Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Transcribing Is Forever

Avoid this job. Just a piece of advice from me to you. Avoid it if at all possible.

I used to think I was pretty fast at typing. Not amazing or anything, and I still tend to look at my hands instead of the screen, if nothing else to reduce eye strain. But I can still hash out a good 60 words per minute or so. I can do a bit faster, but then it gets riddled with typos. Anyone who has ever instant messaged me knows this well.

But then this last week, I've had to transcribe some interviews for my show. Once again, I'm going to be taking on the persona of a real person who lives in the east side for 20 minutes. My director wants us telling the stories of our subject on stage using their words. Their exact words.

Now, at my voiceover studio, they have this neat little thing on their website called a words-to-time calculator. You can adjust the reading speed, but it tends to assume three to four words per second in a normal speaking speed. For the mathematically challenged and/or lazy, that means 180-240 words per minute.

In other words, my typing speed may be decent, but it's an average of 3-4 times slower than the average person speaks. I now have a whole new appreciation for stenographers.

I've chosen a subject for my show: a friend of a friend named Danny Cornyetz, one of the original Video Jockeys in New York, as well as a fairly famous music video editor in the 80s. He made and edited a little video at home for one of the first hip hop acts to go national, and it was so good that the record label made it the official music video for the song. I've interviewed him twice, each time going over an hour, while we talk about bringing break dancers to England and a professor at a lab trying to rope him into making Quaaludes. Stuff like that.

After this, I'm left with five pieces of interview to transcribe, each averaging out to be about 25 minutes long. So a little less than two and a half hours of material to transcribe.

Now if I'd figured out a way to perfectly stop and start the audio for when I can and can't transcribe, that would take me seven and a half to ten hours to transcribe. Because I'm, sadly, not endowed with telekinesis, I have to do all these little things of pausing, back up the tape, hoping I'm hitting the right second, and waiting for it if I'm too early or backing up further if I'm not early enough. Then there's listening a second time through to catch all the mistakes. So I don't know how long this took, but it was a lot more than ten hours.

The toughest part about this work is that it requires your full attention for every second. You can't have the news on in the background. You're sitting there in front of your computer, typing and listening as hard as you can. No breaks. Or at least, if you take a break, you're immediately conscious of how much time you're adding before you're done.

I used to think a good way for me to write stuff would be to record myself saying it onto tape, and then transcribing. I will no longer even consider that method unless someone is paying me.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, welcome to my world! My night job is logging & transcribing. It was a pain at first but you get used to it afterwhile. When your subject is articulate it's a breeze but when they don't know how to speak without saying "like" and "you know" every other word, then it gets tedious. But hey, it pays the bills and keeps my days free.