Field recording of objects and environments is one of the most creative ways to design unique sounds and textures for your projects. Once you realize that all music is essentially just organized audio, you become open to the possibility that the entire universe of sound is potentially your playground – freely available for you to capture, process, and re-contextualize in to any imaginable configuration. Here we’ll provide some tips for getting started with field recording – Sign up for Splice and download the example project below to gain some insight in to our sound design processes, get a free Ableton Live drum rack full of custom sounds, and learn how to find fresh inspiration in everyday objects!
To get started with creating your own field recordings, you’ll need some basic recording equipment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to purchase a dedicated field recorder right away, as you can expiriment initially by using the built-in microphone on your laptop or smartphone to get a feel for how the process works. There are many cost effective recording solutions currently available such as the Zoom H1 or the Tascam DR-05 which offer excellent sound quality at relatively reasonable price points. If you plan to do a lot of recording outdoors, you’ll probably want to acquire a windscreen right away to reduce the likelihood that unwanted wind noise will corrupt your recordings.
It’s important to calibrate your recording equipment so that you maximize the quality of your recordings while also realistically managing your device’s storage capacity – most devices will offer you a variable recording input level as well as a range of file formatting options to choose from. 44.1khz/16 bit is one standard for quality that is usually a good baseline to start with. It’s good practice to set the device’s recording level as high as possible without allowing source levels to exceed the maximum volume threshold, which would cause digital clipping and distortion.
Your next task is to find interesting source materials to record. This can often be the most fun part of the process, since you’re exploring your environment in a completely new and exciting way. What happens if you stretch a wet rubber band around a plastic cup and pluck it like a bass guitar? What does it sound like when you light a toy piano on fire? It’s often these types of expirimental processes and interactions with simple objects that yield the most interesting results and ultimately give you the freshest samples on the block.
What you’re essentially doing when capturing the essense of an object’s sound is exciting its constituent molecules; think striking a cymbal, bowing a cello, or blowing in to a trumpet. These physical excitations transfer from the object to the air surrounding the object and manifest themselves as soundwaves, eventually making their way to your microphone’s diaphragm. There are often a variety of ways to excite any given source material, and each will produce a different sound. Take the object that you’re looking to capture and do various things to it; swipe it, shake it, drop it, throw it, tap it, blow on it, etc.
Expiriment with as many different excitation and recording techniques as possible to see which ones make the most interesting sounds. This exploratory process will allow you to discover the nature of sound and physics in greater detail and will actually make you a better producer. What sound characteristics do dense materials have? What sound characteristics do hollow materials have? Does wood sound different than metal? Does plastic sound different than wood? Training your ears to hear natural resonances and physical properties will expand your timbral vocabulary and ultimately your musical palette.
Once you’ve collected a decent amount of source material, go ahead and import the raw audio into your favorite DAW to begin processing it. A great place to start is by slicing the audio up in to sections; as you’re slicing and saving the audio, don’t forget to label everything as it’s often a lot of fun to dig through all of the samples later on and be reminded of the crazy things you did or used to make the sounds.
Try processing the sounds heavily using EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, or any other plugin that you see fit to transform the source material in to something unrecognizably amazing, and the next time you need inspiration, look no further than your kitchen cabinets or garage shelves! You never know where your next great sample will come from.
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June 1, 2015