In these 3 new interviews, you'll hear what it takes to get started and succeed in field recording from Thomas Rex Beverly, Foley from Ronnie van der Veer, and teaching sound courses from James David Redding III:
By Jennifer Walden and Asbjoern Andersen, images courtesy of Thomas Rex Beverly, Ronnie van der Veer, and James David Redding III
• How to succeed in sound design for Film, Documentaries, and Trailers – with Nia Hansen, Peter Albrechtsen, & Karél Psota
• How to succeed in UI/UX Sound Design, ADR Recording, & Audio Programming – with Henry Daw, Emma Butt & Adam Croft
• How to succeed in Theater Sound Design, Podcast Sound Design, and Podcast Production – with Kirsty Gillmore, Jeff Schmidt, and Matthew McLean
• How to succeed in Sound Editing, Sound for Advertising, and Production Sound – with Lucy J Mitchell, Chris Pinkston and Irin Strauss
• How to succeed in sound design for games, animation, and television – with Anne-Sophie Mongeau, Jeff Shiffman, Kate Finan, & Peter D. Lago
• How to succeed in Audio Branding, Music Editing, and sound for VR/AR/MR – with Steve Keller, Steven Saltzman, Helena McGill & Anna Woźniewicz
Field Recording – insights from Thomas Rex Beverly:
• What working in field recording entails:
A love of exploring, child-like wonder at the discovery of new sounds, and an endless supply of patience.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
When planning a big recording trip I first do extensive research and location scouting. This involves many hours on Google Maps, Google Earth, and Flight Radar 24 in order to identify typical noise pollution sources such as roads, railroads, air traffic, and generators. Then, I call local guides and rangers to learn about additional sounds I might not notice on maps like construction or logging.
After this research phase, I make a detailed plan of what to pack on my trip. This takes the form of lengthy checklists that vary depending on the type of environment I’ll be visiting. I like to have full redundancy in the signal chain. This means duplicates of microphones, cables, recorders, batteries, SD cards, headphones, and hard drives. Things fail all the time in the field and it pays to have as much redundancy as you can afford. In the beginning, I had zero redundancy but I’ve gradually built a kit that includes replacement parts for every section of my signal chain.
Upon arrival, I have a general idea of the sounds that I would like to get from the environment — certain types of ambiences or a specific species of animal I am hunting with my MKH 8040s. I’ll hike out to into the wilderness and look for ideal recording spots. I test out many different locations and perspectives in an area to find the best sounding spot to my ears.
When recording, I prefer to listen over headphones, but that isn’t always an option if there is dangerous wildlife around. In those situations, I leave the mics out unattended for hours at a time or for 12+ hours overnight.
When I first started field recording, I found it hard to sit still for even two or three minutes and listen. Over time I learned how to meditate while I record in order to hear the different voices in an ecosystem
During recording, insane amounts of patience is needed in order to be a successful. As a field recordist, you’ll spend time waiting for planes to fly by or waiting for the right weather conditions. When I first started field recording, I found it hard to sit still for even two or three minutes and listen. Over time I learned how to meditate while I record in order to hear the different voices in an ecosystem. For example, I do an exercise where I focus on sounds at 5 feet, then 500 feet, then 5 miles. This meditation radically changes my perspective as I’m sitting and waiting for interesting things to happen. After each session, I’ll have a ton of material, but will often have to throw out 50-90% because of noise pollution, bad weather conditions, or any number of other reasons.
My main recorder is a Sound Devices 702. My rig is a combination of low-noise pre-amps on the Sound Devices and low self-noise microphones. Mics with a similar self-noise rating are needed for very quiet nature ambiences.
I’m a big fan of Sennheiser’s MKH series microphones. I have two sets, an MKH 8040 pair that I use in ORTF and an MKH 50/MKH 30 combination that I use in Mid/Side configuration. Those both have about the same self-noise rating, which is 12 dBA of self-noise.
Different mics are better for different situations. For example, the Sennheiser MKH 50 and 30 are better for windier sessions. The MHK 8040s are more sensitive to bass, so they are not as great in the wind, but are fantastic for the rippling bass of thunder.
I also have DPA 4060s, little lav mics that I’ll hook up in various situations. They are a little noisy for quiet environments but are great for rain or wind or even for sticking in all sorts of small crevices where a full size mic wouldn’t fit.
I have a Sony D100, which is a little handheld recorder I keep with me all the time. For variety, I also have an assortment of hydrophones and homemade contact mics to experiment with for fun adventures with non-traditional microphones.
• How to learn it:
I studied music composition as an undergrad before going on to grad school for audio engineering, music technology, and composing. Grad school is where I learned the fundamental skills I would later use in the field. It is incredibly helpful to have some experience with audio engineering if you want to become a field recordist.
In addition, there’s a great field recording community online, and there are quite a few Facebook groups to join. Moreover, there is Paul Virostek’s blog ‘Creative Field Recording’. His e-books are a wonderful place to start. There’s a lot of crossover between location sound recording and field recording, so the Location Sound Podcast is also a good resource.
Paul Virostek’s e-books will fill the gaps in your knowledge and help you avoid rookie mistakes as you begin field recording
As for gear, all the choices can be very overwhelming when starting out and the barrier of entry can be expensive. Paul Virostek’s e-books will fill the gaps in your knowledge and help you avoid rookie mistakes as you begin field recording.
You don’t want to make unnecessary investments in gear that you may not need.
• How to find work:
The rise of websites like A Sound Effect has made it easier for field recordists to create a first sound library. It used to be more difficult to create sound libraries because you had to build your own website and figure out how to send several gigabytes halfway around the world or physically ship hard drives or CDs to customers. Fortunately, A Sound Effect helped to lower the barrier of entry for people who have a lot of expertise in recording, game audio, or film sound, but not much web development and e-sales experience. Now expert recordists can create a niche library, and put it up for licensing on A Sound Effect. It’s a surprisingly big barrier to build your own website and do your own digital distribution. Until you have a large catalog of sound libraries, I think it makes a lot more sense to release libraries on A Sound Effect.
In general, when trying to find new ideas for sound libraries, you can look at the current offerings in order to see what is missing, or you can do a fresh take on a classic. It’s always a fun challenge to come up with an idea that has never been done before!
While some may find social media groups helpful, I tend to think large social media groups can be a bit overwhelming. When I’m looking to network, I prefer to look up people in my geographic area and invite them to have coffee. I don’t go into these meetings with an agenda, but I try to share my passion for recording and learn all I can from the conversation. You never know when building a relationship might eventually turn into paid work.
• Essential advice for working and making it in field recording:
Recording sounds makes me more grounded in the present moment. The first time I carried a microphone, I was in awe of all the sounds in my environment that I didn’t normally pay attention to. Field recording is an amazing way to experience the world.
That said, field recording is a lot of trial and error. You’re going to fail a lot. You’ll break equipment. You’ll encounter unexpected weather. Surveying propeller airplanes will circle you for hours. Nevertheless, you’ll have joyful recording experiences. It’s important to remember that oftentimes the fun is in the failure.
When you are first starting out, it is important to record whatever you can, even if it’s only with a handheld recorder. Just get out into the world and hit record
Field recording is like any skilled art form. The more you record, the more you will improve. When I started my career and as a composer, I needed to write countless compositions in order to hone my craft. The same goes for writing, photography, or field recording — experience is gained through practice.
When you are first starting out, it is important to record whatever you can, even if it’s only with a handheld recorder. Just get out into the world and hit record. Don’t get paralyzed by decisions about gear. Don’t let not having the “right” gear be an excuse to not get out and record. There are lots of things you can record in everyday life. There are all sorts of free spaces you can get access to in order to build your recording skills.
Remember to try to think of field recordings as art, rather than as commodities. Being a field recordist is like being an audio photographer. Field recordings are just as artistically valuable as photographs, sculptures, paintings, or any traditional art form. Before you begin recording, get into the headspace of wanting to create art with your field recordings because it will help you find interesting sounds to explore. Once you’ve recorded an interesting sound, tell the story behind the recording. For instance, start a blog or a YouTube channel to share the fun and experience of the story of recording it. If you can tell an exciting and intriguing story about your recording, then you can help people feel like they are part of the recording experience.
• Further reading and resources:
1. Paul Virostek’s field recording eBooks: I read these books when starting out and highly recommend the whole series.
2. Field Recording Buyers Guide
3. George Vlad’s field recording blog: George goes on epic expeditions throughout many countries in Europe and Africa.
4. My own Field Recording Blog: Also, my list of Field Recording Tips
5. Andy Martin’s work on The Northwest Soundscapes Project
6. Book – The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause
7. Book – One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton
8. Book – The Earth is a Solar Powered Jukebox by Gordon Hempton
9. Book – The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It’s a fantastic book on how forest ecosystems work. You’ll never look at a forest the same way after reading this book.
10. Book – The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. This is a modern take on Stoic philosophy and it provides a helpful way to avoid frustration when recording. I pull this book out when airplanes are ruining my nature recordings.
11. Book – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you are ever stuck creatively. This is a fantastic and hilarious book to help get you out of a creative rut.
12. The work of Tim Prebble at HissAndaRoar
13. Lang Elliott – Music of Nature
14. Wild Ambience
15. Tonebenders Podcast
16. Location Sound Podcast
About Thomas Rex Beverly:
Thomas is a field recordist and composer who explores our evolving planet. His mission is to preserve endangered environments through sound in order to raise awareness and inspire people to protect unique acoustic ecosystems. Gordon Hempton’s concept of “one square inch of silence” and unpolluted soundscapes drives his work. Unfortunately, these pristine places are rapidly diminishing throughout the world. Thomas unites his love of field recording, composition and acoustic ecology in two ways: he conserves natural places of solitude in sound libraries, and he incorporates field recordings and weather data into his music compositions. His compositions use real time weather data, multimedia music technology and composed electroacoustic music utilizing Max/MSP computer coding language, live instruments and electronics. Thomas’s art is a blend of conservation and music. Through his art, Thomas works to preserve threatened natural soundscapes for future generations.
Additional field recording reads & resources:
• 5 Useful Tips for Creative Urban Field Recording
• Field Recording and Immersive Installations – a Q&A with Julian Konczak
• Video: Sound Fields – Adventures in contemporary field recording
• Lessons learned from 20+ years in sound: Jeremy Peirson on field recording
• Video: How to edit and process field recordings entirely in REAPER
• The field recording group on Facebook
• Find field recordists from all over the world on Soundlister (and get listed as a field recordist yourself)
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Foley – insights from Ronnie van der Veer:
• What working in Foley entails:
As a Foley artist, I have to make sure that all the sounds that are hard to import from a sound effect library will be recorded in the Foley studio. A big part is footsteps because with footsteps there are so many aspects like: surface, shoes, emotional state of the character, and perspective that I take into account when performing them. But you cannot get the same realism and variety with sound effects.
Other sounds are cloth movement and Foley effects. The last category could be anything from basic stuff like sitting on a chair or putting a cup on a table to robot movements, alien tentacles, or whatever crazy sounds the scene might ask for.
With my Foley, I try to match the sound of the production sound as much as possible so the Foley blends in nicely. In my studio, we work in the ‘French way’ of Foley recording, which means that besides the dry signal we also record the reverb of the room with separate microphones. That way the Foley doesn’t sound like a dry, isolated sound but the sounds are realistic and placed into the space. My colleague (the Foley mixer) will create perspective by changing the mix of all the different microphones in the room. Of course, you could do that afterwards in the mix with EQ, volume, and reverb, but this sounds much more realistic. We can change the acoustics of the studio to make it more or less reverberant to match the location the scene takes place in, which makes it very flexible.
In my studio, we work in the ‘French way’ of Foley recording, which means that besides the dry signal we also record the reverb of the room with separate microphones
I work on both films and TV shows so budget and time might vary per production. You just cannot spend as much time on a 45-minute episode as you would do on half a movie, so I always try to keep priorities in that case. It’s important to know how much screen time I have to do in an hour. I have to keep in mind what are the most important sounds in a scene. Which sounds are missing? What can be done with sound effects? And how can I improve the scene with my Foley? The last one is the most fun because it’s great when you notice that you can create more suspense in a scene with the Foley, or make a joke funnier with just the right sound.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
In terms of skills, I would say you have to definitely be creative because you have to come up with a lot of solutions for making all the sounds, and you cannot always use the real object. If you get a request to make the sound of a cow giving birth you have to be creative, haha! I always picture the sound in my head and try to recreate that.
A good sense of rhythm is important too. If you are a musician or dancer that definitely helps. And you have to be able to ‘see sync’ too.
You have to be motivated, because it takes lots of practice to become good. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and still am constantly improving my performance and sound.
A good sense of rhythm is important too. If you are a musician or dancer that definitely helps. And you have to be able to ‘see sync’ too
In terms of gear, I would say you at least need a good microphone and a DAW like Pro Tools to record the sounds and a room with decent acoustics. And of course lots of props. I like working in my own studio with my own props because when I need to make a certain sound I know that in a certain box there will be exactly that object that makes the sound I want and I know the sounds of all the surfaces and shoes very well.
• How to learn it:
It takes a lot of practice so even if you are a student or just graduated you can work on no budget or low budget short movies to gain experience. When I had just graduated, I worked on a very bad low budget feature and probably my Foley was equally bad at that time, but I learned a lot from creating all those sounds, listening back to them and deciding what could be better.
If you could watch a Foley artist work or be Foley assistant to a good Foley artist that would be very useful too. You can watch someone work who already figured out what works and doesn’t work.
• How to find work:
In my case, I started doing work as a freelance Foley artist for a sound studio in their own studio. That gave me experience and made me improve my technique. Some people might start as an assistant or intern and try to climb up from there.
• Essential advice for working and making it in Foley:
I’ve already mentioned some advice, but I’ll add that you need to train your ears as well. Find nice (second hand) shoes, try different props, find scenes from movies with Foley that you like and try to recreate it.
You can find rhythm and nice sounds in everyday life and that can be an inspiration to the sounds you make as a Foley artist
Another tip I once heard was to walk down a busy street and just walk behind people and try to exactly match the rhythm of their footsteps. I might advise not to mimic one person too long cause they might call the police, but it could be good exercise.
You can find rhythm and nice sounds in everyday life and that can be an inspiration to the sounds you make as a Foley artist.
• Further reading and resources:
I found The Foley Grail by Vanessa Theme Ament, a very helpful book about Foley. There is also a documentary called Actors of Sound which follows some of the biggest Foley artists in the industry.
Also remember that Google is your friend — just Google ‘Foley artist interview’ and try to find articles about Foley and watch all the videos on YouTube that you can find that show Foley artists at work.
About Ronnie van der Veer:
Ronnie is a Dutch Foley artist who previously worked on films like The Lobster, November, and the film Girl, which was recently nominated for a Golden Globe. He mainly works from his own Foley studio just outside Amsterdam (The Netherlands) from where he worked on more than 100 movies and TV shows.
Ronnie van der Veer’s website
Ronnie van der Veer on IMDb
Additional Foley reads & resources:
• Heikki Kossi on the art and craft of Foley sound
• Video: Meet the Foley team at Skywalker Sound
• Video: How movie sound effects are made – with Foley artist Marko Costanzo
• Video: Inside the Pinewood Foley Studio
• The Foley Artist group on Facebook
• Find Foley Artists from all over the world on Soundlister (and get listed as a Foley Artist yourself)
Teaching Sound – insights from James David Redding III:
• What teaching sound courses entails:
To teach a course on sound you should have a good understanding of all aspects of sound, not just what you are teaching. I teach post production mixing for film and television at New York University, but because I have a strong understanding in other aspects of the sound world (sound recording, music recording and industry, and even the physics of sound) I feel I am better equipped to help my students relate my subject to something they might already have a grasp of. It also allows me to help them gain a deeper understanding of practices and theories and why/how/when they are used.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
When teaching audio classes, you should have a high level of competence in the area/subject you are teaching. Your skill set should be towards the highest it can be, though there is always room to grow. I find knowing many ways to approach the subject to be helpful since you can then help students that are having trouble grasping certain concepts.
To teach a course on sound you should have a good understanding of all aspects of sound, not just what you are teaching
As for gear, hopefully the institution that you are working for already has most of the gear that you need to teach. I do have my own personal studio that I can mix surround projects in, but it is set up for just that, not for teaching. I work in two rooms at NYU. A classroom setting that has multiple workstations with Pro Tools installed so that the students and I can work together and they can follow along as we go through settings and common practices. The other room is a surround mixing theater with Pro Tools and a D-Command control surface. In this room the students can have practice mixing projects and get used to a more professional studio setup. I do make recommendations on software and hardware for upgrades and such, but in the end, all of the equipment is owned by NYU.
• How to learn it:
For me, it’s really a lot of learning by doing. Sometimes I will sit in on a colleague’s class so that I can get a better grasp on how to manage a classroom and keep the class flowing. I find it’s not much different than mixing with a client in the room — controlling the pace and making sure we don’t get sidetracked. Teaching sound is a different type of subject. I don’t think you could find a course on how to teach it. If you know audio, and you like talking to others about audio, then teaching might come naturally to you.
• How to find work:
Look to local universities or colleges that have similar offerings of classes. You could either offer to help expand an existing program, fill up the roster of teachers, or offer a whole new type of course (though that would be much more challenging to get off the ground). If you are looking for a bigger life change, you can look at any institution that currently has a curriculum similar to that which you wish to teach, no matter the locale.
Schools are not that much different than any other business and will list openings and opportunities just like anywhere else in the workforce
Schools are not that much different than any other business and will list openings and opportunities just like anywhere else in the workforce. I started by guest lecturing for a friend’s class at NYU. When the opportunity came up that they were looking for a new adjunct professor for their mixing class, my friend let me know and I pursued the opportunity, just like any other job.
• Essential advice for working and making it in teaching courses on sound:
Just like anything else, know what you know, know what you don’t know, and be prepared. Students are trusting that you have a higher knowledge of the subject and they want to learn.
Also, try to remember what it was like when you were a student, sympathize with them and try to understand what they could be going through while trying to learn. By doing this, you might find a different way to get them to understand the subject and watching it “click” is such a great feeling.
• Further reading and resources:
I haven’t found any yet (though honestly I haven’t been looking either). What I have found is that talking to fellow teachers in the program is very beneficial. Most of the teachers have been teaching for a while and, being teachers, do not mind sharing what they have learned.
About James David Redding III:
James has worked in audio post-production for 19+ years, starting his career straight out of Ithaca College at Sync Sound, Inc / Digital Cinema, LLC in New York City, where he was on staff for 13 years before going freelance. Working on a vast array of projects from television series (The Americans, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), to film (Carol, Brigsby Bear, Time Out of Mind), to documentaries (No End in Sight, $ellebrity, The Uncondemned), he has participated in many aspects of audio post-production — ADR recordist, Foley recordist, sound effects editor, sound supervisor, re-recording mixer, and sound designer.
James David Redding III on IMDB
JDR3productions on Facebook
Additional sound teaching resources:
• The Teaching Sound For Screen Facebook group
• The Audio Educators Facebook group
• 5 Tips For Teaching Music Production
• Sound Design for Media: Introducing Students to Sound
• How To Teach Sound – The Guardian
• The Science of Sound
• Investigating Sound
• For job opportunities, keep your eyes peeled on the Soundlister Audio Jobs overview
A big thanks to Thomas Rex Beverly, Ronnie van der Veer, and James David Redding III for sharing their valuable insights with us!
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Succeed in sound:
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