Few things in audio can be as relaxing and rewarding as getting your field recording equipment ready and go out and do your own recordings. No matter if you are using a small Zoom recorder with perhaps an external stereo microphone to record some street ambiences, or multiple synced up multi-channel Sound Devices and tons of microphones to record screaming car sound effects or loud guns, you will come back home with unique material that you will know every detail in. But besides prepping your field recording kits, here’s a few things that can help make your recordings more successful.
Location research – where am I going?
In a world that is polluted by noise almost everywhere nowadays, finding a good location and the best spot for your field recording can be key to bringing home nice and clean material. Google Maps can be very helpful to get an idea about the surroundings. I always try to look for anything that might be a disturbance to what I intend to record. It could be a nearby village with traffic going back and forth, a forest creek with lively birds next to a runway where we are driving cars, or train rails next to the beautiful sea where you want to record birds and insects in the evening. A commercial airport nearby is usually never a good thing, unless you want to record just that. You can’t of course predict everything from looking at a map beforehand, but the better prepared you are and the more information you have, the bigger the chance to not be surprised and to get a nice field recording experience.
Keep your field recording equipment dry – dry cleaner plastics
As well as checking out the location prior to your field recordings, a close look at the weather forecast is recommended. Light showers of rain and light wind is usually not a problem if you have professional blimps and wind protection for your microphones. One trick I learnt from a good friend of mine, is to bring dry cleaner plastic bags. You can get them from most dry cleaner stores, either for free or at least very cheap, and they take up no space in your bags and are light weight. The plastic is very thin and doesn’t affect the sound much if wrapped over your blimps. And if you want to record even during light sizzle, you can put the plastic bags in between the blimp and the wind protection fur. That way you will not get the sound of the rain drops hitting the plastic bag, and your microphones will be completely secured from the rain. To be on the very safe side you could even have small silicon bags, the type that comes with electronic equipment, inside the blimp to take care of the humidity.
Flying with your field recording equipment – pack the bags wisely
If you need to go by airplane to your location, I advise to have at least a small field recording kit in your carry on. It’s a terrible feeling to have it all checked in and arriving to the destination only to get a message that your bags did not arrive to the same destination. This is especially important if your flight includes an intermediate landing somewhere. I have learnt this the hard way, and hence I never put all microphones in the same bag or all the recorders in the same bag. I try to make complete kits and divide them between the bags. But most important, one small kit in the carry on, even if it means some extra trouble in the security checks. But a good advice is to not mention that you have a shotgun in your carry on, even if you are referring to a shotgun microphone…
Removing gaffer tape residue using magic
When recording vehicle sound effects, gaffer tape and zip ties are your everything to attach the microphones for onboard recordings. But even if you have the gentlest gaffer tape, when getting heated it will leave some residue. Believe it or not, but the best way to remove it, is by using… gaffer tape. You simply take a small piece of unused gaffer tape (to avoid the risk of having dirt on it that can scratch the paint work) and tap it gently on the residue, and the residue will come off. Magic!
Make sure you can find your sound effects – slating & file naming
It’s so easy, when being out in the forest finding the perfect spot or stressed on a runway to record that extra car, to think that you will remember what the place looked like or which microphone was recorded on which channel on your multi track recorder. Believe me, it’s worth the very few seconds it takes to do a proper slate. We have spent endless hours trying to figure out afterwards what it is we recorded. When recording ambiences for instance, right before you press stop, or move the handheld recorder to a new spot, just quickly read into the recording which machine it is, where it is located and what it is recording. Or if recording vehicles or weapon sound effects, what microphone is being used, where it is positioned and into which recorder. When back in the studio with a bunch of memory cards, it’s so nice not having to guess what everything is. It’s then very easy to rename the file to include date, location, type of sound and microphone or recorder. This will make it very easy for you to find the file with your sound effects, even in explorer for finder, when you are looking for it a couple of years later.
Hope this can be some nifty tips for your own field recordings! Have fun!