Plus microphone by Rode
Hand-held microphone: iRig Mic by IK Multimedia.