The Interview Equipment – Part 2

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Decisions on equipment for an interview must not only include the quality of the audio and video, but also take into consideration how the recording will be used and retrieved in the future.

Recording Equipment and Media

As equipment is constantly changing, we recommend a few sources to stay up on updates. The Oral History Association has helpful information on their website. H-Oralhist is a network for scholars and professionals of oral history and has some media information. Oral History in the Digital Age has playlists for getting started with oral histories. You may also find several equipment guides at the Vermont Folk Life Center.

Impact of digital platforms

An obvious step in the selection of equipment.

Other recording needs

This includes microphones, cables and ay other recording needs. Hopefully these will be one-time expenses for you, but you should give some thought as to how many recorders and microphones you will need.

We recommend you use high-quality external microphones and high-quality connecting cables. The best you can afford. Whether analog or digital, an external microphone will greatly improve the audio over a built-in recorder microphone. You might also want to consider headphones as well.

The types of cables you need will depend on the video recorder and how many microphones you will need to plug in. What about using cell phones for recording? We do not recommend them if you are trying to produce an archival quality recording. Their intended purposes is not as recorders, but as communication devices. If you do choose to use a cell phone as a recorder you most likely will need an app for recording and an external microphone.


For microphones there are a few options to consider. Will you want to use a lavaliere and clip it to the interviewee’s clothing? Or perhaps you would rather use a stand or a pad. Also, there are two different types of microphone: condenser or dynamic. Condenser microphones need an external power source while dynamic microphones do not.

There are three ways that microphones pick up sound:

  • Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound from all around the microphone
  • Cardioid microphones pick up sound from the direction the mike is pointed in a heart-shaped pattern
  • Unidirectional microphones pick up sound only from one direction

For these reasons we recommend one of two options for microphones for an interview. A dynamic directional lavaliere for each participant in the interview, or a condenser omnidirectional microphone that can pick up everyone’s voice. Again, you want to use the highest quality equipment you can afford.

For more on microphones, see this article by Charles Hardy and Doug Boyd.

Processing equipment

The final decision is dependent on the type of processing you will do for the interview. Do you plan to transcribe the interview? Or do you just need to abstract parts of the recording? The answers to those questions will determine the type of processing equipment you may need. This is also usually a one-time expense.

Interview Preparation

This is truly a critical part of the interview process. Don’t forget to include this time in your invoice for the work you are doing. As you are preparing for the interview, keep the ethical principles in mind. We recommend you review the Oral History Association’s Principles and Best Practices as part of your preparation.

Background search and bibliography

Make sure to keep a list of all the interview preparation sources you use.

Outline of interview topics

This outline and the questions you use will be your guide for the recorded dialogue.

Identify interviewees and topics for each interview

You are looking for sketchy information, clarification of the ambiguous, clues to family mysteries, and unanswered questions.

Conduct interviewee specific research

Find out as much as you can about the family record of your interviewee.

Develop interview questions

By now it should be obvious that pulling a list of canned interview questions from the Internet is not what you are after. You are conducting research and your interview has a unique purpose. If you have properly prepared, you should easily be able to pull a list of questions together.

Schedule interview

Once you have agreed to a date and time for the interview, be sure to allow enough time for yourself to set up equipment, etc. Also it is helpful to set up a tickler system to remind the interviewee about your appointment.

Next up – Conducting the Interview

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