Sometimes recording a podcast or oral history can be more intimidating than the interview itself. After all, the final product is a tribute to the person you are interviewing. Technology for capturing audio has become simpler and easier to use in the last few years, but sorting out which instruments produce the best results is not as obvious.
I’ve recorded more than 100 hours of interviews in the last year alone. Most of these were heritage related and shared on the web. I’ve learned a few things about recording media (mostly from trial and error) and thought I’d share a few of my recommendations for equipment that will help you record a high-quality product that is suitable to archive (Note: some of these are Amazon affiliate links).
If you have an iPhone, you potentially have pretty decent recorder already. Just download the 99 cent app called “Recorder” from iTunes and you have a device that can capture almost any conversation. Face-to-face interviews are easy, but what makes this app so special is that you can purchase minutes inexpensively to record phone calls to land lines as well. The resulting audio is mediocre, but in cases where you don’t have direct access to your interviewee or the ability to chat with them online, this is a terrific solution.
One of the most popular portable digital recorders on the market is the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder. I’ve recorded many interviews with this flexible device. The H2 can be used on any standard tripod and comes with attachments that allow it to stand up on a table for group interviews, or be used as a handheld mic for standing “reporter-style” exchanges. Its chic “old-time radio” design is unfortunately offset by a cheap plastic casing. But it produces very good sound and is easy to use. At less than $150, it strikes the right balance between price and performance.
For $100 more, the Edirol R-09HR High-Resolution WAVE/MP3 Recorder is my personal choice for audio recorders. In fact, mine goes with me just about everywhere. It’s a tad smaller than the H2 and has a more understated casing of black with silver accents. It doesn’t have any fancy attachments and runs through batteries a bit more quickly than the H2. So why do I prefer it? It records sound beautifully. Few other portable products come close. The better your sound, the more flexibility you have in sharing it.
Both the Edirol and the Zoom H2 use AA batteries and record to SD Flash Memory Cards. Both come with USB cords to download your recordings. The Recorder app on the iPhone will actually save recordings on the phone or online, giving you a web link to listen to the file, download it, or even share it.
If you would like to record directly to your computer, $70 will buy a pretty decent microphone that hooks into your USB port. Early on, I used the Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone (Brushed Aluminum), which has a cool form factor and records well enough for most folks. I recommend these for quick voice-over work since a laptop and large microphone will likely intimidate most interviewees.
If your interviewee has a webcam, Skype is a great option for recording interviews and provides a more personal connection than a phone call. I’ve interviewed folks from Australia, Scotland, Hong Kong and Naples on Skype with excellent results. Call Recorder is the gold standard software for recording Skype conversations on a Mac. Pamela is its equivalent on the PC. Both are inexpensive downloads, and great for recording conversations with the kids and distant relatives if nothing else.
Whether you choose the portable or direct methods of recording, you will ultimately need software to edit your files. Fortunately, some of the simplest software options are free. Audacity is an open-source program that runs on Macs and PCs. Garageband is a program that comes standard on most Macs. Each of these products let you “see” the soundwaves in your recording to edit extraneous noise and even out tones.
If you have questions about these products or others for recording your interviews, or would like to start your own heritage podcast, feel free to contact me.