Field Recording Tips

I know there are a lot of very experienced field recordists who read this blog, so after stumbling across Greg Shaws brief but poignant field recording tips I wondered if we might expand on that list & attempt to compile a set of field recording tips that go from concept to completion? If you’re keen to contribute, I’ve started a basic timeline below & sketched some initial basic ideas. Add a comment with your thoughts & if you can, tag them to a relevant section (eg 2B additional: blah blah) so I can update this post as a master list & eventually create a PDF of it for all of our future reference… Be aware I have little experience eg with gun or weapons recording so your help with specific advice there would be much appreciated.

Sorry it is a bit dense & text heavy at the moment – I’ll reformat this document once it is complete. If you have a field recording photo that you’d like to contribute (generally or to a specific section) please link to it in the comments… Thanks!

 

 

 

FIELD RECORDING TIPS

 

 

1. WEEKS BEFORE:

A. research the prop/s, location and create a RECORDING LIST, with estimated set up time, time with each prop

B. do a recce to the location

C. do you need official access?

D. do you need permits?

E. do you need help? assemble a crewlist
– other recordists? Every recording device needs to be monitored
– props wrangler?
– production manager and/or safety officer?
– a runner? catering?

F. assemble an equipment list
– recorders
– microphones
– stands
– cables
– headphones
– expendables eg gaffer tape, cable ties
– comms devices eg RT?

G. plan power requirements: battery vs AC

H. schedule recording session, plus alternate dates for weather

 

 

2. A WEEK BEFORE:

A. refine the RECORDING LIST – time estimates are important to track progress on the day

B. do test recordings, at the planned time of day of the actual session. Check recordings in studio

C. if location is exterior check for flight path, traffic, other users of location

D. if location is interior check for light or appliance buzz, air con, traffic, other users of location

E. Discuss & decide on coverage with your team:
– close, medium & wide perspectives?
– microphone types & choices?

 

 

3. DAYS BEFORE:

A. Charge batteries – do you have enough batteries? No – Order more!

B. Test cables, mics, recorders

C. Check weather forecast

 

 

4. THE DAY BEFORE:

A. Complete & print your RECORDING LIST: with estimated timings & priority list including all props & locations

B. Final check weather

C. Visit location

D. Reconfirm all crew & check who needs transport

E. Set meeting time & place for session – make sure each person has a map etc

F. Assemble gear

G. Syncronize internal time-of-day clocks on all devices (especially important if crossing time zones!)

H. Pack gear ready to go, but keep in secure area (we’ve all heard of bands losing all their kit from leaving it in a locked van)

I. Pack any required food, drinks etc

 

 

5. THE MORNING BEFORE:

A. Confirm session with all crew – weather ok?

B. Load all gear, food, drinks

 

 

6. AT THE LOCATION – INITIAL SET UP:

A. Cable mics with clear access to props

B. Test recording on all recorders and mics

C. Record a verbal ID of all mics & recorders, one by one: tap the stand & say the mics name & recorder

D. Test recording for gain setting

E. Disable limiters? Comments please?

 

 

7. WHEN RECORDING:

A. Assign someone the role to verbal ID every take, and every prop/location

B. Assign someone the role to write sound logs & take a photo of every recording – do not rely on memory or metadata!!

C. Photo and/or video: every take, every prop, every change of location

D. If shooting video: at least do a hand clap at start of every take

E. If something unexpected happens, DO NOT VERBALISE until after the action & reverbant field has completed.

F. Constantly refer to your RECORDING LIST as a priority list to avoid over recording with one prop and running out of time & getting none of another. If you are getting behind schedule, assess & re-prioritise.

 

 

8. AFTER THE SESSION: IMMEDIATELY

A. Clean up – leave the location cleaner than you found it!

B. Be aware you may have to revisit and do more recordings, so make sure you do not create any reasons that people won’t want you back

C. Reward people, especially people who help & who refuse reward. Buy them a nice bottle of wine or a gift. Our industry runs on goodwill, make sure you create it.

 

 

9. AFTER THE SESSION: ASAP

A. Extract all data from recorders & cameras – verify integrity

B. Clone to multiple copies – verify integrity. Do not return hire gear or erase recorder media until all media is in a DAW and been checked.

C. Celebrate!

 

 

10. NOTES/TIPS FOR ADVERSE CONDITIONS:

A. Personal safety
– This is priority #1 for every member of your team. Even walking outside your front door presents potential dangers but we are used to dealing with most local situations, its when your are in unfamiliar situations that you must be extra vigilant & well researched on potential dangers.
– Think through the potential dangers before you are there: environment, props, other humans
– No one wants to be a dead hero, but people have been killed trying to defend their iPhone! If you are robbed or confronted be very careful to not escalate the situation. Recording gear is not easily sold, but your watch, phone & cash are and can more easily be replaced. Think through how you will handle such situations and do not panic. The primary outcome is for personal safety. Do not be a hero, do not call peoples bluff. Always remember: you cannot reason with a meth head who hasn’t slept in a week. Give them what they want & get away from harm as fast as possible!

 

B. Access
– Whats involved in safely getting to and from location? Do you need support crew?
– What happens if something goes wrong? Have a plan.

 

C. Night
– Lighting is vital: head lamp, torches
– Do you need a road sign? traffic control? warning lights?

 

D. Temperature – cold
– I have little experience recording in snow/ice – hello Frank?

 

E. Temperature – hot
– use high SPF suntan lotion at all times, sun burn can be bad, skin cancer can be fatal
– wear a hat
– if in another country research ozone depletion (eg sun in NZ is many times more likely to bun than in Europe)
– keeping hydrated is critical, drink enough that you are not thirsty. Travel doctor says: “It is best to gauge that you are well hydrated by the colour and volume of your urine. Keep your urine “clear and copious”!

 

F. Humidity
– research your mics behaviour in high humidity
– be careful acclimitising equipment, especially moving between air conditioned areas & outdoors
– pelican dessicant silica gel capsule in each bag to extract any moisture
– keeping hydrated is critical. Travel doctor says: “It is best to gauge that you are well hydrated by the colour and volume of your urine. Keep your urine “clear and copious”!

 

G. International travel
– you are a visitor, be respectful of local customs & law, never presume, always ask
– do you need a work VISA?
– do you need permits?
– do you need shots/vaccinations? see an experienced travel doctor (not a general doctor)
– weigh baggage & check excess baggage costs for each step of travel, cheap flights can be a false economy with exorbidant excess baggage charges – check before you book flights with an airline.
– if all of your checked baggage is lost, can you still fulfill the minimum recording requirements? all critical gear should travel as carry-on baggage.
– have copies of your passport, contact info in every bag
– have printed copies of your name, contact info and a description of what you’re doing translated to the local language
– do you need a local guide, support person, negotiator?
– be careful with drinking water unless you are sure it is safe, use water purifer tablets if in doubt
– take a gastro kit (see travel doctor) to help deal with any stomach upsets, food poisoning etc

 

H. Rain
– check forecast but be prepared for the worst, especially in tropical locations
– check your response time, in a sudden downpour how fast can you protect your gear?
– rain covers for recorder bag
– rain covers for mic bag
– rain covers for individual mics
– umbrella
– pelican dessicant silica gel capsule in each bag to extract any moisture

 

I. At or near Sea
– check tide and swell maps
– always make sure someone not on the trip knows your plans, departure time & estimated return time
– life jackets are mandatory
– a cellphone is worthless if there is no reception
– be aware of freak waves, the one in a hundred wave that kills fisherman – never turn your back to the sea

 

J. Insects
– take insect repellant
– in areas with mosquitos and sand flies you may have to set & leave your recording gear rolling & get away from the area to avoid being bitten repeatedly & interupting the recordings – take a waterproof bag for the recorder.

 

K. Weapon recording
– What is standard procedure at a weapons session?
– safety first!
– hearing protection

 

 

 

Thats all I have time to do now – I’ve got a plane to catch!
Thanks!!
Tim

NOTE: If you have never commented here before, your first comment will be held until I approve it – sorry, otherwise I get too much dumb spam… Keep contributing I will approve as soon as I can!

9 Responses to Field Recording Tips

  1. This list is a great idea.

    One more tip:

    1G: Beware of plugs and sockets types and/or voltage and frequency values.

  2. Nick Reich says:

    loving these posts Tim.

    another tip for the International Travel section:

    If you are using ATA Carnets for getting your equipment in and out of foreign countries, always ask the official stamping your Carnet on the way in (once you have found someone who knows what the form is) to describe EXACTLY where in the departure side of the airport you will find the person with the matching stamp to clear you back out of the country. Sometimes they are located after the immigration barrier, meaning you can’t hold-check that equipment and still have it sighted by the guy with the stamp. If you return home with less departure stamps than entry stamps, good luck getting your bond back any time soon! Also, never use the word ‘wireless’, ‘radio’, or ‘Transmitter’ on a Carnet – say ‘cordless mic system’ instead if you have such devices.

  3. Shaun says:

    For Section K:

    I’ve done a little bit of weapons/explosive recordings in the past. Here’s what I can offer.

    -Hire a professional handler/armorer. Don’t just work with random people who own the weapons. Firearms retailers and repair shops can often point you to the right people to work with (if not do it themselves).
    -Listen to what that expert has to say regarding safety. You’ll need to coordinate with them well in advance. If you can take a scouting trip to the location ahead of time to discuss weapon, microphone and personnel placement, do it.
    -Mic placement and gain staging can be tricky. If you fear clipping, then you’re going to have a weak tail. Have your bases covered with some mics gain staged for the attack, and others for the tail.
    -Throw up at least one omni to help capture low frequency content and tail-out.
    -It can be difficult to monitor recordings without sound bleeding through the headphones. If you don’t have something like the Remote Audio headphones that are designed to handle loud environments (and sometimes even these aren’t enough), you’re going to be relying exclusively on your meters. Make sure the meters on your recording equipment is reliable and accurate, and double up ear protection (foam insert earplugs and gun muffs).

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  6. Magnus says:

    Great initiative!
    When it comes to recording in cold weather a couple of things cross my mind:
    – Make sure your clothes will suffice the temperature you are about to spend hours recording in. Use as light clothing as possible while going to your destination, put on your down jacket when you’re planning on being still for a while. As feet moving arund in snow leaves very evident soundmarks you will probably want to stand still/sit down while recording. The areas of your body that will be in contact with the ground during the recording session have to be isolated pretty well as you won’t be able to move without the snow around you crunching. Ground pads / sleeping mats are great for keeping the parts that are in contact with the ground warm!
    – Bring something to eat and drink with you, it’s very energy consuming to stay warm.
    – If recording close to frozen lakes or such remember that ice movements often creates vibrations that might affect your mics if mounted on a tripod, even if they’re placed on the shore.
    – If venturing out on the ice always bring ice prods and tell someone at home where you’re going and when you’re returning.

  7. jgrzinich says:

    re: -Cold Temperatures

    – dress extra warm. moving is the best way to keep warm but you will not be doing that while recording. staying still for long periods of time will lower your heart rate, so throw on an extra layer or two.

    – Keep your recording gear as warm as possible and protected from the cold. Batteries drain faster in the cold. Temperatures below -15C can even destroy batteries permanently. Keep extra batteries next to your body in an inside coat pocket.

    – have a pair of those work mittens handy where you can open the top and free up your fingers.

    – figure out the best way to monitor. customize your headphone setup either by getting a large flexible hat or by cutting holes in a cheap hat. You might look funny but then when don’t you.

    – prepare everything indoors if possible. you can freeze your fingers off just from plugging all those cables in.

  8. Jon Clark says:

    Re: G International
    Regarding wireless mics, it’s best to find a local source and rent. Frequency allocation is different in every country and it may be illegal to enter with any type of radio transmitter. Customs officials are not people with a strong sense of humor.

    Also regarding G, Work Visas, I was once on an international flight with cases of equipment and was told by my supervisor, about an hour before landing, to tell customs that I was traveling for pleasure because the company hadn’t bothered with work visas. I told the truth and paid a fine rather than risk it. Check before you fly.

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