There’s nothing more daunting and challenging than working with limitations – especially when recording something as complex as a car. On Sunday, Amit Barde and I decided to record Raghu Kannan’s modified Swift. This is what we were up against:
- Limited equipment - my Sennheiser MKH 416, Audio Technica BP4025, Cold Gold buffered contact mic, Zoom H4n, USBPre2 and Amit’s Zoom H4n and very useful Fat Gecko Suction Mount
- A city with only live sound rental companies – limited choice of equipment
- A limited budget
- Lack of quiet locations (everybody in this country feels it is their fundamental right to sound the horn every few seconds)
- NO GAFFER TAPE! (extremely tough to source gaffer/duct tape here)
- NO GAFFER TAPE!?!!!! (High speed -> MKH 416 -> DANGLE -> DRAG -> SCRAPE -> OUUUCH!!!)
What we did have on our side was:
- Some equipment (refer point 1, previous paragraph)
- Some choice of rental microphones (2x Shure SM57, 2x Shure PG81, 1x Shure PG52)
- Recording early on a Sunday outside the city
- Rolls of cellophane tape, cloth tape, paper tape, insulating tape, string, wire
- Lots of orange coloured foam
- 1x silver Maruti Swift (Modified: K&N Free Flow Filter, shortened first and second gears, stiffened suspension + frame & other automobile mumbo-jumbo)
- 1x Very good driver
We had a total of 8 microphones and 6 inputs – 2 on each of the H4n’s and 2 on my USBPre2 if I recorded to my laptop. With previous experience I knew that using DAWs outdoors only complicated things (takes longer to name the track > record enable > locate record point on the time line > hit record > stop > drop marker with information/name the file). I decided to use BoomRecorder which functions like a location recorder – scene/take metadata, time code stamp, comments and a detailed field report at the end of the session.
We met at 6:30AM and drove the car to the location (a cross section of empty roads outside the city which I had found the previous week). It was a good distance from the highway (although a few occasional bys and horns – of course – could be heard) and there were a few birds trying to get themselves heard.
We first began by taping the MKH 416 to the suction mount to place it near the exhaust. After finding a good spot where the mount held well, we taped it to the body of the car and also tied a little safety harness – just in case!
Next we placed the PG52 in position using a a short boom rod. It was held in place with tape and cushioned with foam (BRIGHT orange, helped keep us awake).
The contact mic was then hooked up the USBPre2 and with the engine running we tried to find a good position safe from the heat. Placing it on the body (near the latch for the bonnet) produced an interesting mid-heavy sound which we liked.
Next was the engine. We tried to find a good position with the SM57, except all we picked up was lots of electrical interference. This pushed us to try the PG81, which worked well – zero electrical interference and it sounded good too. Although, we had no way to mount the microphone over the engine and improvised by suspending it with string and tape. It wasn’t the prettiest setup but it worked – our custom suspension mount!
We also placed another PG81 over the filter. The 57 was pointless here too because of the interference.
The MKH416 and PG81 near the filter were hooked up to the USBPre2/Laptop, the other PG81 and contact mic were connected to my H4n (running in two track mode) and the PG52 was connected to the Amit’s H4n (running in 4 track mode to capture an interior perspective).
We drove the car around to set levels and check for noise. The PG52 and MKH 416 picked up some wind, which was fixed by covering them with foam. Everything else sounded as expected.
We did get interesting sounds (and no microphones were damaged!). Here are a few of the takes. There’s not much processing other than corrective EQ and mild limiting.
Here’s a mix of all microphones (except the internal mic) from ignition to 100km/h:
This is the same take except with a focus on the individual microphones:
Car in reverse, all microphones except the internal mic:
Car in idle, all microphones except the internal mic:
Every recording, whether large or small is easier to manage if everything is documented. A slate before every take is a bonus. I entered in all information I needed on BoomRecorder while Amit wrote down information on his log sheet.
Also, we opened and shut a door for every take to help line up the different tracks in post by matching the transient.
6. Next Time..
The next time I’d like to try better microphones and better preamps, although these results with a combination of the USBPre2 and H4n preamps surprised me. Additionally, a stereo mic for an external perspective along with a mic or two for the tyres might help.
Amit has also posted his thoughts and offers a different perspective on his blog. You can read it here.
Two inspiring blog posts:
Colin Hart’s post on HartFx – Recording the Yamaha R1
Rene Coronado’s four part series on recording a truck
And this awesome video from Pole Position Prod.