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What Is Field Recording: Expand Your Sonic Horizons

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What Is Field Recording: Expand Your Sonic Horizons

Capturing Sounds Wherever You Are...

Even with a wealth of sound libraries, plug-ins, and virtual instruments at their disposal, some artists prefer to capture unique sound sources directly, as part of their craft.

Utilising these recordings alongside existing sound libraries, manipulating them using plug-ins, and/or incorporating musical instruments, artists can create soundscapes that are as dense or sparse as they wish. At the heart of it, is the desire to embrace the sounds of the world around us. For some artists and musicians, the endeavour to stretch one’s creative potential takes them on a journey of discovery - quite literally -, which gives rise to field recording.

What is "Field Recording"?

Field recording is the practice of capturing an audio source outside of a studio environment. Doing away with the luxuries of an acoustically treated and soundproofed recording studio, dispensing with thousands of pounds worth of recording equipment, dismissing the team of expert engineers, field-recording is as intimate and raw as it gets.

You might think that field recording is a technique used merely for adding texture to radio interviews, providing audio for nature documentaries, or aimed toward academic pursuits such as acoustics and sound design, social anthropology, etc. However, artists have been capturing on-location sounds to integrate into their own work for over a century.

What is Field Recording used for?

This might sound like some experimental avant-garde method, but it can be applied to genres such as electronica, acoustic or even classical to add elements of ‘realism’, e.g., to provide an audible illustration as to where a piece of music is being performed. You may hear bird sounds or rainfall in the background, which would all be examples of field recording. Even live performance albums could be classed as including elements of field recording.

You could be forgiven for thinking that recording nature in the wild would be flawless, as the sound comes from a completely unedited source. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of precision and effort to work with audio, even in a controlled space, let alone outdoors.

Thankfully, today’s technology means that you can record anywhere and everywhere – within reason - to capture on-the-fly moments and more intricate audio to recreate the environments we live in. From your garden to moments along your regular walking route to far-flung reaches of the globe.

Equipment Essentials

As long as you have the right gear then you can capture so rather wondrous audio material to liven up your work. Not only that but if you capture it yourself then you can guarantee that the source material is royalty-free!

We will take you through the best equipment and things to consider when starting out your adventures in field recording.

What type of microphone do I need?

With a plethora of microphones on offer from many different manufacturers, you can easily become stuck when choosing which type best suits your needs. Here are the different types and key things to consider if you’re looking to capture audio outside of the studio:

1. Lavalier

image of a lavalier microphone system

We’ve all seen these, clipped on collars, sometimes with a wire or even better, wireless. These are ideal for performances, interviews and more because of their unobtrusive design. Therefore, as well as capturing vocals while holding an instrument, lavalier systems such as the Line6 XD-V35 Lavalier or QTX VHF Wireless Lavalier Mic are very popular for field recording around the home, in the garden and in the Line 6's case, within 275 feet of the receiver!

Their polar patterns mean they can be used in a variety of positions and sound sources, whilst their diminutive scale means that you can position them in places where other mics cannot reach.

If you're pondering upon ways in which you can incorporate lavalier mics into your field recording set-up, check out this in-depth article by Sound Editor, Field Recordist. and Sound Designer, Benjamin Gale at Spacewalk Audio.

Chord Lavalier Mics at Dawsons Music & Sound: Chord LM-35,  Chord LLM-35Chord SLM-35, Chord DLM-35

2. Shotgun

man recording a kitten with a microphone

If you have some extra room, a very popular option is a shotgun microphone. Usually being held by someone tirelessly behind the scenes on the end of a long boom, these microphones have a highly directional polar pattern meaning it won’t capture too much extra noise. Usually, they are directed downwards directly at the person speaking, it means it isn’t captured on video as well.

3. Dynamic

image of a microphone and accessories

Very common in any recording situation, dynamic microphones are incredibly versatile due to their rugged designs, they can offer an improved capture compared to a lavalier.

Some options here would be the Chord DM02, Mackie EM-89D or the Shure 87A at the higher end.

Understanding Microphone Polar Patterns

All microphones are designed with a certain polar pattern, depending on what they are intended for. They are essentially a geographical guide or representation showing where microphones will pick up sound.

Cardioid is the most common and can be referred to as heart-shaped. It’s a perfect design for picking up sound directly in front or slightly to the side of the capsule. Most dynamics have a cardioid pattern, whereas a shotgun microphone usually would have a supercardioid or hypercardioid design for directional audio.

With omni-directional, you guessed it, it will pick up sound even when it is not directed at the sound source. That’s why most lavalier microphones are omni-directional as they are usually attached to a collar. This could cause additional sound being picked up like a rustle of fabric which can cause clipping, so it’s something to be aware of when choosing your microphone.

Digital Recorder

image of a portable audio recorder

Everything you need in the palm of your hand. These easy-to-use recorders fit in your pocket and can be turned on and ready to use in seconds. As with a lavalier mic, digital recorders are portable and can easily record simple vocal or ambient sounds and can easily record to SD and SDHC.

Options like the Zoom H5 and the Tascam DR-05 are great for quick on the go recordings.

Optional Extras

Having a handheld recorder means you do not have to carry extra gear around, but if you are looking for that extra edge, an audio interface and a laptop go a long way. This means you would need a backpack to accommodate extra equipment, but with audio interfaces such as the PreSonus AudioBox iOne, you even have the option to connect an iPad or iPhone wirelessly with apps such as PreSonus Capture Duo, bringing even more control to your recordings.

Things to consider...

Dealing with the elements

If you want to capture that natural sound, recording outside can be challenging due to background noise, e.g.,wind, which can cause crackling and harder to hear the subject. The most effective way to deal with this is with a windshield. Most microphones come with a regular foam one, but if you are in a particularly noisy or windy environment, windshields, sometimes referred to as dead cats are what you will need.

DIY Gear

If you are still on the fence about shelling out for any gear, then grab your phone and capture sounds using your voice recorder app on your next walk. You might get some odd looks if you are pointing your phone at some birds from passersby but then again, stranger things have happened. Go out and explore the sounds of your local area, capture what you can and see how creative you can be. You never know, it could elevate your creativity to unexpected heights.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this gives you a guide of what to consider if you want to capture some natural audio. It’s a great method for capturing those unique moments and as the world continues to speed up, so does the technology to help us. If you’ve got any questions about field recording, get in touch with our team who can offer more advice and options for you.

Dawsons Music & Sound Stores

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