A Flipped Class: Audio Recording Interviews

Instead of lecturing and having a little bit of time devoted to using the Library’s audio recorders, we moved the lecture portion into 15 minutes of video, and then devoted the whole 50 minutes of class time to working with the audio recorders.  Enjoy!


In this class we’re going to cover the basics of audio recording and editing of interviews. While it may seem like recording an audio interview should be straightforward, there are a number of things you can do to make your interview easier or more difficult to listen to. There is nothing worse that trying to listen to an interview with a lot of background noise, or to an interview that was not recorded at a high enough input volume.

To help you record the best quality audio interview possible, we will cover the following areas:

  • How to choose a good interview location.
  • Where to borrow high quality audio recording equipment.
  • Audio recorder setup options – when to use them and when not to.
  • Settings for Interviews, Meetings and Music.
  • How to effectively test audio quality immediately before the interview and why this is so important.

With all this under your belt you’ll be record a high quality audio interview. We’ll also cover the basics of audio editing in the Mac application Garageband, in case you need to splice together some audio, or trim the beginning or end of your audio files. Lastly, in class you’ll be able to use all that you’ve learned by working through a short project with one or two of your classmates.

If you run into problems, you can always ask for help at the Music and Multimedia counter in the library. Good Luck!

If you have mac laptop, please bring it to class with you so you can do your audio editing in Garage Band on your own laptop.

A. Introduction [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w7slHB65eo]

Introduction Quiz:

Q: Which would be the best location for an audio interview?

  • a. In a Room with the window open and a leaf blower operating outside.
  • b. In a quiet room with doors and windows closed, and all cell phones turned off, but right underneath an air vent.
  • c. In a quiet room with doors and windows closed, and all cell phones turned off.

Q: Where can I borrow high quality audio recording equipment?

  • a. From the Music & Media desk in the Library.
  • b. No need to borrow an audio recorder, I have an app for that on my phone.

B. Using the Audio Recorder [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbvDDRApvy0]

Using the Audio Recorder Quiz:

Q: How many times and where should I test the audio recording settings?

  • a. I test extensively at my home before the interview, as well as immediately before the interview in the room where the interview will take place, making sure that the audio recording setting are correct, and the sound levels are appropriate for the interview location, for my voice, and most importantly the voice of the person I’m interviewing. I not only record the audio while watching the levels, but play back the test audio while wearing headphones.
  • b. I’m so good, I don’t need to test. I can just show up and start recording.
  • c. I test extensively at my home before the interview, making sure that the audio recording setting are correct, and the sound levels are appropriate for my home and for my voice. I not only record the audio while watching the levels, but play back the test audio while wearing headphones.

Q: What does the Limiter / AGC switch do?

  • a. Levels out the audio volume when the interviewer and interviewee’s voice levels do not match.
  • b. Limits the amount of background noise (like from a fan) from the recorded audio.
  • c. Stands for “Always Good Cooking” and is inspirational.

Q: What does the Lowcut setting do?

  • a. Lowcut is most often used when interviewing 90’s grunge rock tribute bands.
  • b. The Lowcut helps reduce low frequency noises from a recording. Noises like wind and fans.
  • c. Lowcut is most often used when the interviewer is wearing Lowcut jeans.

Q: What does the Mic Gain setting do?

  • a. Increases the volume of background sounds, which is especially useful for nature recording.
  • b. Turn on to gain a phycological advantage over your interviewee.
  • c. Turns the sensitivity of the recorder to high. Usually turned on when recording a number of people around a large table, or if the interviewee has a particularly soft voice.

Q: What is the optimal recording level on the level meter?

  • a. The level meter should display a flat line indicating constant audio input.
  • b. The level meter should be in the red zone most of the time.
  • c. The level meter should reach the highest level without entering the red zone.

C. Editing with GarageBand [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOK0nw0_px0]

Editing Audio with GarageBand Quiz:

Q: How do we import audio into GarageBand?

  • a. By either plugging the SD card from the audio recorder into a Mac, or by using the USB cable to connect the voice recorder to a Mac.
  • b. By plugging the dongle into the computer.
  • c. Buy concentrating my mind on moving the audio files through the air…

Q: How do we “trim” off the beginning or end of the audio file in GarageBand?

  • a. By grabbing either the far right or left edge of the audio bar and dragging it towards the center.
  • b. Right mouse clicking on the audio bar.
  • c. By double clicking on the audio bar.

Q: How do we export the edited audio from GarageBand into an archival quality format?

  • a. Select the “Mix” menu item, then “Export to Disk”, then either “MP3” or “ACC” format.
  • b. Select the “Share” menu item, then “Export to Disk”, then either “MP3” or “ACC” format.
  • c. Select the “Share” menu item, then “Export to Disk”, then either “WAV” or “AIFF” format.

D. In Class Exercise

At the end of todays class, everyone should have the skills they need to record and edit audio interviews. If you have not watched the instructional videos, you will be at a disadvantge, but can watch them later to get the details that will be helpful for you when you conduct your interviews.

  1. Outline of today’s class:
    1. We’re going to divide into groups of 2 or 3.
    2. You and your group will take an audio recorder and work through the recording exercise – you can use provided script or make interview up on the fly.
    3. You and your group will use either one of your own Mac laptop or a Music and Multimedia iMac with GarageBand to edit and export your interview into an MP3 file. Please note that for your project if you’d like to try using the free, Open Source audio software package “Audacity”, feel free to download it and install it on your Windows PC (just google “audacity”).
  2. So let’s split into groups of 2 or 3, preferably with each group having a laptop with Garage Band on it:
    1. Find out who has done audio or video editing before.
    2. Depending on the ratio of students to available audio recorders we’ll make groups of 2 or 3, spreading out the experienced audio/video editors out.
    3. Hand out audio recording equipment along with the short how to manual.
    4. Provide each group with the optional Script to record.
  3. Recording: One students should record the script with the different settings for consistency sake, so the different settings can be compared for quality in the two different locations.
    1. Record in CD quality WAV format.
    2. Try recording in a relatively quiet area, and then in a noisy area (eg. the Biblio Cafe).
    3. Try recording with High MIC gain, and another with Low MIC gain.
    4. Try recording with Low Cut on, and off.
  4. After the recording is completed,use Garage band to edit the audio:
    1. if your group has a laptop with garage band, then use the laptop. If not then use one of the Music and Media Mac’s we have reserved for class use.
    2. Import all the audio files.
    3. Trim the beginning and end of at least one audio track.
    4. Isolate and then delete a section of audio from at least one audio track.
    5. Export the audio in CD quality.
    6. Export the audio in High MP3 quality.
    7. Upload the MP3 file to the “In Class Exercise Fourm” for today’s lecture.

Optional Text to Read for In Class Exercise:

Clay Shirky: How the congnitive Surplus will change the world

The story starts in Kenya in December of 2007, when there was a disputed presidential election, and in the immediate aftermath of that election, there was an outbreak of ethnic violence. And there was a lawyer in Nairobi, Ory Okolloh — who some of you may know from her TEDTalk — who began blogging about it on her site, Kenyan Pundit. And shortly after the election and the outbreak of violence, the government suddenly imposed a significant media blackout. And so weblogs went from being commentary as part of the media landscape to being a critical part of the media landscape in trying to understand where the violence was. And Okolloh solicited from her commenters more information about what was going on. The comments began pouring in, and Okolloh would collate them. She would post them. And she quickly said, “It’s too much. I could do this all day every day and I can’t keep up. There is more information about what’s going on in Kenya right now than any one person can manage. If only there was a way to automate this.”

And two programmers who read her blog held their hands up and said, “We could do that,” and in 72 hours, they launched Ushahidi. Ushahidi — the name means “witness” or “testimony” in Swahili — is a very simple way of taking reports from the field, whether it’s from the web or, critically, via mobile phones and SMS, aggregating it and putting it on a map. That’s all it is, but that’s all that’s needed because what it does is it takes the tacit information available to the whole population — everybody knows where the violence is, but no one person knows what everyone knows — and it takes that tacit information and it aggregates it, and it maps it and it makes it public. And that, that maneuver called “crisis mapping,” was kicked off in Kenya in January of 2008.


  1. This was a class I did for some history students at the main library. My flipped Knowledge Management class is part of the Advanced Legal Research and Writing class. -> http://richmccue.com/2012/12/13/a-flipped-class-knowledge-management-research-software/

    It was very well received by the two classes this semester, and one of the feedback comments from a student was that they wished they’d taken this class earlier on in law school… we’ll see if we can work it into a first year class.

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