Field Recording Tips

Published : 2019-03-11 21:04:36
Categories : News , Sound Design , Tips

Field Recording Tips

Cameron is a sound designer for Fragment Audio and is a sample hoarder of epic proportions!
In this post, Cameron will be diving into his approach and techniques for field recording to shed some light on the process, and inspire you to try it yourself!

Out of the Box Adventures

With analog synths, one of the benefits is adding a more ‘human’ character to your tracks - all that lovely oscillator drift and imperfection demands a high price tag for a reason!

However, you can’t do everything through a synth. Sometimes, your tracks just need that extra ‘something special’ to really take them up a level and give them more of an ambiguous feel for the production side.

One concern I had with my ‘do it all in the box’  approach is that things sounded too perfect.

Now, while some of you may feel that a mix done fully in the box is fine, I never quite did. I always wanted that ‘hybrid’ feel to my mixes. So, I got my feet wet with field recording.

You can’t synthesize a rock hitting a steel pipe for a snare, no matter how hard you try.

So, in this post, I wanted to share some of my top tips when it comes to getting down and dirty with field recording so that you can get out, have some adventures, and most importantly make some killer tracks! 

Look mom, no DAW!

So, when it comes to field recording, there’s a few options for gear. My personal choice is the Zoom H4n Pro - it’s a top quality mic, and discrete enough to get away with sampling in places I probably shouldn’t be in.

However, there are many different cheaper alternatives to get started with. One of the best things to use is probably with you right now - your cell phone.

There are many ‘recording’ apps available for phones, and it’s a great way to get started recording sounds in high-quality audio formats. If your phone doesn’t feature any kind of recording app built in, check out the App Store or Google Play Store for some options!

Outside of this, a good set of headphones to monitor your recordings will be your best friend. I always use my trusty Sennheiser HD6 Mix headphones, but any semi-decent set of headphones will work as long as they give you an accurate feel for the sound you’re recording.

When it comes to field recorders though, the best tip I can give:

DO NOT FORGET TO BRING EXTRA BATTERIES!

Trust me. 

What’s in a Sound?

So, with the basics out of the way, the real question is: what do I do now?

Sound is such a cool thing, and we’re surrounded by it every moment of the day. The clicking of your mouse? Makes a great high hat sample. Tapping your keyboard? Percussion!

This is the beauty of field recording.  Anything, and I mean anything, can be a sound in your track. My favorite sounds have always been from the most unusual places, and I think that’s what makes field recording so great - there’s always something new to discover.

Getting started at home is one of the best ways to get up to speed with the nature of sound and recording. Your home, at least hopefully, is a fairly quiet environment and has lots of stuff to try out. Go drop some books on the floor, hit a cooking pot with a wooden spoon, and get out in the garage for some nice natural reverberating sounds.

When it comes to the really interesting stuff, it’s time for a field trip. So, grab your day bag, headphones, a drumstick, and some spare batteries.

Local Music Shops

-       Great for ‘live’ instrument recordings
-       Tons of good cymbals to record
-       Excellent snare drums to play with
-       Kick drums galore
-       Weird world instruments

Hardware Stores

-       Power tools
-       Large pipes of various materials
-       Wood, wood everywhere
-       Boxes/bags of screws, bolts, and other cool shaker materials
-       Wrenches, hammers, and everything in between

Factories and Warehouses

-       AWESOME industrial style samples
-       Huge reverberating claps/stomps
-       All sorts of weirdness you can’t find anywhere else

The Mall / Stores

-       Lots of good ‘ambient’ sounds (people talking, announcers, etc)
-       Weird things in stores
-       Beeping checkout machines

Parks and Forests

-       Usually quiet, and great for big open-air samples
-       Playground equipment
-       Creepy kids laughing?
-       Stones, trees, lakes, rivers, twigs, leaves, etc.

The Big Red Button

So, before we get into the actual recording process, there’s a few things to note about sound design and sampling.

Always check your levels before recording! Sometimes, you’ll only have one shot at recording a sound, so finding a good ‘general’ level and having your mic gain set there is a great idea.

Try different ideas! Not only can you clank things together for percussive sounds, but sometimes you can blow into a tube for resonant wind sounds, or pluck against things for interesting overtone sounds.

Always get a few takes, with some space in between. I’ll try and do something at least 4-5 times leaving a few seconds gap in between each (so that chopping is easier). This way, I can select the best out of the bunch, or have several to layer together.

Your mic position is also incredibly important! Micing close and far can have very drastic differences. But, in general, keep in mind things like the proximity effect, plosive responses from resonant cavities, and try a few different mic positions when recording.

Back in The Lab

So, once you have all your sounds recorded, it’s time to get to chopping and splicing. While I’d love to tell you all the secrets, the truth is there aren’t any! They’re your sounds, and you can do whatever you want with them!

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing your samples:

-       Sometimes, the natural reverb is better than adding reverb

-       Normalizing isn’t always necessary, and can sometimes raise the noise floor to unacceptable levels

-       Work with the sound - let it tell you what it wants to sound like. Or, don’t and try and go the absolute opposite. You never know what can happen

-       Layer! Sometimes one sound added on top of another or reversed before another can make some killer sounds!

-       EQ is your friend. EQ can add bass, high end, or take away what you don’t want. Sometimes, a clever EQ is all that’s between you and an epic cinematic impact sound.

-       Compress! Compression can be easily overdone, but sometimes that can be desired. In general, try and keep things light and don’t overcook the sound, as you’ll always add more processing later. But, sometimes, absolutely smashing a sound can be awesome!

 So, that’s about it!

 I hope you found this helpful, and I hope you’re inspired to get out there and see what happens! Sound is an adventure - let it take you and your track wherever you may find yourself ending up!

This article was written by Cameron aka Venus Theory.

Discover more about him here:

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