I recently had the opportunity to do some location recording for a lovely group of lads who go by the name of Papertwin and, although the shoot went rather smoothly, there were a few things I wish I’d have thought of before. Some of the following may seem pretty obvious, especially to the seasoned veterans, but as I’m mostly a ‘studio’ engineer jumping feet first into the world of location recording I’m guessing that there’s probably a decent chance that some of this will be quite useful to the beginners out there too.
So, with that in mind, here’s 5 things that you should always keep in mind when recording on the move:
1. Choose Your Sample Rate Wisely
First and foremost you need to make sure that you’re working at the right sample rate. This is often one of the most overlooked aspects of audio yet the problem here is that there’s no definitive ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer. Different people will have different preferences so you’ll need to communicate with who you’re working with and ask them what sample rate they’re using. Speaking generally, however, you’ll find that music runs at 44.1kHz whereas film audio runs at 48kHz, meaning that if you rock up on the day and record all your sounds at 44.1kHz then you’re probably going to waste a lot of time converting everything to 48kHz later (not to mention potentially losing audio quality along the way).
It’s also worth noting that most professional devices can operate well beyond 48kHz and, if your equipment is capable, you should double your sample rate (44.1kHz to 88.2kHz or 48kHz to 96kHz). You’ll struggle to hear that much of a difference under normal conditions but recording at double the sample rate gives you double the resolution when editing, making any manipulative edits like pitch shifting and time stretching a lot more transparent and crisp.
2. Soak Up The Ambience
There’s always going to be a few moments throughout the day when you’re stood around waiting for one reason or another. Maybe the camera guys are taking a while to unpack before the caffeine takes effect or maybe the director is taking a quick break to go over the plan again. Either way this is the perfect opportunity to record some ambience. Set up your mics, get everyone to quiet down and press record for a couple of minutes.
For every location you visit you should get into the habit of recording the general ambience and background sound. Why? Having a good ambient track gives you the opportunity to fill in the gaps or transitions between lines and scenes later on in the editing process. It also allows you to build up the sonic picture of the filming environment from scratch should you need to, say for example if an extra shot is added in later but the background sound doesn’t match the other shots.
3. Pay Attention On Set
Our minds have this amazing ability to filter out constant sounds over time. Ever noticed how you’ve completely blanked out that annoying car alarm which was driving you crazy ten minutes ago? It could be traffic noise or the hum from a computer fan but there’s always a lot of noise wherever you go which you might not necessarily hear at the time. When location recording it’s useful to take a step back and really pay attention to all the sounds around you and ask yourself questions like ‘Do I need to record this sound?’ or ‘Is this a sound which I need to highlight?’.
If, for example, the crew are filming someone turn a fluorescent tube light on then you might need to get up close to the light and record that distinctive sound to mix it in later. In reality you would never really notice that particular sound, but if the shot is drawing attention to something then your location recording needs to reflect that too. Pay attention to what you hear, especially when the camera is rolling.
In the words of Jeremy Clarkson, power is everything. If you’re going to be away from the studio and moving location throughout the day then you need to make sure that your set up is portable. It is essential you make sure that your batteries are fully charged and you bring along spares if you have any. You’re not guaranteed to be near a plug socket at any point so you need to make sure that you can record for as long as possible without running out of juice. Don’t be that person.
If you’re taking along a laptop and interface, as opposed to a portable recording device, then make sure that you’ve switched off everything you know you wont be using. If you’re not going to be using the internet then switch off your wifi. If you’re not using the screen too much then turn the brightness down. Close any background programs you know you wont be using. All these little things added up will help draw out your battery life for as long as possible.
5. Wind Protection
Without doubt, the most annoying thing you’ll encounter when location recording outside the studio is the wind. We don’t notice it so much with our own ears but even the slightest of breezes can render an unprotected microphone useless and leave you with a load of low frequency distortion.
Using a high pass filter later on in the mix can fix the problem a little but this will sound really low quality and is only patching up a bad situation and not avoiding it in the first place. For general studio situations you’d probably get away with the standard foam cover that comes with most microphones, however, in this instance you’ll need something a little fluffier (think along the lines of those ‘rat on a stick’ style boom mics).
Finally, and this may seem the most obvious tip of all, you should ideally be pointing your microphone in the same direction as the wind. Of course it would be better to find shelter and get out of the wind in the first place, but if it can’t be avoided then just try not to point it head on otherwise you’ll just end up with a face full of gusts.
I hope that the above has been of some use to you. If you have any more tips or any questions just let me know and, of course, have fun location recording!