S13E4: Field Recording: Working with Abilities

Field Recording: Working with Abilities

One of podcasting’s strengths is its flexibility. Offering a unique opportunity to capture location-specific sounds. The recording can be captured anywhere, as we discussed in season 13 episode 3. Venturing into the field presents distinct challenges, including unpredictable environments and the need for specialised equipment to maintain high-quality audio. ”The Field” in the case of a disability service working with abilities rather than deficits can cover anything from the head office to people’s homes to ten pin bowling alleys to skydiving. Your gear needs to be both robust and flexible.

Essential Equipment for Field Recording

Equipping oneself for successful field recording requires careful selection of portable and reliable tools:

  • Portable Digital Audio Recorder: Bulkier studio setups are not suitable which is why I suggested setting yourself up for mobile in both the studio and the field. A compact DAR, like the Zoom H2n suggested in episode 3, offers professional audio quality while remaining portable. You also have, in most cases, your phone with you and RODE provides a free recording app for iOS and Android called: RODE Reporter. This has a strangely low rating of around 3 stars. I use it and would rate it much closer to 5 stars. It’s simple, records voice really well and that’s what we need in a mobile setup.
  • Microphones: The choice of microphones depends on the recording environment and desired audio characteristics. Lapel microphones clipped onto clothing are ideal for mobile interviews. For focused audio directionality in noisy settings, consider a shotgun microphone. Something like the RODE Videomic me for the phone. 
  • Windjammer: Also called a dead cat because of its furry nature is an essential accessory for outdoor recordings. This shield protects the microphone from wind noise, ensuring pristine audio. 
  • Tripod and Stands: Enhance recording stability with a tripod for the recorder and stands for the microphones. This may be a useful thing to carry, I use a lightweight but strong collapsible version that straps to the side on my backpack. It’s nice to have but I rarely need to use it.
  • Headphones: A good pair of headphones allows real-time audio monitoring, ensuring clear sound capture.

Choosing the Right Recording Environment

The location significantly impacts the success of field recording. Consider these factors:

  • Ambient Noise: Prioritise quiet environments. Avoid areas with traffic, construction or loud crowds unless you specifically intend to capture those sounds. They may not be avoidable but the use of, say, a phone with a RODE Videomic me, a sort of shotgun mic in miniature, will remove much of the ambient noise when handled well.
  • Background Interference: Identify and minimise potential background noise sources like air conditioners, humming lights or nearby conversations. This is less of an issue with modern post production software. The aim is, as always, to collect the cleanest audio possible but sometimes you just go with what you have.
  • Echo and Reverberation: Highly reflective environments like empty rooms or hallways are often problematic. These spaces can create unwanted echo or reverb in your recordings. Facing into heavy curtains is a solution or making a doona fort to record in also has the same effect. Creativity does not end with the script!

Practical Recording Techniques for Optimal Results

Once the location is chosen, these practical tips offer guidance for capturing high-quality audio in the field and in the studio, to be fair:

  • Pre-Recording Equipment Check: Ensure all equipment functions properly and battery levels are sufficient.
  • Strategic Microphone Placement: Position microphones strategically for optimal sound capture. For interviews, place them close to each speaker (approximately 4-8 inches). Consider the microphone’s polar pattern (cardioid for focused audio, omnidirectional for capturing the entire soundscape) during placement.
  • Maintaining Consistent Distance: Throughout the recording, maintain a consistent distance between the microphone and the sound source.
  • Minimising Handling Noise: Hold microphones or recorders with a light touch to avoid transferring vibrations into the recording. Use a tripod or place your field recorder on a steady surface. Sometimes a cloth under the field recorder will give you an added safety net.
  • Capture Room Tone: Record a few seconds of silence in the recording environment. This captured “room tone” can be used later in editing to remove background noise more effectively.

The Art of Editing: Polishing Your Field Recordings

Even meticulously captured field recordings can benefit from editing:

The following suggestions are covered in much depth in the JMPS coaching program so I’ll just mention them here.

  • Noise Reduction: Reduce unwanted background noise like traffic rumble or air conditioner hum.
  • Levelling: Maintain consistent volume levels throughout the recording, particularly when switching between different audio sources.
  • EQ Adjustments: Use equalisation (EQ) tools to enhance specific audio frequencies. EQ adjustments can clarify voices or reduce unwanted background noise.
  • Adding Ambiance: Consider adding subtle background ambiance (like gentle cafe sounds) to create a more immersive listening experience. This is a difficult thing to get “just right”. The “ambiance” can overwhelm the tape, distracting from the voice. And the voice is the point in most cases.

Beyond the Technical: Capturing the Story

While technical proficiency is crucial, the true essence of field recording lies in capturing the story’s soul. Here are some additional tips to elevate your recordings:

  • Embrace the Environment: Utilise the unique sounds of your location to create a sense of place for your listeners. This depends on whether you’re trying to hide your location or emphasise it.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Be prepared to adjust recording strategies on the fly to adapt to unexpected situations.
  • Compelling Storytelling: Always bear in mind the point of the recording is to tell a story. Ensure every piece of tape used is for this purpose.

Conclusion: The World as Your Studio

With the right equipment, planning and techniques, you harness the power of field recording by creating dynamic and immersive episodes. Focusing on the abilities of your clients and using technology to enhance these, a podcast from a disability service goes from the “What a brave person” paradigm to a “This is really interesting” worldview where an individual’s diagnosed condition is irrelevant. 

If you’d like your service to promote the abilities of your people through a podcast, JMPS can assist through the JMPS group coaching program.

The Program Promise: After the Six Month of Group Coaching you will have at least one: 10 episode season live.

And all the knowledge and creative drive to create ongoing seasons.

You’ll be: Set Up For Success

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in click the link in the show notes: Dreamer to Podcaster.

In Show Links: 

S13E3:  https://jmps.au/s13e3/

RODE Reporter: https://rode.com/en/apps/reporter-app