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Field Recording Season: Time to Capture Some Audio Treasures!

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What makes a podcast into a rewarding workout for the brain? And how can the average or beginner podcaster put this to their advantage? You can have great ideas, discussions or stories, but how can this transcend talk, and become a great listening experience? Let’s chat about field recording, and what it can do for your podcast.

One technique to elevate your podcast is to use a sound bed or background sound. This provides an atmosphere that gives your podcast an extra layer of verisimilitude. It can even help your podcast niche if you do it right. Imagine a podcast interview sounding like it takes place by the ocean, at an Italian café, or in a spaceship. Now that’s a can’t-miss episode!

podcasting in battle

But, not every podcaster wants to spend their day on a digital audio workstation, mixing subtle nuances of pre-recorded bird tweets and hinge creaks. A quick way around this is field recording. When you record an environment in its native state (like a farmers’ market, nature trail, or tourist destination), you capture a slice of life that only exists for a short time. Imagine if you could use a field recording from New Orleans in the spring of 2005, or Princeton University during the summer of 1970, or of the Cathedral at Notre Dame in 2018. Real sound in live environments is an irreproducible treasure. It’s hard to capture a great field recording, but when you do, it’s a magical combination.

That’s why The Podcast Host and Alitu are announcing The Field Recording Season Challenge.

What Is The Field Recording Season Challenge?

On the 28th of March, Field Recording Season begins! Use your phone or a digital recorder, go out to interesting-sounding places, and capture your best audio treasures in their native habitat. Thirty seconds or a minute is enough audio. Then, label your sound file and send us your best field recording. We’re going to put the best field recordings together into one library, available to all podcasters under a Creative Commons License. It’s just like our Free Music Library. And, at the end of the summer, we’ll publish The Great International Field Recording Sound Collage on our PodCraft podcast. Your sound can be part of it. Plus, you have the satisfaction that your entry into The Podcast Host’s Field Recording Library helps other podcasters make better audio experiences for everyone.

What’s In It For Me?

This is the age-old question that’s permeated all life since amoebas first slid ashore at the dawn of time. In exchange for capturing interesting local sound and submitting it to our database, you will get:

  • The experience of field recording: part hunting expedition, part meditation, part treasure quest.
  • New skills in your podcaster tool belt.
  • Creative expression, and its associated health benefits.
  • Inclusion in a company of podcasters who record interesting things to make a bigger project.
  • If you’ve never used a digtal recorder before, or don’t use one often enough, this is a good way to get some practice with it.
  • Your name is credited as the creator of that recording. With a Creative Commons License, anyone who uses that recording has to credit you in a specific way. Your name can be in the show notes of podcasters around the world.

So, no, there’s no “prize,” specifically. But, you’ll play a role in something bigger than the sum of its parts, which has the opportunity to grow. Life is short. Let’s make something big and interesting together.

interviewing a quiet monk on a noisy carousel

What Kind of Field Recordings Should I Submit?

If it’s interesting to you, it’ll be interesting to other people. That being said, if I stick my head out the window and listen very carefully right now, I think that I don’t hear anything interesting. But, to someone a thousand miles away, the birds, traffic, or sirens that I hear might be very different from the birds, sirens, or traffic that they hear on a daily basis.

Some ideas are:

  • An open-air market, or square where people gather
  • Your local dog park on a sunny day
  • A wildlife preserve or nature trail
  • A beach, river or creek
  • Historic or tourism locations
  • Sports games
  • Transportation centers (train stations, airpoirts, bus terminals)
  • Carnivals or amusement parks

You can probably think of many different places to try. Another consideration is the acoustics of the space. A bird tweeting in a forest sounds one way but has more reverberation if the bird is in an open-air atrium with a roof.

What If I Record Someone’s Private Conversation?

In the year 2022, with the zillions of cell phones and cameras in the world, there’s little expectation of privacy when people are out and about. That being said, use common sense and decency. If you’re making a field recording in a café or pub and you perfectly record a conversation between two people where they say something compromising, edit that part out. When in doubt, ask yourself, “what would a good person do?” and then do that.

Your goal is to get interesting background sound, not investigative journalism. A snippet of conversation, like, “do you want to get some coffee,” or “Happy Easter!” adds a little bit of flavour. A detailed conversation, though, is distracting, and not great for background sound.

How Should I Make My Field Recording?

There are plenty of tools and methods for this. You can get a decent recording with a smartphone and a mic. A digital recorder gives you more control over your audio. We have guides to different kinds of gear and software, which can help.

Remember that if you’re in an environment that’s breezy, you’ll want a windscreen for your microphone (sometimes a foam cover called a “clown nose,” or a big puffy piece of faux fur, sometimes called a “dead cat.” Sorry for that image). Otherwise, all you’ll record is the sound of wind hitting the mic.

How Do I Submit My Audio Files to The Field Recording Challenge?

Glad you asked! Save your recording with the following settings:

  • File format: mp3
  • Length: 1 minute, maximum. If someone wants to use more than 1 minute of your amazing sound, they can repeat it.
  • Save your audio with your name, and when and where you recorded it.

For example, let’s say I recorded crowd noise at a particular tourist spot in my home town, on the first day of spring. I’d save it as, “Lindsay Harris Friel, 3-21-22, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, USA.”

In the form, let us know your name, email address (in case there’s a problem), recording location, and a brief description.

Get involved

Record the world around you, and share it with your fellow creative podcasters!

The field recording season challenge is your excuse to take a breath, listen and record.

Join the challenge
Capture podcast recordings anywhere
Capture podcast recordings anywhere!

Think of This as an Audio Time Capsule.

Remember when Pokemon Go was the trendy thing that got people to go for walks and capture locations on their phones? This is a little like that, except instead of collecting cartoon characters on an app, we’re working together to build a sound library. Field recordings are quick portraits of places and moments in time, that can enhance podcasts in the future. The world is an exciting place: let’s record it together.

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