Archives For Creativity

Los Angeles Smokey

It's a running joke between my brother and I: he's always found himself living in places with too much noise and I'm trying to find places with a lot of it.

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motivations-2-0

Why do field recordists capture sound effects?

The last post revealed that many sound pros record audio for the chase: they gather sounds for a specific purpose, or to claim a technical achievement. They use their skill to preserve these sounds. And, for others, they gather audio to amplify their experience of the world around them.

That post looked at how sound itself motivates field recordists. Many are inspired by other, more nebulous reasons, too. So, today’s posts will look at the abstract elements that inspire sound pros: the art of field recording.

Please note: this post explores this idea in depth. It will take you about 15 minutes to read this article. If you’d prefer, click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.


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motivations-1-0

Over a year ago I began the “A Month of Field Recording” series with the hope that it would help new field recording fans choose gear more easily. Would equipment selections from the featured field recordists share insight on how to slice through the endless kit options and choose kit more simply? Through the generosity of 49 field recordists (series 2015, series 2016), we certainly found out.

By the time the series was well underway, I realized that something surprising was being revealed. Despite limiting most questions to field recording gear, a common theme shone through the cracks between the kilohertz and the preamp clarity. What became increasingly evident was that the thoughtful, varied equipment choices were matched by something as equally diverse: their motivations for capturing audio beyond the studio.

So, today’s post will explore a subject just as important as decisions about ease of interface and external inputs: the reason these pros suit up to step outside the studio into the world of sound.

Please note: this post explores this idea in depth. It will take you about 8 minutes to read this article. If you prefer, click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.


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Modigliani, Portrait of Leopold Zborowski, 1917-Small

I remember precisely the moment when I began to think of field recording differently. I began to see sound effects as more than data files produced by metal and plastic in France, December 2002.

At that time I was dating a woman who lived in Bordeaux. We visited the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. They were hosting a special exhibit of Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. Modigliani is known for his style of crafting mask-like, elongated faces.

She was a fan of his work, and I asked why. Her answer surprised me. It had a large influence on the way I think about field recording. Of course, I didn’t make the connection between painting and recording sound effects then. That happened years later.

I was thinking of this when responding to a recent reader email. The reader was asking about posting their library online:

How will my sound effects perform? Will people buy my collection? Is selling a sound library a viable way to make a living?

The answer to each of these questions is commonly thought of in terms of competition. If you’re planning to share your work, and earning money from it, you’ve likely thought about your competition. This is common whether you’re cutting in an edit suite, or creating a shop online.

So, in today’s post, I’ll explain how you can evade competition and share clips that fans will be thrilled to support.

What was that comment that influenced me? How did I apply it to field recording? How can this help you share sound effects and sidestep competition?

I’ll explain more at the end of the article.

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Royal Hudson H1e class 4-6-4 steam train

Photo Credit: Karl Zimmermann, "Magnetic North, Canadian Steam in Twilight"

Earlier this week I was listening to my steam train sound effects. They’re field recordings of a Royal Hudson H1e class 4-6-4 steam train. I was gathering them into a sound pack collection (or as I wryly name them on Airborne Sound, ‘Jet Packs’).

Steam trains are in that category of field recordings that are pleasing to hear like streams, rain, thunder or birdsong. I like those trains. They’re cool and have interesting history. But I won’t write about steam trains today.

Instead I will write about revisiting your sound effects library. I thought about this while I was browsing the steam train tracks. I’ll share why the process of mastering then reviewing them years later was important.

And I’ll write why you’ll need only one tool when mastering and reviewing your sound effects library: a shit-detector.

(The language is crude, I know. I’ll explain in a moment the reason I use the term.)

I’ll return to the posts on productivity next week.

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Yin and Yang in Stone

courtesy ell brown


Shortly after the new year I made a list. It was my sound effects new year’s resolution list for 2012.

There were a dozen things on that list. Some were mundane tasks that I needed to finally complete. Some were exciting ideas like creating field recording apps and new websites. Others were events I wanted to record like races or festivals.

It’s now mid-May and that list keeps growing.

What about you? Is your ‘to record’ sound effects list outracing what you’re editing? Do you look back on your work week exhausted but have trouble naming exactly what you’ve done? Do you wish you could be doing more?

All this has made me think about the role of productivity in sound.

When people say they’re productive they mean they get things done. Sometimes it means doing things faster or better. It’s crossing off lists.

It’s no different with sound pros. It could be finishing designing the sound concept of a video game character. It could be capturing a 300 sound effects a year. Perhaps you need to deliver a completed TV episode by Friday.

I’ve been thinking lately how productivity applies to sound effects libraries, field recording and sound professionals. It’s actually a bit strange. I think sound pros face a unique challenge when trying to be productive.

In today’s article I’ll explain why. I’ll write why productivity works differently for sound effects field recordists and editors. I’ll share some ideas on how you can boost productivity and achieve goals.

In the following weeks I’ll offer specific tricks and tips for getting sound tasks done faster and better.

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Techniques and skill and even a point of view are often handed down, formally or not. It’s easier to get started if you’re taught, of course.

But art, the new, the ability to connect the dots and to make an impact–sooner or later, that can only come from one who creates, not from a teacher and not from a book.

– Seth Godin

Quote: “All Artists Are Self Taught.” Field Recordists Too?

Toronto Skyline at Dawn

You record golden sound effects with flawless technique that everyone likes.

Sounds ideal, right?

However we’ve seen that expecting perfection can lead to two problems: perfect but generic and bland clips and the numbers trap which can affect quality.

Has this happened to you?

  • Are you overwhelmed by getting started? Don’t know which microphone or recorder to choose, or how to use them with flair? Maybe you’ve read all the articles on how pros record cars, guns and animals but things aren’t connecting during the shoot.
  • Perhaps you’re sharing your sounds on your blog, store or a forum and you’re unsure how people will respond to your library. Maybe you’re wondering what sounds people will appreciate, and need ideas for what to record next.
  • Maybe you’ve returned to the studio after a day’s shoot and you’re not fully satisfied with the results.

If you’ve experienced any of these you’re likely becoming trapped by perfection.

I’ll explain why this happens, and how to solve the problem.

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Toronto Skyline with Rain Approaching

Every field recordist has had problem sounds trample on their recordings.

Maybe you’re recording a dawn chorus when aircraft interferes. Or perhaps that location you’re forced to use is soaked in buzz.

It’s common. The first instinct is to demand complete perfection from sound effects. As field recordists we often expect this. It was certainly on my mind when I recorded fighter jets and protest crowds.

I wrote last week that sound effects perfection is overrated. Expecting perfection risks recording sterile sound fx. When field recording, it can cultivate procrastination and rigid, technical sessions.

And while we’re not looking for perfection, we definitely are looking for quality.

How then do we judge quality in sound effects? How do we get around the problem of perfection?

There are three ways:

  1. redefining quality
  2. thinking about recording sound fx appropriate to your goal
  3. ‘shipping’

This week I’ll write about redefining quality. I’ll start describing perfection pitfalls when looking at quality, then offer new ways of thinking about sound effects value. I’ll wrap up with suggestions to avoid quality perfection pitfalls.

Next week I’ll finish this series by writing about the benefit of knowing your goal when field recording, and why Steve Jobs and ‘shipping’ is essential to sound effects success.

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Toronto in Winter

I first started thinking about field recording success last year. My thinking grew from two field recording trips: Occupy Toronto protest crowds and CF-18 Hornet fighter jets.

In both those sessions I was faced with challenges that threatened to cripple the sound effects I was recording: loud, groaning garbage trucks interfering with protest crowds and endless cicadas while fighter jets were flying.

These sessions made me think about the threshold between success and failure while field recording sound effects.

It also made me think about the goal of field recording ‘perfect’ sound clips, and the role they play in libraries.

I now believe that sound effects perfection is overrated. In fact, I think that recording perfect sound effects actually harms your craft.

Today I’ll write about the problem with ‘perfect’ sounds.

Next week I’ll apply this idea to sound effects quality. I’ll write about how the role that your goal, Steve Jobs of Apple and ‘imperfect’ sound effects play in recording good sound effects.

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