Field Recording for Podcast Sound Design

In addition to sound effects and foley, field recordings can be a wonderful way to enhance the sound design of your podcast. As implied by the name, field recording is recording out in the field, the capture of auditory environments both natural and urban and everything in-between. Portable field recording devices are fairly inexpensive, light weight, battery powered, and with an SD card can capture hours of audio. In addition to your sound effects library, a collection of original field recordings will come in useful when creating the sound design for your podcast, film, or other audio endeavors. 

Listening on Location

Just about any location can provide interesting field recordings. As you visit different places make a point of actively listening to your surroundings, you will find that every environment has its own unique soundscape, each with its own flavor, and potentially useful when creating your sound design. Record them all and make sure to slate each recording. This means to denote information verbally in the beginning of each recording, such as location, time, take number, etc., which will help to ensure that you don’t get the recordings mixed up and will greatly help to organize your library of recordings as it grows. Try recording environments from different vantage points, get above or below the subject when possible, and maximize your session by zeroing in on different aspects of the environment. Not every recording will come out sounding good, and background noise can interfere with capturing many subjects, so experiment freely and record more material than you think you will need. It is always better to capture more material then to miss something or arrive back in the studio realizing that the recording did not come out.

Gear & Set Up 

Recording in the field can at times be unpredictable and for this reason it is worth having a gear checklist and gear pack to help with unforeseen circumstances. Wind can be a major problem when working in the field and for this reason, aside from your field recorder, a windscreen muff, blimp (or both) is your second most valuable piece of equipment. Other items to have in your pack and on the checklist are: extra batteries, extra memory cards, tripod or mic stand, headphones, moving blanket (to serve as a baffle or wind block), roll of tape, poster putty, and when necessary a sand bag. Ideally your kit should be able to fit in a backpack and keep in mind that you will probably be moving around a lot and won’t want to be carrying too much weight. Always record in stereo, as the movement of sounds in the environment can often be the most interesting aspects of the recording and will give your recording a dynamic sense of space. The recording can always be made mono later if necessary. 

Other interesting possibilities for your kit can be the inclusion of a contact microphone and a hydrophone. Contact microphones can be adhered to most surfaces and will capture the way sounds interact with the material that it is in contact with, amplifying often unheard sounds. Hydrophones can be submerged in water and capture sounds that travel much differently in a liquid medium.

Problems and Issues

The unpredictability of working in the field can provide some interesting recordings but also comes with a slew of problems that can make capturing a quality recordings difficult. As previously mentioned, wind can be an issue, and high winds can make recording impossible, so use your muff and blimp at all times. Noise pollution in general will affect most outdoor recordings, but can also be captured as a soundscape itself. Sometimes you will need to revisit the location at different times to avoid an excess of background sounds. Avoiding copyrighted sounds such as music, people’s voices, and brands is essential but can be tricky as these sounds often dominate the environment. Recording early in the morning, or late at night can aid in avoiding these interferences. 

Creative Processing 

Once back in the studio, name your files according to the slates. Your field recordings can be used in their entirety, trimmed, or mined for samples for your sound effects library. Experiment with layering environments, applying effects plugins, and filtering out different frequency ranges. The recordings can be used as is or drastically altered, have fun playing around with the soundscapes and let your creativity be as boundless as the soundscapes that surround us. 

Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.