Monday, October 26, 2015

How to Edit EVP's for Beginning Paranormal Investigators

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.

Voice 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. I create a new folder folder for every investigation. The date is important, especially if you do multiple investigations at one location. An example folder name is below.

Seaford Jones investigation 9.9.17

Instead of simply dumping all my willy nilly in my folder, I usually place folders inside the main investigation folder.  This is especially helpful if you have multiple devices, or if you move your device to multiple locations during the course of the night.  Example folder names are below. 

Jones investigation kitchen Raw audio 9.9.17
Jones investigation master bedroom Raw audio 9.9.17

 I always designate when files are raw or edited so I know what I'm looking at. Now you can dump your audio in the appropriate folders. Your unit will number them, For the moment I would leave them as they are.

I then open Audacity and pull up the first file.  My unit records audio in 3 hour segments, which is simply too big a file.  So the first thing I do is chop the raw files up  in 1 hour increments and rename them to make them more useable. I suggest you number them in chronological order.  Example below. Again I always designate the investigation and the date, the room the audio recorder was in and whether it's raw audio or edited audio.

Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 1
Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 2
Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 3

Get the best quality headset you have and find a quiet place to begin the listening session. Again I would save your money on expensive software packages and instead purchase the best quality headset you can afford. EVP's when they do occur are usually very soft, often no more than a whisper that you'll completely miss if you don't have a decent headset. 

Audio Technica and Sennheiser are two brands that I recommend. And of course there's always Bose.  A team member of mine bought a Bose headset and we compared my Sennheiser to his Bose, and found they were pretty equal.

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 EVP
As 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 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. 

But before do all that, jot it down in your log book. Below is a picture of my log book, which I've had for ten years now. It's always along on investigations and it's always beside me as I review evidence.  Anything I think may be of interest is recorded in the log book - and don't forget to also note which file you were listening to at the time (the same is true for any video you watch. I start the log entry with the name of the investigation and the date. I also record who was present at the investigation, and I log when investigators enter and leave a room.

Notice the numbers on the left side of the logbook. Those are time codes - very important if you want to be able to find that interesting segment of audio again. The time code in Audacity is at the bottom right screen. Time code simply tells you how far into the file you are. It lists the hour (if you've hit the hour mark) minutes and seconds. For example, 1:22:15 would indicate that you are 1 hour, 22 minutes and 15 seconds into a file.

See the video below for how to isolate clips.

 So if you found what you believe is an EVP, or simply want to get other team members opinions on a segment, it's usually easiest to isolate a small segment of the audio.  These isolated segments are then small enough to send as an attachment in an email. Again, I create a new folder in the investigation folder indicating that it's possible evidence.

Jones Investigation 9.9.17 Possible Evidence

I dump any of my edited files in there as well as well as other edited footage that my team sends me.  After all the audio and video have been reviewed and anything we find interesting has been isolated, these clips become what I present to the client.

Video Editing

The procedures for simple video editing, i.e. isolating a small clip of video with audio is much the same procedure.  The group is using Windows Movie Maker for the reason that it's a free download and a simple program to use. A comprehensive video that demonstrates how to use Windows Movie Maker is below:

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