Navigating The Pitfalls Of Location Recording

One of the key issues is making sure you are ready for the job. The old Boy Scout motto — Be Prepared — is essential. This means learn in advance where the recording will occur and determine if there are any unique issues at the venue. Then take the right equipment to the location site. It might sound elementary, but many a recording has been tripped up due to not bringing all the necessary gear.

If you are recording music, be sure to know the characteristics of the musicians in advance. Does the lead singer scream into the mic or have a very low voice? What instruments will be used and how will you mic them? Knowing this kind of information in advance will mean you bring the right equipment — not too little or too much.

Decide the types of microphones to bring in advance. If you are recording a panel discussion, the mics will be different from recording music. And if recording music, will it be an electric or acoustic set? What kind of acoustics does the venue have? Recording in a cathedral is vastly different from a small club.

When desiring to record the natural reverb of a room, it is useful to use a pair of figure of eight microphones. Ribbon mics are a great choice for ambient room sound. Place the microphones sideways, with the null point of the mic towards the sound source. This can minimize the pickup of the dry sound while capturing the ambience with the front and back of the microphone. This can be added to the mix later.

For close miking without natural ambience, use a microphone with a tight pickup pattern. If you are miking a panel discussion, consider lavaliers or stand-mounted gooseneck condenser mics. Wireless mics might be appropriate for moving presenters. The key is to know what you are miking in advance and be prepared with the right type of microphone for the job.

When it is determined exactly what you are recording, choose a mixing/recording system to match it. For four to eight channels, a flash-based portable recorder may be all that is needed. But with more microphones, a multi-channel recording interface and laptop computer may be preferable. There are many choices for field recording, but make sure the preamps are good and the interface has high quality converters.

Make sure to bring a good pair of closed back headphones whenever recording on location. These are essential for proper live monitoring. The closed-back model headphones also help minimize spill or feedback.

When recording music, a foldback feed to the musicians can be helpful. With small groups, it is easy to use the headphone outputs on your interface. With larger groups, a headphone splitter or distribution system may be needed. Some groups want this and others don’t. Know the preferences in advance.

Outboard equipment such as compressors or EQ’s may or may not be needed. Do research on this question in advance. Double check that enough cable of the necessary length is available. Then add a few spares. Ditto for microphone stands and gaffer’s tape. Unless you have access to a truck full of all the necessary gear standing by, think about everything. Being prepared with these items is essential to stress-free recording.

Finally, don't forget power. To be safest, always use batteries when possible. Always charge the batteries in advance and keep spares. When AC power is necessary, run an extension lead into the power available at the venue. Don’t depend on an unknown venue to have power available where you set-up the gear. Always bring your own cables and make sure they are long enough.

Location recording usually goes well for the fully prepared recordist ready for the job. But you’d be surprised at how many supposedly professional sound operators are not ready — not by a long shot.

They get to the venue late and try to borrow items that were forgotten. When that doesn’t work, there are often numerous last-second trips to nearby hardware stories. Don’t be one of these people. Save yourself the last minute panic. Be ready for any situation on location. 

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