Transcription Powertool #2 : WavePad (Audio Editing Software)

WavePad Masters Edition Screenshot_ for DOAFT blog post

WavePad Master’s Edition Screenshot Provided ON Company’s Web Site

 

Rescuing Poor Quality Audio Files From Death To Make Them Suitable For Transcription Using Audio Editing Software

As a freelance online transcriptionist you will spend a considerable amount of time evaluating files which come to you via various available job boards and/or private clients. As the different online transcription companies receive audio and video files from different, and numerous sources – each of whom record their audio/video with different equipment, and with a range of recording skills (from amateur to professional), as well as under some uncontrollable conditions  which are common in audio recording – it is CERTAIN that you will REGULARLY come across audio files where the WHOLE file is of poor quality (in terms of being able to hear the speakers well, and most accurately transcribe their speech) OR files in which only PARTS of the file are of poor quality. The main downside to poor quality audio is that it takes more time to complete the transcription and/or editing process, and especially if you are on a strict deadline this can create a significant amount of stress and frustration, which disturbs the general flow and enjoyment of your work, and may even cause you to take more time than usual to complete the file. In addition, even if you are NOT under a strict deadline, these poor quality files require more time and energy investment to complete, and since you are paid per file, line, or audio minute this means that you make less money overall, since these more difficult files take up time that you could be working on better quality, easier files, processing them faster, and turning over more files.

The silver lining in the case of poor audio quality is that the problem presents you with a valuable growth situation by motivating you to teach yourself the valuable new skill audio editing by learning how to use a decent quality audio editing application (some of which are free). This software will provide you an array of powerful tools to greatly increase your potential of transforming a “poor” quality audio/video files into a “workable” quality audio/video file. The potential benefits to you are significant. One will be that if the content of the file is good then you can enjoy that content while transcribing and/or editing it, and get paid to do so. This is always the ideal situation for a transcribers and editors. Secondly, during “slow periods”, where there is a limited number of files made available for you to work on, having some audio editing skills can increase the amount of work available to you, especially if other transcribers/editors working for the same online transcription company do not (yet) have such skills. Finally, the company, or client, providing your files on a regular basis will be happy that you have spent time and energy developing these skills which enable their company to make money off of these poorer quality files, instead of having to return the files to the original client and lose the revenue (and possibly the customer as well).

Some companies have started offering to transcribe/edit poorer quality files with an extra “challenging audio” charge. In this way the customer is still able to get their files transcribed, and the company doesn’t turn away customers who may, over time, provide a significant amount of work, regardless of the occasional poorer quality files. Even the highest quality audio/video productions have SOME content which is sub-par. It is often not the intentional fault of the customer in these cases.  The multitude of factors which can make an audio/video file “poor” in quality include : high level of movement of speakers, high level of background noise when the recording is done in populated places, and many others. A reputable online transcription company will then go on to pay the transcribers and editors some of that extra fee, and so by having some basic audio editing skills you open the possibility of working on these higher paying files. This is a win-win-win situation for the customer. the company, and the transcriber/editor.

Here is a high quality article which goes into significant detail of the various factors which contribute to poor audio quality recordings :

How to Make Good Recordings

Once you get proficient with the audio editing software it is often the case that one of the powerful functions in the software can revive the file from audio death with just a few clicks. So, it is ultimately a valuable and practical skill to add to your virtual transcription/editing toolbox, and one which your clients will appreciate. You may even win certain well-paying contracts over other applicants by simply listing your competency and ownership of a good quality audio editing software application on your resume. Of course, it would be most ideal to perhaps take an online course in audio editing which provides a certificate upon completion, which you can then include with your resume and post on your transcription related online sites and social media accounts (ex. your transcription service (or company) blog, LinkedIn, etc.). You can even find such courses for free on online education sites, such as the following Udemy course :

Audio Editing Basics with Reaper

Just do a Google search for -> “audio editing basics online course + [specific preferred audio editing software]”, and you will discover a nice selection of courses (free or paid) which will start you on the path to becoming skilled and certified in audio editing. In fact, the audio editing application “Reaper” http://www.reaper.fm, which is taught in above course, offers a 60-day evaluation free trial. This is AT LEAST a generous amount of time to experiment with the software while taking the free course. Then, once the trial expires, you can decide whether to buy Reaper, or seek out one of the other full freeware applications available to consumers, such as Audacity http://www.audacityteam.org , which is one of the most popular, open source, applications available. Some other options can be found here :

As you can see from the above article and a simple search, there is a wide range of decent (and some free) quality audio editing software programs available which will enable you to do MOST of the repair work you will need for files which are of moderately difficult quality – which will be the difficulty level of most of the files you will need to work on. Often the one-click application of a simple “background noise reduction”, or “high pass” filter will be adequate to get the audio/video functional enough to work on and process to completion. Remember, YOU are ultimately responsible ONLY for adequately transcribing and/or editing the words in the audio/video file. The quality of the file is NOT your responsibility. So the more skilled you are at tweaking the audio so that you can properly hear and transcribe the speech, the better final transcript product you will produce. In other words, you will have done your job well, even under less than desirable conditions. This is ALWAYS proof of a valuable worker who takes their job seriously, and will surely, more often than not, be looked at favorably by current and potential clients.

The industry standard professional transcription software ExpressScribe Pro http://www.nch.com.au/scribe/index.html provides three of the most basic, commonly used filters (ex. Background Noise Reduction, Extra Volume Boost, and High Pass Filter), BUT these are simply one-click applications which cannot be configured for more fine-tuned audio repair. You simply select the one available, preconfigured filter, and ExpressScribe runs the entire file through that filter. This means you can’t apply the filter only to selected sections of the audio, which proper audio editing programs allow you to do.

As I use a registered version of Express Scribe Pro, which I highly recommend to ALL transcribers, because it is affordable and has features which make the transcription process MUCH more efficient, I HAVE used the above “Special Audio Processes” [ FILE -> “Special Audio Processes”], on a number of occasions, and they have been adequate in making the audio/video workable. However, there have also been a significant number of files which the basic ExpressScribe Pro audio processes have NOT been able to remedy adequately. Therefore, I made the basic cost-benefits analysis decision that if I went ahead and purchased a PROPER audio editing application the income from EACH file I successfully transcribed/edited – which that application enabled me to work on by making it possible to repair the file to workable condition – would offset the cost of the program. Even if you account for a low payout on transcribed and edited/proofread files – let’s just say, for our purposes here,  $10 per audio hour for a completed transcribed audio file, and $5 per hour for a completed edited/proofread file. With some simple arithmetic it is clear that you can recoup the original $99 USD (retail price) registration cost for WavePad Sound Editor Master’s Edition likely within a mere month or two. For me, in the end It has turned out to be a very sound business decision which has significantly enhanced my productivity, as well as providing me the opportunity to develop an additional skill set to complement my transcription, editing/proofreading, and digital audio related (podcast editing) work, in addition to some other personal projects which include audio as a component.  Finally, the cost of the program has served the additional bonus of being a justified “business expense.”

I specifically chose to purchase the WavePad Sound Editor http://www.nch.com.au/wavepad/ application for two main reasons. Firstly, it is a member of the same suite of software products, NHS Software http://www.nch.com.au/index.html which produces Express Scribe, the application I use for transcription work. In fact, there is a valuable “launch” button within the FILE menu of ExpressScribe (as with some of the other in programs in the suite) which enables you to launch WavePad with one click from within the program. As it is often the case that you discover a section of sub-par quality audio while you are in the process of transcribing the file, this one-click ability to open WavePad and then quickly clean up the file so you can get back to work on the transcription is a nice little bonus feature. Of course, this is not a MAJOR feature of the program, but it is a common and convenient perk you get when you buy programs which are components of software suites. Many of these software companies design their products to streamline with each other in various ways. Some of these streamlined features are more powerful than others, but sometimes those little bonus features are valuable, especially if they help save you time, and thus earn more, when you are working against the clock. Many software companies offer discounts to customers when they purchase additional programs in their suite – either as part of one single purchase, or for future purchases. The company with often advertise the available discounts on their site. Other times they offer you a discount on additional suite programs when you reach the check-out page during purchase. I recommend sending a quick email to the company sales department and inquire about the availability of any such discounts so that you don’t miss out.  Feel free to AT LEAST download the free demo version of WavePad (and/or any of the various other quality audio editing applications), read through the tutorials, and experiment with some of the powerful, and easy-to-use, audio processing tools.

WavePad has a very nice, clean, user-friendly interface, which is NOT overloaded with audio functions, or overwhelming on the eyes and brain, However, it does offer a decent amount of functionality for both lower-skilled and higher-skilled audio technicians, if they care to take advantage of these features. The main advantage that WavePad has over the basic three audio processes available in the Express Scribe Pro application is that there are a LOT more functions, and each function has a much higher range of configuration potential (including the ability to select and apply editing to smaller sections of the entire file), which enables the user to fine tune their application of audio processes in order to enable the highest potential to transform poor audio into the most workable quality. This is ultimately the most important goal. Many of the audio processes also offer “preset” options, along with a preview, so that you can hear what the file will sound like after the filter is applied, BEFORE actually applying it. This minimizes time, effort, and computer processing power needed to find the BEST level of audio adjustment. At the same time, it makes it easier for inexperienced users of the application to get the final outcome they are looking before they have invested the significant amount of time which is required to become comfortably proficient with the numerous features of the program. For advanced users (such as professional audio engineers, podcast producers, etc.) the program offers the ability to fully configure the most important elements of the audio processes. This enables the user to really get in there and get to the core of the problem in the audio and produced the best final product.

Most transcriptionists and editors will only need to use the presets for most files. The preset filters are powerful, and you often just need to apply a few of them to make the audio/video file workable. Sometimes just ONE filter will do the job. This is why it is important to thoroughly go through the tutorial manual provided, so that you will better be able to know, and decide on, which process(es) to apply to get the audio into workable form with the least amount of wasted time and effort.

As this blog post is NOT intended as a tutorial on WavePad – or any other audio editing software application – but instead, to address the value these programs add to the efficiency of transcription and editing work, I will simply advise that the reader follow up with some of the resources, free software demo, and tutorials of the programs mentioned above, The IDEAL way to achieve working competence with these programs is to actually experiment with the features on REAL files, as you work through the tutorial. I assure you that you will feel a great sense of satisfaction the moment you resuscitate a “dead” audio/video file into a workable form which you can then process and make money on. You will also have learned some valuable and marketable skills. In fact, as a result of mastering the WavePad program I have been able to earn additional income editing the audio of some podcast clients, and then proceed to transcribe and edit their podcast audio files. The combination of audio editing, transcription, editing/proofreading, web design and SEO marketing work that I now am able to do for various clients has enabled me to now earn over $20+ an hour, which is a significant amount of income based on my specific situation- that is, living in a “developing” country, where the cost of living is roughly 1/3 of that in the “developed” world, at the time of this writing.

Since I make the BULK of my living doing transcription and editing I felt it was best to properly purchase the above software applications. It is always a nice feeling to know that you are using software with the proper permissions, in addition to the fact that the programmers who design these excellent programs work just as hard as the rest of us technology workers, and so, being a full believer in free market economics, my conscience tells me it is the right thing to do. However, I CERTAINLY understand that (especially for new people to the industry) money is scarce, and it is thus important for us to utilize whatever is available (especially free resources) to us to get the gears moving, and the $$$ rolling in. Trust me, I have been there. The great thing though is that there is an adequate range of free resources and tools to get you started during the process of self-education and experimentation. Then, once you are generating a decent income you can decide on whether to use freeware or paidware (or a combination of both). The choice is completely up to you, of course. NO moral judgement is being made on this end. I promise ;->

In fact, as it probably obvious to the reader, the whole purpose of this blog is to help people who are interested in doing work in the online transcription industry to be able to gain the essential knowledge they need, in the most practical, efficient, and cost-effective way possible. The good news is that it is COMPLETELY possible to achieve this goal without having to spend barely ANY money at all. That is the beauty of the internet. It allows a freer flow of information, as well as providing the technical means by which to enable people all of the world to earn an honest living in a location and (generally) time-independent manner.

As I started to mention earlier (in regard to the free, open source Audacity audio editing application), there are TONS of excellent open-source, freeware applications (for all of the various areas of your transcription business – including productivity apps, typing practice programs, etc. – out there which can help take MOST of the financial burden off of you – especially in the beginning phase of your endeavor. For instance, instead of using Microsoft Word to type your transcription text (while using a transcription program like ExpressScribe to control the audio) you can easily, and smartly choose LibreWriter – part of the LIbreOffice open source suite : https://www.libreoffice.org/download/libreoffice-fresh/  which has ALL of the core functionality of the full Microsoft Word (Office suite), BUT is COMPLETELY FREE! I personally use a core mix of Express Scribe for the transcription (to control the audio/video file), with LibreWriter as the word processing software, which I have open as the top window while I type out the audio speech. ExpressScribe Pro includes the “universal hotkeys” feature which allows you to control the audio (for example, pressing F9 to start the audio and F4 to stop it), even though you have the LibreWriter page open as the top (focus) window. I then use click “launch WavePad” within ExpressScribe to open WavePad, import the audio file, and adjust any parts of the audio which require it at any point during the transcription and/or editing process.

With just these three powerful tools you can basically do ALL of the transcription and editing work you can handle, and do it in professional manner – keeping in mind that accuracy is the most important feature of quality transcription and editing work. In combination, these three tools maximize your potential accuracy, and ultimately enable you to work faster, make more money, and – most importantly – get maximum enjoyment out of the process.
Although I realize that this post has grown quite long, I believe the length has been justified to allow me to do justice to this important subject related to the transcription craft. My main hope is that the reader will derive some practical, actionable, and valuable tips and motivation to follow through on their own in utilizing the resources I have presented here to progress productively along the path to becoming a more seasoned, and wealthy, transcriptionist.

Please feel free to direct any questions and comments to :

TranscriptJunky@gmail.com

I always enjoy assisting readers in any feasible way possible, and I ESPECIALLY enjoy when people send emails offering gratitude for this blogging effort as a result of being able to use some of the information provided to solve a problem, or achieve a new milestone in their transcription career effort.

 —————————

Happy Transcribing.

@TranscriptJunky
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