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When I was majoring in college journalism, we were always taught to record our interviews. Recording your interview was the only way to ensure that your information would be accurate – it’s all too easy to not write something down or miss something during a conversation.
One of our assignments for my journalism classes was to interview one of our grandparents. I headed over to my grandpa’s house one day with a tape recorder in one hand and a list of family history questions to ask in another. Had it not been for that assignment, I don’t think I would have ever learned so much about my grandpa, nor would I have the priceless audio recording of our conversation.
Looking back on different memories in my life and remembering people who are no longer with us, it saddens me I don’t have more audio recordings.
We often take for granted that we know the sound of someone’s voice. After someone is gone, our memories of what the person may have sounded like quickly fade away. It’s a sad thing when you think about a person one day and you realize you can’t remember the sound of their voice.
Why Audio? Wouldn’t Video Be Better?
You might be thinking that maybe you could just record videos just as easily as audio, or that the videos might somehow be a better option over audio. I’m not sure I agree with that.
It’s Simple Science: Audio Wins
Listening to just the audio of something gives you a completely different experience than if you were to watch a video of the same thing. While most people would say they find that video is more engaging, the reality is biometrics tell us audio gives us a bigger emotional connection.
Audio recordings capture something intangible in a way that photographs and videos simply cannot and science shows us audio triggers a different physical response.
Lose Your Inhibitions by Recording Audio
Another problem with video is you will also almost always have the “inhibition factor”. When you have a video camera, people tend to get camera shy. They worry about how they will look and appear on the camera. I can’t tell you how many horrible online classes I’ve watched by great teachers who aren’t natural on camera.
Think about when you talk to someone on the phone vs. talking to them through a video call. You’re more likely relaxed and candid while chatting on the phone than you would be if you were in a Zoom call.
With audio, when you take away the concern about appearances – you are simply recording a conversation – people tend to be more relaxed and more open about sharing their stories.
Multi-Task: You Should Be Talking to Yourself More
While audio is fantastic for recording conversations between two people, I’ve also discovered that just recording myself talking has its own benefits.
I can record my own memories, thoughts, and ideas while I do almost anything. I can slip my smartphone into my pocket, throw on my headset and talk about some of my favorite childhood memories – or even plan out my next blog post – while I scrub the kitchen floor.
The ease of recording audio and the portability of it all also can make it a lot easier to get people who are very busy to get on board. They could record themselves talking during their commute to work, or even while they get some fresh air and exercise.
People who say “They don’t have time to record their memories” – no longer have an excuse. If they can put on a headset and carry their phone in their pocket (which many people are doing already just in their daily routines!) – they can record audio.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you by now that recording audio is a good thing. It’s science! You don’t have to worry about how you look or if your backdrop is too cluttered! You can be more productive!
Recording audio is awesome – so now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of doing it easily – no advanced tech skills required!
Gear You Need to Record Audio
- Your smartphone, tablet or a laptop
- An audio recording app that lets you easily record and export recordings
- An external microphone
You probably already have a phone and an audio recording app is just a few clicks away. While not always necessary, an external mic can help you have clearer recordings which will give you better results when you transcribe the recording.
Microphones I Use
Ray and I do a lot with music when we’re not working (we even released an album!) – so we probably have a good bit of professional studio-quality recording gear that would be overkill for the average person. Fortunately, there are some awesome options for anyone who’s not a recording engineer.
When I’m only recording myself talking, I use this super cheapie microphone, literally $10 and in stock at most Wal-mart stores. It’s actually quite surprisingly comfortable and the microphone is adjustable. This is ideal for multi-tasking or even just taking notes of things I’m researching or doing.
The only disadvantage to a headset microphone like the one I use of course is that it has a cord – and getting it to adapt to work in my iPhone with no audio jack requires some adapters.
If you are willing to splurge a bit and spend $20-$40 on headphone/microphone combos, you can get a Bluetooth headset with a microphone that will free you from the cables. If you truly want the freedom to record audio anywhere while you multi-task, ditching the cord is recommended!
If I’m recording other people, any external microphone is going to be a huge improvement over the built-in microphones on your phone or laptop. Ideally, you want what is called a Condenser microphone. These microphones will pick up everything, and so they are best when recording two people together talking.
You can also explore Bluetooth external condenser mics. This will ditch the cords if you want to be able to record two people talking. You will always get better audio quality with a wired mic, but the bluetooth mic makes sense if you don’t want to be tied down to your device.
Don’t Forget The Adaptors!
Make sure when you buy a microphone you get whatever adapters you need. It’s 99% likely you will need some kind of adapter for your cell phone depending on what kind of microphone you get, especially if you’re in the world of Apple products like we are. Fortunately, there is a jack adapter for just about everything.
Are there more advanced setups? Of course. But the goal is to keep things simple + casual so you have a natural recording.
The Best + Easiest Recording App
For recording software on my phone, I use an app called Easy Voice Recorder. As the name implies, it is very easy to use. You press record, you save, you share. Available on nearly every single device. It is free to try + the upgrade for no ads makes it worth every single penny.
It also has built-in audio transcription which can be quite helpful if you want to convert your audio files to a text format without subscribing to any professional transcription apps. While I like Descript much more for transcribing, the built-in feature in Easy Recording App is way better than nothing if you are on a budget!
Of course, you can always go with any audio recording app. Audacity, Quick Time, Garage Band are some great cheap options for your PC and there’s probably thousands of other voice recording apps for phones and tablets.
With all recording apps, the most important thing is it’s easy for you to use and that you can easily export the songs and share them with other people. If you’re confused by any of the settings or it’s a pain to get the audio recording to someone else, consider something different.
Tips to Make Your Recordings Successful
- When recording other people, such as recording an interview, always make sure they are aware you are recording the conversation and record them giving you consent – this is important if you live somewhere like I do in PA where we have wiretapping laws.
- Make a few test recordings to check your audio connections and familiarize yourself with using your recording app before you start. Make sure you are recording before you start talking.
- Try to record in a quiet place – doesn’t have to be silent but you want to at least try to avoid anything too noisy, such as high winds, areas with a lot of traffic, your dishwasher in the background or someone else watching a movie nearby.
- Plan what you will talk about ahead of time: It’s typically good etiquette to give the person you are interviewing a copy of the questions ahead of time but can also just give them some basic idea of what you’ll be focusing on.
- If you are recording yourself, you might want to plan an outline or short list of what you want to talk about just so you stay on topic and don’t forget anything.
- Don’t get caught up in trying to make it perfect. Mistakes happen. Remember the purpose of the recording is to get the information down, not to make a professional production! Besides, those “bloopers” may actually end up being some great memories themselves!
And really – that’s it! Recording audio is so easy, there’s no reason NOT to do it. Once you have the raw audio – the final step is to preserve it!
How To Preserve Your Recording
My first early recordings of course were all done on cassette tapes. While the original cassette tapes have somehow by some miracle survived 20-30 years, I can’t say the same about compact discs.
When you record your audio on your phone or laptop, you will likely have either a .mp3, .m4a, or .wav file of the recording. Any of these three formats is fine to use because they are relatively universal and can be opened with almost any app that recognizes audio.
The important thing is that you make several backups of the recording.
Here’s where and how to backup your audio files:
- Save the files to the cloud, whether it’s iCloud, DropBox, Google Drive, or Amazon s3.
- Save the files to an external hard drive – this help ensures you have an extra backup in the event you forget to pay for extra cloud storage or accidentally delete things.
- Share the files with anyone who might be interested in preserving them – this could be as simple as emailing the file to other family members, who can then also make their own backups.
Audio files will likely not go away anytime soon, but it’s important to remember that technology is ever-evolving. In addition to saving copies of the recording itself, it’s also a wise idea to transcribe it into text.
The Easy Voice Recorder app features automatic transcription, but the transcription isn’t always easy to read afterward. It’s definitely better than nothing, but it’s not exactly easy to read and edit and requires some manual effort.
If it’s in your budget and you have a lot of audio to preserve, I highly recommend Descript – this is a great program that transcribes your audio with amazing accuracy.
Best of all, with Descript, all of the formatting is automatic and it’s easy to edit the recording and the transcript.
It even lets you easily overdub, adds your punctuation, removes the extra “ums” and “uhs” from the text and more. Truly, I’m a HUGE fan!
Recording audio isn’t hard and it’s an easy way to preserve important members for generations to come in ways that video and photographs simply can’t. I hope this post inspires you to start making audio recordings to preserve your family’s memories, and of course, if you have any questions, just ask in the comments below!