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A Bit on Recording

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
The sounds I've posted recently haven't been entirely perfect, but Pam asked if I could post a bit about my recordings. Hopefully there will be more sound in upcoming posts! Since I don't have a very wide experience with recording, I'll let you know what I do and what I've found out from friends, through research, and first-hand experimentation.

My major considerations are equipment and technique. I use a Sony minidisc recorder. It offers the best price for the quality of sound, portability, and digital editing. I use the Hi-MD format, which is Sony's "new" minidisc innovation, and I recommend it since it offers a lot of recording time on each disc, has the option to record at levels of very high quality, and has better compatibility and transferability options. (The recordings I've posted on the blog have all been done on the setting for lowest recording quality. For a recording intended for archiving I might use a higher setting, but so far this seems fine for webcasting.) There are always disadvantages, and one consistent problem with the Sony minidisc option has been Sony's proprietary file formats, which have limited file compatibility ensuing from Sony's copywright protection measures. Sony is becoming a bit less big brother than it once was, though, and the new software is supposed to be better.

The microphone is at least as important as the recorder. In fact, I think it is really the key to making a clean and clear recording. An external mic is really essential because otherwise you pick up machine noise. I'm using an electret condenser microphone that is easy to find in any Sony store (there are a lot in the Czech Republic, I don't know about other places in Europe). It cost about 100 USD. This is not fancy by microphone standards, but it works. The advantage of the microphone is that it is very small and (relatively) unobtrusive. A lot of "technique" will differ based on the sort of microphone you use. Condenser mics, even a low-end one like mine, are very sensitive (note windscreen note below) and have to be handled with care lest your recordings sound like distant thunderstorms are forever threatening.

Mic positioning is aso important. To record specific sounds, it's important to get close as close as possible. When I recorded the ticket stamper, for example, the microphone was only inches from the stamper (I used a dummy ticket so I could get the sound more than once). The farther away from the sound source(s) the microphone is, the more you hear other noises.

Windscreens (the little foam bits that cover the end of the microphone) are important. The more sensitive a microphone you use, the more important that little piece of foam becomes. Some microphones have built in windscreens. Here's my tale of woe. When I got my current microphone, I thought, "Hmm. That crappy little piece of foam doesn't do anything!" I promptly lost it when moving out of an apartment. Then a friend told me that it was important. I was skeptical. I tried recording outdoors in a very light breeze, and it sounded like elephants were stampeding over the microphone. This wouldn't have been such a problem except that I can't find a new one in the Czech Republic that fits the microphone. The moral is, keep your windscreen or you may not be able to find an affordable one (new ones can cost more than 30 USD, even though they're just foam; the big poofy ones cost even more).

For editing on computer, I use Audacity, a free program that is great for simple editing. There are fancier options, but Audacity works fine for my purposes. You can read a good article about moving audio from your original recording to the computer here.

Finally, you need a way to play it on the blog. I chose Odeo because they have the embeddable player option. I got the idea from the Global Voices Online podcasts page.

I say all this with longwinded musicologist-geek authority because I learned it the hard way. Graduate school ain't about learning practical skills, it's sink or swim while contemplating the finer points of Schenkerian theory. Which means that there is a lot I don't know, but this is what I have done so far. I suggest the following sites that offer lots of helpful recording information:

If you want to do recordings of specific sound environments in cities or other soundscape type recordings, Quiet American (currently linked from the sidebar) has a lot to say about techniques and equipment. Another helpful site is www.transom.org, a wonderful radio resource with a lot of sound advice (thanks for the tip, IM). Three helpful guides to field recording, equipment, and editing are maintained by Andy Kolovos at the Vermont Folklife Center. Finally, if you use minidisc, or want to know more about it, have a look at minidisc.org.

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Blogger Julia said . . .

Thanks for the account, I was just tonight thinking about what one needed to do to start recording sound bytes and podcasts.

By the way, how do you like the new blogger?    

11:02 PM, October 01, 2006

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

Well, I hope there might be some Prague sounds to look forward to then! Budu se těšit! :-)

I'm not completely pleased with the Blogger Beta. I've had a lot of log in difficulties, although I hope that finally the cookies have been reset and are good again (if that's what the problem was). It also did not handle diacritics well when I migrated the blog. I've only noticed problems in the template, but I had to change a lot of Czech characters from gobbledy-gook back into real letters by hand. My profile photo and description are still not showing. I was excited about the possibilities of categories, but now it seems that I'm used to the technorati tags; I also haven't yet figured out how to insert them into my template. Also, I was happily using the performancing plugin (or extra or whatever it's called) with firefox, and that made all the technorati stuff easy; now it seems that I'll have to wait for an update before it works with google accounts. So I guess the change is seeming a bit slow overall. Everything else about it is OK, though.    

1:43 AM, October 02, 2006

Blogger Julia said . . .

Good to know, I'll hold off a bit then on the beta and work on the sounds!    

8:20 AM, October 02, 2006

Blogger Pam said . . .

Wow, thanks for the exhaustive post. People keep telling me it's all about the microphone and do I listen? No. Maybe, but there's all that wind noise in the way! Off to Radio Shack once I'm back in Seattle, eh? Though now that I have an iPod, I'm thinking I might get the iTalk set up, I read good things about the quality.

Related to the comments: WordPress rules. That's all I'm gonna say.    

7:44 AM, October 04, 2006

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

Well, I hope it was helpful. I've had a lot of that on my mind recently, so it turned into a longer post than I first intended.

I don't know much about iTalk or the iPod, but I've been very impressed by them when I've used my friends' or experimented with them.

I still suspect that an external mic would give you more flexibility and better sound quality, though it's impossible to say for sure without trying it. Another advantage to the Mac formats is that they have very user friendly and powerful editing software. Yay!

"Solid state" sound recorders will be standard very soon. There are already good models on the market. These take memory cards or portable hard drives, just like digital cameras.    

8:55 AM, October 04, 2006

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

Well, I take it back about Blogger beta being OK. Still having login problems. Ironically, even though Blogger claims it's optimized for Firefox, I'm having to log in with Explorer because otherwise I'm just getting blank pages when I try to log in or post comments. Ah well. Perhaps they'll respond to my query. I suppose they're calling it "beta" because everything doesn't work, but still frustrating.    

8:59 AM, October 04, 2006

Blogger Hubert said . . .

Ditto on the cleanliness of the recording. While Proprietary, I do know a good number of musicians who do use the minidiscs for semi-professional recording projects.    

11:43 PM, October 05, 2006

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

Yeah, I really do think minidisc is a great way to go, particularly since the new Hi-MD format allows CD-quality recording with not much compression. They are not so controlling of the rights as they once were either. And for the size and price, I think it's by far the best deal.

Of course, if one has the money and interest, then it can be fun to get some fancy equipment.    

12:34 AM, October 06, 2006

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