Image of various calendar days.

Sound a Day Challenge – How what and why

You know that thing people do when they take a photo every day and post it on social media? Well, I don’t take many photos. But I still did the challenge. But not with photos.

I decided to record a sound a day for the duration of 2017 and share them online, not just on social media, but also to upload them to Freesound and make them available as copyright free sound effects.


The kit

I think it goes without saying that I have some recording equipment. The studio is very well equipped to capture audio, but I was going to have to record sounds while I was out and about. For this, I already had a Zoom H4n, but I needed to buy a small tripod and a dead kitten so I could improve the quality of the recordings I was going to make.

Once I had the kit in place it was all systems go. I could record with my studio equipment as and when the chosen sound was suitably near the studio (or if I was working in a different studio) and use the portable recorder for other bits.

What’s the point?

The reason I took this task on was largely to make me refresh the way I listen to things.

The way we listen to music is different to the way we listen to everyday noises. Sound engineers/ sound designers/ etc do often listen to everyday noises with the same attitude and attention as most people listen to music. This is what I wanted to challenge myself with. And if I could encourage other people to hear the beauty in everyday noises in the process, so much the better.

A case in point for this is the sound I recorded on March 4th. The house next-door-but-one to us has some windchimes outside, which are really quite annoying. But talking to Helen about the above, she didn’t believe that we listen differently and that the windchimes could sound quite beautiful. So I took the H4n into our garden and recorded the comings and goings for a few minutes, then played the audio to her on our hi-fi. She conceded the point.

The pitfalls

There were many difficulties along the way.

Like the time I was trying to record one of the only thunderstorms we had that year and ended up dropping the recorder out of a first floor window. It didn’t quite survive. Finding new sounds every day became quite tough as well. I didn’t go out as much as I thought I might (I’m really glad I didn’t decide to do this at the beginning of 2020!).

But I think the biggest obstacle was Red Light Fever. I think everyone who’s been in a recording studio will know the phenomenon where you perfectly know your lines or your instrument part right until the second when the record button is pressed and the red light goes on, and at that point all ability goes out of your head and you need to go for take 2, take 3, take 4. I can confirm that it’s not only humans that get red light fever. In fact, it’s not just animals. Even inanimate objects can get red light fever, making amazing sounds right up until I hit record, and then inexplicably changing the tone of whatever it was they were doing. Illustrated by the recording of April 1st (aptly) when I was trying to record a chiff-chaff near where we live and all sorts of other noisy things started happening.

The highlights

I generally enjoyed the project.

I think I recorded some lovely sounds. I particularly like my running ducks which I got by throwing food for them to chase after, my walk down Market Street (some of the Manchester buskers I recorded are also very good), playing with the glass harp I created, and the spectacular snoring from inside a tent at a festival. I also enjoyed getting a group of voiceovers to shout obscenities at me just so I could record it!

Ducks running
Walking down Market Street, Manchester
Festival tent snoring
Angry voiceover crowd

Uploading them to Freesound was also worth doing as I’ve had many lovely messages from people who have downloaded the sounds to use in their projects. It’s surprising what has been downloaded the most. There are one or two that have been downloaded multiple-thousands of times since they were published.

What did we learn?

Is ‘Bugger All’ an answer?

I think over the course of the year I did consider sound differently and honed my skills at miking up obscure things. It made me realise that where I live is really noisy. It was very difficult to get clean recordings of a lot of the things I was attempting to capture.

I didn’t quite make it through the year. I managed until September, then for whatever reason, I didn’t get any recordings done during October. I tried to restart in November, but I’d lost the momentum.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Would I do it again? Not a chance!

The full collection of recordings can be found on Freesound and on Youtube.

Cover photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

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