Capturing great field recordings is not only about location and environment but equally important is having good quality tools for the job. If it’s still an area of experimentation then using your smartphone to capture some stuff is fine. However, once you become more serious about field recording, investing in a decent handheld recorder becomes imperative for great quality audio. Do your research and get the best product available within your budget. Recorders such as the Zoom H4N and the Tascam DR-05 really opened up the market for more affordable high-quality handheld recorders. And whilst you’re at it, make sure you get yourself a windshield, even on a mild afternoon those mic’s will likely pick up some wind noise without one.
Field recordings are all about finding the right conditions, so whilst heading out of the city you’re more likely to find some nice ambient sounds, choosing the right time to go is of equal importance. Check the weather forecast, if a storm is due, your recordings won’t pick up much other than wind or rain. Or if you’re recording near a road or motorway, bare in mind those traffic and motor vehicle noises will be present on recordings. Also, take some headphones out with you and monitor back what you’re recording. There’s nothing worse than spending a day capturing some great audio, only to find out in post-production that there are some issues with it all.
Pay a visit to your local second hand music shop or even have a nosy in some charity shops for unusual instruments to make recordings with. This will add to your arsenal of unique audio, capturing samples from something that is unfamiliar will really grab attention in an arrangement. Whilst you’re there, charity shops often have a 2nd hand vinyl section, you’ll have to sift the wheat from the chaff, but you may pick some rare gems containing perfect sample material. The lesser known the record the better.
Sampling from Youtube
You’ll find video’s of pretty much everything and anything you can think of on Youtube, which means there’s also sampling opportunities in equal abundance. Use a Youtube ripper to sample some obscure or unique sounds. Most ripper’s will rip the audio as an mp3 so that’s something to consider. And once again, thinking outside the box is key. Burial used a similar sampling method, but sampled recordings of people doing covers of well known songs, whilst sidestepping some copyright infringement issues it also resulted in a less familiar vocal sound.
Try a Convolution Reverb plugin to add a different texture to your productions. These use Impulse Responses from real rooms, attempting to add a more authentic sense of space. Whilst many producers will be happy to use the IR’s that come bundled with the plugin, there’s many free resources for downloading IR’s from all manner of different spaces. Plugins such as Waves IR, Logic Space Designer, Audio Ease Altiverb, and more, support this workflow. Furthermore, it’s easier than you think to make your own unique IR’s, the equipment required for a larger room means you’ll have to choose your space wisely and according to your set up. If it’s something of interest be sure to read up on the subject!