This is a quick tutorial on one of my techniques for cleaning up thunder recordings. At the bottom of the page is a version of the original recording which you can download from SoundCloud for free. (24-Bit 48k) Recorded with a Sennheiser MKH-8040ST set at XY 90 degrees.
Approximately 50% of the thunder I record here on the ranch is fairly clean with little to no rain and wind. The other 50% has some other junk like crickets, birds, cars, trains, bats, dogs, you name it. If I can hear it even slightly before recording it can get in there. The unpredictable nature of thunder is that you never know what you are going to get. I usually hope for the best and even have my front entrance modified with removable baffles to mute the rain drips but every now and then I can get some real nice claps and lightning strikes that need little to no clean up to make them sound good. They are what they are. These gems also come from recording a storm at night when it is really nice and quiet here. Since I cannot command the thunder gods to play at night I am at their mercy as to when I record. So, sometimes I have to record during the day. And here is one of my solutions to fixing problematic thunder tracks.
The best thunder I record happens when the storm is going around the ranch maybe to the North or from the South to the East. My recording location (right in front of my door) faces North so when a thunderstorm comes in from the West or South I really hope it makes a direction change and skirts around me. When this happens I usually get many takes without the heavy rain and wind associated with a severe thunderstorm. The best times are at the start of the storm and right after it passes. I have witnessed hours of thunder to the North and South of me without rain and wind but that is very rare.
So, what do you do when you have a great thunder clap or lightning strike with slight rain and wind? You try and fix it without upsetting the thunder gods. I have my usual tricks up my sleeve to get the thunder cleaned up like dynamic compression, expansion and EQ but sometimes I turn to RX2 for some extra punch. This is an amazing piece of software and when used correctly can greatly reduce the rain, wind and occasional overload clicks that happen often with the power and punch of a close by thunder clap. There are certain times of the year my stream is flowing and that gets in the track also but RX2 to the rescue, it can even reduce that also. Here are some of my solutions to fixing problematic thunder tracks.
Below is an audio example of a nice close by thunder clap that I recorded recently but it was plagued by some rain, soft wind and my stream. To top it all off, even though I had my recording levels set conservatively the energy from the clap still clipped something. Not sure if it was the MKH-8040 or the SD-702 preamp but a single click happens right at the peak energy of the clap. The level meters did not go over digital zero and the limiter did not kick in so I have no idea what caused it. I have included some screen grabs of the before and after.
The first sound is the original thunder clap with just some L2 limiting. (Note: I shortened the thunder tracks for the sake of this comparison.) The second example is the same thunder clap processed with some RX2 DeNoise. This is a simple Denoise with no advanced settings applied. I “Learn” a section that best represents the parts I want to reduce. This was at the start of the file with no thunder rumble just the wind and rain. I did not want to affect the low end of the file.
The third example is the Denoised file with some Declick and Decrackle applied. I could have edited out the loud click at the peak but I also wanted to reduce the light rain hitting the ground. The Denoise process took care of some of that and the Declicking was the icing on the cake. As you can see the junk was removed with some success. Now it sounds like a fairly clean thunder clap. RX2 can easily be over used and I hope I did not over do it but most thunder sounds used in a production are layered under or over other sound elements like rain (the rain you want, not the original track rain), music or is used in an interior scene with the thunder mixed to sound like it’s happening outside.
Well that wraps it up. I hope you enjoyed this quick thunder doctoring blog post and would love to hear about any other ideas on how to clean up thunder and lightning. It is one of my favorite things to record and I get totally bummed out when The recording does not come out as expected. But all is not lost sometimes, a little processing and maybe, just maybe, staying up all night recording was worth it.
Frame grabs from the actual storm that night recorded with a Flip HD camera at 60fps:
Here is a video from that night with slow-motion playback.
Here is the thunderstorm recording with various portions edited together:
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