Production Techniques…ALL OF THEM

Field Recorder

Throughout the projects that I have worked on, a useful tool has been the field recorder. A field recorded can coming in many shapes and sizes but will all generally operate the same way. After using the ones available at university I was intrigued and wanted one of my own. I went out and purchased a Tascam DR-100MkII. It was optimal timing as I was required to source out some ambience for the film I was working. The ambience I was tasked to collect was for a quiet office. Thankfully my sister works in an office and gave me access to their floor. Using the built in omni microphones of the unit I was able to capture a very obvious image of a quiet office. It was quite amazing standing on one side of the room and hearing someone’s chair creak 15-20m away.

Other sounds I have recorded for use in projects this tri have been keyboard typing sounds, drawers/doors opening and closing and an elevator.

The unit is very simple to use. Turn it on by holding down the power button. Super simple shit huh. Once the unit has started up you can record straight away by hitting record and then play. This will not get you a very great recording though.


On the back of the unit there are some settings which can be played with the achieve a nicer result. Depending on your sound source the Mic Gain setting should be changed accordingly. A loud sound should correspond to a lower mic gain. For example if you were recording a drum kit the mics would clip if the gain were set any higher. For quieter sounds, like ambience a higher gain will be required to pick up any nuanced sounds. As for the other settings on the back, the limiter is a common feature in portable recorders and serves as a safety barrier for loud noises that could potentially damage the microphones, in general I leave this turned on. There is a phantom power switch for when you would like to use an external microphone and lastly a speaker switch, this turns on the built in speaker so you can listen back to recordings without the use of headphones.IMAG0900

You have decided on the appropriate mic gain for your sound source. Turn the unit back to the front and hit the
record button once. This will allow you to monitor your sound prior to recording. Make sure the headphones are plugged in and the volume turned up. In my experience the headphone amp is quite noisy when turned up to maximum volume, so be sure to check your gains and If you hear some noise but the levels are fine, it may not actually be recording the noise.

IMAG0897Now that we have sorted out your monitoring situation time to set levels. By using the gain wheel on the right hand side of the unit you can fine tune IMAG0899the level that will be recorded to the SD card. I would generally try to record at -12dB but it all depends on the source sound. Once you have set your levels you can either hit play or the record button for a second time and you will be on your way recording.

If you are intending on using a field recorder I would highly suggest that you invest in a pistol grip. There have been many times I have been recording at high gain and the slightest little bump of the unit will yield this horrible clunky sound. Having a pistol grip will surely alleviate this problem at least a little bit.

There are many more functions of the unit that can be explored, but that is for another day. This guide should at least get you rolling with a Tascam DR-100Mk-II field recorder.

Boom Micing

Boom micing is a particular technique for capturing sound usually on film sets. A boom operator is the person operating the microphone and it is their job to capture the sound as best as possible directly from the source. There are other ways of recording for film such as the use of lavalier microphones on actors or as plants within the scene. I am going to focus on the boom mic aspect today.

There are a few things to note when it comes to boom micing. You have to be very aware of your surroundings, aware of the scene and primarily aware of your mic position. It really sucks being the guy who gets an awesome shot cut because the mic dipped into the scene.

There are two general ways of operating the boom. From above and from below the sound source. Micing from overhead is the most accepted way for a boom operator to record as it allows for a more natural dialogue recording. However this sometimes cannot be achieved due to room or location constraints and recording from below the subject becomes necessary. This is less desirable as the microphone picks up more of the low end from the sound source, which in regards to dialogue is unwanted.

In my experience boom micing was a challenge. The physical requirements didn’t really sink in until it was scene 6 take 8 and my arms were on fire. As far as micing from above and below, I didn’t really notice any marked improvement from micing from above but this I think was due to the nature of the equipment that was available to use. A higher quality microphone would offer a better impression as to whether above or below is better. I was also so hellbent on not getting the boom into the shot that I shied away from the sound source rather than getting as close as possible, and the end result was a little thin compared to other closer shots because of it.

For the film work that I did this trimester I ended up using mostly lav mics as the boom shots were either too quiet or too roomy. I would like to try again at a later date. Boom micing was fun and tiring.

Layering Sounds

The art of foley is a tricky thing. Sure you can record someone being punched in the face but when it comes to film or games that’s not what the audience will be expecting to hear. They want oomph and power, the weight of the punch needs to be conveyed to the audience as if they were standing right next to the person getting socked in the noggin. This is where thinking creatively and the layering of sounds on top of each other can come in handy.

If we take the punch to face as an example, what actually happens when you get popped in the face. There is obvious transient sound of the contact, but what else? Does the person’s nose break? Does their eyeball fly out of its socket? These are the creative questions that one can ask to further add depth to the effect. Adding some bone crunching sound just as the punch lands will add emphasis to the devastation caused by the punch.

Now for my own applications of layering sound the easiest example to show you is the shotgun sound that I created with the help of my peers. We of course didn’t have a shotgun to record (although I did suggest going to a gun range) so to being we broke down the constituents of the sounds required. There was the clicking of the slide for when the gun was cocked and the boom of the blast being fired.

For the clicking sound we layered multiple takes of flicking a video cassette tapes reel guard up and down with the sound of clicking the reels themselves out and in. We liked this sound but it required something more. A metallic flavour. To achieve this we scraped a paint roller with a piece of metal and also clicked (scraped, whatever) some finger cymbals together. Have a listen to all of the individual takes and then the final all together take below.

Slide Click Sounds

For the boom sound we layered some plastic bag popping sounds. These were lacklustre so we tried distorting them with a plugin. This helped but more was required. We jangled some metal objects together, I think it was a thin chain and a metal bowl to again add some metallic textures to the sound. This was our basis for the shotgun but it sounded tiny. We needed some big boom. We ended up sourcing a snare drum to serve as our blast. Once recorded we applied some eq and distortion as well as pitch shifting to taste. This finalised our shotgun sound. Please give the individual components a listen below and a final combined blast sound.

Boom Sounds

By combining and layering these different sounds and textures we were able to create something that we wouldn’t have been able to record. By playing with the way the human brain perceives sound you can pretty much trick the mind into believing that the sound you have made, is the sound that the brain is likely to associate with the visual media.

Blumlein Pair

There are many tricks of the trade when it comes to recording music and one I have found to be quite effective is the Blumlein Pair microphone arrangement. Developed primarily by Alan Blumlein this micing technique has become the industry standard for room micing. The set up for this arrangement requires two microphones with a figure of 8 polar pattern, they can be either ribbons or condensers. By placing the microphones capsule to capsule one above the other and facing the diaphragms at opposing 90 degree angles you can capture a very detailed stereo image.

I have used this technique a couple of times with decent results. It really depends on what you are putting into the recording. I used this set up on a solo acoustic guitar and it was really not that wonderful, there was no low end which is an issue with the set up itself but it still was pretty shit. Recently however I ran a blumlein pair to record a jazz band and this turned out quite well. You have to mix for the microphone though, something that I could have done a little better. We had a trumpet player who was positioned quite close to the array and as such there is a lot of trumpet in the recording. Next loudest is the drums, which do sit well enough in the mix for just a room mic. The keys were DI’d so there are no keys at all and lastly the double bass is weak in the mix due to its distance from the microphones and the fact that it outputs low frequency information.

Blumlein Jazz Band

I think this technique is great under the right circumstances. If I was recording a thrash metal band I probably wouldnt use this technique, but for things like folk or jazz, homely sounding, this would be a go to set up.

X-Noise Plugin

A useful tool that I have had the pleasure of using this trimester is a plugin called X-Noise. It is available from the plugin manufacture Waves. I predominantly used this plugin to fix issues with recordings from the film I worked on. Due to it being my first venture into recording for film some oversights caused a handful of recordings to be recorded too hot. This in turn caused a lot of electrical preamp noise to be present throughout the recording.

This is the interface that you will be presented with. It is a very straightforward plugin and anyone familiar with a compressor should be able to get the hang of it quite quickly. Lets start with the controls. There are two faders, one controls threshold and the other controls reduction. The threshold represents the level of the noise profile (more on that in a bit) and any signal that is below this level is reduced depending on the amount of reduction applied with the reduction fader. The other controls that are available are some dynamics, namely attack and release. I have found that the default settings work well in most cases. There is a high shelf setting as well, this is not an eq in the signal path but it does modify the noise profile. Again I have found that leaving this on default will generally yield decent results.

The final actual setting is the resolution at which the plugin reads the audio information. Setting this to high will give you a finer result but it will come at the cost of CPU power. I try using the high setting when I can but sometimes my old laptop just won’t deal with it.

So you have your crappy piece of audio that is riddled with noise, where do you start? I mentioned earlier about a noise profile, this is where that comes into effect. Hopefully there is a piece of your recording that is only the unwanted noise, because the plugin can learn what is unwanted if you show it. By using the learn button and pressing play the plugin will scan the frequencies and create a noise profile that can then be used to reduce the noise from your recording. By balancing your threshold and reduction levels you should be able to get a clean enough take. It can take a few goes to get it sounding full enough and without artifacting but generally it is a fairly simple trial and error process. You can use the Audio/Difference buttons to see what sounds you are actually reducing. Check out some examples of different processing below.

X-Noise Examples

In the future I would like to not have to use this plugin again as it means I have not recorded properly and should have known at the time of recording. But as a backup plan in case it does bugger up again, X-Noise will have my back.


LO Coverage

LO 9


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