How to Record Funfair Sounds - 4 Traps to Avoid
Just in time for the end of summer, next week we will be releasing a new bundle of ambiences: the Carnival and Funfair sound effects library. Today’s post will take a first look at the fairground sounds to give you a taste of what you can expect in next week’s release.
Curious how we recorded the funfair sounds? Want to know how to record your own amusement park sound effects? Today’s article explains why we recorded the funfair sounds, and how you can do the same.
At the end of this post we’ll share how to get an early-bird discount for the new library when it’s released next week.
Gathering Funfair Sounds
Funfairs are an explosion of sound. Also known as travelling carnivals, fairgrounds, and sideshow alleys, these events feature a dense sonic mesh of fair rides, games of skill, food stalls, lively voices, and more.
The result? Roller coasters. Tilt-a-whirl rides. Skee-ball and ring toss games. Barkers tempting people into games of chance. There are excited crowds, screams of terror and delight, frying food, sales pitches, and more.
There’s nothing else quite like it. The combination of people, machines, and events create sounds that convey energy, activity, and nostalgia.
Why Record Funfair Sounds?
Airborne Sound had recorded many travelling carnival sounds before. The Fairground sound effects library features 70 clips in 4.5 GB of field recordings of fairground crowds, rides, and games.
For this package we tried something new. First, there are two sizes of funfairs available in the sound library.
The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) or “The Ex” in Toronto sees 1.54 million visitors over 18 days in late summer. That’s packed with people, hundreds of rides and games, food halls, and much more. It’s big and noisy, and filled with bustling excitement.
The second funfair is the Western Fair located in the town of London, Canada. Just 8 days long with roughly 200,000 people throughout, it’s a smaller fairground conveying more detail and spaciousness.
We were aiming for a new sonic texture this time. Instead of the XY recording style of the last package, we recorded in AB stereo with omnidirectional microphones. The goal: to capture a depiction of the rich sound field of the fairground closely matched to natural hearing.
We also wanted to focus on more detailed recordings of the games, rides, and machinery without background ambience interfering.
Recording Funfair Sound Effects
So how did Airborne Sound record the fairgrounds? Let’s first learn about the challenges of recording funfair sounds, then see how we got the job done.
Funfair Field Recording Challenges
Funfair recording has 4 distinct challenges:
Music flowed everywhere throughout the fairground. It came from the rides, televisions, distant concerts, and PA systems. While music certainly adds to the spirit of funfairs, capturing it in field recordings violates copyright. All recordings needed to be completely free of music so you can use them safely in your projects. That didn’t leave many options for recording.
2. Limited Motion
At Airborne Sound, we aim to record three-and-a-half minute long raw ambiences. That gives a decent amount of recording time after removing any issues, and shares enough content for an ambience to be used repeatedly without wearing it out. While that amount of time seems to fly by in any other circumstance, nearly 4 minutes seems like an eternity when recording sound effects. Why?
Well, when recording it is vital to remain completely still. Any shuffling, movement, or even breathing can be heard by the microphones and will ruin the recording. Of course, in a bustling fairground it’s not wise to step away from the gear and leave $4000 worth of equipment on its own. However, remaining motionless as a crowd of thousands swarms by isn’t easy. The result is that a recordist becomes what I like to call ”pinned down” – unable to move in a difficult situation.
3. Sonic Separation
Funfairs are chaotic places. The midway is filled with dozens of rides, games, and thousands of people. Want to record a BB gun game? The wails of fear from nearby rides will intrude. Need to capture the sound of cooking in the food hall? Boisterous conversations will overlap.
Of course, editors want a clean recording of a ring-of-fire ride. They need isolated game sounds. It was vital to record with sonic separation so that no two types of sounds overlapped.
Recording in crowds is tricky. When someone sees a microphone they act differently. They’ll either play it up for the mic, or shy away from it. Either way, the nature of the ambience becomes corrupted. That’s why it’s vital to record crowds undetected.
Tips for Recording Funfair Sound Effects
The key to solving these problems? Microphone choice.
The tiny omnidirectional DPA 4060 ($1220) microphones are smaller than a fingertip. We arranged them discreetly on either side of a Mission Workshop messenger bag that was exactly 40 cm in width. That’s the ideal spacing for AB stereo recording, a technique that provides a good sense of the sound field and is best for ambiences.
Being so small, the DPA 4060s were undetectable. There wouldn’t be any problem with people seeing the microphones and acting differently.
Such a small kit allowed us to find what I call ”recording holes”: gaps between sounds in unusual locations. For instance, we could tuck in between two food trailers to minimize the sense of a distant bass beat. We could squeeze behind metal railings to get a rear-perspective of Ferris wheel machinery away from the crowds. That helped improve sonic separation and reduce the sense of music.
Mastering Funfair Sound Effects
How can you edit and master funfair sounds?
The goal for ambiences is to have a consistent sonic texture. So, any “pop-outs” or distracting sounds were removed: close yells, nearby foot scuffs, distinct conversations, and so on all had to be chopped out.
The DPA 4060s have incredible soundstage and clarity. They do gather a considerable amount of bass, however. This was especially an issue in the crowd recordings from the food building, agriculture building, and arts and craft areas. In this case, a slight low-end roll off helped removed the rumbling energy and focus the tracks. We used SoundToy’s Sie-Q ($99, a favourite for its smooth sound) or FabFilter’s Pro-Q 3 ($179) to get the job done. Other EQ was used to gently notch out tones from HVAC, or to diminish bass beats. iZotope’s RX Advanced’s ($1199) spectral repair was employed to erase the occasional stubborn beats EQ couldn’t fix.
When all was done, 66 clips of 3.6 gigabytes were gathered into the Carnivals and Funfairs sound library. Here’s a demo of the collection:
Discount for Newsletter Subscribers
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