As sound people, sometimes we hear something so unique we just have to capture it. A lot of sound designers (myself included) carry around mini recorders for just such an occasion. But we can't always be prepared. There are moments when you need to capture a sound in an instant. Like if a bird with a crazy call lands on an open window. We don't always have professional recording gear at hand. Most of us however do have a cell phone nearby.
I've found that the built in iPhone microphone does a pretty bang up job for recording on the fly. In the spirit of sharing, here are some of my favorite off the cuff recordings made entirely on my phone.
Disclaimer: Of course, it's a blast to plan and execute a proper field recording. The right equipment will get you exceptional results. But these are stories of the times I didn't have any gear on me. None of these recordings are perfect. But are they usable in the right context? Absolutely. The point here is to grab recordings with your phone in situations where the alternative would be no recordings at all. It is also very likely you'll need to bring your own cell phone recordings into your DAW for some cleanup. I typically use iZotope RX's Denoiser (no, they don't sponsor us in any way. I'm just a fan). Always be sure to capture at least a few seconds of the ambient steady wherever you record to make removing this noise floor a snap later on.
Here are some of my favorite personal found audio moments. ALL SOUND EFFECTS HERE ARE AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE. Go ahead and add them to your library!
You know that feeling when your stomach just won't shut up? It churns and gurgles, like bubbles are just moving around in there? Well I happened to wake up to that one morning. It was otherwise quiet in the house - the perfect opportunity for a recording. I jammed the bottom of my phone into my stomach and hit record. This is one of my favorite moments in found audio! I've referenced it so much in casual conversation that my mom once did the same thing and sent me the audio file! Hi Mom (she's an avid Boom Box Post blog reader).
4th of July Neighborhood Fireworks
This past July 4th, my wife and I heard what sounded like fireworks just above our house. Our neighbors were launching fireworks roughly 50 yards from our door. These weren't rinky dink over the counter fireworks either. They were legit. We ran outside with our daughter so she could watch the show. While I was out there, I broke out my phone to capture it.
Hollywood Bowl Walla
I am constantly on the lookout for good crowd recordings that do not contain any English words (we can't cut English in our sound effects tracks for dubbing purposes). While heading back to my seat at the Hollywood bowl during an intermission, I stopped dead in my tracks. It was a crazy phenomenon - right where I stood was this really nice even din of crowd walla. No discernible English. No individual call outs. This kind of walla is priceless. There I stood with my phone on record, pretending to check social media, capturing this brilliant crowd.
Miscellaneous Tropical Bird
The above example bird example actually happened to me. It had such an odd cadence to it, I just had to capture it. Any Ornithologists out there able to identify it? Incidentally, if you pitch this call down a significant amount, it sounds to me like a super cool retro submarine alarm (Klaxon-esque) so I've included that in the file for you as well!
While hiking a trail in Kauai, I came across a small stream that had a BIG sound. I'm not one to bring recording gear on a rigorous hike (although maybe I should) but it took almost no time to grab my phone and capture this really dynamic water movement.
It is well know that smells are strongly tied to memory. Interestingly enough, for me it's recordings. Whenever I record something on the fly with my phone, I tend to form a strong memory. I didn't reference any journal entries to write this blog post - these are all vivid memories I have due to the fact that I chose to take a moment and record the sounds of the world around me.
So go ahead and make some memories of your own. When faced with an interesting sound out in the wild, armed with only your cell phone, try your hand at some recording! You'll be surprised how quickly you can grow your own library with original material.