Stop Scribbling! 9 Tools to Help You Record and Transcribe Interviews

freelance writing
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For a long time, I frantically typed as fast as I could while interviewing sources.

I worried my interviewee would think I wasn’t paying attention, so almost every conversation started with, “Just as an FYI, if you hear typing, I’m taking note, not checking my email!”

We’d laugh, then I’d half listen while trying to capture their every word. Our conversation would be filled with awkward pauses while I played catch up.

Lesson? Record your calls, then transcribe them. Doing so allows your conversation to flow naturally. And you’ll be able to ask those hard-hitting questions without worrying about typing or handwriting every juicy word.

Recording and transcribing options for writers

How can you record your interviews without spending hours transcribing? You have a lot of options to choose from. The best solution for you will depend on how frequently you need to record interviews and how quickly you need to access completed transcripts.

Here are a few solutions that can work for a variety of freelance writing needs.

1. TapeACall

This app for iPhone and Android — it’s the service I use regularly — costs a one-time fee of $10. You call the app, then conference in your source. Just be sure to click the record button once you’re connected!

Your interviewee will hear a beep on their end to let them know they’re being recorded. Once you hang up, you’ll receive a notification when the recording has processed.

You can email the recording or have it automatically sync to Dropbox. The great thing about this app is that you can also record calls you’re already on, so you don’t need to always be the one making the call.

TapeACall does not offer a transcription service.

2. Call Recording

This app offers recording and transcription. The app is free to use for recording, but only up to 20 minutes per month. After that, you have the option to pay per call at a rate of 25 cents per minute. Or, pre-pay for a year at $8 per month for unlimited calls.

Those rates include automatic transcription (performed by computers, not humans). You should expect to review the finished transcription yourself to clean up the computer-generated transcription and confirm accuracy.

3. Skype

Interviewing sources abroad? Don’t have a smartphone? Prefer the face-to-face of Skype? Many apps integrate with his free video chat software so you can record both incoming and outgoing calls. Some of the best reviews include Pamela for Windows users (free) and ecamm Call Recorder for Windows and Mac (a one-time $29.95 purchase after a free trial). I have a Mac and have used Call Recorder with much success.

The one issue to keep in mind is call quality. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Skype call that hasn’t frozen or experienced a delay at some point, even with stellar internet connections. So keep connectivity in mind if you plan on using the recording for anything other than personal notes.

transcription tools

4. Smartphone Voice Recorder

Doing your interviews in person? Most smartphones have a recording app that comes with the device. These don’t record calls — they simply turn your phone into a hand-held recording device. Just click record and go.

The downside is that these built-in apps aren’t great at filtering ambient noise. I’ve tried my phone’s voice memo app in coffee shops and there’s nothing more annoying than an espresso machine drowning out an important quote.

That said, your phone is great in a pinch. I even used it once after realizing my dinner guest had a great story I wanted to pitch. I got a quote right then and there.

5. External microphone

Given the above, if you do a lot of in-person interviews, it may be worth investing in a recording device that plugs into your phone’s headphone jack.

An external microphone will improve the quality of your recordings and have a better chance of drowning out that espresso machine next time you’re working at a coffee shop. Amazon offers many options, but this lavalier mic from Movo is the number one bestseller and costs less than $30.

6. Partner with a transcriptionist

If you’re not using a two-in-one recording and transcribing service and don’t want to spend time transcribing, it’s time to find a professional to do it for you.

I used Thumbtack to find a stellar woman named Tara who transcribes my sometimes-daily hour-long interviews for around $2 per audio minute.

Other places to find transcriptionists include Facebook writing groups, TaskRabbit or Craigslist. If you live near a college or university, check the library or student writing center for recommendations.

7. Transcription services

Large transcription companies can give you cheaper rates if you’re not committed to working with a single transcriptionist. A few popular options include:

Transcribeme!: Offers transcription delivery within one to seven days. A 10-minute recording with two speakers and a two-to-three day turnaround, for instance, costs about $20. Longer recordings requested with one-day turnaround will be the most expensive, around $4 a minute.

Scribie: This service can accommodate almost any project. Its express service, with turnaround in 8-12 hours, costs $3.00 per minute. If you can wait up to a month for your completed transcription, you can pay as low as $.80 per minute.

Rev: Rev’s pricing is the most simple: just $1 per recorded minute with 24-hour turnaround. The only extras that cost more are adding timestamps or requesting verbatim transcription, in which you’ll see all of the “mmhmms” and “uhhs” that were recorded.

Voice Base: This service prices based on turnaround time and accuracy. The most expensive level, which guarantees 99% accuracy and includes speaker identification, costs $2.00 per minute with a five-to-seven day turnaround. That rate goes up to $2.50 per minute if you need the file in a maximum of four days. Need it in a day? That’ll cost you $3.00 per recorded minute.

Each of these services offers a method to record your calls and instantly send them for transcription, so you may not want to invest in a separate call recorder if you know you’ll want someone else to do your transcriptions.

8. Computer-generated transcrption

If you do a ton of long interviews, transcribing can get expensive. But if you’re willing to tolerate the uncertain accuracy of computer transcription, you have a few options.

You can upload your audio file to YouTube and click the box that generates a transcription. This is completely free — just be sure to mark your file as “private” if you’re just uploading to get the transcription.

Voice Base, mentioned above, also offers machine transcription and indexing. The first 50 hours of audio transcription are free, so it can’t hurt to try this one out and see how accurate your results are.

9. Transcribe it yourself (with some help)

Since the robots tend to fail and humans are expensive, you might resort to transcribing yourself.

Chrome plugin Transcribe is an offline audio player and text editor that allows you to listen and transcribe your interview within one tool without toggling back and forth between playback and typing programs on your computer. Even better, a few keyboard shortcuts allow you to rewind, fast forward and slow down your recording. It costs $20 per year, but the company offers a free one-week trial.

You have a ton of options depending on your device, personal preference, and typing speed. Cobble together a few of your favorites above and let us know how it goes!

How do you prefer to record and transcribe your interviews?

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Marian Schembari is a writer, storyteller and brainstorm partner based in Germany, who left her heart in San Francisco, New Zealand, London and New York. Part of her heart belongs to the internet, too. Marian believes in the internet’s power to invite a real, deep look into our... .

Marian Schembari | @MarianSchembari

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Comments

  1. Wow! Thanks for the YouTube trick. I have a tiny flash drive recorder I can use, but I never knew I could use YouTube to create a transcript. All of these tips are amazing–you’ve solved some of my most vexing issues as a HuffPo blogger. Thank you so much!

  2. Great resources Marian,
    Call recording and transcription is one of the tasks that bloggers usually find very difficult and it tends to stop some people from interviewing others and this is usually because they do know have or even know the right tools to use for it.

    But i love all the tools you mentioned here and will definitely check them out one after the other.

    Thanks for the recommendations.

  3. I recently started using the YouTube transcriptions–they need a lot of work, but are still helpful for short pieces.

    One of my favorite tools for recording is RINGR [http://www.ringr.us]. I think they’re still in Beta (but planning to go pro this fall). Doesn’t solve the “transcription” problem, but a great way to get clear recordings of phone calls regardless of the connection.

  4. Thanks for the help on how to record and transcribe interviews better. Thanks for providing tips on how to transcribe. Out of all the tips you provided, i really liked how you talked about transcrition sevices. I find myself not having a lot of time to type everything and in need of help to record everything. Hopefully these tips will help me the next time I find myself needing to record/transcribe something. Thanks for the help!

  5. Why not simply email your interview questions the way it is done in Luxe Beat Magazine and on
    one of our websites. When we are abroad, there is often limited Internet access. Good article. Thanks.

    • I’ve done both before and I find with voice-on-voice interviews, versus sending over some questions via email, you get a better sense of the respondent because you can hear all their emotions.

      I also find people express themselves better and more freely in a recorded session as opposed to a written one.

  6. I use Dragon software for transcription. Love it.

  7. Excellent article, Marian. Thank you for a thorough review of some great options.

  8. john berger says:

    I love all the information you offer, but as a total novice can I ask you if you could recommend a suitable pc to purchase for my novel.

  9. Lets add our own tool through Way With Words – a transcription service that also offers some stiff competition to the other brands. Fast growing and very accurate of course!

  10. Great article. Thanks!
    I was about to write a long comment to explain a free process from recording to editable text, but it needed pictures, so I quickly wrote an article: https://medium.com/@phmzo/transcript-your-interviews-and-phone-calls-free-631639e62d0e#.1a1te5dj7

  11. Awesome and very handy article, thanks – great tips re YouTube (think you just saved me a $300 Dragon Professional software purchase) and the microphone. The issue I have is that Tape a Call and Call Recording do not work with some international countries and the iPhone recorder will not record phone calls, so I think I’m still going to have to invest in a voice recorder that plugs into the phone lightning point.

  12. Link for those who want to work from home as transcriber or editor: https://gotranscript.com/we-are-hiring-transcribers

  13. Your site is really nice Thanks
    Many have wonderful very professional site

  14. Hi, Marian,

    Since you’ve written this article we’ve changed our pricing and delivery policies and now offer much faster and even lower rates.

    Express

    $1.75/min — delivered within 8-12 hours.

    1 Day

    $0.90/min — within 24 hours

    If the order is placed before 2:30 PM EDT (US), 36 hours if afterward.

    Flex 5

    $0.75/min — 3-5 days.

    More information available here: http://bit.ly/2cPyGku

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