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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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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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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DVD Hero

The Compact Disc introduced the first widely accepted digital audio format. It became popular partially because of improved audio quality. There were other reasons, too. Listening and accessing the audio was also far more convenient than the previous vinyl and cassette formats.

The Compact Disc has reigned as the dominant physical audio format since it was introduced to the public in 1982. Even in 2007, over 200 billion CDs were sold.

Of course, digital sound file delivery is overtaking physical optical disc shipments. However, the CD format set a fidelity standard that has lasted for over 30 years. In one way or another, this has affected every sound pro.

As sound professionals, we know how greatly higher fidelity sound affects our work. Higher sampling rates allow more flexibility in sound design. Higher bit rates increase dynamic, and, generally speaking, make sound clips appear more full, lush, and rich. But does high fidelity audio really matter to listeners?

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Portable recorder? Check. Headphones and windscreen? Check, check. Some cool sound effects waiting for you to record them? You’ve got that, too.

Have you been recording sound effects for a while? Are you confident with your technique and your gear? Captured all the easily-accessible foundation sound effects nearby?

Eventually a field recordist needs more. How, though, can a recordist switch from capturing the essential bird chirps and car doors around them, and record complex subjects like boats, animals, and cars? Do you need certain gear? Which skills, and why?

I’ll answer these questions in today’s post. I’ll share an attack plan for recording complex sound effects and field recording sessions.

Tomorrow I’ll post how I used these ideas in a session I recorded this summer: recording Honda Indy race cars.

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Creative Field Recording

A couple of months ago I gave the blog here a fresh coat of paint. Today I’ve made another change. I’ve renamed the blog. I had wanted to refresh the website name and address for quite some time. Last week I finally got this done.

The blog is now called Creative Field Recording. Why change?

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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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Rob Nokes Recording Plane

I’ve written in these pages that field recordings have great power to become more than simple data files. A thoughtful recordist can add personality, emotion, and meaning to the sound effects they record. To do this, a recordist must invest themselves into their work.

One field recordist who practices this is Rob Nokes.

You may have heard of Nokes. He is a Hollywood sound recordist who has contributed to films such as Snow White and The Huntsman, X-Men First Class and 3:10 to Yuma. He is also a sound supervisor, having helmed projects such Bones, and The Finder.

He is well known for a relentless approach to capturing only the best sound effects. He has pursued seals and walruses while recording in Uruguay, and flown to Khazakstan to gather tribal recordings for the film Nomad.

What you may not know about Rob Nokes’ work is how he uses his passions and experience to enhance his sound effects recordings.

To learn more about this intriguing approach to field recording, I asked Nokes about his past, the impact of a sound library, the characteristic projects he’s joined, his current projects, and more.

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Toronto in Fog

I read an interesting question on Social Sound Design this morning. It asked whether selling a sound effects library on your own website was viable. Would one pack be downloaded ten, 100, or 500 times?

I added a few thoughts of my own, and shared my experience selling sound effects on the Web. At the end of the post, I mentioned that recording rare sound effects with reflection and effort give a sound library an advantage.

I thought about this last bit as I grabbed my coffee later. I think there’s more to add.

So, in this post I’ll answer a few questions I often hear from new field recordists.

  • How do I build a sound effects library?
  • Which sound effects should I record?
  • What makes one sound effect more valuable than another?
  • How can this help me share my sound library on the Web?

I’ll share what I learned, the path I took, and some ideas how you can shape a powerful sound library of your own.

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What is the best first step a new sound effects field recordist can take? I’ve written before that getting out and recording anything is a good way to start.

Recording foundation sound effects like traffic, crowds and household sound clips teaches you:

  • How your gear works: nuances of microphone range and frequency response, recorder foibles.
  • How sound moves or works in different environments: reflections, etc.
  • How much intruding noise your recording can tolerate before it is ruined.
  • Subtleties of your subject: when birds are most lively, how crowds react or how machines respond when manipulated.

Well, what’s next? How do you improve your sound effects library to take it from good to great?

Have you exhausted all the cool sound fx around you? Out of ideas? Not sure what to record next? Interested in challenging yourself? Want to record sound clips that involve more than swinging microphone stands and pressing buttons?

I’ve written before that I believe that the best sound effects are meaningful, evocative and powerful. What do I mean? How can you create these sounds?

In this article I’ll suggest some concrete actions you can take to make your sound library better.
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