My new interviewing + transcribing system

by Rachel Smith
03 February 2017

A few weeks ago, it was raining heavily and the nanny and my two-year-old had the run of the house. In other words, he would knock on every bedroom door, bathroom door, cupboard etc until he found me.

I had an interview to do and my then-system – phone on loud speaker with dictaphone next to it – was not possible with a curious toddler around, so I headed out to my car. You’d think a car would be a pretty good little soundproof booth, but the rain was torrential, the interviewee could barely hear me due to a glitch with my phone and it was all a bit of a disaster.

With several interviews coming up that week, I needed a new system and I needed it NOW. Enter, TapeACall – which many recommended on the Freeline list and which works with both iphone and Android – and Rev, an overseas transcription service which links in to the TapeACall app.

I paid $7 or thereabouts for a year of unlimited calls with the TapeACall app, and promptly did my first interview in a booth at Sydney Uni library. You press the record button on the app, it pops up with your phone screen, you press ‘add call’, dial the number of the interviewee, and press ‘merge call’. There’s a beep as the TapeACall system puts you into a conference call with the person you’re interviewing, and that’s that. It worked perfectly. You can also do the same – hooking into the app and recording the call – if someone calls you.

The actual interview downloaded seconds after I got off the phone. The quality was perfect – crystal clear. That’s been the case with every interview I’ve done (although I’ve heard some say the TapeACall quality can suffer at times). I then pressed a button to ‘share’ the sound file – you can send it to Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote or your email, so you can download to your computer for transcription. (If I’m doing it myself I like to use this website, which drastically reduces the time transcribing.) Or, you can send it directly to Rev via the app.

This, too, was pretty simple – I created an account, added a credit card and uploaded the file. Within 24 hours I had the transcript in my inbox and it cost me around $34 Australian ($26USD). Again, the quality was pretty good. I’ve used offshore and local transcribers and Rev was about 80 percent accuracy. I’d use the service again if I needed a transcript quickly and didn’t have time to do it myself.

Pros? No mad scramble for dictaphone batteries 3 minutes before the interview starts, I don’t need to worry about background noise during the interview, and the worst part of my job – transcribing – is in someone else’s capable hands. Hurrah!

Cons? If you forget to press ‘merge call’ before the interview – which is easy to do – nothing records. That’s enough to give you nightmares. And, Rev’s transcription costs take a cut out of your story earnings.

However, ultimately I can now do an interview on the phone, in a cupboard if I need to, and there’s far less chance the 2-year-old will find me. Winning.

Have you used TapeACall or Rev? Or another system for interviews? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
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14 responses on "My new interviewing + transcribing system"

  1. Vivienne says:

    Can you use TapeACall from a landline call? I have dodgy mobile reception at home so prefer using my landline for interviews if I’m home but my mobile if I’m out.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I have a feeling it’s just available on a mobile, Vivienne – here’s the FAQ: https://www.tapeacall.com/faq

  2. rebeccabarker says:

    What a great, informative and practical article. Thanks!

  3. I’ve been using Tape-A-Call for years Rachel – I’m one of the people extolling its virtues on the Freeline list – and it really is the most useful app. You do need to have an high end mobile phone plan or the call costs can hurt but apart from that I just don’t understand why every journalist doesn’t use it. Not only does it mean you only have one device which you’d be carrying anyway, it also means you’re not tied to your desk. I’ve done interviews while away at a conference, in an airport and by the side of the road.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Hey Darren, I agree – the fact that I can cut down to one device is amazing. However, the call costs you mention make me a bit nervous… Haven’t had this month’s bill yet :-\

      1. Hiya Rachel, because the app dials a server in Melbourne to conference the call – which is on top of the call to your interviewee – it can cost big time. But these days you can get plans for $70 a month with unlimited calls. If you don’t have one of these, time to talk to your mobile provider.

        1. Rachel Smith says:

          I got my bill and was nervous after what you said – but I think I am on one of those plans. It was the same as always! Phew. Thanks for mentioning it though, it might apply to others wanting to use the same system.

  4. PCraswell says:

    I love oTranscribe! And the other one looks great too – I haven’t tried it yet. Thank you as I also had a nightmare interview recently – in my case, skype was unable to connect and my landline handset went dead on me in the middle of the interview! Cheers, Penny

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I did a Skype interview last week at around 9pm and wasn’t sure how to tape it… I just put my phone next to the computer and recorded it that way. Luckily Skype worked but I tell you I wouldn’t want to rely on it for interviews; so many family calls I’ve been on with our UK family have gone haywire…

      You should definitely give TapeACall a try Penny!

  5. Sabine says:

    I use a Sony recording device and an Olympus telephone TP8 pickup. You just plug the pickup into your recording device’s microphone output and then put the earbud in your ear, which acts as the pickup. All you have to do is call the person on your mobile and make sure you hold the phone to your ear as per usual. The pickup records both the interviewee’s voice along with your own. No more need for putting the phone on speaker. Have not had a problem yet. (Touch wood)

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I’ve used this method too, Sabine, but I couldn’t make it work – the ear mic gave me so much weird background noise, no matter how much I positioned it, and I found I was missing chunks of the conversation. I spent heaps on the mic too! Maybe it had a glitch. I should try it with another one so I have a back-up system.

      My favourite method when I was on a landline was a device that hooked into the landline and then into the dictaphone. That was foolproof! But the device broke and then, just the nature of where I am when I work now, I had to find a system that worked with my mobile. Hoping it continues to be as good as it has been…

  6. What a great app! Makes me wonder if the audio quality is good enough for a podcast, but there are, no doubt, apps for that, too (and to edit them. The most recent one I heard about was ‘Cast’. Am yet to explore that).

    Having learned shorthand (under sufferance as part of my journalism cadetship, I find my typing speed’s actually fast enough to do a running transcript. Yep, plenty of shortened words and the odd typo with the screaming red squiggly line under it.

    But, that doesn’t work well for all interviews, particularly in-depth, extended ones.

    Thanks for sharing, Rachel.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Oh thanks Margaret, glad you liked it. You are lucky to have shorthand, I have to say. Going through the magazine side of things I never had to learn and I wish I had! I also know people who type the transcript as they do the interview – I have about 80wpm typing but even so I know I probably couldn’t do that and keep up with the conversation as well. But I’ve been chatting to a colleague on LinkedIn and she’s had some bad experiences with TapeACall missing minutes of the interview – I’m hoping they’ve got it together, as it is the best system I’ve found so far.

      I haven’t heard of Cast, actually! Will take a look at it.

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