How Recording Conference Calls Works

Reporters can record conference calls for playback later.
Reporters can record conference calls for playback later.
© Lauren Fievet/AFP/Getty Images

A conference call, or teleconference, is an easy, affordable way to hold a telephone meeting with participants around the country, or even the world. By recording these calls, a teleconference can serve two purposes, both as a real-time communication tool and an archival record.

There are many good reasons why small and large organizations -- and even individuals -- would want to record and archive a conference call. Here are a few:

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  • Press conferences
  • Corporate earnings reports
  • Stockholder meetings
  • Legal depositions
  • Journalist interviews
  • Podcast interviews for broadcast online
  • Client meetings­

Most conference call hosting services include an option for recording the conference call. The recorded call will remain on the conference call system for a specified time where it can be accessed using the same dial-in number and access code from the original call. Some teleconferencing services will also supply hard copies or digital audio files (WAV or MP3) of the recording for archival purposes.

In this HowStuffWorks article, we're going to look at the technology and techniques required to record your own conference calls. First, we'll look at recording conference calls with standard microphones. Then we'll check out some of the helpful digital devices for recording calls on your computer. Finally, we'll go over the best methods for recording multiparty conference calls.

Let's start with recording conference calls with microphones.

Recording Conference Calls with Microphones

For the best quality, microphones should be placed directly in front of the presenter.
For the best quality, microphones should be placed directly in front of the presenter.
© Photographer: Izaokas Sapiro  | Agency: Dreamstime

When recording conference calls with microphones, the first thing to consider is how many people will be speaking during the call [source: Jake Ludington's MediaBlab].

Many conference calls are one-too-many events in which a single presenter does most, if not all of the talking. In that case, recording the conference call isn't about recording conversations between many people, but recording an individual speaker. For a one-to-many conference call, you'll only need one microphone positioned in front of the presenter [source: Jake Ludington's MediaBlab].­

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Another type of conference call is a few-too-many setup, in which three or four speakers take turns presenting information to the rest of the teleconference participants. To achieve the best sound quality when recording a few-to-many conference call, you'll want to have a separate microphone for each presenter [source: Jake Ludington's MediaBlab].

In any recording situation where you have multiple microphones, you'll have to adjust each microphone's level so that one presenter doesn't sound really quiet in the recording, while another sounds really loud.

To do this, all the microphones will have to be connected to a mixer. The mixer assigns a different track to each microphone. An audio technician can use the mixer to adjust the amplification of each track until they reach the line level (0.5-2V) or recommended base level for audio recording [source: Media College].

There are two basic types of microphones: multidirectional and unidirectional. Multidirectional microphones have a "multiple pickup pattern" meaning they can record sound coming from several different directions at once [source: FilmSound.org]. Unidirectional microphones only pick up sound from the area directly in front of the microphone's head. A popular type of unidirectional microphone is a small lavaliere or lav microphone that can be clipped to the lapel of a shirt [source: The Sound Professionals].

Unidirectional microphones are useful for one-too-many conference calls since there's only a single presenter. To avoid having to use a mixer for a few-too-many conference call, you could buy a multidirectional table microphone to record many presenters at once.

There are even professional conference microphones especially designed for large conference rooms. These microphones are programmed to automatically adjust levels and to boost the common frequencies for human speech. Several table microphones can also be "daisy chained" together to extend over very long conference tables [source: Soniclear].

To record a conference call using a microphone, you'll also need to plug the microphone or mixer into a tape cassette recorder or a digital recording device. In the next section, we'll explain how to record a conference call using digital devices and computers.

Digital Devices for Recording Conference Calls

Digital voice recorders provide the simplest way to record conference calls.
Digital voice recorders provide the simplest way to record conference calls.
© Photographer: Alysta | Agency: Dreamstime

Digital recording is the process of turning analog sound waves into the 1s and 0s that computers understand. For more on the differences between analog and digital recording, see our article How Analog and Digital Recording Works.

The simplest digital device for recording conference calls is a small handheld digital voice recorder. These gadgets are similar in look and feel to normal mini-cassette tape recorders, except they can record hundreds of hours of digital audio on their small built-in flash memory cards [source: Amazon].

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Handheld digital voice recorders have built-in mics, but most include a jack for connecting an external microphone for better sound quality. An advantage of digital voice recorders for recording conference calls is that they can be connected directly to a computer via USB for uploading or further editing.

For recording conference calls to your computer without a handheld digital voice recorder, you'll need three things:

Most desktop computers and laptops have a built-in microphone for capturing audio, but for recording conference calls, you'll probably want to invest in a PC-compatible external microphone. Most modern microphones are built for use in both analog and digital (computer-based) recording.

There are many microphones available that plug directly into the standard USB port of a computer. Others use a 1/8" plug to connect to the line-in or microphone jack on the computer's sound card.

A sound card is another digital recording device that comes standard with most desktop and laptop computers. Sound cards are responsible for converting audio back and forth between analog signals and digital data. Sound cards also contain their own small processors and memory so that the computer's main CPU doesn't have to do a lot of extra work to process incoming audio or play outgoing audio.­

Audio editing software is a computer program that allows a user to digitally record and manipulate audio. Audio editing software can be feature-packed and expensive, like Avid Pro Tools, or streamlined and free, like the open-source program Audacity. Audio editing software allows you to:

  • Record to different tracks and adjust track levels digitally
  • "Digitize" cassettes, vinyl records and live performances by recording them in digital format
  • Cut, paste and delete chunks of audio
  • Alter the tempo (speed) of an audio recording without changing the pitch
  • Remove static, hisses and extraneous noise
  • Export as a WAV, MP3, AIFF or other audio file formats

[source: Audacity]

Audio editing software is useful for recording conference calls because you can chop down a long call and only save the most salient moments. Or you can clean up a recording that was made in less than ideal circumstances, like on a cell phone or in a crowded conference room. Audio editing software is also essential for preparing audio files to be burned to a CD for archival purposes.

Now let's look at some gadgets and techniques for recording multiparty conference calls.

Recording Multiparty Conference Calls

Photographer: Carsten Reisinger|Agency: Dreamstime

A multiparty conference call is one in which there are multiple presenters in different locations.

You can use microphones when recording multiparty conference calls, but it can get a little complicated. You have to set microphones at all the different locations to record all the presenters individually. Then you have to take those recordings and paste them together using audio editing software. The result will be a high-quality recording, but will require considerable time and energy.­

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The most common method for recording multiparty conference calls is to use a simple phone adapter called a Telephone Recording Control that captures the audio from the phone call and routes it into a cassette recorder, a digital recorder or straight into a computer.

Here's how the phone adapter works:

  1. Plug the phone line from the wall into the adapter
  2. Plug your phone into the other side of the adapter
  3. Plug the adapter's audio out cord into your cassette recorder, digital recorder or computer

The advantage of using a phone adapter to record multiparty conference calls is that the adapter itself is inexpensive (around $15 to $20) and easy to set up.

A digital hybrid is a small audio mixer especially made for phone conversations. It has jacks for phone lines and dials for adjusting audio levels so that recorded phone conversations come out sounding natural and balanced [source: BSW].

As we mentioned in the introduction to this article, probably the most common way to record a multiparty conference call is to have your conference call service do it for you. Most conference call services allow the moderator to press a key on his phone to start recording the conversation. You can also choose to record all calls by default.

The recorded call will remain on the conference call system for a specified amount of days or it can be e-mailed to the moderator and/or participants as a digital audio file like WAV or MP3.

As for the future of recording conference calls, more and more people are turning to cheap or free VoIP conference call recording solutions like Pamela for Skype. While others are using traditional conference call technology to solve new problems.

Chris Pirillo, host of a popular online videocast, has started to experiment with conference calls as a solution for handling call-in questions. Pirillo has had callers dial into a conference call with a special pin and press "9" to raise their hands with a question. A conference call operator then screens each caller to find out what they're going to ask [source: Chris Pirillo].

But Pirillo sees more in this than simply organizing his question queue. Recording these conference calls can become a powerful way to archive and tag useful content. Once a question is asked and answered on air, one of his producers can take that recorded chunk of audio, tag it with relevant information about the content of the question and post it to other Web sites and news feeds as standalone content [source: Chris Pirillo]. Someone searching for information about how to record a conference could find Pirillo's audio answer online and the rest is history.

For more information about recording conference calls and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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