You are ready to step out into the world to record all of the sounds it has to offer. But where do you start? Here are 8 tips to help you capture high-quality field recordings that you can use in your sound design work.
Click here for the TL;DR
1. Record something new every day
Engage with the recording process and find new sounds wherever you go. Recording new sounds every day will make it a part of your routine, and you will gain more experience in the long run.
Even if you only record one sound a day, that is 365 sound assets a year that are unique to you and your workflow. These unique sounds make you a much more valuable sound designer, because the more sounds only you have, the less you need to rely on libraries…meaning you sound less like everybody else!
2. Listen to what you are recording through headphones
A sound may seem fantastic to your ears directly, but without listening to how well the microphone captures this sound, how do you know how well it will translate?
By listening through headphones, you hear a much more accurate representation of what your microphone picks up. This will inform how you can improve the sound, by moving your positioning, adjusting input levels and more.
3. Listen closely to every sound
Close your eyes and listen deeply to a sound. You will notice that it is made up of a combination of smaller sound elements.
For example, a refrigerator’s annoying buzz may be incredibly interesting when you listen closer. It will modulate in pitch, or there may be two or more tones being emitted. This can be quite surprising when your initial reaction was just to hear a monotonous buzz.
So It’s important to train your ears, and yourself, to truly listen to what it is you are recording, and to recognise the difference between hearing and listening:
Once you’ve listened and have recorded a sound through headphones, take them off for a moment and compare it to what your ear hears directly. Considering that these are the same sounds, they are surprisingly different listening experiences. This way you maintain a valuable perspective on what is being recorded.
4. Control environmental sounds as best you can
We can use protection on our microphones to control factors which may affect our recordings. Windjammers prevent distortion from wind hitting the mic, whilst blimps are shock-mounted and can control both wind and handling noise.
When recording indoors, the wind might not be a problem. However, you will have ambience, room tones, reflections and reverberation, which also can be controlled.
Closing curtains, adding rugs to a space or propping up a mattress can make a massive difference to a room, so improvise and get creative!
5. Interact with the sources you are recording
Happy accidents occur from going the extra mile with your sound sources. When you shake, hit, brush, or throw something at the thing you are recording, what other sounds occur? We use most of these gestures in musical instruments, so why not real-world sounds?
6. Your phone is an excellent recording device – use it!
Don’t get bogged down with the idea of not having the ‘right’ equipment. You will hear this tip from any sound recordist, and for good reason!
It’s better to record something than nothing at all. Your phone microphone will sometimes be all you need.
7. Start small with your gear purchases
If and when you do buy a microphone or recorder for field recording, don’t immediately go for top-of-the-range gear.
Many field recordists rely on a Zoom H1 or Tascam DR-05 for years, then make a smaller upgrade to a Zoom H4 or a Tascam DR-40x to get XLR inputs, and this is often all you will ever need!
So, hone your recording skills on the less expensive equipment first, then treat yourself when you get your chops up!
8. The microphone is an instrument – express yourself with it
- Get creative with proximity. Closer recordings are more intricate, whereas further away recordings yield more spacious results.
2. Experiment with recording angles. Sound waves hit your microphone at different angles, so experimenting here can reveal many different characteristics within a single source.
3. Try to record the reflections of a sound, not just the source! Point your microphone away from it, or aim it at a nearby wall or floor – the sound will reflect off these surfaces and could provide some fascinating results.
4. Move the microphone around as you record – this is an exciting technique for x-y stereo capsules like the one below, as you can create natural panning and movement from the source.
5. Adjust your input settings – microphone sensitivity can be used for interesting results. it can reveal details in super-quiet sounds.
However, for the most natural results, low inputs will introduce less sound interference from the recorder itself, so it will depend on whether you want natural-sounding results or more abstract ones. Either way, just fun with this and see what results you can achieve!
- Record every day
- Record with headphones on
- Hearing vs listening – learn the difference
- Control your recording environment whenever you can
- Don’t just point the microphone – interact with the source
- No recorder? Use your phone! Something is better than nothing
- You don’t need the most expensive gear, start small
- The microphone is an instrument, so get creative!
We hope this guide will be enough to get you started recording your own sounds. Got your own tips? please share them in the comments! and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter below for more great articles.