VoxDB Contributors' Guide

Project Background

Photographs are generally how we recognize and connect with culturally significant individuals. Finding pictures of people online is easy, and the personal and pedagogical value of these representations is enormous.

It is also possible, of course, to make these same connections auditorily: by listening to a person's voice. Unfortunately, this important means of identifying people and forming connections with them plays at best a secondary role for most people. Distracted by the easy availability of visual images, we underestimate the tremendous emotional and informational power of listening to the sound of another human being's voice.

The goal of VoxDB is to re-prioritize this resource. Where ever an image exists of a culturally significant figure born after the advent of recording technology, VoxDB seeks to provide a clear, universally accessible recording of that person speaking.

We are creating a searchable online database containing short samples of voices of current and historical figures such as scientists, politicians, authors, actors, religious leaders, artists, musicians, and elected officials. It will be an "auditory photo gallery", providing the acoustic equivalent of the thumbnail visual image which is so omnipresent online.

We are at the very beginning stage of this project, gathering the voice clips which will populate the database. The VoxDB collection will naturally reflect the tastes, interests and abilities of those who contribute to it. You have the chance to help shape this collection, adding your touch to this rapidly emerging internet resource.

Note to Students

If you are a student participating in the VoxDB project as part of a service learning course requirement, your instructor will determine at which stage you will participate, which clips you may contribute and how many you will contribute. Although we will assist in any way we can, your instructor is the sole determiner of your course grade. VoxDB reserves the right to decline the offer of particular clips or groups of clips for any reason; this is independent of any grade you may receive in any course at Bowling Green State University or other institution. Your instructor may have added requirements for you, but what follows is the basic process for contributing to VoxDB.

Contributing Clips

There are three stages to the clip contribution process: (1) location, (2) collection and editing, and (3) verification.

Stage 1: Location

A. Choosing your Contribution

Ensure that the person you are considering is appropriate and workable.

B. Finding the Best Source

Use your favorite search engine to locate Internet sites that contain the voice you are looking for. To find the best source, you will have to listen to many possibilities and discard most of them. Do not be satisfied with the first one you find. We are looking for the highest quality recording from the most reliable source, and this will take some searching.

Here are things for you to consider as you search:


It is essential that your sampled voice belongs to the person you think it belongs to. To ensure this:

Sound Quality

Just as you would not want to look at a blurry picture, VoxDB cannot use muffled, noisy or otherwise distorted sound where better samples exist. For very well-known people in the 21st or late 20th century, high quality sound recordings will be readily available. For less-well-known figures or those from the early or middle 20th century, there will be fewer choices and thus we may have to be satisfied with lower sound quality.

Listening to the examples provided at http://www.VoxDB.org/training.html (preferably several times on different occasions) will help you to develop a sense of the sound quality you should be aiming for.

C. Selecting Excerpts from within the Interview: content and other considerations

Once you have chosen a reliable source with good sound quality, you will locate 3 usable portions of that source. For each voice, you need three separate clips: one which is 8-10 seconds in length and two that are 3-4 seconds long. It is not essential that the lengths of the clips are exact. We are aiming for a group of clips that are subjectively (not precisely) "equivalent" in length.

You will identify usable portions by recording the time each begins and ends. For example, you might find a usable 10-second portion which begins at 4 minutes 13 seconds from the beginning of the interview and lasts until 4 minutes 23 seconds.

Summary of stage 1:

For each person, you should have:

With this information in hand, you have completed the Location Stage. If you are not collecting the sample yourself, skip to the last part of this document: Turning in your Work

Stage 2: Clip Collection

If you are on BGSU's campus, the best place to work is most likely the Language Learning Center (LLC), 303 University Hall. Computers at the LLC have all the software you need already installed (including Audacity and the LAME mp3 encoder), and LLC personnel can lend you the headphones and patch cord you need. The following instructions assume that you are working at the LLC, but you may also choose to gather your own headphones and patch cord, install the software on your own computer, and work from there. However, the techniques described below may not work on all computers. (Important: the LLC computers are equipped with headphones with a USB plug. To make this procedure work, however, you must disconnect those headphones, and instead use headphones with a standard 3.5mm (1/8-inch) plug.)

You will need two kinds of software: a sound editor and an application (or browser plug-in) to play audio. We recommend the use of Audacity, a free, open source aplication for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. You can install the latest version from http://www.audacity.sourceforge.net. Most computers should already have the software to play sound files installed. If you have trouble with other computers, work at the LLC.

A. Step by Step Instructions for Recording Audio

We will shortly be including here keyboard equivalents to Audacity commands and other tips for users of screen readers.

B. Step by Step Instructions for Editing Audio

Although the maximum sound quality of your clip is determined by the original source (i.e., it is not likely that you can improve on the sound quality), it is quite possible to diminish the quality with sloppy editing. Listen carefully at each stage, and don't be afraid to start over.

When you have finished three clips per person (two short ones and one long one), and are sure that they meet the sound quality and other criteria, you are ready to submit your work. Someone else will verify your work (Stage 3.)

Stage 3: Verification

In addition to ensuring that the submitted clips meet VoxDB standards for content, quality, and reliability, a third party will verify that the URL is correct for the given clips, that the dates are correctly notated and that the speaker is correctly identified. The clip will additionally be evaluated for sound quality. Clips may be rejected at this point or recommendations made for re-editing or re-recording.

Submitting clips

Go to www.VoxDB.org/submit/ [not yet available] and fill in the form provided. We will keep your personal information confidential, and we will use it only to assist your instructor in record keeping or to contact you should there be problems with your submission.

VoxDB requires with the submission of each set of clips:

Thank you for your participation. We hope it will be interesting and rewarding. Please contact us at info@voxdb.org if you have questions or if we can be of help to you in any way.