When someone dies: capturing their voicemail messages

tl;dr version: play the message on one device while recording it with the voice memo on a smart phone or Vocaroo on a laptop, email yourself a copy / save the file on computer.

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/microphone-stage-sound-1222302/

Well this’ll be a cheerful post 😉 But it was inspired by this lovely tweet from James O’Brien.

My dad died in Nov 2016 and at the time I was too all over the place to actually manage to record the last voicemail message he sent me a few days before (I’d spent the day with him the day before he died and spoke to him on the morning of the day he died so the voicemail message was from a few days earlier). I was very glad that I’d had the presence of mind earlier in the year to make a recording of a message he’d left me – he’d been ill and I think it had been in my mind that I might not have that many opportunities to record him. I’m glad I did. Sadly I didn’t think to do the same for my mum.

Here’s my dad, leaving a voicemail message on my phone, telling me about a BBC Four programme I’d have enjoyed about the London to Penzance overnight sleeper train which I’d travelled on the year before.

Although this particular post is about preserving sound here’s one about capturing text messages.

Before people die…
My advice is to ask your loved ones to record something, or capture their voicemail messages as you go along, as this person has done. Whatever you do don’t leave the voicemail message on the phone in case of accidental deletion.

If your loved one has a Wikipedia page they may even want to record something to append to their wiki entry! Find out more at the Wikipedia Voice Intro Project.

After people die…
It really seems to me that as soon as someone dies and you go through the process of registering the death etc etc that someone official should suggest capturing any old voicemail messages (texts too I suppose) as their capture is very time-limited. It would be great if phone companies and phone manufacturers made it super easy for people to access a better-quality recording. Meanwhile, here’s my rather old school way of doing it.

1. Making a recording of someone’s outgoing voicemail message
When you ring someone and they’re not there this is the message you hear from them before you leave your message. To record this some kind person (Pete Keen) has created a free online tool which will let you download the message as an .mp3 – see VMSave for more.

2. Making a recording of a message that someone’s left on your phone
I literally played the voicemail message through the speaker on my landline phone and held my iPhone microphone up to it, recording the message you can hear above with the already-installed Voice Memo app. It took a couple of goes to get a good recording, ensuring the right positioning of the microphone next to the speaker.

If the deceased person has left a message ON your iPhone (ie you can’t record it from the same decvice) then I’d suggest some borrowing someone else’s phone that has a voice memo recording facility, playing it on speaker phone rather than topping/tailing the microphone and speaker. If you have a laptop or computer with a microphone then you can use that to make a free recording with Vocaroo.

The recording results in an .m4a file which you can email to yourself from the phone (you can also use iTunes to move it around too) and you can listen to it on iTunes or the free VLC player and I’m sure plenty of other things too.

For sharing it with others possibly the best thing, beyond emailing a copy, is to download (or do it online) free Dropbox and add the file there. You can then share the link with anyone, only those with the link can access it but it is technically public. I have a sound-related blog and I pay an annual fee which lets me add any file (curiously WordPress dot com blogs don’t let you upload sound files without paying!) so that works for me. Much more public ways to share a sound file might include Soundcloud and things like that.

See also this postCapturing / sharing voice memos from iPhone and WhatsApp – it contains instructions on how to capture a voice message originally sent by WhatsApp and also has screenshots of the process involved in using the iPhone voice memo and sending the resulting file by email.

I’m hoping to find out other, better ways of making recordings and update this post – if you know of a simple method (that people who don’t have professional recording equipment could do) please let me know.

Further reading


Capturing / sharing voice memos from iPhone and WhatsApp

I discovered yesterday that you can send an audio message through WhatsApp, I think it’s probably always been possible but I only just noticed. You can also save a copy separately (by emailing it to yourself), and I thought I’d write up how to save / email voice memos from iPhone too, so I added that at the end.

This post was prompted by thinking about Andy Mabbett’s (@pigsonthewing) post about the Wiki Voice Intro Project (#wikivip), while noticing that audio messages could be shared via WhatsApp. WikiVIP is about inviting people who have a Wikipedia page about them to record and share a short audio introduction (“Hi I’m X and have been doing Y since Z”, sort of thing), you can see an example on Ralph Fiennes’ Wikipedia page.


1. Here’s a redacted WhatsApp voice recording (you can make new ones by clicking on the remarkably obvious blue microphone icon at the bottom of the screen which I only spotted yesterday). If you press and hold anywhere inside the pale green box you’ll bring up the options window

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2. “Forward” is the option you’re after, to email it etc

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3. Then it’s the upload icon (bottom right in the picture below) and choose email option as before, the file is in an .opus format – I’ve never handled those before but there are file conversion tools [Zamzar – file converter (no download required)]

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iPhone voice memo app

This lets you record audio for as long as you have enough space on your phone to accommodate it. I’ve recorded several things longer than an hour, though I tend to split them up. Obviously longer recordings are bigger files than shorter ones but you can email any file to yourself [and it might be simpler to use a USB connection and iTunes for the really large ones – iPhone: Transfer Voice Memos from iPhone to Computer] by doing the following.

1. Choose the voice memo you want to share, click on it in the list to bring up the play, upload, edit and delete icons

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2. Click on the upload icon which brings up the ways to share, then choose the email option

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3. The file is an .m4a format (if recorded with an iPhone) but you can use software tools to convert to other formats [NCH Switch MP3 Converter software (download required)] [Zamzar – file converter (no download required)]

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