Making an audio recording

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Equipment list

  • Microphones, mic stands, boom, windscreen..
  • Cables
  • Recorder
  • Mixer?
  • Headphones and speakers
  • Bag
  • Batteries (rechargeables? solar?)
  • Power cords, electrical connectors and converters, surge protectors (know the electrical standards for your country!)
  • Removable media (SD cards, minidiscs...)
  • Backup solution
  • Gift solution (how will you make copies for people?)
  • Toolkit
  • Laptop
  • A/D converter box

What to bring

    • Recorder, microphones, mic stand or mount, boom, "dead cat", power, removable media, cables, connectors and adaptors
    • Playback equipment (headphones, speakers)
    • Redundancy: spare media, mics, batteries
    • Equipment/supplies for sharing recordings with informants
    • Equipment/supplies for analysis (might include MIDI keyboard, staff paper, etc.)
    • Sturdy, weatherproof, bag to carry everything (often a camera bag, with multiple pockets, works best)
    • Think: What is the situation you want to record? What kind of equipment is best?
  • Before you set out
    • Check out your equipment carefully
    • Make sure you have all necessary devices.
    • Ensure you have enough storage or removable media
    • Make sure you have extra tapes and batteries.
    • Set things up as much as possible: put media in place, label it, unwrap a second one.
  • Setting up your equipment - practicalities
    • Find a safe place, especially if scene is chaotic.
    • Get in close to the sound you want – remember the inverse square rule. You can’t raise the levels without adding noise, amplifying ambient sound, and decreasing your “angle of view”. But stay far enough away from any one instrument (drums!) which may overwhelm the recording, and don’t get so close that you pick up microsounds of breathing, body movement, etc.
    • Beware of wind (use a windscreen, or shelter the mic).
    • Sometimes you can plug directly into a sound system (but be aware of tradeoffs, and bring necessary plugs).
    • Sometimes you can give the singer your mic, or mount your mic on or near an instrument.
    • Think about sound characteristics of the room: echoes.
    • Think also about people who might accidentally trip over your mic and ruin everything.
    • Consciously check ambient sound, and make sure your recording won’t be overwhelmed which your brain filters out when you are in the situation.
    • Decide: mount mics? Carry them? How conspicuous should you be?
    • Stereo or not? (usually stereo is best)
    • Consider redundant recording (DAT plus analog)
    • Sometimes you will simply be dubbing informant’s recordings – have the equipment for this.
  • Checklist
    • Is your mic on?
    • Is everything connected?
    • Test the system.
  • Monitoring
    • Using headphones (though this is not always practical)
    • Make sure VU meter is moving, medium (if there is one) is moving, cursor is moving (for recording software). The combination of movement in VU meter and media/cursor generally assures that you are recording.
    • Better not to move the mic around – this creates confusion later – but occasionally movement is warranted.
    • Beware: (1) pause button; (2) end of tape. Keep a check on the time using your watch, or even bring a stopwatch.
    • Adjusting levels. Levels should be as high as possible (improve s/n), without distorting, clipping, or causing print through. Try not to adjust levels during the session. Turn off automatic level control if possible.
    • Maintain a broad field of awareness. You must continue to interact with people, and anticipate difficult situations. Don’t become over-immersed, even if it means sacrificing recording quality. The recording is rarely the ultimate goal, and you can often repeat the situation, so don’t let it ruin your field relationships.
  • Permissions
    • Be sure to gather permissions at the time of recording, if required.
    • Oral permissions can be recorded
  • Documenting, filing, storing media
    • Consider recording metadata directly using your voice
    • Do this as soon as you get home, using whatever filing system you have adopted.
    • Set removable media to "read only".
    • Best not to record on old media, nor should you bring partly recorded tapes to “top off” (risk losing work).
    • Dub tapes and copy files as soon as possible and store off-site
    • Treat post-processing of audio recordings as part of your daily outfield work (along with writing up notes).
    • Store media in dark, temperate (heat, humidity) place, away from dust, and secure.
    • Consider locking up your media
    • Best to set up a metadata database for recordings from day one, and update it every time you make a recording.
  • Sharing media
    • Informants will like to have copies
    • How will you provide them?
    • Playback is useful for feedback interviews - but needs speakers (computer speakers are often inadequate)
  • Don’t forget
    • Turn off powered mic after you've finished recording, or you'll drain the battery
    • Backup digital files
    • Record metadata while you remember it
    • Store everything carefully, coiling cables, putting away supplies.
    • Embed the recording session in your fieldnotes