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A year and a half ago I sold everything I owned, jumped on a plane, and arrived in Southeast Asia. Why?

To capture field recordings, of course. I’ve travelled through Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia recording the sounds of the cultures in those places. I’ve wandered into obscure corners of Bangkok, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Denpasar, and other cities to find cool sound effects.

Now, almost 18 months after I began that trip, I am faced with a challenge: my hard drive is crammed full of raw field recordings that need polishing. There are thousands of files. They were captured from three microphones. It’s an overwhelming amount of data that could total hundreds of hours of audio.

I have a special plan for those field recordings that I’ll share with you later. In the meantime, there’s a more obvious problem: how does one transform thousands of field recordings into finished, listenable sound effects? What’s the best way to master bulk field recordings?

Today’s article shares techniques that help you tackle the mastering process efficiently to move those raw files from your hard drive into the ears of your listeners.

Please note: I explore this idea in depth. This post should take you about 12 minutes to read. If you’d prefer, you can email yourself a copy of the post to read later.

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Update: I’ve revised the info here to reflect gear options and prices from early 2017.

Do your ears perk up when you hear an interesting sound? Do you imagine how sounds combine, and how you can twist them? Do you notice how audio affects others? Do you hear things others miss?

Maybe you’re a recent film school or game audio grad that became intrigued during a field recording seminar. Perhaps you’re a musician, and are curious about sound samples.

What’s your next step? How do you start field recording? Gear is expensive. Not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend. How can you begin inexpensively?

Equipment costs are often seen as a barrier to entry in the field recording craft, but they don’t need to be. With a bit of ingenuity and effort you can begin field recording and gathering your own sound effects library with little cash.

This is the first of a two-part series. Today I’ll look at one way new field recordists can begin recording sound clips quickly, part time, with minimal expense.

Next week I’ll share four ways to take this knowledge and mould it into a field recording career.

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Paris Steps

If you’ve ever tried stealth recording sound effects you know how tricky it can be.

Have you ever had people shy away from you while recording market crowds? Maybe your wildlife sound effects aren’t as rich and natural as you’d like them. Have you been denied access to a location as soon as your gear is spotted? Perhaps you’ve been dragged away by security.

Stealth field recording has many challenges, but many more rewards.

I was convinced of the power of stealth recording while travelling throughout Europe. Because I was recording for three months, I was able to experiment with different stealth methods.

Here are some tricks I use to capture better stealth sound effects.

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Joshua Tree National Park at Sunset 2

In the last article I wrote that knowing your audience is the first, key step in knowing how to make small changes that will have a big impact on your sound library. It helps you focus a new sound library or correct the course of a library you may already have.

In this article I’ll mention specifics changes you can make.

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Why finding inspiration is difficult

Over the past fifteen years working in sound I’ve found that inspiration comes in waves.

For months I’ll record and create sound effects for my library at every day. I’ve painstakingly mastered 19,000 of my own sound effects and over 15,000 sound clips for other libraries. I can be productive for long stretches of time.

Other times I can’t be bothered to power up a recorder or edit a single sample in Pro Tools for weeks.

Why is it difficult to maintain inspiration when field recording? I believe there are two reasons:

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Inspiration is mercurial. It can appear suddenly with a flash of insight. It can trickle away leaving you struggling for motivation.

Perhaps you’ve worked months without a day off and you’re burned out. Maybe you want to shake yourself out of a rut. Maybe it’s been weeks since you’ve had a fresh, creative thought.

As sound effects field recordists, we can’t afford to wait for inspiration. Sometimes the reason is practical. Perhaps your client needs you to design creative sound and needs it now. Maybe you’re between gigs (a common time for motivation to vanish), and you need to get off your couch.

Recording the best sound effects depends on creativity, often on demand. How do you find inspiration when you need it?

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