Tale of the Transcriptionist's Tape

February 8th, 2014

Matt Seidel works as a transcriptionist:

The best transcriptionist is one who doesn’t attract notice to his work. Unlike the translator, whose work is always a form of betrayal – traduttore, traditore [translator, traitor] goes the famous Italian saying – the transcriber aims for nothing short of absolute fidelity. And thus, given that my job is literally to reproduce the material as accurately as possible, I am only as good as my material. So what keeps me motivated? Well, it's the hope that one day – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon – I will transcribe an iconic line. I often think of those fast-typing legends of yore, whether their hands trembled while captioning, commas and all, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

The company I freelance for has its own voice recognition software. Its engineers run client audio files through the software to produce a rough transcript that can be quite accurate depending on the recording. After being thus processed, the files are placed on an online marketplace, at which point the editor logs on to choose one to transcribe. The editor can see information about each file: the client, running time, and price per minute. An audio and visual preview is also available so that one can avoid the most difficult files – faint recordings seemingly set in a wind tunnel and featuring multiple motor-mouthed speakers with accents that confound the voice-recognition technology, which is set to American English. These files lure in many a young transcriber by offering higher rates, but wily veterans know to search for the hidden gems that maximize one's dollar-to-effort ratio (which reflects the real hourly rate more accurately than the dollar per audio minute does). My greatest such discovery was a documentary about a wandering yogi wherein three total words were spoken, two of which were subtitled and needed only a [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] tag. I measure every new project against this Platonic ideal.

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