Smartphone Audio

This 613U mini-course is intended to help you hone your skills as a citizen journalist. Get a quick introduction to the topic by reading the short text below then watching the video. Next, check out our list of suggested resources from around the web to learn more about techniques or tools. Share any questions or comments in the forum section, or better yet pass along other ideas or resources of your own. We hope you get inspired to try something new.


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Tips on Software and Equipment

You really don’t need to spend any money to record quality audio with your phone. Your smart phone may come preloaded with a simple but effective recording app, such as Voice Memo for iPhone. However, since Voice Memo can make it difficult to download your file, you might want to look into another free app that can share files directly to email, dropbox or other platforms. Most recording apps are very straightforward and pretty cheap, so don’t be afraid to download and experiment. Another piece of equipment to consider is a external lapel microphone that can help improve sound recording by getting close to the source. The cheapest options will set you back between $15 to $20.

Tips for Recording

Save yourself some grief and run through this checklist before pressing the big red record button. Remember, it is always easier to get a good recording than it is to fix problems later during editing.

  • Get permission – Make sure that people know that you are recording. This ensures you can use the recording for blogging or for future broadcasts.
  • Make sure your phone is charged – Save yourself the stress of wondering whether you’ll be able to get your recording finished before your phone dies.
  • Do a test recording – Do a quick audio check to see that your audio levels are working well. Ask your interviewee a question to ensure they’re talking at the same level they’ll use during the interview (something easy like, “What did you have for lunch?”). Then play it back immediately and adjust any positioning to make sure the audio levels are correct. (Or wear headphones to ensure the sound is clear.)
  • Minimize background noise – Be in a quiet room! Turn off the radio and make your noisy roommate and/or children leave the house. Unless, of course, the noise of your surroundings adds to your story such as the sound of a bus during a transit interview, or a band practice during a music interview. And if you are recording outside, watch out for wind!
  • Turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’ on your phone – Ensure that no one can call or no notifications will appear and interrupt your recording, so you don’t have to start over again.
  • Position your phone close to the source – Hold the microphone close to your subject to ensure that the mic picks up the interview and to minimize the surrounding noise captured.
  • Save your file – Don’t forget to save your file to your device or another app, or to email it to yourself for safekeeping. Before recording, make sure the app you are using saves the audio file in a usable format such as M4A, WAV, or MP3.

For more tips, check out these videos.

Tips for Editing 

For some reason, audio files come in many different formats, which can be very confusing to beginners. A good explanation of the different sound file formats can be found here. When in doubt, record your file as an MP3, which is the most universally accepted sound file. If you need to convert your files from one format to another, Audio Converter is a free online tool that allows you to convert files right in your browser.

In some cases, all you may need to do is cut out a few minutes of audio at the beginning and end. Some recording apps will let you do simple editing right on your phone. However, if you want to add in music or sound effects or edit out any prolonged silences or curse words, you’ll want to use an audio editor.

Mac users will have access to Garageband, a program that goes beyond editing and is easy to learn and use. Audacity is an open source sound editing program that is available for download on either Mac or PC. Below are a few videos on how to use both programs (the first one has a few housekeeping tips that apply to anyone setting up a podcast).

Tips for Sharing

Once you record your audio file, you’ll want to share it. Contributors to can easily share their work by sending the file to editors. If you want to set up your own podcast and don’t have your own website, you’ll have to pick a hosting service. Soundcloud, Libsyn and Spreaker are some of the more popular options.

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