When it comes to converting speech to text, the focus is naturally on the finished product. Clients want transcripts that are accurate, presented in the right format and delivered on time. But transcribers, no matter how skilled, need high quality recordings in order to do their best work.
When Beverley Cooper-Chambers applied for a job as a ‘VCR’ in 2014, she admits she had no idea what was involved. Five years on, she’s an experienced technician working for transcription providers like Appen.
Using state-of-the-art technology, Beverley creates audio recordings at formal proceedings including Coroners’ inquests, court cases, tribunals and other official hearings. These audio recordings are then transcribed to form the official written record – a key piece of evidence.
So, what exactly does ‘VCR’ mean?
“When I first started, we were called Verbatim Court Reporters,” explains Beverley. “But that’s not an accurate description of the work at all. We’re now called Recording Technicians, or sometimes Loggers, but personally I still like VCR as it always stimulates a conversation.”
The role is complex, sometimes emotionally challenging, highly specialised and endlessly varied, especially when it comes to venue and location. Beverley travels extensively, working for clients in a range of sectors and settings. But no matter what the location, there is a standard set-up procedure.
“First, I prepare the room, which takes around 30 minutes,” says Beverley. “This involves installing eight microphones for each main speaker, for example the Coroner, jury and witnesses. I set up the mixer box and test everything, to make sure everyone can be heard clearly on the recording.”
For every hearing, Beverley creates a transcript ‘front page’ with the names of all the speakers, colour-coded for simplicity. During proceedings, she logs the first four words each person says, every time they speak, using their colour code or initials. This makes it easier for the transcriber to match the speaker to the voice throughout the recording.
Not that there’s just one recording; Beverley makes at least three back-up copies of each recording simultaneously, on three different devices, for disaster recovery and contingency planning purposes. She is also on hand to make sure the recording equipment is working properly and cope with any technical issues.
“At the end of the day, I upload the audio file to a file management system,” she explains. “It is then downloaded and allocated to a transcriber for completion within an agreed timescale; anything from 24 hours to a couple of weeks.”
The equipment, or kit as it’s called, is as specialised as the skills needed to operate it.
“Typically, I’ll use a customised laptop, several microphones, a mixer box, headphones and a USB for back up,” says Beverley. “I also need to be familiar with all the latest recording and file management software, for example Liberty Recording and Egress.”
As the recording process becomes increasingly automated, VCRs need to stay one step ahead of the technology, and the role is gradually changing. However, most clients still prefer the reassurance of knowing there is an experienced technician in the room who can operate the equipment for them, and more importantly, deal with any problems that might arise.
After all, it’s these experts that make the difference between a good transcript and a great one.
Find out more about Appen UK’s audio recording and transcription services at: https://appen.com/uk/#services