Some tweaking may be required. I often find that the instantiation of the water noise—i.e., turning on the faucet—and the conclusion of the sound (the closing of the taps), will carry more tell-tale atmosphere than the duration of the water-blast. Here I might turn to RX for noise reduction, but only subtly, and for these specific moments, leaving the rest well-enough alone.
Moving on: if you have a cat, and if you keep your litter box in the bathroom, then the water-closet is an excellent opportunity for obtaining the sound of footsteps on gravel. It’s rather like the snow trick, but instead of flour, you’re stepping in the litter box. Fresh Step’s non-clumping litter works best (I’m sorry to say that I know this from experience), and obviously, you’ll want to use a clean litter box—or a very dirty shoe. Again, angle the mic approximately forty five degrees from the litter box, about a foot away.
Other esoteric sounds can be captured in the bathroom; sliding the rings of your shower curtain around creates a variety of sounds that can either be used realistically, or manipulated for sound design purposes; if you have metal rings and a metal curtain rod, even better—you can approximate the slow sound of two swords uncrossing in the middle of a fencing match.
There’s more run-of-the-mill audio to found here too; peruse your bathroom-books on mic for the sound of page turns. Record the sound of the door locking, if it does indeed lock. Brush your teeth on mic (I had to do so for a short film called Sumi).
The living room
(Or the bedroom again, depending on your situation.)
If you’re like me—living in a one bedroom apartment—then your living room doubles as your studio. This is a boon, as you can forego the remote setup and record with your chosen interface, your collection of microphones, and a variety of props found throughout the house. If, like many young people with roommates, your home studio is situated in your bedroom, the following still applies.
Perhaps the setup here includes a guitar amp. If that’s the case, mic your amplifier as normal, turn the volume low, and instead of plugging in a guitar, hold your finger down on the lead of your instrument cable. You can use this to approximate a variety of electrical noises. You can also layer this sound into any scene to create an instantly seedier atmosphere.
If you have an older television, mic that oh-so specific, high-pitched whine of a TV turning on (use a microphone that goes up to 20 kHz for this). In your living room there’s bound to be a table or desk for your coffee mug or water glass; mic yourself putting the glass down. Any everyday occurrence can be obtained in your living room, and might very well come in handy.
Here are some more freebies: Set up a microphone as you would for a singer, only you’ll be the performer. Is someone drinking a glass of water in the scene? Drink the water on mic, getting all the guttural sounds, if that’s what the scene requires.
Your voice is actually an incredible tool in Foley. A growl pitched down can be layered with other noises for a monster’s roar. Zombies can be created by gurgling, breathing, and situating your voice into your adenoids, or doing whatever you can to project sound through your nose. And yes, it’s always fun to make your own Wilhelm screams.
In this better-miked environment, you can also get creative in sound design, and here’s an example:
During a short called Hudson Valley Boys, a scene took place in a seedy, crummy room. I found needed something to really sell the depravity of the location. So, with the director’s consent, I staged an argument to layer in the background: my wife and I stood far away from the mic (getting plenty of room tone in the process) and went about having a spirited discussion about the dishes. Mixed to sound like it was coming from an adjacent apartment, the quarrel didn’t distract from the goings-on (there was little dialogue anyway; it was a shakedown scene). The sound of the argument, coupled with a little guitar-amplifier electrical hum, brought the squalid environment to life.
Moving on. Swing a drum stick past a microphone, as though you were miking a drummer from the side. This can create a realistic whooshing sound, useful in all sorts of situations. In fact, here we can dive into mix-layering by giving you a three-sound guide for approximating the impact of a bullet:
Record the whoosh of a drumstick. Next, capture the sound of one fist punching your opposing, open hand. Finally, grab one of those kitchen sounds above (squishy fruit if you want gore; rotten meat one if you want a thud). Layer and time align all of these together, EQ to taste, add the appropriate ambiance, and you have a convincing sound effect.
Now, in case you think I’m totally macabre, these practices don’t all cater toward violence. Scratching your cheek on mic, rubbing your shirt, raising or lowering a pneumatic chair—all of these sound come in handy, and can be convincingly achieved in your home setup.
This article represents only a small fraction of what you can do around your house. It’s meant to get you started, designed to inspire ideas, and intended to diminish any fears surrounding the enterprise.
You might notice that this article is a little light on technicalities. That’s because standard miking technique is, to a large degree, standard miking technique; if you’ve miked a drum, you can mic a punch, and if you’ve miked a singer, you can mic a zombie voice.
I will add two technicalities to round out this piece:
First, it’s a good idea to record at 48 kHz sample rates (which Spire Studio offers). Nearly every film I’ve worked on has utilized 48 kHz, so why set about making an extra step for yourself by doing otherwise?
Secondly, do not forget the power you wield in post production. Many of these sounds will work fine as is. However, unlocking their creative potential often requires manipulation. Slowing down the time, dropping the pitch, going crazy with ambiances, and adding subtle harmonic distortion can go along way in securing otherworldly tones or big cinematic explosions.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Because after you’ve tried recording and mixing your own Foley, you’ll feel a creative satisfaction unlike anything else. Indeed, nothing makes you feel more like MacGuyver than finding a way to MacGuyver your own sound effects!