A Field Recording Guide

Photo: Luis Sinco

by Rudy Trubitt ©1997

A version of this article appeared in Electronic Musician Magazine in November of 1997.

I do more recording outside a studio than in it, whether I'm micing a 200-ton steam locomotive, a sea turtle laying eggs on the Caribbean coast or recording live music. The gear I'd use obviously depends on the nature of the project. Sometimes portability, durability or un-obtrusive appearance are just as important as sound quality.

For the last five years, I've been involved in a project creating sounds for Lionel model trains. Working under the direction of Neil Young, recording engineer John Nowland and I have made numerous field trips to record steam and diesel locomotives across North America. Returning from the field with as many as 12 hours of sound, it's my job to find, edit and loop the best 60 seconds of material to create each model's unique sound ROM.

While the train project is a pretty unusual gig, it shares issues common to many other field recording projects. Field recording can be broken down into three steps: advance work, the field session itself and finally, post-production/editing. This article focuses mainly on field technique, but we'll touch on pre- and post-production as well. Also included are hand-on reviews of a variety of products from familiar (and not-so-familiar) manufacturers.

However, this article won't cover issues related to recording synched location sound for film or video. In other words, we won't be talking time-code. Instead, I'll focus on products and techniques relevant to recording sound effects, ambiences and music.

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This article contains:

The Process

Stereo Mic Technique

Post-Production/Editing