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Here is a general question for field recording:

Do you go to great length to try to position whatever you are recording for best acoustics and mic position?

Let's say you're recording an elephant. He's in a pen and at one end of it there's a big barn. Would you try to get the elephant near the barn to get some early refs and "liveness" to the sound or would you try to bring him more out in the open?

What mic position techniques do you have to record specific things? Or is it always dead-on? Do you go off-axis for recording a chainsaw for instance? How about a lion roar?

For very loud SPL stuff do you walk closer/farther until it sounds good in your headphones? Do you use noise-cancelling headphones for field-recording?

Music recording is my main background and I want to know if my knowledge of acoustics can help apply to field recording.

Thanks - Ryan

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Ok... Lots of questions in there...

Do you go to great length to try to position whatever you are recording for best acoustics and mic position?

Yes - I go to great length to get the best possible sound from the raw recording. Yes, you can fix things in post, but these "Fixes" should only be used if something is "broken" about the recording. Playing with the mic position to get the best recording can save you a ton of time in post, and yield a much better, much more natural sounding recording.

Let's say you're recording an elephant. He's in a pen and at one end of it there's a big barn. Would you try to get the elephant near the barn to get some early refs and "liveness" to the sound or would you try to bring him more out in the open?

It all depends. Where does it sound best? Where are you getting the least amount of background noise? Does the Elephant settle down near the barn but get more energetic away from the barn? It's all about experimenting to figure out what sounds best.

What mic position techniques do you have to record specific things? Or is it always dead-on? Do you go off-axis for recording a chainsaw for instance? How about a lion roar?

Never recorded a lion, so I'll leave that one for Chuck.

As for position, you generally want to record with the mic on-axis. Basically, you want to keep the sound within the polar pattern of the microphone. There are a few exceptions, but they can only be done in VERY quiet environments (e.g. vocal booth, foley room, etc...). I wouldn't go off-axis for a chain saw, I would just use a high SPL level mic. If it sounds too "tinny" or "metallic", try a different mic.

For very loud SPL stuff do you walk closer/farther until it sounds good in your headphones?

How loud are we talking? Generally, I'll start with my mic at a safe distance and audition the sound, checking my levels, then adjust from there. I generally get the mic as close as possible without distorting the pre's. In-line pads are your friend for this. But make sure you know what your mic can handle first!

Also, for most sounds I have multiple mics at multiple perspectives, so if I'm using a mic close up on a loud sound, I'll also have a mic (or a few) back a bit to capture ambience, different sound characteristics, etc...

Do you use noise-cancelling headphones for field-recording?

NEVER!!!! Noise-canceling headphones have some of the worst frequency responses on the face of the planet! You'll never actually get an accurate representation of what your sound actually sounds like, then you'll get back home and wonder why your recording sounds so strange over speakers but great in headphones. I'd stick to the standards - the Sony MDR7506, MDR7509, or one of the Beyerdynamic ones (DT770, DT880).

Bose Quiet Comfort http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.php?graphType=0&graphID%5B%5D=1743

Music recording is my main background and I want to know if my knowledge of acoustics can help apply to field recording.

Very much so! My original background is music recording as well. Let me know if there's any other way I can help you!

  • Wow, great answers. I think you got everything! Thank you! Sorry for being a bit random, but I want to learn and this place is perfect for that. I've got the Sony MDR-7506s - I also hate the noise cancelers unless you're recording drums. Thanks again! – Utopia May 14 '10 at 3:59
  • No problem! P.S. a lot of people will modify the MDR7506 drivers into other head accoutrements, such as construction ear protection, etc... to get both accurate frequency response and extreme isolation. – Colin Hart May 14 '10 at 4:25
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    I installed MDR7506 drivers into a pair of shooters ear muffs (ear protection headset). I use those when I record the real loud stuff. You can buy those already built, but I had a lot of pairs of 7506's left from my studio recording days, and the ear muffs were only $20. – Chuck Russom May 14 '10 at 5:54
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I approach everything I record like I am recording The Beatles. Your knowledge of recording technique from your music recording background is completely applicable in field recording. As you record more in the field, you will learn what knowledge you need to forget about, and learn some new field recording specific tricks and techniques. Knowing the fundamentals of audio recording is extremely important, and something a lot of people don't learn.

As for acoustics, except for guns/explos, I always try to record in the most acoustically neutral environment as I can (ex: record the elephant in a field vs a barn). Unless I am looking for a specific environmental sound (like rocks in a cave). It is usually much easier to fake the environment/acoustics later in post. It is impossible to remove environment/acoustics from a recording. For guns/explos, the environment is a big part of the sound, so I am looking for certain characteristics in the location I am recording. I never record that stuff in-doors though. Having said all that, sometimes you don't have much choice, and if the sound is unique enough, just grab it where it is.

For the high SPL stuff, I will move the mics away from the source or turn off axis as needed to avoid distortion.

As for mic placement, it depends on how much I want the sound to breathe, how much background noise there is, and how I want the recording to sound. Often I will record something from multiple perspectives to give me options. Usually I record in less-than ideal locations, so I try to get as close as possible to the source. The rock library I am finishing up was not recorded in the quietest location, but with the mic placement I used and my editing, you'd think it was done in a studio.

  • Wow, thanks for replying. Great information that I'll use for sure. – Utopia May 14 '10 at 6:23

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