In this second and final article I will discuss microphone patterns, recording device pre amp settings, editing and the final mastering phase of this collection. Before I dive into all the technical mumbo jumbo I want to express that when I’m setting up and actually recording thunder and lightning I get quite excited. There must be something in the air, alien mind control beams or just the anticipation of getting the “ultimate” thunder clap or lightning strike. It’s very hard work and involves exercise, listening, tracking the storms and watching the skies. I feel like a kid in a candy shop and I feel the recording is the easy part. So, now we begin.
October 7, 2014 – Frank Bry
In this article I will reveal my secrets and techniques to recording decent thunder and lightning. Many, many years and sleepless nights have gone into perfecting the art of recording the thunderstorm and I will finally share. But first, I want to share a little history and tell you how I developed these secrets and techniques. It was not so easy at first and here’s the story I’m still alive to tell. Part 1: Live and Learn.
Thunderstorm III HD Professional SFX library Update: Three years ago I started recording all new thunder and lightning sounds for this new collection. As you might guess you cannot call up the thunder gods and schedule a recording session or two. Strange I know but that’s the way they work. So, I’ve been slowly and patiently waiting, recording, waiting, recording, editing, waiting, recording, etc during this time and have recorded quite a bit of material.
For the last month or so I’ve been driving my wife crazy with my microphone and recorder rigs sitting near the front door. I’ve been trying to record the thunderstorms that were forecast by the experts. So far I’ve been batting a thousand with thunder fail so last night I moved all the gear downstairs to the studio to make good with my wife.
I checked and double checked the weather forecast and there was a remote chance for scattered thunderstorms. This last month had the same forecast so I thought I was good with bringing the gear to the studio for the night. Around midnight I was jarred out of bed by a huge thunder clap. Now this is where it gets a little strange. I really thought I was dreaming. (yes, I do dream in sound effects) I then ran out to the front door and did not hear a thing. No rain, wind or thunder. I stood there for a few minutes in a sleep deprived daze and decided to go back to bed. A few minutes later the was a “KABOOM” and I was again running for the door to see if there was any lightning. By this time it was raining pretty hard so I knew I was not dreaming.
When I brought the gear downstairs to the studio and I removed the Windjammers and set them somewhere. I scrambled around for the Sennheiser 8040ST rig and I could not find the windjammer for it and then “KABOOM” another great thunder clap…. with light rain. I decided to go without the Windjammer but I was nervous because it can protect the microphones from light rain. I set the 8040s outside the door and then I remembered where I put the Windjammer. Bingo, back in business!
I sat there with the recorder on my kitchen table for about 45 minutes and recorded 5 rumbles. I estimate by the time arrival after the lightning flash to be 8 to 10 miles away. Twice a car drove by just after the lightning strike but the pass by sound had faded by the time the rumble came. Still, go figure, cars driving by at that hour on my street? Very rare except when I’m recording something.
The thunderstorm was recorded on June 12, 2011 with a matched stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040s. Prepare your subwoofer because they really rumble. There is no EQ or any other processing except cross fades and mild L2 limiting in Pro Tools 9 HD.
To kick off thunderstorm season here in North Idaho I want to share with you some new thunder and lightning recordings along with some from my Thunderstorm HD library released a couple years ago. I also want to share some of my tips and techniques I use when trying to record that elusive lightning strike. The audio clip below is thunder I’ve recorded over the last 2 years. The clip contains the raw recordings, no processing except crossfades and gain adjustments. What you hear is what you get. Now, some background information.
Up here in the Panhandle of Idaho as we call it, we experience some awesome thunder and lightning displays. When the cold air from the north collides with the warm air flowing up from the south west a situation is created that’s perfect for thunderstorms. Most of these storms have rain and hail associated with them but on occasion they are dry or cloud to cloud lightning. These are my favorite to record because there is very little wind and almost no rain.
Most of my thunder recordings are made with my Sanken CSS-5 microphone sitting right outside my front door. I sit in my kitchen with the recorder and a glass of single malt scotch and safely wait until the universe gives me a good one. I have an open field directly in front of my porch with the forest on one side and a huge open space that leads to the street on the other. Unless it’s really windy or raining heavy I get some very clean takes. On occasion there will be cars going by, birds, squirrels or people mowing their lawns and chainsawing. This is very rare but can be annoying and just part of life. The middle of the night is the best time here, it is very quiet… almost to quiet (spooky).
The thunderstorms usually start with the rain spigot turned off but the thunder is very far away. Some great sounds can be had during this time so I roll and hope there isn’t a distracting event like a car passing by. I tend to have my gain set higher than usual so I can get a clean recording. As the storm gets closer I turn down the input gain because at this point a loud thunder strike can occur. I’ve been caught off guard with my volume settings and have lost some great takes. If you count between when you see the light flash and here the boom you can get a sense of how far away the storm system is from you. I’ve developed a good feel for when to change my gain setting after years of distorted thunder and boring silence recorded.
I usually do not have a rain cover on the Sanken but I do use the full windjammer and blimp. The windjammer can soften any rain drops that hit the microphone but they really have to be light. I do have this contraption I built that has a 12 foot 1×1 pole with a window screen attached at the top and I lay a towel across the screen and this sometimes help during heavy rain when I put this over the mic. For the most part though, the overhang of my roof keeps the wet out.
I have recorded out in my field under a huge stand of fir trees that has worked but it’s tough to get set up for that when the storms roll in very fast and I have little time to get ready. I sit in my car and run some cables out to the microphone about 75 feet away. I don’t want the sound of the rain drops that hit the car to get in my recordings. Other times I have recorded just outside my garage with the door open which faces East. I stand inside my garage so I won’t freak out at the thought of being struck by lightning. Most of the storms come from the West so I tend to record from the front door which faces north.
When I have time to prep for thunder recording I follow the weather and radar maps online. You can get a good sense when and which way the storm is heading. I also check lightning tracker sites and they have proved somewhat useful. For me the best way to prep is to just realize that it’s a crap shoot and you are at the mercy of the Thunder Gods. Sometimes they give you good ones and sometimes they mess with your mind and you have a bunch of completely full Flash Cards to erase.
Here are some short form tips:
1. Always be ready. I have my gear set and ready during the thunderstorm season.
2. Be patient. Waiting is the hardest part. Don’t tear down to quickly after the storm passes, there might be the “good one” (Has happend to me one too many times)
3. DO NOT STAY OUTSIDE during the storm. Our body voltage is low, not a good idea to add more.
4. Protect the gear. If it’s raining and windy, cover and secure your precious stuff.
5. Drink Scotch if you want, it can help pass the time and your recordings actually sound better.
6. There will be a next time so don’t worry about getting crap for recordings.
Check out Thunderstorm HD Sound Effects Library here
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