Field Recording: How to Speed Up Your Process
Most people haven't heard of Barbara Washburn, but anyone who hikes or climbs in the US benefits from her work every single day.
Barbara was one of the top mountain climbers of her time, and spent over 40 years creating maps of remote corners of the US. In fact, even with our modern-day satellites, a lot of her mountaineering maps are still in use today.
Barbara Washburn sporting an *incredible* coat
Not only was she the first woman to summit Mt. Denali (North America’s highest point), she was even the first person to map the entirety of the Grand Canyon. That whole process took her 7 years straight to do.
While having such dedication to a goal is usually a great thing, sometimes we don’t want to spend insane amounts of time on every single task we do.
And if things slow down too much, we stop wanting to do them at all. I know, for me, field recording used to be exactly that - something so slow and painful that I dreaded doing it.
So let’s talk about how to keep that recording process quick, pleasant, and consistent.
In this sound-slathered article, we're going to cover:
Part 1: Slating our recordings
Part 2: How to manage our files
Part 3: Naming our files
When we're actually doing our recordings
It's easy to think that we'll remember all the details of what we're capturing: the capsule angle, the location, the weather, whether or not we're thinking about Nicolas Cage at that very moment, if it's day/night, etc.
But, once we put those files on our computers and we see a mass of files named "ZOOM_01" "ZOOM_02", it's easy to forget precisely what was going on in each of those recordings.
And while you can sit there re-naming all the files on your recorder itself, that can be a monstrously time consuming process that can keep us from even recording in the first place.
This is where slating comes in
"Slating" is simply the act of speaking into the microphone at the beginning of your recording. All you need to do is detail the exact thing you're recording in as much detail as possible.
At the start of your recording, you might say something like:
"Recording with a Zoom H6, outside of Nicolas Cage's house at 2PM. Using the built-in mics at a 120 degree capsule angle, and a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic with a blimp and windscreen both pointed directly at the front door. Daytime, light wind, no traffic. 40 feet from the front entrance… no Cage sighted yet."
Then, when we go combing through all our files later, all we need to do is listen to the first little bit of each recording to know exactly what it is.
Easy peasy, and makes renaming a ton faster.
Even so, the process of transferring and backing up all our field recordings can be a slog
Which is why I recommend automating this step as much as possible.
There are apps that allow us, for example, to plug-in our SD card from our field recorder, automatically take those files, rename them, and put them in the correct folder on your hard drive(s) automatically.
I recommend looking into Hazel if you're on a Mac, or File Juggler if you're on a PC to help with this.
Once all your files are uploaded to your hard drive
You can now begin the incredibly boring process of renaming and editing them all. This is where having some sort of system in renaming your files comes in incredibly handy.
While you can name your files whatever you want
Adding in descriptors will save a lot of headache in the future. You also may want to avoid using generic names and numbers as well in your files.
For example: "Anime Sword 01" isn't a terribly good file name.
Instead, you'd want to go with something like "Anime Sword Ringing, Long Tail, Metallic"
If you want to separate your library from everyone else's
And you don't want your sounds to get lost amongst all the libraries you already own, I recommend putting your initials in the file somewhere.
For example, a file I would put on my hard drive might be "AT_Anime_Sword_Ringing_Long_Tail_Metallic"
That way, when I type "AT" into my sample manager, all of my own personal stuff will pop up.
And we also want to consider metadata
To make our future searches easier. Metadata is essentially extra data that is associated with each of our audio files. For example, things like album name, year, and beats per minute can all be contained in our metadata.
For our purposes, we can use metadata as "tags" for each of our files without cluttering up the file name too much.
As an example, we could take our above anime sword sound and add tags like "shing, sheathe, clang, epic, Gundam" and whatever other words we want to our metadata.
That way, when we type in words like "epic" or "Gundam" into our sample manager, this sound will pop right up - even though those words aren't in the filename itself.
There are tons of ways to add metadata to a file
But one of the easiest is to just add them using your sample manager.
Many sound designers use Soundly - which is great and comes with free sound effects.
To add metadata to your files in Soundly, just watch this video for a quick tutorial. Even if you don't use soundly, there are countless other ways, and it's likely that your DAW can add metadata to your files on export.
"But Akash, you Willy Wonka-esque figure of confectionary delights," you ask, "won't taking all of these steps slow me down?!"
At first, these steps may slow you down as you get used to them.
But as you do them more and more, they become second nature, and will drastically increase your speed - especially if you're automating the uploading of sounds from your SD card to specific folders on your computer.
So let's cover what we learned today:
Our recording methods don't need to be painfully slow. The more we can systematize our process, the more likely we are to actually go get new recordings
Slating our recordings by speaking into the mic and saying exactly what we're recording helps us rename them later
We can use apps like Hazel (Mac) or File Juggler (PC) to automatically take our files when we plug our SD card into our computer, and put them in a specific location for easy cleanup later.
Make sure to name your files with some specificity. Avoid generic names like "Dog_Growl_04"
Add metadata to your files to make them even more searchable. See how to do this in Soundly here
I will get a field recording of Nicolas Cage walking down the street no matter what
Hopefully, none of us will need to spend 7 years on a single task like Barbara Washburn did
And as soon as we start speeding up our processes, things become more fun, digestible, and doable.
Suddenly, instead of dreading the act of recording, we start to look forward to it.
Now, I'm hard at work on a lot of stuff for you
A brand new sound design course
The Reaper for Game Audio YouTube Series
And my flagship Game Industry Professional course that teaches people how to get paying, high-quality work in games
And a heads up about the Game Industry Pro course: It's going to go on sale briefly this Summer/Fall, and then enrollment will close down until 2022.
If you'd like to get exclusive access to all of this content before anyone else does, and also get two free courses, exclusive ebooks, articles, and free sounds, then sign up here for instant access!