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Consider using voice recordings

March 10, 2011

In lieu of reading, why not listen to the first two paragraphs – with a soundtrack?

Source: Modern Mechanix

According to most media accounts, when a new thing comes along the old thing is automatically useless, even if it’s a very different kind of thing. When television appeared, radio was supposed to disappear. No one would use a pencil if they could use a ballpoint pen. After helicopters began to be produced commercially, why would people drive cars? Theaters were doomed to vanish as soon as we could buy movies on tape. In each case, however, the new was very different from the old – and both persisted.

I’m a big fan of sound as a medium, but there are bigots out there who can’t understand why someone would want to use audio alone when video is an option. I was once involved with a grant proposal that was turned down because doing oral histories without video was deemed “old school.” Why do I need to see video of someone’s head when the only action is their lips moving? Sure, show me a still photo, but what I really want is to listen to the story.

How do video and audio differ?

  1. Cost – sound recording equipment is less expensive
  2. Simplicity – recording and editing sound is easier
  3. Time – sound takes fewer hours to learn how to record and then produce
  4. Economy – sound files require less storage space and bandwidth
  5. Focus – with sound there is only one sensory channel
  6. Richness – visuals convey additional meaning and emotion
  7. Appeal – people think video is cooler
  8. Attention – video is in your face, sound can be in the background
  9. Comfort – people commonly feel less threatened by audio equipment

Who really does this?

I get no argument from foreign language educators on the power of sound. They are happy to use audio without video, and do so very effectively. At Notre Dame, the Wimba Voice Tools have become a very popular add-on to Concourse (our brand of Blackboard Vista). Language students and faculty use the built-in microphone on a laptop to quickly record sound bites through a browser window and then share the recordings.

My anthropologist colleagues also appreciate sound recording. The equipment is lightweight in the field, low-tech and non-invasive. Recording an interview is also easier than trying to take copious notes. Now if I could just persuade them that digital recorders are more efficient than cassette tape.

Anyone who listens to NPR or talk radio knows the power of sound-only recordings. Whether they are the moving accounts of Story Corps, the hilarious antics of Tom and Ray on Car Talk, or the fiery rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh.

How do I make a voice recording?

  • Try to find a quiet place to record
  • Find the best recording equipment you can – perhaps a $60 digital audio recorder or a laptop computer microphone
  • If you’re recording on the computer, capture the sound with Audacity (or other software). With a handheld device, record a sound file and copy it onto your computer.
  • Edit the sound with Audacity. If you’re ambitious, add a musical sound track.
  • Save the sound as an MP3 file
  • Put the sound in a a place where people can use it – web page, file sharing, course management system

Is it all or nothing?

Absolutely not. Your home toolbox has hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, saws, and more. When you have a job to do, you pick the right tool. You don’t always use a hammer just because it’s your favorite tool. The same should be true for your technology toolbox. And besides functionality, there’s a lot to be said for simple variety.

Still convinced that video is always better than lesser media? Why are you reading text?

Where can I learn more?

The music behind the voice recording at the beginning of this post is “Butterfly’s Waltz” by Francesco Lettera. It is used with permission from

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