Recording Notes

Gramophone ~ recording machine (meaning ‘sound-pencil’) made in 1887. The graphophone was largely similar to the phonograph, but in place of tin-foil they used cylinders of hard wax coated onto cardboard sleeves as the recording medium. This was a great technical advance, for it not only gave much greater quality of reproduction but also allowed the recording to be replayed many times.

Phonograph ~ (Greek ‘sound-writer’), a 1877 invention by Thomas Alva Edison capable of capturing, recording and playing back sounds.

“Interviewing ordinary people—those who live in your neighborhood, older members of your family—is terribly exciting and rewarding. With a tape recorder and microphone, young interviewers are able to capture the unofficial, unrecorded history of our daily lives.”

—Studs Terkel

Plosive ~ strong blasts of air caused by ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds. These sounds can cause ‘pops’ or heavy booming sounds. Place the microphone at an angle (also known as ‘off-axis’) from the performer’s mouth, or a pop filter (which sits between the mouth and the microphone) can be used.

sibilance ~ the sss, shhh and chsounds which are certainly essential to the intelligibility of speech. Minimized by having the performer move further away from the microphone.

Field recording is a term used for the process of making audio recordings ‘out there’ in the environment, rather than in a more controlled space such as a studio or concert hall.

An effective DIY pop-filter can be made using a wire coat hanger and stocking or pair of tights by creating a wire circle with a diameter of around 15 cm and stretching the tights over this. This is then attached to a microphone stand so that it is about 2-5 cm in front of a microphone.

Means of improving acoustics include using absorption (carpets and soft panels), diffusion (precisely designed wooden panels) and minimizing both parallel and highly- reflective surfaces.

recording log ~ make notes of the different aspects of each and every session.

Log Notes:
  • Time and date
  • Location
  • Recording engineer (usually you)
  • Producer (if there is one, often there isn’t)
  • Performers (names and instruments)
  • Title of piece or pieces, plus instruments if non-standard
  • Sketch of stage layout with microphone positions
  • Name and position of each microphone
  • Note take numbers
  • In the field speak note so at the start or at the end of each recording you make.
  • Upload, label and back up your audio right away.

All of these elements should appear at the start of recording log, and always take a few photographs of the session, especially the microphone placement. Taking pictures of a particular recording setup is useful for recalling how a sound was recorded should you choose to replicate the situation in the future. A sketch of the performers and the microphone position(s) is useful when you are recording a non-standard setup. It is really important to make sure that your take numbers match up with the numbers in your file names. The recording log is the framework for your editing process.

Recording is a social practice, so the better the relationship you have with the performers, the better chance you will have of asking them to play a loud bit in rehearsal so that you can make sure you have made the right gain settings.

Rycote make the best wind shields.

Atlantic Public Media/Cape and Islands Community Radio
(follow tips to Jay Allison and “Tips for Citizen Storytellers”)

Minimize background noise as much as possible. Start at the source and not to rely on fixing problems later on. Simple things like closing doors and windows and turning off televisions and radios will help. Less obvious sources of noise are central heating systems and fridges. Anything electrical that is plugged into the mains can be susceptible to hum.

Microphones capture the acoustic energy created by the human voice and convert it into an electrical signal which can be stored by a recording medium.

Use a decent set of headphones connected to the recording device to hear what your listeners/viewers will hear.

Digital Audio Workstations ~ a digital audio workstation is what most modern engineers use for recording and mixing many different types of media. Free DAWs include Garageband, Audacity and Ableton Live Lite.

Use the gain on your recording device to control the amount of signal you want to capture. A good rule of thumb is to set the gain so that the average level is -18 dBFS.

‘Loudness Units Full Scale (or LUFS for short). ~ Different streaming services have different loudness targets.

There are two types of tape: verb tape (action) and adjective tape (description). Adjective tape is good, but verb tape is more powerful because it pulls the listener inside your story.

Podcasts plagued with technical problems are hard to listen to.

  • *Listen*. If the track sounds like crap, move the microphone.
  • Blowing into a mic to test it isbad for the mic.
  • Fix the room. Make all your mics sound better.
  • Very few microphones “suck.” But lots of placements do.
  • Use a pop shield to enforce a minimum distance between the singer’s mouth and the microphone.
  • With all things audio, let your ears inform your decisions.
  • Ty to monitor all the time where possible. Monitoring is the term for listening to the signal coming through the device.
  • Try to record for at least three minutes, and five if possible. If something is worth recording, it’s worth recording for a little while in the field. Often sound environments change and interesting things happen – if you turn off after a minute and move on, you may miss the action.
  • Always carry spare batteries.
  • Once you’ve heard something interesting, then think about how best to record it.
  • Set record levels to peak at around -12dB.
  • Record in a high quality format.
  • Always, always, always turn off auto level controls (labelled ‘ALC’ or ‘AGC’).
  • Record in stereo. Stereo is essential for soundscape recording and ambiences.
  • Use wind protection. Wind on mics makes a rumbly distorting sound.
  • Record interviews in the quietest place possible.
  • Keep the microphone close to the speaker’s mouth (5-6 inches).
  • Be aware of natural conversational responses like uh-huhs or laughter. Try to use quiet responses: a concerned nod, questioning eyes, the silent laugh.
  • Don’t be afraid of pauses and silences. Resist the temptation to jump in. Let the person think. Often the best comments come after a short, uncomfortable silence when the person you are interviewing feels the need to fill the void and add something better.
  • Don’t use the pause button. It’s a very tricky little button it can make you think you are recording when you’re not.

Listen listen listen. The Atlantic curated a list the 50 best podcasts of 2021.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s