A Beginners Guide To Field Recording In 2021
If you’ve found this blog post, then you are probably interested in field recording, but you may not yet know where to start.
I hope you find this article and the videos it contains are helpful.
With this article, I want to give you an overview of what it means to be a field recordist in 2021. When you start looking for articles about field recording, you will mostly find blog posts about equipment but not real-world experience.
My background and how I got into field recording
We (my girlfriend Libby and myself) have been traveling the world since 2015 and started recording sounds in 2017. We are one of the few field recordists who can make a living from it.
We both had no background in sound recording when we starting out. Actually, we happened to begin recording only because we needed high-quality ourselves while editing a project in Cambodia. We had a real reason to record sounds, and that led me to start field recording. At the time I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as field recording or phonography.
If you want to know the full story of How Field Recording changed my life, you can watch this video.
equipment and budget
When it comes to gear it can be pretty overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you keep it simple. Everything I talk about in this post is from my own experience and I’ve only bought the gear that I knew I could handle at the time.
As a beginner, stick with something that is easy to use and inexpensive. You don’t want to buy high-end equipment in the first place only to find out later that field recording isn’t for you.
Which field recorders are for beginners?
The last field recorder I mentioned is great if you want to use an external microphone or other devices with an XLR connector.
However, don’t focus on external microphones in the beginning. Just start recording. One thing to focus on is wind protection for your capsules.
Zoom has a universal windscreen. The WSU-01 fits all H series recorders. However, if you want to invest in higher quality wind protection, Rycote is the way to go.
Now you have a recorder but you don't know what to record?
Think about your interests, hobbies, or job, and how you can combine this with field recording.
Maybe you are a chef? Let me tell you that there are people out there right now looking for kitchen sound effects!
Or maybe you live in a big city and the noise has always annoyed you? These “noises” are my favorite recordings. Think about movies. Big productions are filmed in big cities, and next time you watch a movie, just listen to the background sounds used in those movies.
A sound engineer fills scenes with authentic soundscapes, either recorded by people like me or by location sound recordists hired directly for these projects. If you start field recording in your city today, who knows, maybe one day your sounds will be used in a movie, animation, or video game. It’s all up to you.
For hikers and nature lovers, take a recorder with you on the next hike and listen to the surroundings. Rivers, birds, wild animals, or maybe just the wind in the trees. You will find unlimited ways to record nature sounds. Remember that the sounds will change. Morning, day, and night are never the same.
Now we've recorded these sounds, but what do we do with them?
I can’t stress enough to talk about metadata. This is something I ignored in the beginning and I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
Organize and name your files properly from the start. Not just for yourself, but also if you are interested in selling these recordings later.
You can find your recordings faster to create themed sound libraries, and you make a lot of people happy looking for sounds. If you start right, you also have a much better chance of selling your sounds.
Sound engineers use sound banks with hundreds of thousands of sound files and search engines like Soundly or Soundminer to find these recordings.
We made a video about metadata. It’s about the UCS Universal Category System. If you study and follow these guidelines, you will have a leg up against those who don’t.
What software to edit field recording and write metadata?
Personally, I use Soundly, Reaper, Ableton, Adobe Audition, and Pages on Mac to write my metadata and edit my field recordings.
Adobe is a subscription-based platform and I don’t recommend starting with a subscription because the costs can add up over time!
Look in Audacity, Ocenaudio, or Reaper. Audacity and Ocenaudio is free and open source.
Reaper is another powerful DAW that you can use with all of its features for free. The evaluation license is 60 days but can be extended an unlimited amount of time. For private and small business owners, it’s just a one-time payment of $70.
You can also download and use a free version of Soundly and start editing your metadata.
Consistency is key to success
Everything I mentioned above is only part of what it’s needed to start out with field recording, but to be successful you need something else.
Over the years of recording sounds, I’ve seen several highly motivated people come and go.
Some people think that success comes overnight, but the truth is it doesn’t happen to all of us. It takes a lot of hard work and it is not for everyone and no matter what, if you want to succeed in any part of your life it needs consistency.
Consistency opened up new opportunities for me. By that, I mean that when I started with field recording, I only had the Zoom H1.
What I didn’t have was experience or any kind of connections. I gained experience and knowledge because I never stopped recording and researching.
I joined the Field Recording Facebook group and found new interesting devices and new ways to record sounds. For example hydrophones, contact microphones, or devices for recording electromagnetic sound effects.
We’ve connected with a handful of other field recordists and companies, but one of the most important parts of it was that I’ve figured out what I love to record the most and what people need.
I am honest with you. I love to record industrial sounds that are hidden in dark alleys and everything that happens in big cities. This is where I thrive, but other field recordists love being more in the wild and that’s great because it gives more variety and choice to people who are searching for sounds.
This is what is needed to be successful. You have to love it and start recording. But wait… there’s more!
Branding & Marketing
Well, I’m talking about branding and marketing. I know, I know, some of you are probably thinking, “Hmmm, I don’t like that part, but here’s the truth.
The reason we continue to be able to travel the world and record sounds is because of field recording and social media.
I understand that most people are scared of self-promotion, but I do that every single day and it got me to this point. This is 2021 and if you want to sell your products with pride, you have to be the face of your business.
Your friends, family, co-workers, and business associates know who you are, but in order to reach out to new people and new customers, you have to put the extra work in. It takes time, it can be uncomfortable at first but it’s worth it.
People don’t trust ads. People trust people.
Just think about it. Would you rather buy a product from a random ad that appeared on your Facebook feed from a faceless company or a product by a creator who showcased the process of the product and that you’ve been following on social media for months, or maybe years?
When you start with field recording, you should think about your brand identity and present the process to the world. Also consider a website, online store, so people can find you and your products. Keep everything the same unique handle and protect the name on us as much social media platform as you can.
That’s all folks! I hope this article was helpful and that you gain some new knowledge!