Steve Hullfish
By Steve Hullfish 10.17.09


The topic of transcription came up on several forums recently, so I thought I'd share the peanut gallery's wisdom on the subject. If you don't think you need transcriptions, think again. With the recent FCC rules, all TV programs need closed-captioning, and unless you're doing scripted drama, you'll need transcriptions for the closed-captioner. It's also handy to have as an editor when you're trying to "Frankenstein" a soundbite together and you're looking for the sentence-ending word with an "S" at the end or something like that. Sometimes if I'm trying to end a speaker's thought in mid-sentence, I do a search for the same ending word with a period after it. Splice them together and you've got an elegant ending to an otherwise choppy sounding sentence. If you've got a transcription to search, doing these kinds of tasks is much, much easier.

I could claim to be somewhat of a celebrity in transcription circles... Long ago, I posted an off-the-cuff response to a similar thread about transcription and it was pointed out to me that since then, my name has been co-opted as a verb! Google "Hullfishing transcription." It shows up on producer's websites and blogs, editors, audio editors, and even a stenography blog! Hopefully, I get known for something a little better than this before someone has to write my obituary.

image Many of the voice-to-text software programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking do a much better job of transcribing text if it is first "trained" to understand a particular speaker's voice patterns. Obviously if you're trying to transcribe interviews for a documentary, you can't train the software to each speaker's voice. So my idea was to train the software to your voice - or an assistant's - and then listen to the interviews with headsets on and speak the words you hear shortly after you hear them, much like an on-camera talent using an ear prompter.

Once it's set up properly, it actually works fairly well - especially with the improvements in speech-to-text software.

But there are lots of other solutions and hopefully one of them will work for your particular set of circumstances.

One recent post on the topic asked about making dubs for the transcriptionist. This may still be the way some of them work, but it's a digital world and instead of VHS dubs, most transcriptionists use digital files. That's good news, since you have to digitize the footage or transfer it into your editing system anyway.

What you send to the transcriptionist depends a lot on whether you want timecode times and how often. If you just want a plain transcription, you can usually send an .mp3 or .wav file. Some transcriptionists will prefer a QT file with a timecode burn. You can send large files a number of ways:

• If you, your client or the transcriptionist has an ftp site, use that.

• On a Mac, if you've got an iDisk (MobileMe) account, use that.

• Try one of the web-based services for sending large files, like

• A recent internet story showed that sending a carrier pigeon 60 miles with a flash drive attached to its leg was faster than DSL, so you could do that.

The original post was trying to figure out a way of maybe recording on set to some other medium so that the files could get to the transcriber faster. Remember that the transcriptionist can probably only work on one file at a time, so if you capture just the first tape into your editor and spit out a simple mp3 or QT file, you've gotten her started with part of the project and you can continue sending as you go.

imageIf you want to record on set on the cheap so you can send something even faster, then try either a cheap digital recorder from one of the big-box office supply stores, or if you're looking for something cheaper and hipper, try the Griffin iTalk app for your iPhone or for those of us without the latest iPod, get Belkin's TuneTalk Stereo which turns regular iPods into recording devices.

Something to remember

Most transcriptionists charge by the minute, so if you send them a file with lots of wasted "blank" time, you're just throwing money away. Trim your files to eliminate any time before or after the interview itself.

There are plenty of transcriptionists out there on the net. Terry Curren pointed out that he has outsourced some transcriptions overseas because it's cheaper. This is obviously a job that could be done by almost anyone, anywhere with a computer, some decent typing speed and good hearing (but PLEASE know how to spell!), so I would think that the supply and demand equation is weighted in your favor.

I was contacted by a transcriptionist who does entertainment work and here is what she had to say:
I charge $1.25/min ($75/1-hour file or a portion thereof) for transcription. Files are usually sent to me as mp3's (wav). Since many of the files I receive are too large to send via email, the files are uploaded to a server such as and Both servers are free and I have used them for this purpose.
I have transcribed programs for the National Geographic and Smithsonian Channels before.
Please feel free to browse through my website at and to contact me if I can be of further assistance.
Regards, Susan Siegmann

I suspect that her rates and workflow are typical.


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