The importance of 'tagging' your audio

28th March 2021. Reading Time: 9 minutes General, EVP. 2082 page views. 0 comments.

Why we need to be vigilant in tagging audio during paranormal investigations

EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomenon.  It essentially relates to what people consider to be spirit voices on tape.  It happens when a person records audio and upon playback, they hear noises or voices that they didn't hear at the time.  While there is a range of possible explanations both natural and paranormal theories, it is one the most common techniques used during a paranormal investigation.

There is a set of what I guess you could call 'unofficial' rules when it comes to recording EVP.  Maybe even more of a guide.  We say things like:

  • Never tell someone what you think you hear so you do not influence them
  • Leave at least 10 seconds between questions to allow something to answer
  • Always tag your audio

If you wish to learn more about EVP in-depth, check out my book The LLIFS Guide to EVP

What is tagging audio?

When you are taking a digital recording during your paranormal investigation, the aim or hope of investigators is usually to hear a voice on the recording that none of them heard at the time.  Many believe this is a spirit communicating with them.  Often, it sounds like a whisper.  The problem is, there is also something else that sounds like a whisper .... people whispering.  I am not sure why but when you tell a room of people to be quiet so you can do a recording, people start whispering to each other.  When you playback the recording and hear this whisper, it is easy to jump to the paranormal conclusion.  Maybe someone is walking around and you hear footsteps.  You might forget this when you review the audio and you think they are paranormal footsteps.  Tagging basically means you are alerting yourself to anything you might mistake as paranormal.  Investigators often refer to it as contamination.  

As an example, if I am doing a recording, every time I hear a noise, any sort of noise, I verbally mention what it is.  This is so that when I review the audio, I know exactly what the sound is.  You know how when you listen to your own voice on a recording and you think "I don't really sound like that"? Just like our own voices, a lot of noises sound completely different to us on a digital recorder than how we think we hear them.  Some recorders are old and have a lot of static noise in the background.  Some of the microphones on the recorders are very poor.  It means if you are not standing directly in front of the recorder, a voice can sound really faint.  It could even sound like a whisper.  So even if you think the noise is really obvious, it could sound completely different on playback.  Anytime there is a noise, you will hear me say "car driving past, floorboard creaking, stomach grumble, jacket noise, whisper, people talking etc."  It is not me being rude if someone is moving around, it is so that no one can mistake the sound of someone moving around as something paranormal. 

One of the many noises you will likely come across during your recordings that may even come as a surprise, are a large range of animal noises.  

Animal noises

The above is a recording that was taken during an investigation at Black Rock House.  We note pretty much every single time we are there that there are always bats flying overhead into the large surrounding trees.  One of the strangest noises, when you are outside, is hearing the flapping of their wings as they fly overhead.  Sometimes it almost sounds like they are heading straight for you, to the point where just recently I actually shielded myself and crouched down because it sounded like the bat was headed straight for me.  

Given the type of location that people tend to investigate, common animals you would encounter are likely possums, bats, rats, mice, and birds.  Possums growl and hiss.  Bats screech.  Rats and mice squeal and also make noise while they are scratching around.  Birds chirp and make noise if they are in the gutters of the roof.  These are just some of the examples of the natural noises that animals make.  It can honestly be quite confronting if you are on an investigation and in a dark room to suddenly hear a growl.  While it can be easy to get caught up in the hype of the moment, it is more likely it is a possum.  Just because you can't see the possum with your eyes, doesn't mean that it isn't there.  I can recall an investigation many years ago now where I was in the shower block at J Ward Asylum.  It felt like there were a lot of things happening, including the sound of growling.  Combined with seeing shadows, hearing something moving around and just the hype of the situation and environment, it quickly became a place I didn't want to be.  At the time we had a static camera set up constantly filming the area.  You can imagine my surprise (and somewhat relief) to see a possum coming out to play when I left the area.  What I had been hearing was of course no paranormal at all.  It was a possum.  It was a possum I would never have known was there if it had not been for that static camera.  It makes me wonder how many other times I have been fooled by an animal.

Just recently at Black Rock House during an investigation (that started in the late afternoon) we were doing an EVP session in the Nursery.  I am quite vigilant when I am doing a session to tag any sort of noise I hear.  During this session, I heard what sounded like a small squeal.  Upon playback on the recorder, yes we could hear this noise and it did sound even more like a squeal from a female.  Someone in the room said they thought it was female energy they were picking up on.  Was it too good to be true?  Unfortunately yes in this situation it was.   Straight away we took the recording and put it on a laptop to listen to it properly with headphones.  It wasn't a squeal at all.  It was a bird.  It was close to sunset and there was a large number of birds making noise.  This however was a lone bird making a different bird call.  Because it was so far away and also the hype and excitement of the moment as people felt like things were happening around them, we didn't realize it was a bird taking the opportunity to make a noise at just the right moment.  

To learn more about animals you may encounter on a paranormal investigation check out my article: Paranormal VS Nature

Record as many natural sounds as you can

A lot of the time, you often won't know a sound until you have heard and debunked it.  I didn't know what a bat flying overhead sounded like until I experienced it.  I didn't know a possum growl until I had experienced it.  I had seen possums before, but I had never heard one growl.  I recently wrote an article called Things I have only learnt by attending a paranormal investigation, and it basically talks about only learning what these things are after the fact.  You aren't expected to know everything because how can we?  What I guess is expected however is that we live up to the paranormal investigator label we have given ourselves.  That means, when we hear or experience something, we investigate what the root cause of it just maybe.  This is where we can help each other along the way as well.

How many different species of birds are there that make different sounds or have different bird calls?  By starting a little database of all these sounds, you are making a good reference point for comparison.  If you have access to the same location, take recordings during different weather conditions as well.  A location can 'sound' different in different conditions.  For example, at Black Rock House, when it is windy, the wallpaper crackles and it sounds like someone is moving around.  It is a sound that you only experience on windy nights.  Make the information available to your peers.  Talk to each other about all the things you have experienced that didn't end up being paranormal.  How did you come to the conclusion?  Share your recordings with each other.  In fact, I would love to see more recordings or videos on social media where instead of presenting your evidence, that we show videos and recordings of things that didn't turn out to be paranormal but people thought it was.  How was it debunked?  Why did it make people think it was something paranormal?  These are the kind of videos we need to get out there more!

Leave a recording running for a minute or two before you start your session

Every location has its own 'natural' sounds.  Whether it is the animals around the location or just the natural sounds of the house, it allows you to have a reference point as to what some of these natural sounds are.

Tag everything, even if you think you will recognize it

It may seem to be counterproductive during an EVP to be constantly talking and tagging things when you feel like you should be quiet so that something can talk back.  The thing is though, we have humans have a really bad memory.  You may think there is a sound that is really obvious and upon review, you will recognize it.  If you are listening to your recording straight away then yes you might remember and recognize the sound.  What about a week later.  What about a month later?  Some people even revisit recordings from years ago.  You aren't going to reliably remember the details.  I know there have been occasions where I have reviewed a recording that was even only a day old and then I have heard something that makes me sit up and take attention only for a second later for my tag to appear on the recording telling me what it is.  If someone moves, if someone scratches their nose, if it is a bird, a car, or even someone whispering very loudly and you think it will be obvious, tag it anyway!  Noises sound different on recordings.  The quality of the recorder makes a big difference as well.

Whether you think EVP is rubbish or if it is something you use on every single investigation, I feel like the more reference points we can create be it catalogs of animal noises through to the natural sounds of a house, it just makes us all the more aware of what natural things can be mistaken as paranormal.  Once we can eliminate all the trivial sounds that we know we can explain, sometimes you are still left with a handful of things that you can't explain.  Those are the things to pay attention to.

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