• stories
    The process of making a story in sound...

    ....have an idea - original, from a website/newspaper, from a friend/stranger (better) etc.... Cathy FitzGerald has written a handy guide to actually having an idea.

    Make a shopping list of what you will need in your programme. Cast your interviewees. Record them and any accompanying sounds (illustrate or counterpoint (better)) using a portable recorder. Load onto a computer and then using editing software cut out the boring bits. Be brutal.

    Assemble into programme. Mix.

    The 22 Rules to Perfect Storytelling, According to Pixar. This is for fiction which is the same as for fact.

    Good US Link to how to get started:

    Useful tips here from
    Joe Richman

    What makes a good story?
    One that speaks to you.
  • recorders
    Portable Recorders

    My top machines for all around versatility and price:
    Olympus LS12 I am now using this bijou recorder. Better mikes than the Zoom H4N, very small. £130. So small you can pretend it is a mobile phone. Excellent file naming. Starts very quickly. Batteries last for about- 50 hours. 32gb card gives you 50 hours of CD quality recording. You can use powered microphones such as the AKG C1000 or Rode NT4 with minijack lead. One downside is you cannot use condensor mikes or certain clip mikes which require phantom power for which you need a Zoom H4n. Lowish handling noise (watch for rattling headphone cable). However,,, be careful in cars etc. as when you travel over even moderate bumps the microphones distort horribly.

    Zoom H2N has very good surround capability and costs about £140. Good for recording loud atmospheres - jungles, seabirds on cliffs etc. I would be confident of making a broadcast quality programme with this machine. The internal mikes are not good enough for recording classical music or quiet birds. The M/S recording allows for much greater control of stereo picture in post-production. For manipulating m/s stereo brainworx make this handy free plug-in.

    But the Olympus above has far better microphones for stereo recording.

    Better quality but more expensive and has xlr input and phantom power:
    Zoom H4N - £200
    Good internal microphones and professional XLR inputs for using external microphones. You can record in 4 tracks with internal and external microphones. Pretty easy to use. Do not buy the older H4 model. It is the cheapest decent 4 track recorder (allbeit with it's own internal mikes). Batteries only last a few hours, in phantom power only 90 minutes or so. It has rather awkward menus and is not a joy to use.

    What is phantom power? Some microphones, particularly big condenser ones require power. They get this from the recorder they are plugged into. Condenser mikes have much better bass and all around sound quality but are very sensitive to handling so are used in studio.

    fethead - for about £100 a pair
    These XLR pre amps plug into your zoom and up the quality by reducing hiss in quiet recordings. I haven’t used them myself but hear good things about them. Examples
    here. They get a Zoom H4n close to the quality of a sound devices (see below)

    Budget Non-Choice:
    Zoom H1 £80
    Microphones sound cheap and nasty.

    More Expensive:
    4 Track - the Zoom H4N will record in 4 tracks. A more professional solution would be the
    Tascam DR70D

    Sound Devices make the best quality recorders and are used widely in Hollywood. They have excellent pre-amps which means the audio is less hissy. The
    MixPre 3 is lovely at £700

    I would be totally happy recording a doc. using the Olympus LS12 and mono mike AKG C1000. For a drama I would add the Rode NT4 stereo microphone.

    http://www.wingfieldaudio.com -
    is an excellent site where you can hear samples recorded on different machines.

  • mikes

    For most situations I use the internal microphones on the Olympus or Zoom H4N/H2N

    You are better to work in stereo as it sounds so much better on headphones.

    I do use mono in noisy places on single voices to drop into stereo soundscapes. I also use mono to record the presenter’s links.

    - I use an AKG C1000S £130
    which is tough, has low handling noise and can be used in hypercardioid 'spotlight' mode which means it only picks up sound directly in front of it. This is useful in noisy surroundings. It sounds a little bit 'toppy' which can be useful for getting voices to cut through. Heavy but always dependable.

    Stereo - I use the Rode NT4 £300
    which has really excellent transparent sound but has a lot of handling noise and is affected by wind. Really good for recording music or dramas indoors if it is on a stand or boom. Has its own power and minijack lead so can be plugged into Olympus.

    Sennheiser mke 44p - much less handling noise than the Rode. but....£600

    Studio (known as condenser) - The ADK A6 has a super clean slightly toppy (in a good way) sound. £150. Great for spoken word and recording on the road. I prefer the Neumann U87 but it is very expensive at about £2000. These use XLR and require power from the recorder known as phantom power.

    Clip Mikes (or lavalier)

    I personally do not like the sound of clip mikes but can be useful for people who are frightened of microphones or difficult to reach people, ie officials behind huge desks. They all need SLR inputs.

    Superlux WO-518XLR - £34 each - surprisingly good and near broadcast quality

    I use
    Sony ECM 44 - £150

    DPA 4060 - £260 - meant to be much better

    Clips mikes into iPhones work very well.

  • headphones

    Audio - Technica MT40 best combination of price and comfort. £70

    Sennheiser HD 25 SP £125 - completely blot out external noise so great for location recording. But uncomfortable for long sessions. Very accurate sound

    Superlux HD 681 £30 complete bargain, plasticky but surprisingly good sound. Can be improved dramatically when mixing by using Sonar plug in.

    Sonar costs £100 and calibrates headphones.
  • windshields
    Wind Shields
    You will need these if you do any recording at all outdoors. In an emergency use a sock and try putting microphone very close to ground where there is less wind.

    Rycote are the original - they are expensive but top notch. You can phone them and they are really helpful. They make smaller shields for specific mikes and machines - eg Rode Nt4 and Zoom H4n and 2 - but these smaller shields are not suitable for even moderate gusts.

    Rode also make windshields which I haven't used but I am sure are good.

  • computery things

    This is a big topic. If you like apple macs consider getting a mac mini which is cheaper than others and is plenty powerful enough for radio work. You can run 3 big screens off them. They are very small and quiet. I would always get a SSD hard drive as they are silent and so much faster. Much better than spending extra on a faster processor.

    Look into the graphics card specs too if you may eventually also do video. They cannot be updated later.

    If going for a laptop consider a MacBook air. They are really reliable and you can run a big screen off them.

    PC's - I don't know anything about them.
    Editing Software

    If you are working with collaborators please, please, please try to be on the same system if at all possible.

    Audacity is good for recording. Not great for editing.

    Garageband comes with Apple for free or is very cheap. More for music than editing though. You can use it for basic recording. Quicktime works well too.

    Reaper - £50 It has unlimited tracks and is positioning itself as a serious competitor to Pro Tools. incredibly configurable but because of that has a steep learning curve.

    Hindenberg £80 absolutely simple. Bit basic for myself. Very good for schools and news.

    I use
    Pro Tools - it is the industry standard (outside the BBC which uses Sadie). You now rent it by the month (like photoshop) Avoid Pro Tools Express or First.

    Pro tools Pref.s and Database Helper - if you are an experienced Pro tools user this is a handy free utility for trashing prefs etc.

    Protools-expert is a fab site.

    Useful site - again US
    Getting Audio off your computer from websites etc. (using Macs)

    By far the easiest option is to buy
    audio hijack for about £65. For more versatility consider their product loopback

    There is a free option for macs which is way more fiddly using
    Soundflower which re-routes audio. Here is a tutorial on how to do it

    Finally, you can always plug an audio lead into your computer headphone socket and then plug the other end into a portable recorder or interface box. Sometimes you get hums.
    Other Useful software for those who use Apple Mac.s

    Renamer: the Zooms rather annoyingly name tracks STE-01...02 etc. This £17 programme make renaming them a breeze. But only do so once you have transferred them to your computer...do not rename them with this on the Zoom.

    Time machine: Back up software that comes with newish Apples. Easy to use and essential to do. free

    File Synchronization: really good way of making sure you have backed up files without unnecessary duplicates. cheap

    Carbon Cloner: with this you can clone your hard drive onto a portable drive. £30 Then if your computer is stolen/broken/off for repairs you can get up and running instantly by cloning onto another computer or even running it off the hard drive. Incredibly useful.

    wetransfer: for emailing big files. Links only last 2 weeks or so

    Hightail is classier and better and costs £10 a month if you don't want your files to expire.

    Dropbox: free 2gb - great way to synchronise folders across your different macs - eg desktop and laptop. Also you can use the public box to get big files to other people and sync with them. I subscribe to get 2TB. A bit clunky.

    File Salvage: great software and human support in last resort in lost everything panics.

    Corrupt Wavs. Sometimes the file is corrupted and all you can hear is hiss. Use WavFixer. Or try opening in Audacity or VLC (both free) and recording output.

    External Hard Drives
    You do need to back up your audio somewhere else. Best to use dropbox or similar.

    I have had bad luck with La Cie drives. My second Rugged Drive has just packed up. If a firewire drive fails to mount and there seems to be no way of getting the data off it, and it is beyond its warranty, you may want to dismantle the enclosure and take out the internal drive and see if you can attach it to a new usb enclosure (they are cheap). You may need someone with technical know how to do this. This is how I got data of a La Cie drive that smelt of a burnt TV set. Otherwise the cost of recovery can be very high.

  • sound effects
    Sound Effect Sources

    Foley - these are effects you make yourself. They nearly always sound better than anything you buy. Record them at the same distance they are meant to be in the finished programme. Outside effects should be recorded outside if at all possible.

    Sounddogs - you can buy individual effects here. They have incredible depth to their collection. eg footsteps in snow. They also have the full BBC libraries including the Natural History Library.

    Also look at
    freesound.org incredible sounds that are all free but you must credit them.

    Thanks to Jon Calver for help in compiling this page.