Documenting Your Recordings

How should sound be documented?

It is most convenient to narrate documentation directly into your recording for later transcription. What information should be put on the tape and how to coordinate narrated documentation with subject recording may be less obvious. A list of the data that are important for complete documentation of sound recording is given below.

This list is followed by a suggested protocol for narrating this information directly on your tape recording.

Basic Data with Comments

  • Who is doing the recording?
  • Make and model number of recorder?
  • Make and model number of microphone?
  • If a parabolic reflector is used, material and diameter?
  • Other accessories if used (e.g., transformer, preamp)?
  • Name of species
  • Whether the subject was seen
  • How many target subjects were recorded
  • Sex of target animal(s) (unknown is acceptable)
  • Age class of animal(s) (unknown is acceptable)
  • Approximate distance of subject from microphone
  • Date
  • Time of day at beginning and/or end of recording session
  • General location: city, park, lake, etc.; county, state, country
  • Specific location, or site (to within 100 ft if possible)
  • Type of habitat
  • Weather conditions
  • Behavior of subject
  • Background sounds: if there were other sounds at the time of your recording that might be difficult to identify on replay of the tape, identify them
  • Information pertaining to your research needs
  • Tape number: if you are doing a lot of recording to support your research, it is a good idea to have a system to identify your tape. In the BLB, tapes are identified by the initials of the recordist, followed by the year and tape number for that year. For example, JS0504 translates to Jill Soha, 2005, 4th tape.

Coordinating Narrated Data Input with Subject Recording

If you are using a single track recorder or a multi-track with only one microphone, you will put voiced data on the tape with the microphone used to record your target subject.

If you have a second microphone and a multi-channel recorder, you can record your target subject on one track with one microphone and put voiced data on another track using the second microphone. In either situation, it is of course best not to voice input at the same time you are recording your target animal.

If the nature of your research makes simultaneous voice and target animal recording desirable, additional samples of your target animal with no voice overlap can still be useful for illustration, future research, and archiving.

Note: your gain has likely been high to record your distant target, so keep your voice low or remember to turn your gain down to save your ears when listing to the tape. Practice narrating to find the right volume.

The first information to go on a tape should identify the tape, if multiple tapes are to be produced, and the recordist/equipment configuration. This should be followed by the date and the general location where recording will begin.

If information on habitat and weather are important to you they can be initially entered here. Stop your recorder at the end of this introduction and before recording a target subject. If using analog or digital cassette recorders always narrate "stop" or some indication that the recorder is about to be paused or stopped.

On these recorders you can often not detect that recording was halted, and confusion can occur on later analysis.

When recording your target subject, try to obtain sufficient gain on the target signal so that you can distinguish it from "background" on playback.

Stop your recorder before putting voiced data on the tape. Wait a few moments if possible. Your target may perform again and you may want to resume recording (in which case, you may want to voice the time before resuming target recording). When finished recording this target animal, document the record, or cut, as follows:

  1. Note the time at end of recording the entire cut. (If stops were made and time of stops were not noted, do so now, if known.)
  2. Give species identification, sex, age, number of individuals, whether the target(s) was/were seen, and distance from microphone.
  3. Give site location. Many recordists try to note a site to within 100 ft so that a return to nearly the exact same location can be made later. This can lead to some strange-sounding site locations (e.g., behind the toilet, next to the poison oak sign). Try to use landmark features that are not too ephemeral.
  4. Record any pertinent behavioral information or information specific to your research needs, such as gain setting(s) used while recording target subject(s).

Continue recording the same or new target subjects, preceding or following each cut with any new voiced data (“new bird,” time of day, etc.). If the location and/or date change within a tape, voice these changes before recording the next cut.

Stopping your recorder after a target subject is recorded and before voiced data are entered, and again after voiced data are entered and a new target is recorded, makes later editing and analysis of your tape much easier.

Again, with analog and digital cassette formats, narrate "stop" or "pause" onto your tape so you can detect that the tape was stopped when you are auditioning the tape later. Some research really requires voiced input during recording of the target subject. Again, if this is necessary, try also to get sound samples with no voiced narration.

It can be irritation to the point of exasperation to complete a project and have no good, clean example of an important acoustic feature for publication.

Try to make a written edit of your tape as soon as possible after recordings are completed. When making edit sheets you can note whether any information was not narrated onto the tape and add those data to the written edit sheet. We strongly encourage written edit sheets detailing the contents of your tape.

An unedited tape is useless to you or someone else unless you have access to equipment and, equally important, the time to go through the tape every time you need information contained therein.

Kroodsma, D.E, G.F. Budney, R.W. Grotke, J.M.E. Vielliard, S.L.L. Gaunt, R. Ranft and O.D. Veprintseva. 1996. Natural Sound Archives: Guidance for recordists and a request for cooperation. IN: Ecology and Evolution of Acoustic Communication in Birds (D.E. Kroodsma & E. H. Miller ed’s). Comstock Pub. Assoc., Ithaca, NY.