Episode 12 : Recording Technique

by Ian

in Audio, Conversation, Podcast, Technology

Just before and after you press Record!

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In Episode Twelve of Create Your Life Story we look at what we are going to do in the actual recording process

We have everything ready and it’s time to actually start recording.  You have:

  • Prepared the person for the recording by telling them about it and to start thinking of stories and events
  • You have a general list of subjects, events, questions and people to discuss
  • You have prepared engaging questions and opening statements(self recording)
  • You have arranged a time and place to do the recording
  • Equipment is prepared and you know how to use it
  • A quiet comfortable environment has been chosen
  • Refreshments are on hand
  • Photos, documents and paraphernalia are nearby for discussion

    Zoom H4 with Lapel mics

    All Plugged in and Ready to Record

Now it’s time to dive in and start.  But lets sort out the microphones first.

Placement of the microphones require two considerations:

  1. Vicinity to the source of the sound being recorded
  2. Comfort for the user of the microphone

Placement to the person needs to be close enough to avoid picking up too much of the ambient sounds from the greater environment but not intimidating or distracting from the conversation.  Some sounds will always be picked up as the background atmosphere as is appropriate, provided the conversation is always the dominant audio that can be heard clearly without effort.  If the microphone is too far away from the source it will be necessary to increase the gain(volume) of the audio, bring with it the increase in volume of the background sounds.

Comfort is of greater importance.  Desk microphones will give superior sound but require the correct use of microphone technique and performing to the microphone(a skill that takes time to learn and develop), which is not a relaxed conversational style.  If the microphone is situated so as to pick up the conversation then the participants can relax, move around a little and chat in a natural style.  Placing a microphone on a table nearby that picks up everyone within a smallish radius means that you can engage while sitting at a table.  Using lapel(lav) microphones enables the microphones to maintain the same distance from the person as they move around without the concern of speaking to the microphone.

Test the use of the microphone so that you are not breathing into it, creating plosives and popping but speaking past it.  Lapel mics need to be attached to fabric that moves in such a way as not not rub against the microphone or create a rustling sound.  The sounds coming from the microphone are different to the sounds that you hear when just listening to a conversation as the sound is recorded not from the greater atmosphere that our ears hear but from the end of the microphone.

Once the location is established with refreshments, physical prompts and notes, set up the recorder and microphones and fire everything up to check sound quality, audio levels and adjust so that everything is correct and as is desired.  Now is the time to sort out any issues before you start so they are of no concern later.  Turn the fan to blow away from the microphones, put the dog outside and pour another beer.  Now you’re set and ready to record.  Press record before you are ready to record and just let it run as you settle in, doing the final bit of fiddling, idle chatter and banter even if you are self recording.

So here you are everything is in place and the recorder is recording already capturing you mumbling to yourself or chatting away.  Time to start…

  1. Say a greeting
  2. Include the date
  3. The reason you are here and how you feel
  4. Who you are and who is with you
  5. What is the location and the weather with descriptions
  6. Then ask a simple question… like, “What is your/my first memory?”
  7. Have a conversation biased towards the person who’s Life Story it is and away you go – Simple

Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect as you have the ability to edit the recording later, so if something doesn’t work or isn’t clear, just repeat it.  Then fix it in the edit.

Chat and converse, laugh and joke, eat, drink and engage as you always do in conversations and quickly you will relax and it will all start to flow, then soon you will have forgotten that there is a recording happening.  Ask questions and clarify things so that if those listening don’t know the exact ‘lay of the land’ of the conversation they will soon understand who, what, where and when everything interrelates.

Allow conversations to flow.  Follow a roughly chronologically order but when the conversation goes off subject allow it to flow in that direction, in a natural way and only when the subject has reach it’s conclusion then back track to where you were in the timeline and continue onto where you were going before you diverted.  If on reflection you return to a subject that is out of context to the current conversation it can be edited into the timeline or content where it is more appropriate.  Don’t cripple a conversation to keep it in any format but allow it to ramble and wander as conversations do, so as to maintain the relaxed conversational style.  But!  Also don’t allow the conversation to jump all over the place never finishing a subject or story flitting like a butterfly from one subject or time to another, never reaching a conclusion, as this will only confuse the listener.  The most satisfying conversations are the ones that are relaxed and evolving but have constant resolutions of understanding.  A great conversation is about achieving that balance.

Have a breaks when needed and measure fatigue with all concerned.  An hour long conversation is generally long enough for most people in one single non stop session  Don’t plan to do an entire Life Story in one session(however you may) but plan for several.  This gives the opportunity for everyone to consider and think through the experiences once it has started and come up with new interesting ideas that can be included in the next session.  Take notes during the recording to then flush out and use at follow up times.

Where appropriate pause and wait.  Allow a moment of reflection or emotion to pass without rushing.  If external noise interferes with the conversation just stop until it passes then review and repeat as is necessary, it can be adjusted in the editing.  Allow some amount of conversational banter to be recorded including additional people who may be in the environment.  Comment when refreshments are served, engage with them and have them respond.  These additional pieces of audio sometimes enrich the overall recording with an element of place and time in surprising ways.  Describe the surroundings and what you are doing additional to the specifics of the actual recording.

At some stage record two minutes of the back ground room audio or atmosphere with complete silence and no speaking, this may be used during the editing process to create a pause or help link two sections of audio.

On completing the recording as soon as is practically possible, transfer the files if necessary and make multiple backup copies to safe guard against possible disasters of loosing data.  Once all the editing is completed maintaining a single original version of the recording is all that is necessary but until then have extra copies.

Before the next session review the notes you have taken and prepare for what you would like to cover in the next one.  If you have the time, start editing so that you have a bit of a feel for how the recording is coming together.  This will give you an understanding of what to look out for and what to modify during the next session.  It will help you understand the environment that you’re recorded in, the conversational style and the use of the equipment.  With what you discover you will be able to modify subtle things so as to enable the next recording to be easier and of a higher standard.

As the recording of the final session comes to it’s conclusion, wrap it up in such a way to summarise the whole experience.  Reflect on what has been achieved and what the purpose of recording this Life Story is.  Consider what you hope to achieve next and how things will continue to develop.  Maybe even mention additional recordings to this Life Story that will be recorded in the future.

The trick as usual is to get started sooner rather than later


  • Set up the recording environment
  • Place microphones and test monitor to establish recording quality
  • Start recording
  • Commence recording with list from above
  • Carry on the conversation
  • Take notes
  • Back up the recording once completed
  • Edit and prepare for next session

The e-Book Recording Life Stories is designed to give you an overview in one helpful place of the ideas we are covering here Just sign up for it in the side bar form.

Do you know someone else who would be interested in a Life Story project? Send them the email from this post to help explain

Record or Write, Your or My Life Story Biography

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