Archives For Creativity

During the last two articles we explored explored a theme: is it possible to be inspired when shackled to the technical demands of gathering sound effects? The first week’s post suggested there is potential to be creative when using highly sophisticated equipment in the field. The last article shared ways to inject creativity within the rigid requirements of mastering sound effects. That gives hope to creative professionals who need to collect audio and slice sound with uncompromising accuracy.

Is the same true for one of the final stages of sound effect sharing: sound clip curation? The final post in this series will explore that answer, and share ideas for presenting exceptional field recordings and mastered clips to your listeners.

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You rip apart the shrink wrap and pull your new audio recorder out of the box. You power it up. You flip through the menus and apply the settings. You string lengths of cables to a dozen microphones. Each microphone is wiggled into Rycotes and spun onto stands. Their position is adjusted and tweaked. Then you slip into headphones and twist tiny dials so that the levels are just right.

What’s that? There’s hum on the line? Which mic is it? Another is picking up a current of air across the diaphragm. You fix everything. Then, after the first performance, you struggle to get levels from the contact mic without peaking. Half an hour later you’re ready to record. You’re frustrated and exhausted. How can you possibly expect to capture inspired performances now?

It’s not easy to be creative on demand. It’s especially hard when struggling with the technical demands of field recording. Last week’s post shared ideas on how to use adaptation, imagination, and creativity to grow beyond gathering only “sufficient” technical sound effects. And why not? There’s an opportunity to inject each field recordist’s expression into the sounds they capture. That invests a sound pro into their recordings, and sparks excitement in listeners, too.

Is there room to grow in other areas of a sound effect’s lifespan? As we know, capturing a field recording is only part of sound effect’s arc. After being captured, a clip must also be cleaned. Just like field recording, mastering requires precise technical skills. Is it possible to inject creativity when mastering, too?

Last week’s article explored whether field recording can grow beyond the technical boundaries of the craft. Today’s post shares a new idea: that it’s not enough just to record sound effects with emotion; the best field recordings must be presented that way, too.

So, today’s post shares tips and tricks for detecting and applying creativity when cleaning sound clips. Next week will conclude the series with ideas for organizing clips so listeners will be inspired when they discover them.

Please note: I explore this idea in detail. This article should take you about 15 minutes to read. Click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.

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Years ago, after posting on this site for a year and a half, an email from future HzandBits sound library owner and A Sound Effect podcast co-host Christian Hagelskjær From inspired me to do something I hadn’t previously considered: to write a book about field recording.

That summer, I locked myself in a room and wrote. The result was a book called Creative Field Recording. It shared ideas on how to ensnare creativity and embed it in field recordings. It described tips and tricks to recapture creativity, inspire motivation, and apply it to capturing sound clips beyond the studio.

Later, I explained the premise to my younger brother, an experimental filmmaker. He gazed out the window, thought a moment, then said, “Shouldn’t you explain what field recording itself is, first?”

He was right. I shelved that draft, and began to write what would be my first book, Field Recording: From Research to Wrap.

I didn’t realize it until years later, but that experience reflected what I would come to understand is a significant – and perhaps hazardous – disposition among field recordists: severing the intertwined field recording skills of technical aptitude and creative expression.

Technical expertise is rigidly defined. Tech specs and gear govern whether a performance arrives successfully on our recorders or not. It’s not the same with creativity. That’s much more difficult to apply.

A lot has been written about how to spark creativity in the arts. Field recording is no different. Yet, a silver bullet that provides creative expression on demand within the technical demands of the craft remains elusive. That’s one reason why Creative Field Recording remains on the shelf. I wasn’t satisfied with the result.

I’ve thought a lot about that idea since I retired the draft. I’ve worked to include creativity in the sound effects I myself capture in the field. I won’t pretend I have the complete answer. However, I have made some headway I’d like to share with you today.

Today’s post describes ideas that have been rattling around in my head since that day: why creativity is essential to field recording, the challenge of bringing it to sessions in the field, and concrete tips you can use to sharing inspiring sound effects yourself.

This is part one of a three-part series. Today we’ll look at the idea behind emotional sound effects and how to capture them through field recordings. Over the next two weeks we’ll see how you can do the same while mastering and curating sound effects.

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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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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?