The Art of Field Recording | How To Prepare A Recording Session

February 4, 2021| We Sound Effects

Georgi Valchev is the man behind West Wolf Audio. He has been in sound recording business for over 10 years, as a location sound mixer, field recordist and sound libraries creator. We asked him to share his experience on how to prepare a field recording session and this is what he shared with us…

For me, recording and creating libraries of sounds in various environments is something very personal, it`s a creative process fueled by inspiration! 

When preparing for a recording session I always start by carefully picking out the equipment and microphones I will be taking with me on the field. Of course it is always important to note the location specifics such as: Whether I will be recording interior or exterior , whether it will be at a nature environment or an urban one, how accessible the terrain will be (how mobile I and my equipment have to be).

An important thing to note is that at all times I always keep an ear out to hear the sounds of life – that is how from a faint, subtle sound of unknown footsteps or a door closing in the distance a new sound library is inspired! From then on all that is left is to listen out for a fitting location.

I adore listening to and recording the sound of the city early in the morning or in the dark of night – when everyone is asleep and there isn’t much traffic, which is when you can actually hear the “breathing of this beast”.

That is what provoked and inspired me to record libraries such as: “Night Cityscapes”,  “Pedestrian Streets” and “Distant Cities And Morning Parks”:

Of course, I also feel they will be a useful tool for sound designers to build and portray an urban setting.

I recorded Night Cityscapes over 4 nights between the hours of 1am. and 6am. I used Neumann KM184 in ORTF configuration and SD633.

However, for “Pedestrian Streets” I set myself a more difficult task because apart from “crowded pedestrian streets” I also wanted a large chunk of the audio library to consist of “urban settings with light activity”- free from car and bird sounds, as much as possible! For those specifics I had to pick out streets which were far from boulevards and main roads with heavy traffic, ones which were also isolated by tall buildings.

The best time to record was during winter – around 5am to 6am, usually on Sundays. I also made recordings during weekday mornings to catch the essence of the rush – shops opening, people hastily going to work, etc. I recorded this library for quite a long time because I wanted to capture the full spectrum of different sounds on such streets. I recorded many of them in many different towns and cities as each of them has a different reverberation, a different spirit that you can hear. I am currently preparing part 2 of this library!

In an urban setting it is really important to be as stealthy as possible when recording. This is especially keen at more busy and lively places (markets, fairs, etc.) and it’s not because of a difference in the sounds but rather because of simple human curiosity!

Quite often, just as you are in the middle of taking the best track of the day someone will stop by and ask “What are you doing?”, “Are you recording something here?”, “Are you measuring the noise levels?”, “Are you going to interview me?” and so on. 

In such cases I discreetly mount small microphones (Usi Pro by Lom Instruments) onto my backpack and keep the recorder inside it. Microphones such as these are ideal for this purpose as they are tiny and they are also Omni, so when mounted like this you get an AB stereo configuration when you have around 40cm distance between them.

It is, of course, of extreme importance to be compact when it comes to mobility. For instance when recording over water – on ships, boats, etc. An MS setup is quite convenient. In my experience I’ve used “Schoeps M&S” with a Cinela for a recording on a fishing boat because it is quite compact, sounds beautiful and because on a moving boat the sound issues caused by the wind are intense.

These same principles and issues also apply when recording waves from the shore – so when possible, I aim to have 2 sets of microphones with different configurations for such recordings, this way both recordings will have a different feel.

The main issue when recording exteriors is the wind. Often times the small handy recorders will not suffice – so it is of the utmost importance that you take into consideration the weather forecasts, prepare and plan a way to isolate your equipment from noisy gusts.

Over the years I have learnt that one of the most important things is to always be prepared so that when you hear something interesting you can record it immediately! Regardless of whether you are tired, unequipped or just lazy at the time, do everything in your power to record what caught your interest – afterword you will be thankful for the opportunity!

For instance, a few years back I found myself at the marina at nigh – the wind blowing through the ropes and masts of the boats produced such a magical melody, as if from a fairytale! It was late at night and there was even a good spot to shield my microphones from the wind, but I was too lazy to go up to my hotel room and get my setup so I told myself I would come back the next day fully equipped! Of course the next day came and I waited, but the wind was blowing in a totally different direction and it made no sound what so ever… I came back looking for my fairytale melody every night for the rest of the shoot but it never played again.

I have lots of similar examples so nowadays I always carry a microphone with myself – even when I am vacationing with my family. I love getting up with the early rays of the sun and recording the sounds of the sea and the seaside nature.

Another priceless lesson in this business is also, knowing the importance of waiting for and capturing the exact right moment! When I was recording my audio library “Slush and Wet Streets” I had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like. Urban setting, traffic, wet roads (so far so good), however, I also wanted to capture that specific sound of wet slush covering the roads, a sound which in most cases is quite unpleasant – but in this one it was pure gold! I went out to record many times but the snow was either too dry or not thick enough.

That`s why when the moment is right you can’t miss it!

When preparing for a recording session and you know the settings (interior, exterior, etc.) the conditions, the length of the tracks, etc. you need to know the types of equipment so you can pick the ones best suited for the job. 

I like having more than one set of microphones on me. For example: Neumann KM184st in ORTF and Usi Pro in AB configuration. I like the compactness and the wonderful preamps of SD 633, I also use Edirol R4pro (Because I have one and it sounds quite decent). Whenever I travel by plane I take onboard with me a Zoom H2n or something of a similar caliber. The ambiance of airport sounds and even those from the plane itself are quite pleasant!

For many quiet settings (exterior) I use a Sennheiser mnkh8020st. To power for my recorders are NP1 batteries, with them I am sure that I won’t run out of charge in the middle of taking the best track of the day. I also have a charging station – a single pellycase in which I can simultaneously recharge 4 NP1 batteries, 8 9v batteries, and 8 AA batteries.

Being compact is key when you travel and change hotels often! So at my job as a location sound mixer I have learned the importance of and put a great amount of effort into preparing and taking the optimal luggage and equipment with me.

So always be prepared as something thrilling is always lurking round the corner!


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