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Oral history

Making a recording

It is vital that you record your interview. It's impossible to write down exactly what an interviewee is saying at the time – the best you can hope for is a general summary. An audio recording captures exactly what has been said, and also captures an interviewee’s accent, dialect and quirks of speech.

Recordings must be made in the best possible quality, using specialist recording equipment. They will be unique historical sources and so need to be easily heard and understood by future researchers. Aim to get the best possible equipment that your budget allows, to ensure high-quality and long-term preservation.

Oral history recordings can be audio-only or audiovisual – however, whilst video obviously provides a valuable record of the way a person looks, do bear in mind that videoing interviews requires more expensive equipment and may potentially need an extra person to set up and operate the video camera. People can find cameras intrusive and off-putting, and audiovisual files will also take up much more storage space than audio-only ones. Therefore, the Norfolk Record Office recommends that recordings be audio-only.

Audio recording equipment

There are many different types of portable audio recording equipment, and ways of capturing and storing the recordings. Technology is constantly changing and improving, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on developments and to contact the experts at the Oral History Society for advice. You can also post equipment enquiries to the Norfolk Archives Network forum.

  • You will need a digital recorder that can make stereo recordings in an uncompressed, high-quality file format such as ‘PCM.WAV’
  • Aim for the following settings: 
    • A sample frequency of 44-96 kiloHertz
    • A bit depth (how ‘detailed’ the sound recording is) of 16-24
  • The recorder should be powered both by a lead to a mains supply and by batteries. This is a safeguard to prevent the recorder running out of power midway through an interview. Using a power bank is a good alternative to connecting to mains supply and means you don’t have to be located near an electrical socket.
  • It should ideally have sockets for two external microphones – one for the interviewee and one for yourself. However, the internal microphone is usually sufficient.

You may also need:

  • A table-top tripod to support the recorder
  • Spare batteries and/or a power cable to reduce the risk of the recorder’s power running out
  • A memory card to store the digital recordings prior to transfer to a computer. This may not come with the recorder, so check this in advance and buy the appropriate type of memory card that is required separately. The memory card will slot into the recorder, and once recording has finished can be transferred to a computer with a USB lead memory card reader.
  • Headphones – these will be useful for immediately checking the audio quality of the recordings
  • A windshield microphone cover for outdoor recordings
  • A carry case for all of the required components
  • Audio editing software (this can be found for free online – see the Oral History Society site for recommendations)

Smartphones are not recommended for recording interviews. The file quality will be greatly reduced, and phone storage and battery are minimal compared to other options. Phones are also easily lost or stolen, which could jeopardise the interview’s confidentiality.

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