Sooner or later as a B2B writer, you will start landing assignments that require you to conduct interviews. Case studies, for instance, may involve interviewing your clients’ customers and/or experts such as engineers or technicians. Interviewing is golden. Not only will your interviewees help you write a fantastic piece, over time they will collectively provide you with an in-depth understanding of your industry unattainable anywhere else. As a bonus, they will also often reveal insights that will help you better understand your client. They may even say things that help you identify potential new clients!
Interviewing does have its challenges, however. One of the biggest of these is simply the physical process of getting spoken words into written form.
For my first few interviews, I just typed like crazy. It worked (kind of) because I was largely interviewing Midwest concrete contractors, who are generally easy-going people who speak slowly and deliberately. However, my first interview with a CEO from the East Coast was another story. The guy talked a mile a minute! By the end of the interview, my head was spinning, my fingers cramped, and my interview notes had more gaps than a six-year-old’s grin. Fortunately, I managed to glean the information I needed, but the experience convinced me that I had to find some way to record conversations — and fast!
Since I didn’t have much time to spare before my next interview, I simply started using the equipment I had on hand: a desktop microphone and the speaker setting on my phone. I set the phone close to the mic and recorded directly onto my computer using Audacity, a free audio recording and mixing app. It worked, and I used this setup successfully for the next few years.
However, this method of recording had its drawbacks. The sound quality was not the greatest, especially when I used my cell phone. The recordings also require a large amount of computer memory. This was not a problem on my desktop, but when I lost a recording from my laptop because there was not enough storage space available to save it properly, I started looking for an alternative (as soon as I was done cleaning up my hard drive!).
Physical Recording Devices
My husband suggested purchasing a recording device to hook to the phone. A quick Amazon search revealed thousands of options, ranging from a microphone pickup that sticks onto your phone receiver with a suction cup (yes, really) to digital recorders to old-fashioned cassette recorders that plug in to your landline between the phone and the jack. Prices varied from about $10 to a couple hundred bucks. Some of these options looked pretty decent judging from the reviews, but frankly, I’m not a big fan of hardware. I’m really good at losing devices. Plus, our dog, Melvin, eats electronics for lunch. (You should see what he did to my son’s cell phone.) So, I started looking for software options.
Conference Calling Services
My next thought was to use one of the conference calling services available online. I was familiar with these because a copywriting buddy group I used to belong to had used one for our weekly chats. There are several such services available, many of which offer basic calling and recording services for free.
Right now I’m using a service called FreeConferenceCall.com. It offers many features I like. The recording quality is very good. All data storage is on the app, so I don’t have to tie up space on my computer to maintain a file of past recordings. Recordings can be accessed through a sharable link, which makes sharing interview files a snap. And you can’t beat the price!
The one thing I don’t like about FreeConferenceCall is that you can’t dial your interviewee directly. Both of you have to call in to a third-party conference line and enter a meeting ID number. This is a major drawback in my book. I like to make things as easy as possible for everyone.
So, I’m looking for alternatives. And this time, I decided to turn to the experts for advice — my fellow writers! I asked around on a couple of writer’s groups I belong to on LinkedIn, including AWAI’s LinkedIn group. Here are some of the suggestions they graciously shared with me:
Several writers were quick to recommend Skype. Like most of us, I’ve used the online version of Skype to connect with overseas clients and friends. I’ve never needed to record a Skype call, but there are several free third-party apps that make this possible. AWAI copywriter Steve Maurer recommends one called Callnote Premium, which he says is a full version app that truly is free.
I hadn’t considered Skype for phone recording because I thought of it as strictly a computer app. Since I often interview contractors in the field, I didn’t think it was a viable option for me. Turns out I was wrong. You can use Skype to make regular calls to any mobile phone or landline. To do this, you need to buy a subscription. Fortunately, it is quite affordable — just $2.99 per month for calls to the U.S. and Canada. (You can also buy a subscription for unlimited global calling for $13.99 per month. However, in my experience, people who do business internationally are quite Skype savvy, so the free regular Skype service is adequate. If you have to do a lot of international interviewing of people working in the field, though, the global subscription may be an awesome choice.)
The writers using Skype subscriptions seemed quite happy with the service. “(It’s) totally worth it,” says AWAI Group member Josh Earl. “The sound quality is great —better than what I used to get with my old RadioShack inline phone call recorder … It’s definitely better than the typical conference call recordings I’ve heard.”
So, Skype is definitely on my radar screen. But wait — there’s more!
PR and content writer Anne Rose highly recommends Google Voice. “This will deliver an mp3 of the conversation to your account,” she says. “(It) takes some setup, but it is easy for both parties to use and the app has some nice additional features.”
One feature I find attractive since I have both a cell phone and a landline, is that the app routes all calls through the same number. If you like, you can program your account to ring certain phones based on the time of day or who is calling you.
Other Recording Options
Of course, there are scads of other recording apps out there. One writer swears by a service called RecordiaPro. She says it’s the most reliable one she’s aware of, with crystal-clear sound quality. Unlike most paid services, which charge for monthly use, this app charges a flat fee for a specified number of hours. This could make it a good option if you only do occasional interviews. It is a bit pricey, though, with an introductory rate of $29.95 for 120 minutes.
Another service that was recommended to me by a professional business coach is Audio Acrobat. It, too, is pricey compared to Google Voice and Skype, starting at $19.95 per month for the basic service. However, if you plan to use audio files extensively to market yourself, it’s worth taking a look at. With both video and audio capabilities, the app offers a whole suite of marketing tools such as integrated landing pages, pre-recorded reply lines, testimonial capture, and “sizzle lines” (call-in numbers that allow your callers to choose from a menu of pre-recorded files).
I’m keeping Audio Acrobat in mind for the future, but for now I think I’ll experiment a bit with Google Voice and/or Skype.
How about you? What apps or devices have you used to record your interviews? What do you recommend?