A method for organizing field recordings – part 2

Thank you everyone who has read and commented on part 1 and welcome to the second part of this article in which I describe my workflow after I listened through everything, placed markers and regions for specific information and taken notes aside.

The main reason why listening through, cleaning and marking before displaying the clips in our DAW has been for me a crucial step for a healthy editing phase. I’m unsure if it sounds odd applying the word ‘healthy’ but at times when I used no proper method and either curiosity and excitement or just the need to rush through had so much weight that I skipped those steps and I couldn’t focus, making everything messy: I was still exploring the recordings, placing markers, finding out intruding noises or wonderful events. Getting to know your sounds will make it incredibly smoother in this stage.

I keep two sorts of notes separated because everything that is saved with the files must be objective for future use; the main practical use I have for many of my field recordings is to publish them on SoundCloud – this is why I write aside what sounds like a nice segment or even an occurrence I could want to publish.

Some segments are once in a while picked up for a sound design project I might be working on and this hypothesis makes a third phase of the entire workflow (maybe another article on this?)

Looking at this stage now, remembering that before on iZotopeRX I have exported the markers and regions list as a text file to be able to quickly find any information once I’m working on Reaper. I opt by not using any noise reduction because restoring audio software and algorithms will improve continuously in the future; this is done instead every time (if needed) at each time I’ll be using the recordings. This is a strong personal preference and it might not suit all workflows. I prefer to keep the files like this and later treat them for each different application.

Now to each step:

  • Create a new project on Reaper
  • Import media items into a single track
  • Arrange items by timecode (since the timecode matches the real local hours).
moving items to source position

If you are working on ProTools, then this article written by Benjamin Gale offers a way to transferring markers from iZotope RX to ProTools.

  1. Duplicate the track, so I always have the original positions to refer to if needed. Not doing this before made me completely lost track (hey, another pun) and it’s easily avoidable. For a better visualization and avoiding (more) mistakes, I hide the original track on “Track Manager”.

Now the very first edit to be done is to cross-fade between segments that have been cut previously on RX and are marked with ‘CF’: this is so that every instance has continuity. Would it happen the need of an urgent use of these recordings, I know they are at least fully edited already.

markers and regions placed on iZotope RX are turned to ‘labels’ on Reaper and shown across the clips

Important note: I always keep the RX processed file; in case I entered wrong information on the markers on iZotope – or any other change -, I can go back to that file and overwrite it to keep all the information consistency across. Reaper will refer to that file and update it every time there are external changes; this means no hassle in re-importing the item allowing flexible back-and-forth.

This, so far, is the main process for everything: there is a backup, the files have objective metadata (BWF), disturbing noises are gone and all clips have continuity.

It’s time to export. Some thinking needs to be put on this. I have had in the past exported entire segments (3 hours segments that can go across 3 different files – depending on your recording settings), or file-by-file basis. The first one really didn’t reveal practical in any case; the second not so bad, but could be illogical as well. But because of my hyper-structure obsessive needs, I always include the original file name. I can’t claim this is the best method, but it has been working for my own use.

Let’s take one of my latest recordings as an example: I set up my equipment during the night – from about 3 am to 9 am. Zoom has split the recording into several files. It makes more sense to me to export the files based on what’s happening. Across two different files I have an insistent european nightjar, so I rather conjoin them and create a whole segment for it. I would name it: SBGL_euronightjar_ZOOM0001-0002-3

[SBGL = Sabugal: acronym for the location; euronightjar = for the main event in the clip; ZOOM0001-0002-3 = reference of the source files]

an example of how I would cut segments: the start of the clip is conjoined with the previous one, from the point the nightjar starts; the highlighted region is cut separately, since it’s only one event (I do this on Reaper but showing here on iZotope RX for better visualisation).

side note: the emphasis I put into the location simply has to do with my working philosophy, if you will. I get very connected to places and I am interested in how they sound just a little bit more than the event isolated. But because this might not be (might!) as relevant for cutting SFX, I always keep both parts of the information.

These new organized clips are now the 3rd track on Reaper. I find it very useful to keep everything within the session while trying to be resourceful by not copying files but referring to them (project settings).

What I usually do next is to pick up and highlight parts to upload on SoundCloud. Because they are separated and independent from the previous process, I have been cutting them directly from the duplicate of the original track. Remember that I noted these segments on my notebook, while listening through everything on iZotope RX, so the only thing to do now is to trim the clips to what I find appropriate. They are highlighted in orange for obvious reasons. I could do the same for Bandcamp, for example, and color-code it blue. Would the clips coincide, I color code with that mix (let’s say: orange + blue = green).

orange parts picked up for SoundCloud

I tend not to use regions because usually I do my recordings during at least 3 days. Since I display them on Reaper with their real local time and most likely there will be several clips that came from recording at the same time of the different days, it turned out to be confusing having markers/regions across the entire edit window.

And this is how the folder structure is looking at this point:

The folder on top – 1 SBGL Recordings – has the original files that I refer to until everything is edited out on RX. You can see the green tag for the first sub-folder – the only one which at that point was fully reviewed. Since we have done backups before (to the backup hard drive), I am able to delete this folder later when everything is fully edited. This way we avoid redundancies and save storage space.

The second folder – 2 SBGL Recordings RX are the direct exports from RX. Yellow tag means ‘work in progress’.

You can even understand the work order here by seeing that the third folder is the directory for the Reaper projects.

And the last one holds the exports:

0. The first sub-folder – the main one, let’s say – contains the created continuous clips with logical segments – the ones that are potentially ready to use.

  1. Here are the SoundCloud bits.

2. And here are the small occurrences I think it’s worth saving for additional SFX use. For every different type of occurrences there will be a new folder named accordingly.

And this concludes this second part of this diligent but worthy process.

I’m thinking about writing a third article about metadata on Soundly. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do it!

I really appreciate suggestions from the community. Even though I feel secure with this workflow I am always flexible to look at it in another way, improving it.

Happy editing!

10 thoughts on “A method for organizing field recordings – part 2

  1. Hey Melissa, thank you for these great articles about your workflow and general thoughts on organizing your recordings.
    Lately I am becoming more dedicated towards fieldrecording and this has been a good starting point to stop the mess I was dealing with in my unstructured workflow. ( I Have been too excited about recording as well 😉 )
    I would love to read a third article and I am looking forward to it.

    Best regards.


  2. Hi Clemens! Thank you for your comment. I’m really happy you found it useful.
    It’s honestly tough sometimes in a way that takes so much time with the first part, but a true time saver in the end. I guess patience is a virtue 🙂
    The third article is planned, it will come out!
    All the best!

  3. This is great! I just found this article coming from Paul Virostek’s website and it was just such a good read and very informative!

    The cross-linking for different purposes while leaving the main back up system and necessary amount of redundancy intact is very clever. I think, I have to try it out step by step to see, if it’s working for me as well.

    Right now my system for any kind of project is to create three subfolders within the project folder and name them 1_input, 2_edit, 3_output. It’s quite similar, but a bit more generic, which I personally like more, because I get a working system for any type of project and keep the same subfolder names.

    It was really inspiring to read, how you kind of meditate through the process and organize it so that you free up resources to be able to actually listen and get the most out of the recordings rather than be overwhelmed by many clips, bits of information here and there and a lacking general structure. Many things can come the way of editing your stuff well, but I feel that this practice helps a lot in making it easier. One has to accept, that it is a process that is taking time and once understood, one can embrace it 🙂

    1. Hi Philip.
      Thank you so much for your comment! I feel really glad you find my method useful.
      Even if the purposes are different for other editors, there might be always something to develop from.
      While starting I was definitely overwhelmed by the amount of information. Even though this process is long and requires some patience, the fact that everything is structured from the start, gives me a great thread to follow.
      I can’t say it’s a perfect system, and it might be upgraded once in a while, but it’s somewhat more comfortable. But yes, it took me some years to find something that works well.
      All the best!

      1. Hey Melissa,
        thanks for your nice reply!
        I’ll be following for part 3 🙂

  4. These articles are great Melissa. It’s interesting to understand how you wrestle with your obsession-passion-excitement for recording sound and desire for organisation. You’ve laid out a different approach that sounds logical and sound led. I’ve been trying to ableton and it just feels unnatural for field recording and sound effects. Is izotope Rx a worth purchase? Reaper is a no-brainier at the price. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Mark.
      Thanks for reading the articles and sharing your thoughts! I have been continuously happy about this method and it’s been serving its purpose well!
      iZotope RX really is a great software. But unless you are looking into repair audio, I am not sure if it’s worth the investment, since it’s expensive. There are other softwares with spectral display that are cheaper or for free. But then I don’t know if they allow markers that are saved as BWF, if that is something you find fundamental to your workflow.
      On the other hand Reaper also has Spectral display, so I’m sure there is a workflow possible using only that.
      Thank you!

  5. Hello Mellisa,
    first: Thanks very much for sharing your process with us! Besides was has already been said it’s interesting how you describe your workflow as “long but successful” because I’ve just came up with a routine for reading/extracting texts for scientific purposes and see some similarities: Generally it’s about dividing a process into smaller steps: I start by marking phrases or passages that are somewhat related to a topic I’m interested in or that help me “get” the text. After I’m done with that I collect/export them and work with that collection, which I then try to express in my own words: While this seems as a waste of time on the first sight, it helps me dividing the workload into simpler tasks which help me to familiarize with the text and understand it’s structure plus I work more efficiently this way both considering time but also my “success rate”… Stay committed to big bunches of information is really hard for me.
    I hope this somewhat sketches our “common ground”…

    Would you mind talking a little bit more about the actual edit, as this step remains somewhat unclear for me: What is your main goal here? Do you just want to divide or sort a recording session into files/recordings that each have a different sujet? Or do you want to reduce the recorded time significantly, condensing the original session?

    Take your example picture where you talk about cutting segments: Will the “air soft” segment be deleted or kept as a file? (The surrounding audio will be joined – if it creates a continuous recording?)

    As far as I understood you just omit beginnings where you might be walking away from the recorder.

    Best regards
    Chris Erkal

    1. Hi Chris! Thank you for your comment.
      It’s indeed interesting that our processes seem to have similar steps.
      My editing process has more than one simultaneous intention which is usually already pre-defined by the recording subject and/or the intention set with the recording session. However, it is likely that during the process of listening, marking, editing, some more ideas are collected for final purposes. Since this can become a ‘multi process’ I find it easier to split the sessions into the places I have recorded at.

      I ommit beginnings and endings immediately, since they have no use.
      In the case you refer about the ‘air soft’ segment: that was exported as a separate file for my personal SFX library and to sell, but I didn’t find it interesting to publish it as a field recording.
      So I take notes on what has interest to put into use: a field recording album, SFX or a publication on SoundCloud.
      This is why I think the use of a different track for each purpose is very helpful.
      Also, right now, I am editing recordings from the Atlantic Forest I never listen to attentively and I find myself writing more extensive and descriptive notes on my notebook. Sometimes I even describe feelings which is helping me a lot to look at it later and understand how that impacted me and that it could probably be published as a field recording work. This session has over 50 hours (yikes! this is making me think how to be more resourceful while recording), and I might have a species of interest spread unevenly accross the gigantic timelimes. But with color coding, markers/regions and different tracks I am able to spot what I have separated for that specific one.
      To sum up, I try to make the best use of the recordings in order to publish work and sell and since it has multi-purposes, splitting everything, sort of like tidying up, has been a big improvement for me.
      I hope this answers your question, but feel free to email if you want to discuss further. 🙂

      Once again thank you for your insighful comment – it’s very much appreciated.

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