Sometimes you will want to record audio on location - other times you won't have a choice. Read below to find out how to best prepare yourself for tackling the great outdoors.
Once you've got all the things an audio content creator should own you're almost ready to step foot outside the studio. You may be required to conduct a field recording for an industry event, music festival, as part of a documentary, on-location interviews or at a sporting event. The truth is that recording on location is not drastically different to recording in a studio - you just have less control.
The great thing about recording on location is that you have the ability to capture the atmosphere around you and make a rich landscape of sound. Also, if you are recording an interview somewhere that your subject is familiar with, chances are you'll come out on the other side with a great interview.
There are however, a few things to keep in mind when recording on location. You have less control than you would in a studio. This comes down to the unpredictability of outdoor environments. It's near impossible to block out traffic noises, distracting sounds and interruptions. Things are also more likely to go wrong generally - it's really easy to forget spare batteries or not notice a recording fault when you're out there. The key is to plan, be prepared for everything that may go wrong and be innovative!
The Planning Stage
Choosing the location
If you have a choice in the location of your field recording you should choose somewhere that relates to your content not only conceptually but practically too. For example if you are interviewing a sportsperson, it would make much more sense to interview them where they train rather than catching them outside a food court or on a bench somewhere in the city. That way you might get a chance to record sounds that are typical of a training ground (coaches shouting, people kicking balls, group chatter) which will give your content more depth when it comes time to edit.
Whether you have a choice or not in the location, it's best to find a location where there are few distracting noises like from airplanes, air-conditioners, electronic hums of computers and wind.
It's impossible to change the weather. It's also pretty hard to know what the weather is going to be like even if you check beforehand. What you should do though is try and plan ahead. Check out the bom before you settle on a day to record. You might be able to minimise the chance that you'll get stuck out in the rain. Having said this, you should always be prepared for variable weather conditions.
Time management is crucial when recording on location as it can often take longer than you had expected. Write out a time schedule for the day including your travel and setup time so you don't miss crucial events. You might want to take a look at the time plan example below. It is a rough outline of a time schedule someone might use if they are recording an interview on-location at 1:00pm.
8:00 am - Check gear before you leave. Make sure you have everything you need including spare batteries.
9:00 am - Leave early for location - allow plenty of time for traffic/inconveniences.
10:00 am - Arrive at location. Before anything take a walk around and find the best area away from traffic noise, wind and any likely distracting sounds.
11:00 am - Set up your gear. Do a test recording to make sure everything is working. Capture some ambient noise.
12:00pm - Talent arrives. Make sure you are set up and ready to go for when they arrive. Brief them on what you will be talking about if you haven't already and make sure they know you'll be monitoring your recording gear throughout the interview and for them to keep talking. If you have time, get a coffee or meal with your talent so the both of you can get used to each others mannerisms.
1:00pm - Interview - take notes.
2:00pm - Finish interview, make sure there's nothing you'd like the talent to re-iterate or re-state. Put your recording device/SD card in a safe place and put it on the computer as soon as you get home
1:00pm - Get back to the computer. Put the audio straight onto the computer and back it up on a spare USB.
On the day
After you've checked that you packed all your gear do a practice take testing out the levels of the mic and headphones. Try recording from a few different distances and levels to get comfortable with the device you are using.
Brief the talent
It's good practice to send your talent an email or a message the night before the interview letting them know what to expect on the day. Don't send over your questions but give them a rough idea of what you will be chatting about and how you want the meeting to run. The more clear you are the quicker you will get the interview done and the more satisfied your interviewee will be with your proffessionalism.
Know the space
Knowing the space where you're going to be recording audio is really crucial to coming away with the best audio you can get. When you get to the location you should first take a walk around and look at areas that might be good to record at. Experiment at a few of them by recording 10 seconds at each. Play back each recording to figure out where the best place is. Always use headphones when testing areas to monitor low hums. While you're walking around take some ambient sound so you can use it when you're editing your interview. Even saying "I'm here at...about to interview" is often great because it places the listener with you.
Use your best judgement when making this call. For example you want to steer clear of the road at all costs because the sound of a car, truck or motorbike passing is likely to drown out every other sound.
If you are going to be sitting down with your talent, know where you're going to sit. Be aware of your seating arrangements so you can maintain eye contact but also monitor your recorder. Sitting at an angle or opposite your talent will encourage a more natural conversation.
Let the talent know that you will occasionally check the recording device throughout the interview and they should continue talking.
You should be taking notes any time you are recording, especially if you will be recording for a long amount of time. It's easy to forget that as long as your recording takes, you're going to have to listen back to it again and more for editing. A good way to go about this is taking down the times when something particularly interesting happens. This will save a lot of time on the cutting room floor.
Be prepared to change your tack
You never know what's going to happen when recording on location - the best you can do is plan ahead. Sometimes things will happen that are totally out of your control and not what you prepared for. Just keep recording because you never know you might be accidentally witnessing history.