Post-Production and Editing

Upon returning home from a field trip, the first order of business is unpacking, cleaning dirty gear and removing or turning off any batteries. Next, make safeties of all the master DATs. While the tapes are being made, I begin fleshing out the rough notes I took in the field. You may wish to note the record deck, mic and mic positions used on each selection. Logs should reference program ID numbers and absolute, rather than relative time. You may want to erase or add new IDs depending on the contents of each tape. Panasonic 3700 users should note that absolute time can be added to tapes recorded without it by pressing PNO/AUTO, rewinding the tape, hitting START ID and then ID WRITE. The tape will play to the end, writing A-Time in the subcode as it goes. Previously recorded audio will not be affected, but new start ID's will appear at loud sounds following any silent sections.

Processing Tools

Once the tapes are cloned and logged, editing can begin. (I use A Mac running BIAS Peak 2.5 or Pro Tools 5.0 LE and a Windows machine with Steinberg's Wavelab 3.0 for most of my editing.) The most common problem I encounter is an unwanted sound in the middle of an otherwise good take. Cutting these out is usually much easier when using a crossfade to smooth over the edit. When using crossfades, pay attention to the overall level of the audio across the duration of the edit point. By default, most editors will use a linear crossfade. In many cases, this can leave an audible dip in overall sound level during the length of the edit. If you near this, undo the edit and try again using an "equal-power" crossfade (your editing program may have a number of other choises--try these too). Creating inaudible edits takes a bit of practice, but the results are worth the effort.

Another set of tools I consistently turn to come from Waves. Perhaps you've heard of their Q10 parametric EQ or the more recent Renaissance EQ. Wind noise a problem? Use an extremely steep high-pass filter between 80 and 160 Hz. Mic pre-amp too noisy on quiet sounds? A gradual low-pass filter will remove hiss, just make sure you don't lose too much HF detail. (Noise reduction software like Digidesign's DINR, Arboretum's Ionizer or Tracer Technologies DART could be better candidates for this type of fix.)

A very steep high-pass filter is effective at removing wind noise rumble. Wave's Q10 equalizer (shown below) is set to cut everything below about 140Hz. The higher you make the cut off, the more wind rumble will be removed, but it will also begin sapping valuable low-frequency tone from your recording. Use your ears to find the best compromise!

Don't be afraid to severely manipulate dynamic range, especially when processing sound effects. Sometimes, very interesting parts of a sounds character can be revealed by extreme level boosts. For instance, you can bring up the natural reverb of loud transient sounds by heavy compression, or better yet, upward expansion of the reverb tails as a loud sound is dying away. Wave's L1 limiter is excellent for unobtrusively taming loud transient peaks, while C1 offers upward expansion among its many features.

I was recently saved by S1, Waves stereo manipulation tool. I had a live music recording done under impossible monitoring conditions (small rehearsal room, headphones, loud band). There were some good performances, but one of the guitars (mine!) was too darn loud. While most people might reach for S1 as a tool to widen a stereo image, it's "asymmetry" control lets you make the left or right channel louder without shifting the center image.

It's a Wrap

I hope these general techniques (and the product reviews coming up next) give you some ideas for your own field recording projects. The next time you need an unusual sound effect or ambiance, I hope you'll look beyond stock sources and consider setting foot on a quest to gather your own. The world is full of sounds. Go out and get 'em!

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