The art of recording sounds is not just about recording music, you can also record voices for a podcast, foleys, and any other sound in the world that can be used for art, research, and more.
Audio production has evolved a lot and now we find ourselves in a world where you can get significant control over sounds by getting samples online, or imitating nature to perfection in controlled studios, however, the real thing will always have a bigger impact.
That is why there is a thing called “Field Recording”, which is about capturing audio recordings outside of a controlled environment or studio, this means that every recording made won’t have the help of soundproof walls or engineers, it’s all about getting the audio recording from the natural source.
Field recording will include anything from sounds of nature in a park, to the busy streets and crowded environments of an urban setting.
This makes it especially hard when you consider every little thing that you need to be aware of in audio production, including clipping, distorted signals, clear sounds, frequency control, and more, so in order to help you understand more about this process and how to properly make field recordings, we will be giving you a few tips, some warnings and explain why field recordings are needed in the world of audio production.
Why Do We Need Field Recordings?
Even though we live in a world where everything can be reproduced, recreated, and tweaked by modern devices, we still need to record the environment as it is, but what are these recordings for?
Sound Effects (Foleys)
One of the main reasons field recordings are needed is for anything related to radio, TV, movies, and social media.
Ever since the invention of recordable tape, sound effects have been essential for making shows and movies more believable, since you are listening to the same sound from the real world.
This is a very respectable and hard job since it’s not easy going around places getting good quality recordings for professional use, so keep in mind from now on that almost every bird sound, car, mumbling in the distance, rain, and so on, has been recorded by a professional.
This is also a very important part of videogames these days, because unlike movies, you need to have the sounds of these environments constantly, making the experience immersive rather than just believable for a scene.
Yes, the main thing we should be recording when making music is of course instruments and voices, but creativity has often pushed musicians to look for musical instruments in places where there isn’t anything related to music.
These types of recordings have been in music since the 1940s, with Pierre Schaeffer at the helm of this innovative process.
Today a lot of electronic music composers use field recordings for their songs as an integral part of the composition, while others use these recordings for an intro or an outro for setting the mood.
Research and Wildlife
There are many ways to study the world, and one of them is through recordings, which can include scientific studies, documentaries, and more.
There is also a great focus on wildlife and nature since these sounds are so unique and special. There is no way of recreating every single bird noise in the world, so in this case field recordings are the best way to get to know nature.
A lot of people that love to record the sounds of nature, also post their recordings online to let other people enjoy it out of pleasure, which is a very nice thing if you think about it, just sharing the natural experience to others with the best quality possible.
How to Get Started on Field Recording
According to professional in field recording, Paul Virostek in an interview with rycote.com:
Field recording is a fascinating pursuit because there isn’t yet a formal, focused way to study it. There are workshops and a few supplementary courses, but there isn’t a single degree or practice that explores field recording in depth. So, it’s often begun as an incidental craft. People find they have a need for a specific sound, buy a recorder, and start capturing clips. That’s interesting since the result is that the label “field recordist” isn’t limited to a rigid definition.
That is one of the reasons why it’s hard to get an idea of where and how to start, that is why we want to give you a small introduction to the world of field recording, starting with equipment!
If you are lost and you’re not really sure about which things you need to be able to make field recordings then this list will be of great help to you:
You need to have a few microphones under your belt to be ready for anything, more on recommendations later.
You should always carry a few cables, long and short, and of course, more than you need, just to be prepared.
Alternative Power Supply
You need to be ready to get power for all your devices (Lithium batteries are great for longer durations) or if you have access to a power source then that’s even better.
Poor weather conditions can give you a hard time if you were not expecting it, so be prepared to protect your equipment.
Boom Mic Stand(s)
Sometimes you might need to have your hands free to record a specific sound so a mic stand is essential if you want to manipulate said sound source using your hands.
Sound Activators and Exciters
You may have to interact with the world around you to make certain sounds, so make sure you have mallets, drumsticks, or anything that might help you get the sound you need, remember anything is fair game.
What more can you say? you can’t go wrong with emergency gaffers tape to solve just about any problem you come across.
Get various sizes of clamps to make sure you have everything you need when it comes to securing your mic in a specific spot.
Zeppelin and/or Fuzzy
This is an essential item that you could forget about, but you should probably have this on the top of your list. Wind can be a big issue for field recording, so having a way to get around it is very important.
Portable Digital Recorder/Field Mixer
This is also a must in field recording, if you are getting started we recommend a Zoom recording, they are very good quality and have options in a very wide price range.
Laptop Computer and Audio Interface
Portable recording devices have their limitations, that’s why it’s important to have a laptop and have full control over your recordings and make sure there are no issues happening.
You don’t really need a high end laptop, just one that can handle recordings and a decent audio interface, this could save you a lot of trouble during your work.
Portable Hard Drive
This is very straightforward, you need to save your recordings, so always have a portable hardrive.
This is as essential as the microphone itself, because you need to be able to monitor your recordings with the best quality of headphones you can get, that way you’ll be able to listen to every little detail your mic picks up from the environment, letting you fix small issues and match the quality of your microphone.
SD Cards and Extra SD Cards
So, you need an SD card to be able to make recordings, however it would be a terrible mistake not to bring extra SD cards. It’s possible that for whatever reason your SD card becomes corrupted and you can’t access any of the recordings you had, and let’s be honest, that sounds like a nightmare. If you have extra SD cards, you can do it again and all the work you went through to get to the place you wanted to be won’t all go to waste, so remember more SD cards!
Clearance, Papers, Release Forms
You need to keep everything in check, this includes any type of clearance you need to record in a specific place. This is more important than you think, since an issue related to this could prevent you from recording anything at all.
Notebook and Writing Implement
This is a good idea in general, you are dealing with a lot of equipment and probably a busy schedule so organizing your ideas and equipment in a notebook, will make your job a lot smoother.
Bringing a camera with you to the places you record sounds is both useful and gratifying since it not only gives you the connection between what you heard and what the environment looked like, but also help you make a nice photo album of your work and travels.
Which Microphone Should You Use?
There are a lot of microphones in the market, lots of brands, types, and prices, so it’s perfectly understandable if you get a bit overwhelmed at the beginning.
While you would need a condenser or a dynamic microphone for music recording as well as podcasts and content creation on social media, there are other types of microphones that will do the trick for field recording, these are:
- Binaural mics
- Ambisonic mics
- Shotgun mics
- Contact mics
Of course, if you are a beginner and you are just getting started knowing all of this might not help you as much as a recommendation, so here are a few recommendations in order to get you started whether you are on a budget or you have enough to spend for a good quality microphone for your field recording projects.
Shure SM57 Dynamic Mic
This is one of the best all-rounder mics available, and while it’s often used to record live music, it will probably do quite well on its own for field recording.
It’s not that expensive and you’ll never go wrong with a Shure 57.
Sennheiser MKH 8020
If you want a wide-frequency response, then this one will do the trick. Not only will you get very accurate recordings but you’ll also get a very rich audio quality on every frequency from lows, to mids and highs.
The only downside is that this is a lot more expensive but we thought you should know about the best of the best in the business.
3Dio FS XLR Binaural Microphone
First of all, it looks unique and cool, but also it has a great price tag for its quality.
If you are interested in taking your recording talents to nature, this will be great.
The downside is that this will not give you very good highs despite excelling in mids and lows, regardless of its range, it’s a very good mic.
As you get more experience you’ll start to get a grip on your favorite brands and types of microphones that adapt to your work the best, so if you are really starting on a low budget, try to find a versatile microphone such as the Shure SM 57.
We have to talk about one of the most important aspects of field recording, and that is the environments themselves.
If you want some ideas on where you could start, here are a few options.
Get creative and you’ll get amazing unique sounds, that is part of the magic of this profession.
A Few Warnings and Tips
If you are going to be walking around with all the equipment ready to record in some public place, remember that sometimes you may need permission to do so.
Make sure that you have the permission required to record to avoid any problems. Also remember that if there are people involved, you have their full consent to record their voices, if it involves recording a conversation or anything like that.
If you record music playing in the background, there is a high likelihood that you won’t be able to use the recording due to copyright issues, this means that if you don’t have permission from the person who owns the music you could get in trouble.
What is the Most Common Enemy of Field Recording?
Wind is often one of the worst most common obstacles of field recording, thankfully there are ways to go around it.
According to Paul Virostek:
Wind is one of the worst enemies of the field recordist. Since field recording is predominantly performed outside, wind is possibly the most important challenge for field recordists to overcome.
The first, easiest step is to use professional wind protection. Rycote is the only wind protection I use. The zeppelins are built well and are lightweight. The Lyre brace holds the microphone solidly. All of this is especially helpful in the run-and-gun situations I commonly experience. The technology’s sonic transparency makes it a no-brainer. Wind is such a significant obstacle for field recording; it can easily scrap an entire field recording shoot. I need wind protection I can trust completely so I can focus on performing the sound effects or tracking evocative performances, and for me, that’s Rycote.
Check Out Some Youtube Videos
Let’s be honest, in this age of information if you have any doubts you just type it in google and you get a straight answer, but if you are really interested in field recording you should take those questions to YouTube, since there are many content creators willing to share their experiences and help other people in their pursuit of recording the world.
These are just a few we would recommend you check out:
Jez Riley French
Free to Use Sounds
Field recording is a small part of the bigger world that is audio production, and it’s also interesting to see how important it is when you think about all the films, TV shows, ads, and music that benefit from it, not to mention educational projects, documentaries, and scientific research.
If you are interested in starting your journey in field recording, make sure you remember the tips we just covered, but don’t be satisfied with just that, get out there and learn, it’s always good to find different sources of information to get as prepared as you can when you actually start recording.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and start recording!