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I'm a professional musician who is looking to get into sound design as a career.

Starting January, I'll be heading out on a tour of the US with a show for 5 months. I'm very new to field recording but I want to use this opportunity on the road to collect some sounds from around the country that I may not usually be able to get living in NYC (so much noise!).

Anyway, what I'm looking for are some suggestions of what you professional field recorders would do if you were heading out on the road.

  • What kind of stuff would you look to record?
  • Any places or things you've been itching to capture somewhere in nature?

I don't have any specific projects that I am recording for so I'm kind of just looking to experiment and maybe start some of my own sound libraries that I will use down the road.

I've got a nice little pro tools setup on a new laptop that I will dig into on the bus. Suggestions for a beginner handheld recorder and microphone setup would also be appreciated!

I hope to hear from you all and thanks in advance!

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Well, it depends on how much you can actually get away from the show and the bus. Getting to acoustically unspoiled locations means getting far away (usually) from the highway. OTOH, during a month long tour, I took the opportunity to record every hotel room I stayed in, and got a whole lot of ambience recordings and specifics out of it. May not be what you're looking for, but with 5 months on the road, you're sure to come up with recording subjects you never thought about before. I guess you might happen upon a stretch of empty road now and again in the US? Europe is so densely populated, those places are hard to find near main roads.

My setup is growing from a Sony PCM M10 (great, quiet recorder - just not for expansive ambiences) to a separate mixer, shotgun mic, etc. But if I had to choose just one piece of gear, I'd spring for the Sony PCM D100. A bit expensive, but supposedly sounds stellar, records up to 24 bit /192 kHz, adjustable between X/Y and pseudo ORFTF/NOS patterns and is dead quiet wrt self-noise. Get a good windscreen for it, maybe a cheap camera tripod, and you're golden.

Good luck with that tour - I'm sure you'll come back with gigs and gigs of great material!

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    Good advice Christian! I'dd add that you should also really make a plan about when you will edit the recordings. It's really easy to record huge amounts of great stuff, but changes are you'll never get enough to edit it afterwards. That would be a real shame.. Good luck! – Arnoud Traa Oct 31 '14 at 11:31
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    Yep, that's right. Make it a habit to slate every recording verbally. Simply speak in the start or end of the recording what the subject is, where, who, recorder settings and anything else you'd be annoyed not remembering when it's time to edit. I sometimes do smartphone slating with evernote, write down the file name (on the M10 it's the date, plus a suffix for each recording done that day). I also try to remember to take a picture and embed it with my notes. Really helps when you review stuff later - esp. if you remember you took notes! – christiancoriolis Nov 1 '14 at 14:37
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I think even if you can't get away from the show and bus too much you've got a good opportunity to build a library of genuinely useful recordings.

If you can take your recording kit into the venues you'd probably have an opportunity not many field recordists get, to record the sound of music venues without people or music! That should yield some interesting recordings and even if there are people milling around you'll get some good ambiences. You might also get some nice stuff of setup / breakdown. I imagine you'd get decent metal impacts from scaffolding / stages being put up and taken apart. The backstage areas might also yield some interesting room tones.

Then there are the general ambiences you'll get. Imagine how many restaurants, diners, cafes, pubs and bars you'll go into. All the busy main streets and quiet back streets you'll come across. If you're staying in any high rise hotels (that let you open the windows!) you'll get some great skylines. If you're not too busy setting up before the gigs there'll be all the crowds outside the venues.

Basically if you can get a portable recorder and keep it on you all the time you should get tons of great stuff. Make sure you buy enough SD cards and an external hard drive to back up on to as you go!

The other thing is, if you know your route around the country already, you could have a look along the route using Google maps to see if there is anything unusual or unique near where you're going. Maybe there's a cave system near one of your stops that you could go into and record some ambiences in on a day off. Maybe there's a clock museum that you could go into and record some mechanisms. Maybe there's a big tower that you could go up and record some distant skylines and winds.

Definitely +1 to @christiancoriolis on recording "mundane" things like hotel room tones and specifics. Record all the doors and rooms you can! Room tones and doors are the sort of things that you can never have enough of. After 5 months you should have a pretty great library of room tones and doors!

Also +1 to @Arnoud Traa and @christiancoriolis for having a plan for the editing period of this project. You can record hours of stuff but if you never edit and organise it you might as well not bother. Verbal slating is invaluable for this, it means you never have to worry about losing your notebook or even making notes if you don't want to, you'll have all the information in the recording itself. It's useful to have a notebook too though, especially if you're doing stealth recordings in public places where you don't want to blow your cover by verbally slating a take!

As @christiancoriolis says the Sony PCM series all seem to be very popular with field recordists as a small high quality solution. I'm sure you could find a used one for a good price, there's always the older D50 as well. Just make sure you budget for a Rycote (or similar) wind jammer and possibly some kind of tripod to reduce handling noise (Manfrotto Nano stands are great). I think Rycote also make a pistol grip for portable recorders as well. Really only the wind jammer is essential though.

Good luck, I'm getting excited about the trip for you!

  • Thank you everyone for the wealth of advice! You've given me a huge starting point and I'm getting really excited for the trip. Also, this is my first post on stack exchange and I must say, you guys have already proven this site to be invaluable. I'm going to do all of these things. I love the idea of looking up nearby things like caves in google maps. I'm sure after the 5 months I'll want to go back and do it all again (next time actually knowing what I'm doing!). Cheers for now! – Marc Schwartz Nov 3 '14 at 22:12
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Great answers so far! I would also say you should not be afraid to capture sounds that seem boring, or normal. Creative Field Recording has a great bit about foundation sound effects and their value. http://www.creativefieldrecording.com/2012/10/03/how-to-build-a-viable-sound-effects-library/

As for recorders I used the Zoom h1 for a bit and got some good sounds, but the upgrade to the zoom h5 has allowed for a lot more creativity, since I can use external mics and have a lower noise floor. A lot of people love the zoom h4n for these types of things and the tascam dr40 is good as well.

As for mics it depends on what you want to record, built in mics will work ok for stereo Dependant sound, such as ambience, but a mono shotgun can be a lot of fun for interesting sounds as well. Just be cautious about external mics with entry level portable recorders as thenpreamps aren't always clean enough for low output mics.

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I've had great success using a Rode NT 4 - very convenient having the stereo mics in a single piece of equipment.

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