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Beginners guide to field recording

If you follow my journey, you might have noticed my fable for atmospheres and field recordings in my music. In this tutorial I want to share some of my experiences I made with recording nature sounds and noises with you. These can be used excellently to give your productions an individual touch, but there are a few things to consider before starting and I will also give you a couple of tips.

The tutorial is primarily aimed at field recording beginners and covers the following topics:

  • Choosing the right field recorder

  • Other helpful equipment

  • Tips for choosing the location

  • Wind and weather

  • Closing and Jewellery

  • Tips for recording

Choosing the right field recorder

Let's start with the most important piece you need, and that's a mic. You can basically work with everything that has a microphone and turn it into a mobile recorder. Always there when you need it is actually your phone. I use it a lot when I don't have my recorder with me. You can also put an external mic on the phone to increase the sound quality. I made good experiences with the Shure MV88 capsule and it's still my mic to go when I don't have enough space for my Zoom.

Shure MV88 iPhone microphone
Shure MV88 iPhone microphone

But using your phone comes also with some downsides. For instance, while recording, it will be blocked for other apps and you want to turn off all notifications so you won't be able to take a call. Battery power won't last long and the audio quality is not the bestest.

So, if you want to take field recording to a serious level, you will sooner or later buy a dedicated field recorder.

Zoom H5 Audio Recorder with microphone
Zoom H5 Audio Recorder with microphone

This is my Zoom H5. A recorder like this one make field recording so much easier! It is compact, has all the features on board to get started straight away to make high-quality recordings. Of course, the most important thing is the microphones on board, in this case two in an XY arrangement. This type of microphone arrangement makes it possible to record stereo recordings and ensures a wide sound image.

You can also connect your own microphones via XLR; I use a Shot-Gun mic from Rode when I want to record narrow spotted sounds. A particularly nice feature of this model is that the built-in microphones are also removable and interchangeable.

A nice plus of the Zoom H5 is that I can also use it for many other things like an audio interface hooked to my Mac.

The Zoom H5 is not the cheapest option, but it's worth the money. There are budget friendly recorders available as well, but I would check them twice if they will give you the features you need on a long run. This Tascam Model for instance produces constant interferances and made my recordings useless.

Just consider: Without an audio recorder, you would have to lug your notebook, interface and microphones to the most remote places in the world. A little recorder makes it much easier!

Other equipment for field recording

Beyer Dynamics DT 770 Pro Headphones
Beyer Dynamics DT 770 Pro Headphones

Your field recording equipment should also include some headphones to monitor your mics. This way you know immediately if there are problems with the recording or if the recorder is set up correctly.

You can use small consumer headsets that come with your phone, that's better than nothing (and sometimes the only option when you're travelling). But I recommend to use closed headphones, which isolate the environment much better.

For longer recordings, you should have enough batteries with you and the storage medium may also be large enough. The Zoom H5 can record for hours with a pair of AAA batteries.

I also love to make notes during my recording sessions! When I go for a walk, for instance, and I stop somewhere to take a recording that's a long atmo, I make a quick note about it.

Choosing the best field recording location

It makes sense to think about the location you're going to visit and make some research first. People automatically block out a lot of ambient noise and only perceive it with their subconscious. But on your recordings, when you review them, you hear much more than you actually thought.

As an example, I live very close to the airport. That makes it nearly impossible for me to go for a recording session close by, as planes constantly make noises in the background. Another source of noise is traffic! Ff you listen carefully, our environment is really polluted with it. If you don't think about this, and you took a longer car ride to reach your location, you possibly waste your time.

If you haven't done your research beforehand, you often end up wandering around for a long time until you locate the noise you are looking for. Good planning saves you long unwanted walks.

Each location, each sound should be a separate recording - this saves time when evaluating the recordings when you're back at home. Ideally, you should label the individual takes in the audio recorder or put each location in its own folder. The mentioned notebook helps you as well.

Wind and weather

A windbreak is very important for outdoor recordings, because the wind noise is usually low-frequency, making your recordings unusable. Even a quiet breeze can be disturbing.

Most recorders come with a break made of foam, but I recommend to use a "hairy cat" like the one you see in the photo. It removes the wind noise perfectly.

Hairy cat windbreak
Hairy cat windbreak

The weather can also quickly become a problem in field recording - an audio recorder is rarely really waterproof, and the sound of rain destroys your work easily.

Clothing and Jewellery

Yes this is a problem too! Rings, bracelets and watches like to cause knocking noises when they come into contact with the audio recorder. During recording, you should not move to avoid these noises.

Clothing often causes rubbing noises, footsteps are a source of noise too, even if you don't hear them you might capture their vibration with your recorder. The same goes for the placement of the recorder - if you put it on a desk, for instance, it will capture each time you put your hands on the table.

Some tips for recording

Before the actual recording, it is best to make a test in which the levels are adjusted. Also check that the levels don't clip. If your audio recorder supports 24 bit, you can even level at -10 dB without losing sound quality. The Zoom H5 recorder has a backup feature that makes an extra recording at a lower level, just to be on the safe side.

When it comes to recording, you should double-check that the unit is really recording. Some models from other manufacturers require you to press record twice.

And if you breathe too loud, you will hear this as well.

What's in your field recording bag? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to get some inspiration?

I release Sample Packs regulary; you can get them in my store. Some are free, some costs you a little money. You can also sign up to Sample Society as well, which gives you free access to all existing Sample Packs and all future releases for 1 year.

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