Tips for collecting self-recordings on smartphones

Valerie Freeman –
Oklahoma State University
042 Social Sciences & Humanities
Stillwater, OK 74078

Popular version of paper 2aSC8

Presented Wednesday morning, June 9, 2021

180th ASA Meeting, Acoustics in Focus

When the pandemic hit, researchers who were in the middle of collecting data with people in person had to find another way. Speech scientists whose data consists of audio recordings of people talking switched to remote methods like Zoom or asking people to record themselves on their phones. But this switch came with challenges. We’re used to recording people in our labs with expensive microphones, in quiet sound booths where we can control the background noise and how far away our talkers sit from the mic. We worried that the audio quality from smartphones or Zoom wouldn’t be good enough for the acoustic measures we take. So, we got creative. Some of us did tests to verify that phones and Zoom are okay for our most common measurements (Freeman & De Decker, 2021; Freeman et al., 2020), some devised ways to test people’s hardware before beginning, some delivered special equipment to participants’ homes, and others shifted their focus to things that didn’t require perfect audio quality.

A photo of professional recording equipment in a laboratory sound booth – how speech scientists usually make recordings.

For one study in the Sociophonetics Lab at Oklahoma State University, we switched to having people record themselves on their phones or computers, and three weeks later, we had 50 new recordings – compared to the 10 we’d recorded in person over three weeks pre-pandemic! The procedure was short and simple: fill out some demographics, start up a voice recording app, read some words and stories aloud, email me the recording, and get a $5 gift card.

Along the way, we learned some tricks to keep things running smoothly. We allowed people to use any device and app they liked, and our instructions included links to some user-friendly voice memo apps for people who hadn’t used one before. The instructions were easy to read on a phone, and there weren’t too many steps. The whole procedure took less than 15 minutes, and the little gift card helped. We asked participants to sit close to their device in a quiet room with carpet and soft furniture (to reduce echo) and no background talking or music. To make it easier for older folks, I offered extra credit to my classes to help relatives get set up, we included a link to print the words to read aloud, and we could even walk people through it over Zoom, so we could record them instead.

And it worked! We got over 100 good-quality recordings from people all over the state – and many of them never would have come to the lab on campus, making our study more representative of Oklahoma than if we’d done it all in person.

While this year has been challenging, the ways researchers have learned to use consumer technology to collect data remotely will be an asset even after the pandemic subsides. We can include more people who can’t come to campus, and researchers with limited resources can do more with less – both of which can increase the diversity and inclusiveness of scientific research.

An image of the Sociophonetics Lab logo


See more about the Sociophonetics Lab at

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