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When it comes to recording sound, not all equipment is created equal. But even if you can’t afford a top-of-the-line audio kit, there is a wide range of devices that you can use to gather sound for your stories. In the end, whether you’re using a Zoom H4N or a Fisher Price Cassette Recorder, it’s still the audio you gather that truly makes your story compelling. In this post, we’ll focus on tips for using one of the most accessible audio recording devices — the smartphone.
HOW TO RECORD USING A SMARTPHONE
Most smartphones today have a built in microphone and recording function (example: iPhone’s voice memo), and can be used in a pinch to conduct interviews and gather sound. Here are a few tips for using your phone effectively as a recorder:
- Find a quiet room — preferably one with carpet, lots of furniture, etc. — for interviews. Unplug or remove all devices that click, tick, ring, hum or buzz.
- Make sure your phone has enough space. You don’t want to gather awesome sound only to find out there’s nowhere to save it!
- Have the person being interviewed hold the device’s receiver a few inches away from their mouth. If you want to capture multiple people’s voices, ideally each person will have their own phone. If the phone is too far away, their voices will be hard to hear.
- Consider investing in an external microphone. If you need to gather higher quality sound, there are many setup options (like this one) that allow you to record and edit via your phone. External microphones can also help if you want to gather characteristic sounds of a particular scene.
- Check out some broadcast/recording apps. There are many free or inexpensive mobile apps that allow you to customize the levels and quality of the sounds you record on your phone. Two popular options are Hindenburg and Transom — though new ones are popping up every day!
- Can’t go there in person? Record your phone calls. “Phoner tape,” as it’s called in audio editing circles, isn’t the highest quality sound — that’s why many radio studios use tape syncers (locals with audio equipment who can gather sound in-person) to do remote interviews. But if your source lives far away and you’re on a budget, there are still ways to preserve that audio. Check out inexpensive apps like Tape A Call or Recorder. Free options are possible using Skype and Google Voice. If you’re doing a phoner, try asking the person you’re interviewing if they have a smartphone. If so, they can record using the voice memo option on their device (using the tips above) and then email you the audio afterwards.
OTHER RECORDING OPTIONS
Computer (desktop or laptop). Built-in computer microphones generally aren’t as high quality as the ones in smart phones, but you can always pair them with a good external microphone to get decent sound. Check out Transom’s guide to setting up a basic home studio for tips on mics and software. Free audio editing software mainstays like Audacity and GarageBand are excellent programs for beginners.
Portable Digital Recorder. Outside of a professional studio, a high quality portable digital recorder is your best bet to get broadcast-quality sound — but expect to shell out a few hundred bucks. Transom has a comparison guide geared toward professional storytellers that may help you make your choice. Don’t forget, for a full set up you’ll also want to invest in a good pair of headphones and an external mic that fits your needs.