‘Hidden noise’ problems when recording for transcription

Sometimes background noise in a recording is unavoidable, but it should be pretty obvious that it’s going to affect the recording! Examples might be a recording in a train station with lots of announcements and train noise in the background, a very noisy cafe with other conversations going on around you (not to mention coffee machines) or in a room with a bunch of screaming kids. We’ve transcribed all these sorts of recordings – sometimes it’s frustrating but we accept that at times it’s just unavoidable. With noises like this though it comes as no surprise to the researcher when we say, ‘Background noise is a bit of a problem!’

However, there are quite a few ‘hidden’ noises that can also cause problems, and, unless you’re aware of the possibility of them being a problem, it’s likely that you won’t notice them until it’s too late. Some of these are avoidable if you are prepared in advance – but some will fall into the ‘just have to live with it’ category, as above! However, hopefully the ‘hidden noises’ below will provide you with a few extra things to look out for before starting your recording.

  1. Silent ring. A mobile phone, even if set to silent ring, can interfere with the recorder, so that for the period that it’s vibrating or silent ringing the recording is inaudible. If you need to have mobile phones set to silent, we suggest you place them as far as possible from the recorder/microphone.
  2. Taking notes. When you take notes, you will hardly hear the sound of your pen shuffling across the paper, but the recorder will, if you are writing next to it! We have had recordings sent in where the speech is actually inaudible because the interviewee is sitting a bit away from the recorder and the interviewer is sitting almost on it and busily scribbling notes! The simple solution is to make sure the recorder is closer to the interviewee and to make sure that, if you need to take notes, the pad is not very close to the recorder/microphone.
  3. Shuffling papers. Similar to above – if you have paperwork, or anything else for that matter, such as a handbag, right next to the recorder, then shuffling or rustling noises can sound very loud.
  4. Wobbly recorder. Not a common problem, but we have one client who always seems to have it – if the recorder isn’t lying flat and the table or whatever the recorder is sitting on wobbles a bit, the recorder will rock and the sound of it moving will be considerably louder than the sound of the people speaking!
  5. Air conditioning. Air conditioning, while not sounding especially loud in the room, can interfere with some recorders and make the recording useless. DO take a short sample recording if you’re in a room with air conditioning, while the air conditioning is running, and make sure it’s OK. If it isn’t and you can’t change rooms, open the window if possible! The sound of traffic/building works etc. outside isn’t ideal either, and may cause some inaudible sections, but that’s better than an unusable recording!
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