Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan discusses his approach to working with unique artists in outdoor locations around the world.
What’s the one element missing from almost every recording studio? Oxygen! After decades of making records in more conventional settings, I was driven outside into the fresh air. Producing a weekly free show for five years at a San Francisco laundromat in the late ’90s had taught me that I could record almost anywhere, and that accidents and mistakes often prove serendipitous. Fast-forward to today and, after almost a decade of hitting the road and searching for music, I’ve had the pleasure and honour of recording outdoors with artists in many different countries and continents — many of whom I would never have had the chance of working with had I limited myself to the studio. In fact, I now so genuinely prefer recording au naturel that, where possible, I even open doors and windows to the outside world in conventional recording studios — much to the chagrin of the studio owners!
While any number of my ‘field’ recording projects might make fascinating articles in their own right, I’m going to discuss my experiences in field recording more broadly; I’ll use some of my remote forays in Africa and Asia as case studies, while dispensing some general field-recording tips for recordists wishing to embrace working in the great outdoors.
Of all the ambient sounds one captures when recording outside, enemy number one — which needs the most careful attention because it’s almost impossible to get rid of in post-production — is wind. It literally swells and surrounds everything. Many sounds, like dogs barking, hammering in the distance, cars passing, and kids whispering will often masked by the music. In fact, in the best-case scenarios, they become an almost subliminal part of the soundscape. But transients like gusts, coughs, and chair squeaks spell ruin almost every time.
Wind is such an invisible force that I’ve been stymied while mixing on more than one occasion by this ghost element. While recording, you’re often blissfully unaware that it’s even there — but if you fail to tackle it, even when recording on a seemingly still, fair-weather day, you can bet you’ll run into problems when mixing. In short, when working outside, windscreens are a must, even when there’s no apparent breeze.
Fortunately, a performer who has momentum and who is truly in a positive zone will often begin to anticipate the other sounds around...
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