Recording In Unwelcome Environments - What to Expect

If you’ve followed the recent blogs, you’ll be aware of the last post I created regarding why you would want to record unwelcome environments and how to use what you record. We explored the different environments in which you’d want to record, and the ways in which to implement them into various genres.

Today, I want to talk about what to expect, the problems you might face, and the ways to overcome them - plus the inevitable coin toss moments that can’t be avoided I’ve come to experience.

Let’s dive in.

‘Exploring’ the Environment

One of the best ways to prepare and inevitably succeed in many things in life is to observe and research the situation around you, the variables , the things you can control and those which you can’t.

Like cooking, it’s always good to research the best ingredients well in advance of the prep work to make the actual task of cooking much easier, and in turn, the food a much better experience upon eating.

This is the same principle with recording in unwelcome conditions; it’s extremely hard to control many of the variables depending on the environments you’re aiming to record. To elaborate, I’ll share the plan for recording upon a sand dune overlooking the sea during my trip to Wales. Before even stepping out of my tent, I tried to visualise what issues I was going to face:

  • Sand is of course a major factor of course
    • The main concern is the damaging of a mic, or clogging an input of the preamps on the interface, blocking the computer fans, and so much more…
  • Wind is another major issue which we’ll touch on in the next section in particular.
  • Depending on the location as I mentioned, theres many more issues you can face;
    • Waterfalls and the sea are obviously water, but the humidity of the area can really wreak havoc on your equipment
    • Traffic noise of nearby streets or a car driving past during a quiet recording
    • Peoples inconsideration for the recording or being totally oblivious to your presence,
    • This list goes on…

Factoring in a proper time period to assume the many issues you’re likely to encounter will give you more time to avoid and overcome them before even setting foot in the environment in question. I brought along for example a small blanket to set all my work on top of to avoid the sand, and made sure I transported it all in a thick leather duffel bag designed to be totally waterproof - already I eliminated two major concerns just by taking 10 minutes to theorise before putting it all into place.

The Inevitable Coin Toss

Unfortunately, the downside to recording these often incredible and beautiful environments is the lack of control over the forces of nature, and the inevitable coin toss moments you are forced to make.

For example, and likely the hardest to decide is ‘which do you sacrifice; fidelity or time?’ I find myself at this juncture more times and I would care to admit, and it’s very easy to fall into the category of sacrificing fidelity in order to save time - we’re all busy people and have many projects at once, plus having literally hours to wait around for the perfect wind conditions, or time to prepare the location (or even find a suitable location for that matter), can more often than not push you to use a wind cover in the form of a ‘deadcat’ (not literally, it’s a filming term for the furry covering over usually a shotgun mic) or foam covering you may be familiar with.

However, as I said above, preparation is key. Making sure you have a guide for an unfamiliar or unknown location when one’s available is always a good idea - and if not, make sure to visit the location a couple of times in different conditions and explore the area to find a place that sounds good; don’t be fooled into thinking the visuals will in turn match the audio, more often than not the part of a beautiful landscape that's the easiest to record won’t look aspicturesc but it’ll lend itself far more to a recording that’s tangible and usable in your mixes or compositions.

Also, taking the time to think about what sort of ambience or nature would work will allow you to make much better choices in the run up to actually recording - an umbrella, or makeshift waterproofing (such as an open tent face for example) will afford you much better protection from sun, wind, and water in many more hostile environments such as near a waterfall, near the sea, or similar.

In simple terms, the more you prepare, the less likely you are to have to find yourself making harder choices than you’d like and thus, allowing you to focus on capturing these amazing moments in time, enjoying every second upon hearing it back.