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


How to add alt-text descriptions to pictures on Twitter for visually impaired people

I’ve seen a couple of tweets and Twitter threads in the last couple of days that have gone a bit viral, highlighting that everyone can set something up in their Twitter settings to make things easier for visually impaired users. If you switch ON the option to be able to caption your photos then, whenever you upload a pic to Twitter, you can click on the image and add a text description. This description doesn’t show up in your tweet (it doesn’t impinge on your character limit) but is useful for those using voice software.

  1. History
  2. How to set it up
  3. Write good descriptions

1. History: Twitter rolls out the ability to add alt text in 2016, initially just for phone apps I think, then later it rolls out to everything.

2. How to set it up

Full info in How to make images accessible for people but for desktop users (like me) the steps look like this, below.

a) Go to https://twitter.com/settings/account and scroll to the bottom of the panel on the left, click on Accessibility.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.12.14

b) Make sure there’s a tick next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.14.00

Example of what it looks like when you upload a picture to desktop

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.22

Click anywhere on the image to Add description and write your text in the box that appears.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.55

3. Write good descriptions: Lovely thread from RobotHugsComics (h/t ScottKeir) with suggestions of what to actually write in the description window.