20 Apr Journalism 101: What do I use to record an interview?
Last week, one of my dear readers posted this comment:
Hey Aliya (and fellow writers), got a totally non-blog-related question for you:
I got an interview tomm with sonia sanchez. Is there a way I can record the conversation while on my blackberry (conducting the interview on the phone and also record on the bb)?
I immediately broke out in hives when I read this. I love this dear reader. (She was the first person to make me feel like a real blogger by screaming FIRST! in my comments section. Heh.)
But her comment was perplexing.
She wanted to know how to record an interview…on her Blackberry?
I don’t even like the way that sounds. Now, if she wanted to just play around and maybe record audio for her blog or something fun, by all means, use your newfangled devices. But an interview with Sonia Sanchez? I’m assuming it’s for publication. Why take chances with recording on a Blackberry? That can’t be reliable! Or is it?
Started me to thinking about what I use to record. And the truth is, it’s taken me ten years to find the right equipment.
When I first started out, I used a plain old cassette recorder and the big tapes:
Pretty reliable. Needed new batteries every ten seconds but besides that, the recorders are durable. But the tapes are not. I have hundreds of interviews on cassette that I worry will never be heard again. I’d love to transfer them to digital files. But who has time (and money) for that? Not I. So on my front porch they sit, gathering dust.
I fell out of love with cassette tapes when the ribbons began to get stuck. Nothing worse than coming back to your computer and having to sit there and re-spool your tape with a pencil and pray that the audio is still there. *shudder*
A few years later, I switched over to mini-recorders and mini-tapes:
Pure whackness. Not as durable. Not as reliable. And awful audio. And the tiny tapes get lost easier. Fell out of love with that method before I walked out of Radio Shack.
The worst part of audio tapes was that you had to always keep one eye on the tape. When it stopped, you had to turn it over. That was always a moment I dreaded. You’re in mid-interview. And the subject is completely relaxed and speaking freely on some traumatic event that you just know will be in your story. And you see that little button pop up, like that little joint on the Thanksgiving turkey, signifying that your time is up: Right your mother died. oh, can you hold those tears one second? I need to flip my tape. Oh, this is the second side. Did I flip this side already? Yeah, I did. Let me just open up this packet of tapes. You have a pair of scissors? Great. Give me one second. Oops. Can’t seem to close the deck. Oof. There. Okay. You were saying?
Tapes just had to go.
When the digital age hit hard, I copped an I-pod. And then I found this little contraption.
It was love at first sight. I took my i-pod everywhere anyway. Now I could stick in a microphone and have a recorder at the ready?! Awesome!
The best part was that I could download the interview directly into my I-tunes folder. Crisp, clean audio that I could play over and over without damaging the file. Very wonderful.
Until that day in Atlanta.
*cue thunder and lightning here*
I was in Atlanta, interviewing Big Boi’s wife. Her name is Sherlita Patton and she had a super-cute clothing boutique at the time. Sherlita didn’t really want to be interviewed but I’d worn her down until she finally agreed.
When your subject is wary, you have to focus on making them feel comfortable. You can’t keep darting your eyes down to check on your recorder. You can’t hold your breath, praying that the red light is still on. You have to lock eyes with your subject and get your Barbara Walters on. Nod your head approvingly, murmur sounds of understanding, mutter girl, i know that’s right when necessary. While all the while, taking note of their body language and their surroundings.
And when I’m doing an interview, I usually have a notebook and a pen in my lap. I can’t just depend on audio to pick up everything, I also scribble quotes as much as I can.
So Sherlita is slowly opening up, telling me how she met Big Boi, her thoughts on his musical partnership with Andre 3000, her children…
I glance down. And my I-pod is not recording.
Any writer will tell you, this is the worst feeling in the world.
Now what do you do?
You start writing. Fast.
I scribbled and scribbled as fast as I could, praying my I-pod would restart. I could hear it making a sick whirring noise and it did not sound good. I was distracted and I’m sure my subject could tell.
Finally, she got a shipment and needed to sign off on some boxes. I excused myself and tried to see what was up with my recorder. No luck. Even called Mac tech support right there in the store, whispering to the tech guy to help me please. No luck. I pod was completely frozen.
I had to hand write the rest of the interview. I think my hand is still cramped.
My I-pod worked perfectly fine after that and I never figured out what happened. Still scared me. I tried out several different I-pod recorders. But I never found the perfect one that made me feel secure.
(One thing I did like about the I-pod: celebrities loved it and it made a good ice-breaker. Every time I pulled it out to interview someone, they would say, you can record on your Ipod? Where’d you get that? Show me! Diddy, Christina Milian and Usher all copped recorders for their I-pods after peeping mine…)
About a year ago, I finally found the recorder I think I’ll use forever. It’s this joint right here.
Nothing too flashy. It’s a digital recorder and I can download audio onto my computer. The key is that it’s just a digital recorder. Unlike the I-pod, it doesn’t have extra bells and whistles that could cause it to lock up or fail. Takes two triple A batteries that last a good long time.
This joint is super basic. Press red button to Record. Press triangle to Play. Press square to Stop. It’s small enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the interview. And once you lock it, you don’t have to worry about it turning on by accident. You can throw it in your bag and it’s safe. Very light too. I carry two of these with me to every interview. And when I’m interviewing by phone, I turn on the speakerphone and set the recorder up nearby.
Though I must say, I don’t like that set up. I hate using speakerphone during a phone interview. Logistically, I just don’t like it. If the subject is on a cell phone, it can be awkward. I find myself talking too loud and repeating myself or asking the subject to repeat themselves. Generally, I need to cradle the phone during a phone interview, which means I can’t record. I’ve heard of recording devices you can just stick on the actual phone. But I’ve never tried it…
For now, I’m sticking with my RCA joint.
Dear readers, what do you use for interviews? Are you still using (gasp!) cassette tapes? Do you have any experience with the recorder that sticks onto the phone? Did you ever use the I-pod recorder? Are there some advances in recording devices that I’m not up on? Do you have interview horror stories because of faulty recording devices? And to my dear reader who inspired me to write this post, how did your interview go? Did you use your Blackberry?
I’d love to hear from you…