So I'm finally wrapping up the Doors project (I know. I procrastinated. I apologize - I'm really busy, though! That's my excuse!).

I couldn't help but notice while being out field recording: THERE IS SO MUCH NOISE OUT THERE.

Wow. Any little tick or pop out in the world seems to make it into my mics - whichever one I try. (you veterans are probably laughing out loud at me writing this because I constantly say I'm a pampered studio recordist. And I am - floating room with A/C air which gets pumped from well off site and just softly drops down into the room = no vent noise).

How do you guys deal with it? You must be very patient and wait for that opportune moment when the couple down the street stop talking, the dog stops barking and there is a red light down at the corner stoplight.

I'm wondering how much noise is acceptable. I'm worried that some of my doors will be rejected because that damn A/C unit is on or someone is yapping loudly down the hall.

Do you really have to drive out to the desert or the middle of nowhere to do some field recordings? Or do you grin and bear it and do some trick editing at home? What do you guys do? Sure, pointing the null side of the mic helps a bit, but I can't believe how much noise there is out there in the world and how you guys expertly handle it. Hats off to ya.

  • Ryan
  • What gear are you using in the field? Aug 31, 2010 at 5:15
  • @Matt MK41, KMR81i, Zoom H2, MKH50, CMIT5U. Nice to see you back, too. Haven't seen you in a while
    – Utopia
    Aug 31, 2010 at 5:37

3 Answers 3


Malvicus beat me to it -- but I'll reiterate anyhow:

  1. CONTEXT. Whether you can use that door with the noisy ambience or not completely depends on the type of scene you are using it for. A period film with no modern traffic will not support a recording with, say, air conditioners or a city bus in the background, but a film set in Chicago might. The important thing to remember is this: Is it an interesting recording? If so, keep it - you never know when it may come in handy. Also remember that you can clean up your recordings when you know better how you want to use it, ie. a Z-Noise pass that introduces some artifacts may be perfectly fine for a scene with loud score and an explosion or two.

  2. MIC CHOICE AND PLACEMENT. Choosing the proper mic for the job is critical. While it's not always possible, try to plan ahead when going out recording. In the case of doors, it's probably not wise to go out armed with an omni, or even a cardiod capsule - hyper or shotgun is normally way to go, although there are always exceptions, plus it's cool to experiment. (This is pretty obvious to most of us but worth restating here, I think, given the topic.)

  3. PATIENCE. Like you said, there is a lot of noise in the world. Even in the most rural areas you're bound to be plagued by occasional air traffic, vehicle noise that travels for miles through the still atmosphere, unwanted nature sounds, etc. It is unavoidable. The solution to this is to record at least twice what you think you will need. (I do much more than that.) For sound effects gathering this is as easy as bringing extra batteries and storage media and committing yourself to the task at hand.

  • +1 on PATIENCE. Three of the doors I recorded were exterior doors, combined, the three of them took me somewhere between 6 and 7 hours. There's still an outdoor ambience to them (birds, wind, etc.), but it was a lot of waiting for people to walk away with their conversations while hoping the traffic would stay away...including air traffic. Aug 31, 2010 at 11:44
  • An important adjunct to "Mic Choice and Placement" is time of day. I had way better results in my office between 5am and 7am than I did between 5pm and 7pm. Sometimes you really do need to work serious off-hours to get good sound. Watch the film "Living in Oblivion" for a hilarious take on this 4am indie-film lifestyle... ;-) Aug 31, 2010 at 20:05
  • @NJ, good point - may I also add that Sunday mornings are generally great for recording. Aug 31, 2010 at 20:11

Well it comes down to context. Just today I recorded audio for a scene at the Marina. There was plenty going on in the scene in addition to the dialogue. There was wind blowing on flags with ropes hitting metal poles. There was water splashing against the docks. There were bird sounds. There were boats making creaking sounds as they floated in the water. In the distance a couple of guys were casting reels into the water as they fished. I went up to them and got permission to record the sound of their reels as they casted them.

Although I had my shotgun mic pointed at my sound source of interest, I also wanted the extra sounds because they were represented visually in the scene. But if I want the sound of a reel spinning as the fishing line was being cast in the water without the birds, then I have to control my environment and take that reel to a quiet space and record. Because of time constraints on set, I have been recording about 90 seconds to two minutes of ambience and specific sounds. Thats usually long enough to edit around disturbances and interruptions while recording.


It's not ideal but in terms of cleaning up your recordings it's worth bearing in mind that if you are stuck with a noisy bg when trying to record it can be helpful to get at least a few seconds of just the aircon or traffic noise so that you can 'train' plugins like RX better.

  • Excellent advice, @Michael. Aug 31, 2010 at 16:10
  • +1. Indeed - room tone has more uses than just for dialogue mixing. Incredibly important tip! Aug 31, 2010 at 20:05

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