Have you ever worked on a 15-minute transcript that took you the better part of the morning, three coffees, and two Advil – but you were still no further ahead?
Did you feel like banging your head on your desktop just one more time for good measure?
Ah, yes, that lousy audio can get you every time … unless you figure out a way to not let it beat you … or at least not drive you to that bottle of Jack Daniels.
Less than ideal audio, we’re all familiar with it, right? If it’s a focus group, the person who is speaking appears to sound as if he or she is in the next room – with the door shut! Or there is simply so much cross-talking going on, you’re lucky if you can make out every third word. Or based on the roaring background noise, you’d swear everyone was sitting in the back of an open pickup truck while racing down the highway at top speed.
You may find yourself actually leaning closer to your computer monitor, straining to hear better – as if that could make any difference at all!
Those are all audio nightmares that every transcriptionist has to deal with from time to time. It’s a fact of life that we have to take the good with the bad in this business. No one ever gets a “get out of jail free” card on this one. Even our best clients are going to give us less than perfect audio on occasion or even downright horrible audio. We usually have to roll with these punches, though.
Without question, trying to transcribe poor audio can be a real time sucker, thus having a dramatic negative effect on your bottom line. What should have taken you one hour has now extended to two, and you’re still not done yet. It’s hard not to lose money that way. It’s also frustrating and somewhat demoralizing when your best efforts don’t seem to be getting you anywhere.
Okay, so how do you get through really poor audio without losing your mind (and all of your revenue)?
Well, you have two options: (1) refuse it or (2) accept it with conditions.
If you accept the audio, here are 5 tips to weather the experience with more than a few of your marbles still intact:
1. Immediately give the audio a good listen in many different spots, not just a few here and there. Do this as soon as you receive the file from the client, even if you’re not planning on starting the project right away. If you don’t, you may discover too late that what you thought would be a three-hour job will now take you all night just to meet your deadline. Listen to the audio immediately.
Don’t just do a spot check on a few areas or you may find that once you settle into typing it, you’ve actually missed most of the worst areas. Listen to quite a few areas until you are satisfied it’s something you want to take on. And let your client know! You may want to extend the turnaround time or even charge more. It’s up to you. But always, always listen first and then give your client a heads-up.
2. When you can see the audio is going to be a real challenge, time stamp the rough spots and just keep moving forward. Don’t spend 15 minutes on one word. Highlight it and continue. Chances are good that the same word or term will come up again later in the recording, or you’ll have a lot more context around it, so it may suddenly make sense. If you continue to struggle with that one spot, however, not only have you remained stuck, but your frustration level is also going to skyrocket when you see you’re still on the 5-minute mark.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the client for supporting materials like handouts, worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, or anything else that pertains to that audio. Your client will love you for it if it means you’ll do a better job on the transcript! Especially when it comes to unfamiliar or highly technical subject matter, just getting the gist of the overall concept of the discussion or presentation can help enormously.
4. Use TheRecord Player for proofreading and re-listening to the rough spots. I could not live without this clever piece of software, free to download at http://www.fortherecord.com/products/therecordplayer/. It’s not a transcription tool per se, but you can load your audio into it and listen to the parts you’re not quite sure about. With the ability to slow down the speed without any loss of quality and the significant decrease in background noise, I have used this software many times when I’ve been in trouble. It’s absolutely worth looking into. It can sit right on top of your Word document. I’ll bet you two Tylenol that it will help!
5. If the client says, “Just do the best you can,” then do just that. Most transcriptionists are also perfectionists and take great pride in a job well done. Yes, it’s satisfying to figure out a mumbled word or decipher an unfamiliar term, but if that means spending most of the day doing it, the satisfaction is simply not worth the frustration and significant loss of time and revenue. Provided you have the best equipment possible (headset and transcription software) and you’re normally spot on with your transcripts, an occasional “mess” is not going to ruin your career. We don’t have super-human hearing and we’re not mind readers. We simply cannot type what we can’t hear.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or sanity savers you’d like to share with your fellow transcriptionists? Feel free to post them in the comments section.
To your transcribing success,