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.
So what should a good archive include? If you are developing a general collection of recordings and it isn't for a specific project or sample pack, a folder with the collection name is a good starting place. The date is a very handy tool for file location within a folder structure. A parent folder of the year with all the months inside is generally a good way to go. If you are really organised you may go down a more categorical route and start with Ambiences, Foley and Spot effects, then further break down these into subsequent categories, then subcategories.
If you are working on a specific project, may that be a sample pack or field recording for some visual media, you may want to be cohesive to that project and allow it be in its own collection to avoid confusion and mix ups.
When it comes to file naming, there are some metadata tags that are heavily useful for archival purposes. The following are common on professional file names:
Date of recording or creation.
Object or Sound that was recorded.
Descriptors to envelope character or intensity of the sound.
Creator of the Sound or Recording.
Sample Pack or Project Name.
Sample Rate and Bit Depth information.
Number of channels.
Type of Sound.
For example this is a filename you could use:
<Library Name_Forest Footsteps_M_CU_Rustle_Snap_Crunch_344 Audio_48kHz-24Bit_15-07-19>
Adding metadata to your file allows it to be found amongst other files much more often when using search software. Programmes such as Soundly and Metadigger allow you to input all of this information.
5. Have Fun
The essence of field recording is being one with your surroundings and connecting with the sound that the world makes. Your job is to explore and capture the beautiful audio that exists in this world. You want to achieve the best result you can. We hope this article has given you some great pointers. Go out and have fun recording sounds.
If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design
344 Audio is an Audio Post Production studio in Manchester.
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