≡ Menu

Finding The Best Transcription Program And Revolutionizing My Workflow

This is going to increase my journalistic output (and time that I can spend on the beach) exponentially.

Simon Says Transcriber
Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

ASTORIA, NYC- Writing is a game of volume. It is also a game of speed. The more you write, the faster you publish, the more stories you can cover and, ultimately, the more money you can make.

If it takes you two weeks to write a simple story you’re not going to make it far in this business. You need to be able to publish blog posts daily, articles multiple times per week, bi-monthly features, and, if you so endeavor, a book every year or two. To do all of this you need to have an extremely streamlined process and use tools sharp enough to cut off the fat.

I’ve always known that there was always a major chokepoint in my work flow: transcription. I’d do all kinds of interviews but then it would take me three, four, sometimes five hours just to transcribe them. As I’m sometimes doing five+ interviews per week, transcribing in and of itself became a part-time job.

Unfortunately, I’ve never had this much time. I have hard drives full of incredible interviews that I simply never typed out into a word doc — which is to say, they were wasted. Especially as I was traveling nearly perpetually back then, I just couldn’t justify sitting for hours and hours inside with headphones on when so much was going on outside my door. Every time I did manual transcription on the road it feel like some weird form of torture.

So I’ve always been looking for a way to fix this by hiring someone else to do it — tried that once and it didn’t really work out so well — or using a transcription program.

It has always been a dream of mine to find a transcription program that was smart enough to be able to accurately non-native English speakers in situations where there could be background noise. I dabbled in them, and the results were kind of humorous — as in, not good.

Then I kind of forgot about it for a while but then had some lengthy video interviews that I needed to quickly process to add into a documentary that was almost finished. I didn’t want to put an entire day into transcription, so I returned to looking for a program that could do it for me. Maybe the technology has improved?

Apparently, it had.

I found a YouTube video from a filmmaker who was demonstrating how he transcribes his interviews with this program called Simon Says. He showed how he just uploaded the files, pushed a button, and in a few minutes had a transcript with timestamps that also included a function to import it directly into his editing program (Davinci Resolve). This import function almost made my jaw drop, as it would mean that segments of the transcript wouldn’t only be matched to the proper place in the video but could be used to automatically create subtitles. It was something that I didn’t think possible.


So I tried it. Or I should say, tested it.

I dug out an old interview that I did in 2016 with a Polish guy who wasn’t a native English speaker as we were riding in a car around the dry ports and logistics centers of Malaszewicze on the border of Poland and Belarus. To top this off, I made the recording with just an iPhone without any additional audio equipment. The quality of the recording was not good, to say the least, and I struggled to make out what the guy was saying and transcribing it manually would have been challenging and time consuming. So I uploaded it to Simon Says thinking it would just output some gibberish.

But it didn’t. It actually nailed it.


I reviewed the transcription by listening to the recording while a cursor on the screen goes over the words. In this mode you can easily correct errors or make the text more readable (cut out the ums, etc). I followed the cursor down the page and watched as it interpreted mumbles and grunts and mispronunciations as actually words … and only found a few minor imperfections.

What I felt in that moment was akin to watching a magician perform a trick right in front of you as a kid. I saw it but just couldn’t believe it …

Simon Says AI Transcription

It worked, and it instantly became a part of my work flow for both videos and writing.

The only downside of Simon Says is that it is not free. There are two main payment options: either you pay $15 per transcription hour or subscribe. There are various plans: $180 a year for 24 hours of transcription / additional hours for $7.50/ hr, $400 a year for 48 hours of transcribing / $6.50 for additional hours, or $1,500 a year for 360 hours of transcription / $4 per additional hour.

I have to admit that these prices stopped me short for a moment … I hesitated, looked at other options, but then thought about all the time it would save me, how it would integrate with my video editing program, and how much more content I would be able to publish (i.e. how much more money I would be able to make), and it was no longer much of a decision.

Check out Simon Says for yourself.

*Note, 4/17/23: Simons Says also has a translate feature. So you can record people speaking in other languages, transcribe them, and then translate them into English. There is also a desktop version.


The only way I can continue my travels and publishing this blog is by generous contributions from readers. If you can, please subscribe for just $5 per month:


If you like what you just read, please sign up for our newsletter!
* indicates required
Filed under: Digital Nomad, Journalism, Tools of the Trade

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Rob April 16, 2023, 3:39 pm

    Technology, changing the world one person at a time.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 16, 2023, 6:30 pm

      Haha that’s for sure! It’s not all bad 🤣

      Link Reply
  • Jack May 8, 2023, 11:38 am

    Sometimes you just gotta pay to make the extra money. It seems like a good expense. I think with the rate AI is increasing……things like this are gonna get better.

    Have you started incorporating ChatGPT in your workflow yet? I’ve been using it for grunt work and it has literally saved me dozens of hours. I pay $20 a month for plus.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ May 9, 2023, 11:56 am

      Yes, you kind of have to look at things like investments. How much money is this dollar going to make me? I do that with travel destinations now too. Right now it’s way too expensive for me to go to Asia (especially as I can only travel in two-week blocks right now because of the cable show). I know I can’t make a profit on a trip like that so I’m staying in the Caribbean / Mexico until the autumn when prices on flights come down.

      I haven’t started using ChatGPT yet. But I will. It seems to be one of those things that could become a really good tool if you know how to use it right. It’s really going to wipe out 90% of “journalists” though. But this type of journalist really isn’t much more than a data entry technician anyway. The one thing that AI can’t do is directly experience life, so I don’t see it as a competitor.

      Link Reply
      • Rob May 9, 2023, 12:21 pm

        “journalists”, there is a word that doesn’t actually carry the weight it used to, sad.
        Seems to me that finding an actual “journalists” these days is getting tough. That’s one of the reasons I’m here…

        Link Reply
        • VBJ May 9, 2023, 2:29 pm

          That’s true. The profession seems to have forgotten its core processes that allows it to be identified as a distinct form of media. Journalism is a set process of determining truth that’s designed to shed bias. Most of the major “news” platforms no longer follow these core processes and either just magnifies the messages that the government and the multinational corporations that fund / own them want them or or just says what their audience wants to hear. The nails were pounded in the coffin of US journalism when media organizations basically colluded to cover up the Biden laptop story prior to the election … and only one voice questioned the safety and effectiveness of the snake oil. The job of the journalist is to ask questions and challenge those in power. Without that it’s just writing … and who cares about that?

          Link Reply