Field Recording also known as Location Recording is an area of the audio industry that may often go unnoticed. Independent content creation is on the rise and location recording plays a strong role in all of the following types of content: narrative, documentary, reality, and (especially) web. Here are some key components to getting you started in this fascinating audio career option.
3 Key Components to Get You Started
1. Gain Audio Knowledge
A solid foundation in audio theory is absolutely essential. A crucial concept in capturing quality sound is knowing your environment and how it propagates in that given space.
Whether it be a room full of mirrors or an oceanside location, sound behaves differently in different circumstances and environments. Knowing what to listen for and having the experience to adapt your approach to each new situation will both set you apart and keep your clients coming back.
Gain Staging & Signal Flow
Pretty straight forward, right? From the microphone to the preamp, preamp to the A/D (Audio to Digital) converter, maybe insert a compressor to even things out on the input, then EQ some basic frequencies along the way and voila, you’re done! This is actually not so true. In the field, there are a million unforeseen obstacles.
While the complexity of location recording has increased, many location recorders have had to adapt and expand their skill sets AND their equipment. There are the multiple channels of wireless microphones being received and routed to specific tracks and buses or auxiliaries in the recorder, IFB feeds, camera audio feeds, communications and talkback feeds, to mention just a few elements to consider. Under these complex scenarios it’s crucial to understand signal flow and use of the proper gain structure, otherwise things start falling apart quickly. To be successful you need to learn, and if necessary, relearn the basics.
RF & Wireless Microphones
In 2019, nearly all productions make use of wireless microphone systems. A challenge that many audio-engineers will face daily is finding clear frequencies for radio mics at each location. This is a level of complexity that only exists in the location recording space.
Polar Patterns & Microphone Types
Location recordists must have an in-depth understanding of microphone types and their polar patterns. In location sound we are constantly recording dialog in uncontrolled environments, and oftentimes our sound source (the actor) is in motion.
Knowing the best microphone and polar pattern for each scenario or location is a valuable skill to possess.
2. Invest in the Proper Gear
Any location recordist knows the importance of investing in a proper kit. If you are a freelance location recordist, production houses expect you to be using industry standard gear. Your gear will more often than not be one of the deciding factors as to whether you get a gig or not.
DO NOT cut corners to “save” when investing in gear. Fight that urge. Buy what the industry uses, it will be worth your money and time ten-fold. Though it may cost more up front, industry professionals will immediately take you more seriously when they see you’ve invested in the correct kit.
The right kit would include the three main types of microphones for various specific uses: A lavalier, a shotgun, and a small diaphragm condenser. When considering the microphone brand, model, type and polar pattern one should consider how it will behave when recording dialog vs. the sole recording of ambient sounds or sound effects.
Shotgun microphones like the Sennheiser MKH-416 are often used when the subject is farther away than we would like. They exhibit a very narrow pickup pattern in front, and cancel hard along the sides of the microphone. For this reason, we’ve seen shotgun microphones used in news gathering for decades, as well as documentary, film and TV situations where the camera framing does not allow the mic to be physically close to the talent, it will still pick up the dialog as if it were directly in front of the sound source.
Small diaphragm condenser microphones with multiple cardioid patterns, such as the Schoeps CMC641, offer more directionality than an omni — but less directionality than a shotgun. This type of microphone is perfect for situations where you can only hold one mic above multiple subjects.
Lavalier microphones like the Sanken COS-11d are typically small omnidirectional that are mounted and hidden on the talent. These are also the mics that we plug into the belt pack transmitters and transmit wirelessly to our receivers.
Wireless microphones are integral to the modern location sound recordists kit. Transmitters like the Lectrosonics SMV are durable and reliable — and the industry standard. Receivers like the Lectrosonics SRb are widely-used throughout the industry. It’s very common for three to six lavalier mics with transmitters to be deployed on a documentary film or reality TV shoot, whereas 12 or more can be deployed in a feature film. There are multiple techniques when mounting and hiding lavalier mics and transmitters on talent, such as: in the actor’s hair or beard, behind a collar or inside a shirt, or on a necklace or chain that the actor is wearing.
The most critical piece of the proper gear kit would be the mixer/recorder. There are quite a few manufacturers out there, but the industry standard is Sound Devices, and the two most widely-used mixer/recorders are the small 633 and the more capable 688.
Both of these mixer/recorders have similar capabilities: integrated mic preamps, multiple channels, integrated mixer with mix bus, and a multitrack digital recorder.
3. Network, Network and Network
Having the gear, knowledge and skill sets are essential — but equally important is knowing exactly who is out there making the media you want to be a part of creating. So, get out there. Meet people in person, shake hands and kiss babies. Although we live in a connected economy, not everything is done on social media. Go to video game and film festivals, meet-ups, mixers and parties and meet the people that fund the projects and films. Believe it or not, business cards still work!
Recording Music & Live Performances on Location
The art of recording on location can be a great way to develop your own sound when making music. There are many methods to recording music with quality production and sound.
Thirty years ago, you had to be fairly successful and have a solid budget in order to afford a mobile studio. Fortunately for us, technology has made leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Currently there are several options for mobile recorders that can easily move from place to place. Whether you are going with a minimum of gear or a bus-full of recording equipment, you can now bring a mobile studio to just about any setting
In the current landscape of innovative software, it is easy to get caught up in the dilemma of which DAW (Digital Audio Work Station) to use. However, no matter what program you choose, you can avoid a lot of post-production and editing headaches by getting the best recording on location.
Many location recordists choose a location based off the natural sound quality that may exist at that specific location. While a lot of adjustments and repairs can be accomplished during editing and mixing, it’s somehow always better when you capture that magical, organic, pure sound. Depending on whether you’re recording a single musician or an orchestra, consider your location with care; consider all the pros and cons before moving forward so you’re ready to tackle any issues in the post production process.
For example, there are many natural elements that can enhance the acoustics of a performance. Even with the best of microphones subtle nuances of a vocal performance can be lost in a live recording. Zoom Handheld Recorders are now popularly used for many types of field recordings and can be a great resource and tool for such scenarios.
In a nutshell, recording outside of the studio has gotten more popular than ever. Given the right equipment for your plans, you can capture a film, video game or musical performance nearly anywhere. Considering that fact that you will most likely be taking your tracks back to a studio to dump them into your DAW for making all the necessary changes to complete your final product. In short, be sure to master your audio skills, research your gear, invest in your craft, learn all of the potential pitfalls, shake lots of hands, and you may enjoy successful career as a location recording audio technician.
Did learning about Careers in Post Production/Location Recording interest you? University of Silicon Valley is here for the aspiring artists and engineers who live in music and think in sound effects. You want to make great digital audio content on industry-standard recording equipment? University of Silicon Valley will train you in our Audio & Music Production concentration of our BS in Digital Audio Technology degree program. In this Digital Audio Technology program concentration, you’ll create the soundscapes that bring video games, films and other media projects to life. Become familiar with sound design concepts, recording principles, and other knowledge essential to an audio industry career.
University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.