4 Ways to Grow a Field Recording Career

2012/10/25

Venice Rooftops

Last week we looked at how to begin field recording on a budget. We saw how to:

  • Assemble a basic field recording kit.
  • Build a sound effects collection.
  • Use sound isolation tricks to improve your sound clips.
  • Join and contribute to the field recording community.

Have you been recording sound effects for some time? Have you gathered a substantial sound effects library? Still excited every time you power up your recorder?

Well, what’s next? You may have these questions:

  • Can you find work as a field recordist?
  • Is it possible to shape a career working with sound effects?
  • What options do you have for finding work?
  • How can you break into the industry?

In today’s post I’ll share how to make field recording and sound effects a larger part of your life.

And, if you wish, you can choose to have your sound library and your field recording wizardry support you.

Sound Effects Surround Us

There is plenty of room to grow as a field recordist. Sound effects are used in dozens of projects: radio, advertising, and theatre. It’s endless, really. I’m constant surprised at the inventive ways Airborne Sound customers share how they use the sound effects they purchase.

The largest commercial use of sound effects is in film, television, and video games. They value powerful, creative sound clips. They also have the biggest budgets. However, the thriving smartphone app ecosystems are growing quickly. They all need sound effects.

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course.

Why Field Recording is Different

The peculiar thing about field recording is that it lacks an apprenticeship program. Unlike the way operators graduate to become mixers, or editors become sound supervisors, the path to becoming a field recordist is unclear.

Also, it’s a rare profession. To my knowledge there aren’t any salaried positions for field recordists at large companies, for example.

Field recording sound effects is unorthodox. Because of this, it requires a special approach.

I’ll break it down into two steps: nurturing your craft, then evolving it.

Nurturing Your Craft

There’s not a direct route to a field recording career. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, however.

How then does a field recordist find work doing what they love? One way is to approach a field recording career tangentially.

Here are examples:

  • Game audio sound designers often need huge “families” of sound effects. They also must be recorded and cut in a specific way to work with their software. Because of this, they record the guns, cars, and animals just they way they need them.
  • Film sound effects editors record wild Foley, ambiences, or specific sound effects to fill gaps in facility libraries.
  • Production sound mixers record wild sound effects of prominent props, room tone, or atmospheres to help with post production.
  • Musicians add ambient tracks to their songs (such the intriguing atmospheres in Up, Bustle & Out’s One Colour Just Reflects Another)

The point is that field recording work usually occurs incidentally. This is an excellent way to begin. Why?

There are two benefits:

  • Less Risk. It’s safe. It means that you can work full time in a related audio job. There’s less risk. You won’t be betting your rent that your sound library will sell. You won’t be desperate that a film will hire you to record a speedboat so you can feed your cat.
  • Trial and Error. Another advantage is that you’ll learn how well your recordings work. It’s easy to gather a sound library of thousands of clips. But are they actually usable in a film? Are they mastered well enough to slide seamlessly into gaming code? What about the stereo ambiences you recorded while mixing dialogue on set? Are they useful to the fx crew?
    Don’t just build a random collection of clips. Record actively. Share your work, and ask for feedback. Beginning slowly ensures you learn to record usable sound effects.

The drawback? You won’t be recording full time right away. That’s fine. There’s time for that later. Keep recording while you hold down work as a session musician, or theatre sound designer. Sneak out and record new effects when you have time. Plan for it in your schedule. You may have to do this on your own time.

There are many sound libraries circulating, but inevitably you’ll find yourself without a clip you need. That’s good. It forces you to record new sound effects by necessity.

The result?

Your repertoire will grow. Your library will swell, and your craft will strengthen.

Evolving Your Craft

Feel like you have enough experience? Have you recorded a sound library that includes the touchstone foundation sound effects? It’s time to take your skill and evolve it.

As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t job postings for field recordists. That’s fine. There are other ways to support yourself. It just takes a bit of industriousness.

These are four do-it-yourself options:

  1. Working With Productions
  2. Attach yourself to a facility or sound designer that is eager to use fresh field recordings in projects. Become their first choice for finding new sound clips.

    You may have to do this at a reduced rate until your name and quality becomes reliable and trustworthy.

    Big projects that require hundreds of sound effects aren’t common. Because of this, you’ll need to work with a number of editors concurrently. This will ensure you’ll be recording constantly. Let everyone know you’re ready to get them what they need, with little turnaround time.

  3. Selling Your Sound Effects: Buyout
  4. Another option is to sell your sound effects outright. Common buyers are CD, hard drive, and DVD library publishers. Some Web shops buy sound effects, but that’s not as common. Selling your sound effects outright means you give up your rights to the sounds. The benefit?

    These companies pay you up front for your recordings, and pay well. Often you’ll sell raw recordings, and the publisher will pay based on the duration of the sound they use.

    Other distributors buy finished sounds. For example, some will prefer to license a completed DVD of whooshes with mastering, packaging, and graphic design provided by you.

    This is an option if you aren’t interested in bookkeeping and administration. It’s also a good choice if you lack a network of buyers.

  5. Selling Your Sound Effects: Commission
  6. Take advantage of a massive network that connects you with thousands of people for next to no charge: the Internet.

    There are dozens of downloadable sound effects Web shops online. Sell your sound clips on these sites for a commission of each sale.

    If you’re interested in this, you can learn more in a book I wrote called Selling Creative Sound.

  7. Selling Your Sound Effects: Yourself
  8. Create a website and sell sounds yourself. It’s more work, of course. You’ll need to design the site, run it, and find customers. The benefit? You take 100% of the royalties.

    I wrote more about this advanced technique in a book called Sharing Sound Online.

Which do you choose?

Well, it depends on your style. Do you prefer working in a team, or on your own? You can choose to work with other productions as a freelance field recordist. You may prefer to build a library from home, using steps two to four.

Dabbling in each is a good idea. All four paths can add up to a stable income.

Remember, this doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself a few years. This is why it’s helpful to start these steps while working part time at another audio job. Do your field recording work in the evenings, or on weekends.

When you find yourself getting enough interest and revenue from your sound effects work, pivot you career. Quit your job and work as a full-time field recordist.

Recordings People Crave

These are four of many ways you can begin a career recording sound effects. They aren’t the only ways to get started. In fact, it’s likely that any field recordist will tell you a different route. The path to success isn’t limited to four answers. You may find your own way by omitting one of these steps, or combining others.

And that’s the beauty of field recording. Sound effects are used in dozens of ways. There are scores of strategies for sharing vibrant sound.

Will it take work? Sure. But that won’t be a problem for you, I’m guessing. Field recording is an active craft. It isn’t a passive choice. It is the result of energy, and passion.

Nurture your craft. Then, take this effort and prune it. Grow it into a career that creates what your audience is waiting for: field recordings people crave.

More Tips

I have written a few other articles about beginning field recording. Here are some selections:

Do you have questions about recording sound effects or working as a field recordist? Contact me. I’m happy to help.

Also, many thanks to those who have emailed, Tweeted and re-Tweeted, with ideas and advice. Cheers!





To stay in touch, receive free updates by email newsletter or RSS feed.  |  Follow on SoundCloud