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So, I'm a sound effects recordist that lives in downtown Orlando. Now, for a huge city, Orlando isn't terribly noisy (compared to NYC or LA at least), but I do often find it difficult to capture clean sounds. I've picked up a few tips, tricks, and techniques here and there that really help me out a lot in the urban environment such as mic choice, mic placement, and the aid of plugins, etc... but I'm always looking for ideas on how to improve my results.

For those of you also located in Urban locations, how do you win the battle against your environment?

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7 Answers 7

If I am really pushed I use phase cancellation.

Strap two identical mics together and record them to two separate channels. In the DAW flip the phase (invert) on one channel, and then use aggressive EQ on the phase inverted channel to allow what you really want to hear from the first channel to pass through unaffected. Make sure that the two tracks are both in mono and panned centre, otherwise it won't work. You can also use this technique from a single mic source, but it is not quite as successful. The technique can also be extended to include downward expansion and compression on very specific problems within a region.

This is a last resort, and is not my standard way of working.

This technique can also be used in an M/S rig to make the cardioid mic more directional. The final output will be in mono, and you need to spend a lot of time refining the EQ on the figure of 8, but it does work.

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Good advice so far.

When I worked in Los Angeles, we'd often pack up the car and head out to the desert to record...really the best place to capture sound outside. I always look on Google maps to determine the places nearby that allow you to get the furthest away from cars.

If you have to record in an urban environment, may I suggest heading to park, or a public University campus during off hours. Since most of them are designed for walking more than cars, it's possible to get some distance away from traffic. Hyper-cardiod mics are also your friend in the city, as you can point the rear end of the mic towards unwanted noise.

If you're lucky enough to find a place well away from traffic, birds etc., you'll still find that most cities have a hum. In Los Angeles this hum is even present at 3AM. I've noticed that this usually resides around the 400-600kHz area. If you focus on eq-ing this area without digging into the body of the sound too much, or better yet hit it with a multi-band compressor, it's possible to tame the "urban" a bit. The place where I work recently picked up the new Cedar DNS-One plugin, and I must say it does wonders cleaning up this area...not cheap though.

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Two simple techniques that work here in LA:

  • Record on Sunday mornings. There will be very little in the way of air traffic, road noise, walla, etc.
  • Record late at night or early in the morning (11pm-4am)

Or, learn to embrace your urban racket! (ie. sometimes it's simply unavoidable)

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1  
Yeah, I'm a big fan of the late night record, so long as the sound I'm trying to grab actually happens during the night! Sunday mornings are usually pretty dead around here too :-) –  Colin Hart Jun 10 '10 at 2:51
    
Night recording FTW! –  Miguel Isaza Jun 10 '10 at 4:53
    
the sunday morning thing is key. I live just north of downtown Dallas, and even here sunday mornings are the only opportunity I have to catch certain sounds. –  Rene Jun 10 '10 at 13:57
    
@Miguel Isaza Sorry for the random comment but I cannot find the definition for FTW anywhere... What's it mean? –  Utopia Jun 10 '10 at 19:03
    
@Ryan "For The Win" –  Steve Urban Jul 6 '10 at 21:02

Hi Colin, You may already be doing this because you mentioned you have some plugin tricks, but if I have a favourite plugin that has proved invaluable on that score, it's the McDSP ML4000nv. Using it as a multiband downward expander\gate, it's like a budget Cedar. I'm amazed at what I can pull out once the durge is swiftly forced down.

Cheers, J

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Pretty much what everyone else said. I live in the LA area, I do a lot of recording outside. Sometimes you'll find that different urban locations are quieter than others. I recorded the cinderblocks in my Rocks library in my mom's backyard. She is only 5 miles away from me, also in the middle of a city, but her yard is quieter than mine. Otherwise, you just have to find the quietest times.

The desert, mountains, hills, etc, are also good places to try to record in. As most know, I recorded most of the rocks library in the desert outside of LA. The problem with LA, is you run into 2 military bases in the desert here and even the hills and mountains are not far enough away from civilization. People live everywhere around here.

Mic selection and placement can help a great deal as well. I really try to get as close as possible to the source. Shotgun mics offer decent rejection and that can help. I really only try to record loud stuff in the city. Anything quiet just gets killed by the urban noise.

You just can't escape noise in the big city! I have to think that LA is better than NY. I can't imagine trying to record anything in and around NYC...

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Only additional hint: If using a shotgun mic in an urban environment, I've had the best results pointing the thing STRAIGHT DOWN, so the rear lobe doesn't pick up reflected traffic noise off of whatever's behind me. Otherwise, as @justin-pearson said, hypers are my go-to as well. –  NoiseJockey Jun 10 '10 at 15:12

When it snows in England everyone stops what theyre doing and waits for it to thaw, it only happens occasionally but its the best opportunity for me to record in my city without traffic noise.

Sorry if that isnt much help to you in Orlando ;P

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and volcano. and winds to divert planes. maybe the weather forecast is full of tips ;] –  georgi Jun 10 '10 at 8:38
    
Central London was so tranquil last winter when it snowed! I felt like pretty much the only person who didn't take a sicky so it was like a ghost town. If we can coincide snow and a volcano we'll be laughing. Days like that really make you realise what an impact noise pollution has on you. –  Michael Maroussas Jun 29 '10 at 6:08

I liken it to fishing. Lots of patience required and you won't catch every time you cast. And there are some really bad days when you're just out of luck. But there are delicious small fish dishes too.

And really that vid of guys who wheeled a whole Citroën in their studio to record in the quiet, is like having your own fishing pond :)

In London there's always a really low pitch rumble under anything I record, indoors or outdoors. Kinda worrying, just thinking about it..

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