How often have you tried to go on a field recording session where something inhibits your session or the quality of your sound? There are many factors that can affect and improve your recordings in the field.
This article is a one stop guide to help you improve the quality of your field recording trips and the sounds you obtain from them.
1. Essential Items
The first and most obvious item to bring is the field recorder itself. As another option of recording, you can use additional microphones that can be connected to the external inputs of the recorder. These are handy if you want a specific microphone for a particular sound. Contact microphones and hydrophones are also extremely useful for abstract sound capture. You can often find unique sound sources underwater or from within an object. Never leave your additional microphones or cables at home.
The next important item is a camera tripod, mic stand or boom pole. These are essential in having as little contact with the recorder as possible. Human contact with the microphone often results in audible muffled scrapes and bumps.
The last thing you should always bring is the accessories and spares. The main accessory you should always have when recording outside is a wind shield. Even though they are not 100% effective, they take away a lot of the rumble. If you are recording for a long duration of time or you are on a long trip you should always have extra batteries. Sometimes it is useful to have different file storage units if you are working on multiple sessions in one trip, to save confusion.
To increase the longevity of your session, don't forget to bring refreshments and wear comfortable clothing. Make sure you have a rugged rucksack that is both protective and waterproof to ensure your equipment stays safe and with you all the time.
2. Plan your session
Planning your recording session is vital to its success. There are many questions you must ask yourself before you go ahead with your session. For what I'm recording, is the weather going to get in my way? If so, you should rearrange until the weather is suitable. Rain and wind can be incredibly destructive to audio in the field. Are the clothes I'm wearing loud? Leather and coat fabric make considerably more noise that soft fabric. This can be destructive to your recording if you move in the background.
What do I want to record? If you are destined to a certain sound or location specific sound, research suitable locations nearby which may contain the sound source you are looking for. For example, if you are wanting to record traffic, it is more suitable in a city or town centre at rush hour, rather than on a quiet road in the middle of the day. Do I have permission to record in a public place? Certain areas may permit you recording, i.e. a train station. It is useful to check with whoever manages the area if it is okay for you to record there.
3. setting up and recording On location
Once you have reached your location, the best thing to do initially is to scout where the optimum mic placement may be. If your source is inaccessible you may want to put it as close as possible. One thing that is often undermined, is the low level noise elements. This may be a nearby road or some local event that is undesirable in your final recording. It is best to find a place which shields you as much as possible from the noise but still allows you to be in a good position to pick up the sound source. Additionally if there is a lot of wind it is best to record down wind so there is as little air slamming on to the front of the mic as possible. Make sure the stand is secure and is not going to fall over during the recording.
Now you have finally turned your field recorder on, it is nearly time to hit record. You may want to record in the highest sample rate your device can handle. There are a few reasons for this. Even though it does take up more storage, this does future proof your work. Some years down the line we could be consuming media in 96kHz or even 192kHz. For later manipulation, higher sample rates are less prone to artefacts as there are more data points per second, therefore, a signal processor has to fill less gaps in these data points.
You need to gain stage your input so that you leave yourself plenty of headroom for unexpected variance in the sound but enough drive so that you have a higher signal to noise ratio. If you are recording long ambient sounds, it is better to vacate the proximity of the recorder to add as little noise as possible. Additionally if you need 5 minutes of ambience it is better to record perhaps 10 minutes just so when you edit the sound, you are left with more options to choose for your final 5 minute cut.
4. An organised archive is a happy archive
Generally as a rule of thumb, there are specific things to include in your file hierarchy and file naming structure that makes finding and knowing what a file is much easier.