In terms of what clips and/or sounds to capture… follow your ears or follow where others are walking. Suspend the belief that there is something you ‘have’ to capture. Instead, let the sounds lead you to where you should go. Many walks take place in silence, so save your questions for a rest stop or for the end of the walk. But also make sure to get recordings at the start of the walk. And if you speak to specific people at the beginning, make sure to connect with them again in order to document their particular journey from beginning to end.
Recordings can be made with a mobile phone or portable audio recorder. While phones are definitely more portable and many come with recording apps, using an audio recorder with a microphone will produce betterquality recordings, and is an enjoyable and fun way to capture sound. The information below will be useful to everyone, regardless of whether you are using a professional audio recorder.
Remember that microphones can only capture a fraction of what we actually hear, and cannot pick out sounds in the same way that our ears can. You will need to focus and choose specific sounds to go after. Regardless of what you choose, always use headphones so you can hear exactly what you are recording.
A good interviewer lets the subject do most of the talking, doesn’t interrupt the subject while they’re talking, and pauses at the end of a subject’s answer, giving them time to add something that goes beyond your original question.
Remember, you’re trying to elicit verbal pictures from the people you’re talking to, so do whatever you can to get them to describe their experiences in a way that will allow your audience to ‘picture’ what they’re saying. It’s also a good idea before hand to ask the interviewee to repeat your question in their answer in the event that you want to keep your voice off the recording, and remember to never ask a question that will likely only garner a yes or no answer.
Get your subjects to say and spell their name at the beginning of the recording and ask them where they are to set the scene. Capture any contact information that they are willing to give so that you can follow up with them later, or tell them where they can listen to your recording
When you are recording, it is important to get the clearest, cleanest available sound. Many recordings are ruined due to a lack of patience, or by the assumption that sound can always be ‘cleaned up later’. Cleaning audio up can take hours, and the results may never be as good as doing one more recording or take. Below are some common factors that can affect your recordings:
Distance – When you are recording sound, what can sound perfectly balanced and clear in your headphones can sound like a jumbled mess once you import it. Always try to get as close as you can to your sound source. If you are trying to record many things happening at once, try taking one recording of the whole ‘soundscape’ and then going in to try and capture individual sounds.
Wind and Other Environmental Challenges – Wind is the largest challenge of the field recordist. While moderate wind is very quiet to our ears, when it blows against the diaphragm of a mic, it sounds like the mic is being dragged behind a truck. It is very difficult to equalize out wind, so it’s best to prevent it:
• If you are using a mic, use a foam windscreen, or, if you can get a hold of one, furry mic cover (which basically looks like a muppet). The foam displaces the wind so that the recording stays cleaner and the furry cover helps to displace the wind even further.
• Block out wind with your body, your coat, or by moving to another location (like the other side of a building). Take lots of recordings.
• Wind tends to sit on the lower frequencies, and some recorders or mics have a lo-pass filter that can cut these out automatically. If you leave these switches on all the time, you may find that your lower frequencies lack depth, so be careful when you use them.
Mic Handling – Sometimes, unwanted sound can be created by the person making the recording:
• Try to eliminate hand noise. Grip your microphone, phone, or recorder firmly, and, if you are using a mic, hold your cable in the same hand to prevent movement around the cable plug. Use a handle or ‘pistol grip’ if possible and try to wear soft-soled shoes and natural fibers like cotton or wool that don’t rustle.
• Get close to your subject, but not too close. While being closer to your source will give you a cleaner sound, getting too close can cause unwanted rumbling, or ‘bassiness’. Understanding your mic’s construction type and pickup pattern will help you to choose the right mic for the right source.
• Microphones have their own subtle ‘tones’, which may become more noticeable if you are using two different mics. If you are using more than one mic, try to find two of the same brand and model.
Microphones are transducers that change waves of air pressure (sound) into electrical signals that can be transcribed onto a recording medium (for analog recordings) or translated into binary code (for digital recordings). Mics are characterized by their construction type and directional response.
• Dynamic Microphones create signals through an electromagnetically charged coil, which surrounds a magnetic diaphragm. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it moves back and forth, which creates a current in the coil, which is then changed to a signal. Dynamic mics are most commonly used in live musical performance, and tend to be very durable.
• Condenser Microphones are used most commonly for field recording. Condenser mics use a capacitance circuit to generate electrical signals. When sound waves hit the metal plates inside the mic, they increase and decrease the amount of capacitance (or charge) in the circuit. Unlike magnets, capacitors require an electric charge to work, so all condenser mics require either a battery or phantom power to work.
• Phantom power is available on most professional recorders or cameras. Phantom power send a small amount of electricity through the mic cable to power the microphone. This is usually a mechanical switch or an input setting.
A microphone’s directional response, or pickup pattern, indicates its sensitivity to sound from various directions.
• Omni directional mics pick up sound equally from all directions (imagine a grapefruit on top of the mic).
• Cardioid mics pick up sound from the front and side, in a heart-shaped pattern. They are most sensitive from the front, somggmewhat-sensitive from the side and least sensitive from the back
• Super-cardioid or hyper cardioid mics pick up the most sound from the area in front of the mic and very little from the sides or back. These are sometimes called shotgun mics because they let you record very accurately.
Most microphones are mono, meaning that they record a single waveform. Stereo recordings are possible if you are recording with more than one mic, if you are using a stereo mic, or if you set the recorder to create two duplicate tracks from a single source, or if you create a stereo track while editing. Stereo tracks will be panned left and right so that when they are played through two speakers or headphones, what was recorded from the right will be on the right and what was recorded on the left will be on the left.
There are three main digital file formats, and you should choose the format that works best for your recorder and amount of data storage. The amount of audio you can record depends on your file format, your sample rate, whether you record in mono or stereo, and how much storage you have. In general, wav files take up around 10 MB per minute.
.wav and .aiff are uncompressed file formats, based on PCM (pulse code modulation) format used in CDs.
PCM format is 2 channels, 44,100 kHz ,16 bits/second. These formats use a lossless form of compression, so your files are as close as possible to the original recording. They will also be larger files.
.mp3 is the most common compressed file format. MP3s use a lossy compression algorithm, meaning that the quality of your file will not be as good, but the file size will be smaller.
Your recording levels indicate the amplitude of your recording. If you can, set and adjust your levels every time you record something new, and especially if you change locations. Again, always monitor your recording by watching your display and by listening through headphones.
Your recording level should average at about -12 dB, meaning that the loudest thing that you plan to record will cause the meter to not go much above -6 dB. This ensures that your track is loud enough, and gives you some wiggle room if you need to bring it down. When your levels are ‘peaking’ above 0 dB, the recorder can no longer handle the level coming in, and your recording will sound scratchy, crunchy or static-y.
Guide prepared by Kisha Ferguson and Jessica Thompson. This guide was produced by the Jane’s Walk Project Office. For more information about Jane’s Walk, or to find a walk near you, visit janeswalk.org. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.