How to record and transcribe interviews quickly and cheaply

JessicaWorkhacks and Livehacks55 Comments

Share this Post

I like finding computer-based ways to do my job cheaper and faster. Most of these methods are to cover up for my natural procrastination: using hotkeys, text inserters, autoresponders, and capture tools helps make up for the time I spent Googling “child riding boa constrictor.” I really, really love finding this stuff, but I never get to talk about it. Today I’d like to talk about recording and transcribing interviews.

I do 1-4 interviews a week. That’s a lot of audio to deal with, and, for just a little feature, that’s a lot of hearing some guy or girl you used to think was pretty interesting talking about how “melodic” their new record is (a lot of interviewers are terrible, but people forget that lots of bands don’t know how to talk to people either).

I use several things to make doing and transcribing interviews easier: Skype, Audacity, Express Scribe, and a program from Ecamm called Call Recorder. Skype and Audacity are free, and Call Recorder costs $14.95.

Here’s why this trio is an interviewer’s dream:

Skype / Skype Out: I purchased a Skype Out number for $2.95 a month. This allows people to call me from a land or cell line, and lets me call regular land/cell lines. I also get free calls in the US and Canada. I don’t usually have to call overseas, and Skype Out lets you pay as you go for international calls, at reasonable rates. Lately I’ve been using Google Voice for this, because their rates can be even cheaper. Sure it doesn’t have the portability of a cell phone, and you might have to look like this, but the call quality is usually great and it allows you to use the next tool.

Ecamm Call Recorder (for Macs).

This program’s amazing for two reasons:

1) You can set it to automatically record any call if it lasts more than 30 seconds (or any time length you want), so you don’t end up with a bunch of automatic recordings of your boyfriend asking if he should buy cat food or rings where no one answered, nor do you ever forget to turn it on when Cat Power calls you.

2) If you loathe the sound of your own voice and your pathetic questions next to the sound of Chan Marshall purring lazy answers at you, then Call Recorder will allow you to split the sides of the conversation. Cat Power purr on one file, your voice on the other. Now you can transcribe without cringing or crying. This is especially great if you’re grabbing quotes for a feature where you don’t need your questions at all.

3) You can add markers during the call, so, if you’re sprightly and sly, you can add markers like “Question about Scientology affiliation” and “Where he called me a genius,” and they’ll show up as chapter markers in Quicktime. If you convert the file, you can still export your markers (with the timecode) to a text file for easy reference.

4) I said two reasons. There are actually four. You have a visual meter, so you can make sure it’s recording and that it’s recording at a volume loud enough to hear later on.

Audacity (free, open-source sound editor):

Or even better, convert that .mov audio file to mp3 (you can do this with Call Recorder’s built-in scripts), then fire up Audacity and cut out the parts where you were asking questions (it’ll appear as silence on the interviewee’s file). Then you can use Change Tempo to slow it down. I find that -42% keeps the interviewee’s voice clear, but is slow enough to transcribe without having to pause. Hand that edited crap over to your transcriptionist (or intern, or boyfriend). If you’re paying someone and you’re a cheap-o, you could probably get away with editing out your voice, and speeding it up slightly, thus saving on those transcription-per-minute fees. Then you can spend your transcriptionist savings on artificial tears or a conscience.

Express Scribe (free)

If you’re transcribing files yourself and you have a Mac, I recommend using Express Scribe along with your own foot pedal. I just got mine, and it’s excellent, especially when I use it with Express Scribe. The program lets you set universal hot keys, slow down or speed up audio tempo on the fly, and add in time stamps automatically. I usually listen to audio at around 150% speed until I get to quotes I like, then I slow it down and just transcribe what I need.

What about typing during the call?
Some people can do this. I can’t. I usually stare at my own questions, or Google artists or locations they’ve mentioned while they’re talking, so I can come up with smart follow ups. I’ve just never been able to do more than write down the time or scratch a note whenever I’m interviewing someone. I lose my train of thought, or lose the flow of the conversation, if I try to transcribe while talking on the phone.

Oh yeah, also.
Get a headset. No way you can type or Google things or, I don’t know, trim your nails? Eat dinner? During interviews without one. Don’t you want to look this cool:

What about recording on your cell phone?
I have an iPhone, I believe there’s a program that can record your phone calls now. I also used to have one of those attachments from RadioShack that lets you connect your cell phone to a recorder. Me, I use For the cost of a single upgrade on a “drop,” I get a conference number where I can place conference calls. The same number will also automatically record the audio and upload it as an MP3 file to your account. The $10 also gets me storage space and outgoing faxes. Not a bad deal. When I need to record an interview on my cell phone I just call my conference number, then call my subject for an awesome three-way.


How about in-person interviews?
I’ve got an old iRiver IFP for this. It’s about five years old, but it still records to MP3, sync with my Mac, and has super clear audio. The best part? It’s really small. I haven’t recorded to tape since I had my old mini tape recorder in college, but I remembered how interview subjects’ eyes would also glance over at my recorder. I think seeing the thing makes people subconsciously self-conscious. My iRiver player is small enough to keep next to my hand, under the table, hidden behind a salt shaker at a diner, etc., so that the subject knows it’s there, but it’s small enough to forget. Loose lips make for the best interviews.

One last thing.
Don’t forget to check your state’s laws on taping conversations. My state, New York, allows for one-party consent. When I do phone interviews I don’t tell them I’m recording, I assume they know what they say to me is on the record. I usually make clear that I’m recording interviews when I do them in-person, just because they don’t always know everything’s on the record, and I’d rather avoid problems later.

Share this Post


Here’s some tips from some friends:

From Yancey Strickler:

the trick i always use is just having the internet transcribe my interviews for me. costs about $18 an interview. well worth it:

From my awesome ex-editor Reid Davis:

Also, when I’m away from my computer, I used MacAlly’s iVoice pro hardware plug-in for my iPod along with Griffin’s iTalk Pro software. You can record through the built-in mic, or plug in another device, like a landline phone (Radio Shack telephone recorder, about $12.)

From writer / Tucson friend Curtis McCrary:

also, fyi, google voice will record incoming phone calls for you (but not transcribe them). but it’s an easy shortcut to getting an interview recorded and in easy-to-listen-to form on the computer.

55 Comments on “How to record and transcribe interviews quickly and cheaply”

  1. Nina

    This is amazing! I use to write for a couple of magazines and I can relate to all of the above, and doing stuff old-school … radio shack and me are friends! My fav was interviewing Melora from Rasputina for Outburn … I am a cellist, and she is soft-spoken and I was totally sort of shy for some reason and feeling like a total fan girl … listening to the tape was hideous, but it ended up being a good interview on paper!

  2. Shaya

    oh. my. god. the HOURS i've spent transcribing… i could have had some of them back?? thank you for this, j. i'm upending my whole post-reporting process, stat.

  3. Matt Diehl

    Jesus, this is helpful. Yes, I just called you Jesus… Godlike. I thought I was up on this shit and… I’m not, obviously!

  4. Andreas Hasenauer

    Hi Jessica,

    may be you are interested in checking out
    We are a company based in Germany but we´re also in the process of expanding our services to the US. We have an outstanding reputation when it comes to audiotranscription solutions. We have just translated parts of our website into english language and our audiotranscription software f4 download is for free. Check it out…



  5. Whitney

    Thank you so much! I just got my drop and now I feel like I can breathe deeply not having to stress about transcribing (which I don’t really know how to do) while interviewing. Thank you!!

  6. Alex Hudson

    Oh man, I just downloaded ExpressScribe. Can’t wait to try this out. Thank you!

    By the way, all I do is use Skype and turn on GarageBand. It makes a really unbalanced mix (I’m really loud and it makes me cringe), but it doesn’t the trick with a minimum of fuss.

  7. Lindsey

    Thanks so much for all the great info. I just did a transcription with ExpressScribe and it is an awesome program!! You rock! 1 down and 9 to go…

  8. Teresa

    I went to this site and was a bit disturbed during the downloading to read the fine print. This is Australian company. Read this copied intro from the downloading agreement for free Express Scribe:
    1. The copyrights in this software and any visual or audio work distributed with the software belong to NCH Software. NCH Software reserves all rights. NCH Software licenses the distribution and installation of this software only in accordance with these terms.
    2. By installing, using or distributing this software you, on your own behalf and on behalf of your employer or principal, agree to be bound by these terms. If you do not agree to any of these terms, you may not use, copy, transmit, distribute, or install this software.

    Sometimes free comes with a price tag. This one is a bit steep for me.

  9. Greg

    Hi Teresa, if you are in the US: – Let’s look at your concerns:
    “This is Australian company. Read this copied intro from the downloading agreement for free Express Scribe:”

    Australia has a formal FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the US, which means that US copyrights, patents and IP laws are enforceable (and vice-versa).

    “The copyrights in this software and any visual or audio work distributed with the software belong to NCH Software. NCH Software reserves all rights. NCH Software licenses the distribution and installation of this software only in accordance with these terms.”

    Well, yeah, of course! I think your difficulty is probably with the phrase ” any visual or audio work distributed with the software belong to NCH Software ”

    What you are mis-understanding is that “distributed with” means “part of, or supplied with”, like help files, video demos etc. What you are (incorrectly, but understandably) concerned about is the difference between help files available to you (for free) WITH the software, as opposed to your own IP created BY USING the software. What you create is not “distriuted with” the software unless (being freeware) you decide to send them a suggested help-file addition, in which case, yeah, your suggestion goes free to the entire Web community.

    BUT, whatever you create USING the free software remains yours alone, unless you publish it, sell it or blogg it. NCH has no more right to your text than say- your keyboard manufacturer does.

    They are talking about content they created, not you. Consult another lawyer if unsure!

    Kind regards,

  10. Sandeep Ghael

    Hi Jessica,

    great article. Have you though about using something like Active Interview ( to do video interviews for you instead of Skype? With Active Interview, the videos would be recorded and you can collaborate on hiring with the rest of your hiring team, since multiple people can see the same recorded videos. And we have automatic transcriptions coming very soon (next 1-2 months).

    thanks again for the article!
    – Sandeep

  11. John

    Just a thought since you mentioned Google Voice. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t call your own number and play your audio files into your phone thus onto your voicemail. If you do that, Google Voice will try to transcribe it for free. It may not transcribe great, but it’s free and it should be an easy starting point for the transcription.

  12. Jessica

    I could do this, but in general the google transcriptions are only good for getting the gist. The time it would take to correct it wouldn’t be worth it.

  13. Vikas

    This is so helpful. Thank you so much. Question: Does Ecamm Call Recorder work when you place calls from Google Voice? If not, is there a different recording app you use with Google Voice?

  14. Jessica

    Ecamm works with Google Voice is you use Skype with it. Basically I have Google Voice route calls to my Skype Out number. Note that Google Voice on its own can record incoming calls, but not outgoing calls.

  15. Pingback: From the Listening Post… 06/14/2011 (a.m.) « Sean Lawson, Ph.D.

  16. Pingback: From the Listening Post… 06/14/2011 (p.m.) « Sean Lawson, Ph.D.

  17. Lagunatic

    Ack, I wish I’d seen this before.
    I recently did some interviews and used Google Voice to record them. I’ve got HOURS of recordings to go through and I was trying to figure out a way to get the GV recordings transcribed. Do you happen to know if there’s anyway way to save the GV files and open them in a transcription program?


    Dear Jessica

    I am a teacher by proffesion. In 2010 i was dismissed from work due to an alleged misconduct. I am supposed to appear for an arbitration very soon. I took the recordings of a disciplinary hearing to be transcribed and i was turned down by the transcribing company. I downloaded Express scribe and I am able to load pre-recorded files and playback, but can’t make my word processor to type the audio.

    I am from South Africa and this services are too scares in our country and I have just developed a passion in this field.

    I am hoping to get more coaching and thanking you in Advance.

  19. amy errmann

    Thank you so much for posting this, you just saved me so much time and energy in transcribing data for my thesis! I really appreciate it!!

  20. Matthew - DoneItNow Interview Transcription

    I totally agree, there is a number of ways to get transcription done quickly and easily. I personally wouldn’t want to spend heaps of my time doing transcription, considering 1 hour of audio can take 10+ hours to transcribe extremely accurately.

    With a service, like the one we offer, you end up paying a small amount like $1 per minute of audio you need transcribed and you get it back pretty quickly… Personally I would rater pay $60 to get 1 hr of audio transcribed, which would give save me serious time… :-)

    But that is just me! :-).

    We have written more about different online transcription services here :-).

  21. Pingback: TheInterviewr – A Web App for Recording Interviews - Jessica Suarez » Music & Tips & Links - Music and links from the only writer/editor in Brooklyn.


    If you actually do hit her a few times back, it won’t look favorable to you in court. They are mostly of the order of multi millions if not more. Okay so you live in another country like Switzerland ‘ and if you
    are reading this then it is probably safe to say that you speak English and
    it is probably your first language.

  23. watch dogs ps3

    Its like you learn my thoughts! You appear to grasp a lot about this, such as
    you wrote the ebook in it or something. I believe that you simply can do with some p.c.
    to pressure the message house a little bit, however other than that, this is fantastic blog.
    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  24. how to trade stocks

    Hey! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog.
    Is it tough to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about
    making my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Thank you

  25. webpage

    This posting, “How to record and transcribe interviews quickly
    and cheaply – Jessica Suarez -” ended up being
    excellent. I’m generating out a replicate to demonstrate to my buddies.
    Many thanks-Darnell

  26. Juan

    I spent a couple of days looking for a transcription software for linux and found nothing. Sadly Express Scribe does not have a linux version, so I ended up doing my own software.
    I made it cross-platform so it can be used in any system (windows, mac, or linux). Take a look at it and let me know what you think

  27. Luis Pelayo

    Hi All, offers a online speech to text platform. You can capture and or upload files from just about any desktop and mobile device. IOS devices are limited to video only based on IOS restrictions. uSubtitle automates the process of timing captions/subtitles to video and audio by generating the text and timing from the uploaded file. uSubtitle currently offers a US English & US Spanish Dialect.

  28. Rodrigo

    Hello admin do you need unlimited content for your site ? What if you could copy article
    from other pages, make it unique and publish on your blog – i know the right tool for you, just search in google:
    Ziakdra’s article tool

  29. moroccan tiles

    Right now it appears like BlogEngine is the top
    blogging platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what
    you’re using on your blog?

  30. Georgianna

    I saw this post on other blog. It had identical meaning but in a completely different words, they use advanced article rewriter, you should read about it, just type in google:
    Niachight’s rewriter

  31. Vinay Kumar

    Thanks for your share valuable posting.I have collect more than information about call recording. It is really wonderful blog. I like it.!! recording app

  32. the best spinner guide

    It’s actually very complex in this active life to listen news on TV,
    therefore I simply use world wide web for that reason, and obtain the most up-to-date information.

  33. Michele

    I am looking for a way to record interviews on the phone (not via speakerphone) and convert them to text. I have a MAC. MS Word for MAC has enhanced dictation, which is great, but is there a program that can take recordings and transcribe them?

  34. tiffany jewelry

    Anyone who has brought about reactions to in the past that is designed to also camusement with a physician before taking this advice again;the birth. especially who are ready or whe plan to bederived pregnant should check with their physicians before taking my previous medicines. . . Whether non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs link to birth defects in people is de facto unknown. but some do cause birth defects in laboratory animalswe would

  35. Augusta

    If you are interested in topic: earn money online for students in philippines
    used cars – you should read about Bucksflooder first

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *