By Robin Strom Mackey
Sometimes I think the worst part of paranormal investigating is trying to learn all the new technology, especially if you’re not naturally tech savvy. My new team has been struggling with their introduction to evidence review and audio editing lately, and the growing pains have been...painful. When I had three new team members try to send me hours of raw, unedited audio. I realized I had a big problem, a really big problem, because if they didn’t review their audio, it left me to do it, and I don’t have twenty free hours to spare!
So I decided to put some training together to help them, me, and perhaps you, through the process. This is an article for beginning investigators and much of the information is rudimentary or just plain common sense. But trust a former broadcast and radio production instructor, sometimes the rudimentary needs to be explained, and common sense vocalized.
Audio Editing Software
I recommend the free Audacity Audio Editing download to my new members. The price is right and software easy to learn and use. Recently one of my new members asked in despair whether he should buy a sound board and expensive editing software package because his audio quality was so poor. I’ve worked in broadcasting and radio in the past, and I use the free Audacity software. It produces good quality audio, as long as the initial audio is of decent quality. So, I suggest you save the money for expensive software packages and instead buy a decent audio recorder.
I’ll reiterate, buy a decent audio recorder in the first place and you’ll not need a whole lot of editing savvy on the back end. When looking to purchase an audio recorder, make sure it either has a USB port onboard, or comes with a USB cable. In other words, you need to have some way to move the raw audio in the voice recorder to a computer. Some of the cheaper voice recorders are all in one units, so beware. Avoid dictation recorders and recorders that use proprietary software, as they won’t play well with other file types.
One of the team members recently purchased an Olympia unit that was very easy to use, recorded six hours of audio without a hitch, and which she was able to purchase off the shelf at Walmart. You gotta love it when devices actually do what they’re supposed to do.
On the higher end of the price range, I love my Zoom unit, and I realized after I purchased the machine that Zoom recorders are what the T.A.P.S. team uses for their wireless audio. My unit produces excellent quality audio that is a breeze to transfer to the computer. My only complaint is that the playback function on the unit has malfunctioned, which forces me to review the audio on the computer. But then, you really ought to do your audio review on the computer anyway.
Audio Recorders in the field
- It’s a good idea to record a short segment and play it back to make sure the unit is working as it should.
- On an investigation it’s better to put the unit down versus carrying it around. Any clothing or fingers rubbing across the speaker will cause noise and/or distortion on the recorder.
- If you’re using an audio recorder outside on a windy day, use a windscreen if one is provided, and know that depending on the amount of wind the audio will likely be un-useable. Mics and wind don’t mix well.
- Every time you move rooms or locations get in the habit of tagging the audio as to time, location and team members present.
- Tag any sounds, by making a verbal comment, that might be mistaken for an unexplained audio.
Beginning the editing process
Create a new folder on your computer with the name of the investigation or date in a location you will remember. I usually put all of my audio files in my Music Folder.
Dump all of your raw files into that folder. Your unit will number them. I suggest you leave them numbered as is, for simplicity’s sake.
If you have one gargantuan file of several hours duration it will probably be far easier to break the file up into chunks of an hour or two at a time and save them as separate files.
Get the best quality headset you have and find a quiet place to begin the listening session.
In order to catch anything anomalous you will have to listen to the audio from the beginning all the way to the end, ever minute, every second. EVP’s often show up when an investigator least expects it, like during setup or break down, or when you leave the room to get a snack.
The video below will help acquaint you to the Audacity workspace. There are other tutorial videos available on YouTube as well.
Your first EVPAs you’re listening you find something you feel might be an EVP. You,
A. Get up and do a happy dance, it’s Christmas and you’ve got a little package under the tree
B. Jot the file number and location of EVP using the timecode at the bottom right hand of the screen as a guide.
C. Isolate the area by highlighting it and playing it several times
D. Copy and paste the highlighted area into a file of its own and export it as a useable file type to share with team members and possibly client.
E. Continue on with the listening process, you’ll return to it later when you have more time
F. All of the above except E
Sadly most beginning investigators do E, and then have no idea where they heard what they heard! It’s very aggravating and a terrible waste of time.The correct answer is F. My first suggestion is get a small notebook and use it to jot notes, impressions, evidence, timecodes etc. And if you do feel you have an anomalous sound recorded, don’t just continue on! It will take you twice the time to find it again. Instead listen to it several times. Try to be objective. Have as many other people listen to it as well. If you feel it’s the real deal, highlight the area and copy it over to a file of its own.
See the video below for how to isolate clips.