In my article about why we still need humans to do transcription work, I promised to give you some insights into transcription as a career. Here are some pointers to give you an idea of what you need to know in advance, the skills and software you need, and ways to get work in this field – plus some pitfalls to avoid.
What is transcription?
I cover this in detail in another article, but basically transcription is what we used to call audio-typing – turning recordings of spoken words into documents containing those words written down. There is quite a lot of call for transcription work of various kinds as we’ll see in a moment. But the work basically involves putting on a headset or ear phones, and typing out what you can hear on a tape.
What kinds of transcription job are available?
Personally, I’ve worked on the following kinds of transcription job, which just shows how varied it can be:
- Journalists interviewing musicians and actors
- Someone interviewing their elderly parent in order to write a memoir for them
- Academics and students interviewing subjects for their research
- Students’ role-plays for learning how to provide phone counselling
- Presentations at international conferences
- Panels at conferences including questions
- Discussion panels for market research companies
- Podcasts by one person so they can provide transcriptions to their listeners
- Podcasts of one person interviewing another
- Free and paid-for telecasts (phone-in sessions where people listen to a speaker)
- Free and paid-for teleseminars (as above but with questions and discussion)
- Content for a book, dictated in the first instance before being edited
There are also specific roles that people can take on who have particular specialised skills such as legal proceedings or letters and medical transcription.
All of these clients have had different requirements in terms of the level of detail, time stamping, etc. but all have provided variety and interest!
Am I suited for transcription work?
In essence, the answer comes down to these three points:
- How fast do you type? You need to be able to type really fast to be able to make enough money (see below)
- How careful are you with your posture? (sounds odd, but sitting in one position typing like mad for hours is the highest risk part of my job for RSI)
- How good are you at using Word and its autocorrect features? (this makes a lot of difference to your speed – see the section on technology below)
The best way to find out if you’re suitable for this kind of work is to practise before you’re doing a paid job. Learn from me, here! I did train as an audio typist, with a foot pedal and a tape player back in the old days. So when a journalist I followed on Twitter asked if anyone offered transcription, I went for and got the job. Fine, I did lovely fast typing but I was using Windows Media Player to play the tape, switching windows to start, pause and rewind it. That first tape took me hours! I wish I’d known what I know now about technology and how to actually do it!
Technology for transcription work
There’s quite a lot to the technology for transcription, so I’ve written a separate article about working as a professional transcriber which includes loads of detail on this and other aspects.
In essence, you will need:
- a word-processing package
- software to manage your recordings
- ways to receive large files – you need to know about dropbox, yousendit and other services
How do I work out if I’m suitable for transcription work?
If anyone asks me about how to find out if they’re suitable for transcription work I tell them to do this:
- Record an hour of general conversation, interviews, etc. from the radio
- Get the technology set up (see separate article) and transcribe it
- Work out how many minutes it takes you to transcribe one audio minute
I’d say you’re looking for at least a 1:3 relationship here. That’s 3 minutes to transcribe one minute of tape. Not long! you cry. But that means it will take 45 minutes to transcribe a 15-minute tape, or 3 hours to transcribe a 1-hour tape. Build in the fact that you need to take a break at least once an hour, and good old cash rears its ugly head.
Can I make money doing transcription?
Here’s the thing it all boils down to:
If you can’t type fast and use the technology to boost your speed, it’s not financially worthwhile to take on transcription work.
The standard industry rate for transcription is around £0.85 per audio minute. That’s £8.50 for a 10-minute file. If it takes you 1 hour to type out a 10-minute file, you’re going to make £8.50. Before tax. But if you can get two of those done in an hour, you’re getting £17.00 an hour – not so bad.
Some companies have standard rates and pay more. Personally, I stick to that rate for one to two speakers speaking clear English in a relatively quiet room, with a turnaround time that allows me some room for manoeuvre, and I add £0.10 per minute for urgent work, extra speakers, noisy tapes, etc. And if any of my music journalist clients are reading this, yes, I give fellow freelancers a discount (and other people a discount at my discretion, based on the quality of the tapes and the time it takes me to transcribe them).
There are internet job boards out there trying to hire transcribers for £0.10 per audio minute – honestly. The more people accept these prices, the more they will stay. I have more self-worth than that, and even when I was starting out, I’d rather do a transcription for free in return for a reference than do hack work for a corporation paying peanuts. Rant over!
How do I get transcription work?
There are loads of sources of transcription work. I have to say that my main one is personal recommendation – strings of journalists, etc. But it’s also worth trying the following:
- Set up a saved Twitter search for “need transcriber” and contact people with an offer. This can work – it’s how I got my first transcription client!
- If you are near a university that has a lot of research going on, ask to put up some posters offering your services. A lot of researchers conduct interviews and need them to be transcribed.
- Tell your editing or other clients that you’re offering this new service – I’ve transitioned clients to and from transcription services.
- Join reputable job sites like Proz which advertise transcription jobs at decent prices.
- Use social media and tell all your contacts what you’re doing
- Join transcribers’ groups on LinkedIn, etc. – there are often people looking to pass on overflow work
I would strongly suggest that you don’t just do transcription work full time. It’s very physically tiring, you can get RSI from all the typing and sore ears from the earphones (I’ve got a sore ear at the moment and I’ve been doing this for years!) so add it into the mix, and remember to take a break every hour of typing!
This article has helped you work out if you’re suited for transcription work and given you some hints and tips. Have you found it useful? Please comment if you have, and let me know how you get on!
Related posts in the series: