Preparing for your first field recording session can be daunting. If you're looking for a quick rundown on how to make the most out of your first successful field recording session, this article is for you.
Here's what to do before, during, and after a field recording session to make it a success:
#1 - Scout your location before your recording session
We need to act like Production Sound Mixers do before they record dialogue for a film and initiate a proper Tech Scout. It's best to figure out what the strengths and weaknesses of a location are before you begin recording so that you can come up with a plan. If there's high foot traffic at certain times of day, perhaps you can plan to record there early in the morning.
#2 - Make a list of the sounds you want to capture
A lot can happen during a recording session, so it's easy to forget what you set out to capture. Making a sound list beforehand could prevent you from needing to go back to that location a second time. It also helps you set an intention for your session so that you are deliberate with your time and efforts.
#3 - Get and test the right equipment beforehand
Make sure all of your equipment is functioning either the night before your recording session. This also gives you an opportunity to set aside spare batteries, cables, and other gear. If you're recording outside, make sure you have the right wind protection the mic(s) you own. If your equipment is new, this also gives you a chance to tinker with it and read the manual.
#4 - Always use over-ear headphones while you record
Do not record or mix in any environment with earbuds. You need circumaural (partially over ear) or supranaural (fully over-ear) headphones to hear what you're capturing properly. When choosing headphones, you want ones with a flat frequency response, meaning they respond to all frequencies equally. You'll be wearing them often, so make sure they're comfortable!
#5 - Calibrate your headphones before you begin
It's important to use a test tone of 1000 Hz to calibrate your headset before you record. This helps us find the right listening volume for our specific ears. When the headphone gain is too high, we tend to record sounds too quietly. The reverse is also true: when the headphone gain is too low, we tend to record sounds too loud, which often comes with noise or distortion.
#6 - Double check the settings on your recorder
Ensure that you're recording with the settings you want, not default ones or settings from your previous session. For example, are you looking to record in stereo or mono? What sample rate and bit depth do you want? (The sample rate needs to be at least twice the bit depth.) What is the internal gain of your recording device? What level is your trim pot set to?
#7 - Prevent handling noise with tools and technique
It is extremely easy to introduce handling noise in your first recording. These bumps, thumps, and swwwwshs are avoidable, though, with the right equipment and technique. First, invest in a pistol grip or a tripod to keep your mics steady. Get a mixer bag if you have external mics. Then, keep your mic static during each take and make sure your rig is completely locked.
#8 - Slate each recording verbally to stay organized
Once you start recording, take a moment to say what you're about to record in the mic. You'll thank yourself when you're logging takes later. You can also say what mics and accessories you're using if you have multiple with you. For example, if you switched from a stereo pair of lavs with windjammers on them to a condenser mic with a blimp, mention that.
#9 - Keep your eyes on the levels, but don't ride them
Keep your eyes on the levels that your recorder is displaying at all times. We monitor volume with our eyes and listen for disruptions with our ears. The only time you want to change the gain during the take, which is called "riding the levels," is if one of your tracks is about to peak. If your levels are poor, get a new take with a different amount of gain or mic placement.
#10 - Log and create back-ups of your recordings
Log your recordings with the appropriate file names wile the session is fresh in your mind. Once you've done this, create multiple backups of them on external hard drives or on the cloud. This keeps your files safe and stored in case something happens to your memory card. I also recommend editing and trimming copies of the recordings you captured!
Field recording required vigilance, preparation, and patience. Follow the tips I mentioned earlier to put those into practice and to make your first recording session effective. For more advice about recording and sound design, see my other posts. If you'd prefer for a professional to record for you after reading this, contact me.