As any sound designer of field recordist will tell you, getting access to great locations or particular sources for sound effects is vital to build a useful and diverse library. Great, you may think, but it isn’t always as easy as just turning up.
I’m a confident person. I never really shy away from anything. However, it wasn’t always this way. When I first started recording, I’d take my Beyer MCE 72 microphone and Marantz PMD670 recorder out and off I’d go, eager to capture amazing sound effects. Setting up my gear and recording lovely ambiences was no problem. I could handle the strange looks, or curious questions I’d get. But I’d struggle to just go and ask someone, can I record your dog? Or to phone locations ahead and ask if I could come and record for an hour or so.
I realized this was a problem and that I’d need to up my game if I wanted to achieve more. My sound effects up to this point where mainly ambiences. Don’t get me wrong, they were good, and wide-ranging, but I was missing important sounds like animals, machinery, people, public places, sounds that required me to ask people if I could record them.
This can be an issue for many. Getting told no doesn’t feel good, especially when it’s face to face, but it’s part of the process. You want to record lions and tigers but live in the UK? You’re going to need to go to a zoo. Will a zoo spend their time allowing you to go in when they are closed, record sounds and leave without anything back? Maybe, depending on how polite you are. In such situations it’s often wise to offer something back… a donation to help with the upkeep of the zoo. It may just be a token gesture, but it may just mean they say yes. I’m lucky in that all my content is recorded for a free sound effects library, and any money made goes to charity. This helps me massively to gain access and permission to record sound effects at certain locations but understandably, most are not in this situation.
So how can you gain confidence in approaching people or companies and ask to record? One way I increased my confidence was to take a small portable recorder out with me and slowly force myself to ask. For example, I first went to my local park and explained what I was doing to a dog walker. He was fine for me to throw the ball for his dog and record it barking, running, panting etc. Next up, a man operating a small lawnmower in his garden. No problem.
Slowly but surely my confidence grew. Now, a short 2 or 3 mile walk may see me record many different sound effects, from weed whackers, construction sounds, dogs, radio controlled cars, car horns, shop ambiences and more.
I recently phoned up a local farm and asked if I could come down to record the animals, specifically their pigs. The farmer was happy to help and we arranged a time to go along. Once I recorded the pigs, I couldn’t resist asking to get more sounds. The next thing I knew I was in a field surrounded by sheep, the farmer throwing food around me to make them stay close. Then cows and finally her pack of dogs. I was allowed to wander round and get other sounds like gates closing and opening etc. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Do people say no? Yes of course, all the time. But usually only because they are busy or in a rush. If you want to record a wide range of sound effects, don’t worry about asking people if you can record, mostly they are intrigued ad happy to help!