Those familiar with sound production will know how important professional quality sound effects are and how expensive they can be. If you are on a budget, you have to get a little creative with sourcing your sound effects. So is it possible to create high-quality soundscapes using effects that you have downloaded or produced yourself?
The best way to start your collection of sound effects is to check online libraries. There are many sites which host free to download sound effects. Anyone who is interested in making a professional quality sounding production needs to consider this aspect when searching for sound effects. Only collect the best quality sound effects. After all, shoddy sound design can cheapen the impact of any production.
A large portion of my own personal sound effects library comes from freesound. The quality can vary, but you can check ratings and preview the files easily before downloading them. You need to sign up for an account to use freesound, but it is completely free to use. Users can choose to upload their own sounds to share with the community. You do need to check the individual attribution rights for each file, as they can vary.
Sonniss have released a bumper bundle of professional quality sound effects, created for the Game Developers Conference. This file is huge (over 20gb), but for anyone serious about sound design, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. The quality of Sonniss’ sound packs are impeccable, so get downloading!
Another site I check regularly is 99sounds which specialises in free sound effect and samples. You can get VST plugins, sound effects and drum samples all for free. You can preview examples of the sound packs before downloading them and you can download easily without the need for sign up.
Now that you have a sound library to browse through, you can use these to create new sound effects. This is where you will need an editing program such as Adobe Audition or Audacity. By taking carefully chosen sounds from your library and layering them together, you can create new and unique soundscapes.
The video I have posted here is a project which iterated that all sounds used, had to be synthesised. To create the rain for the first section of my showreel, I layered seven different sounds together including frying, white noise and a rain stick. I won’t lie to you, this is time-consuming, but highly rewarding if you get it just right.
There are other ways to synthesise sound using a digital audio workstation and music based programs, which I will cover in my next sound design article, so stay tuned.
Seven layers of sound to create this seemingly simple rain sound effect.
So here’s the bad news. In order to create professional quality sound effects, you will need to buy or borrow recording equipment. I personally own a Zoom H2n, which is a field recording device with an inbuilt microphone and would recommend using something similar. Avoid using your computer to record with a microphone plugged in. Regardless of how good your external microphone is, PCs emit a high-frequency whine, which will pollute your recordings. This unwanted noise can be very difficult to remove, without affecting the quality of the recording. Field recorders such as the Zoom do not have moving parts nor fans, so completely take out this noise pollution aspect of capturing sound.
When capturing sound effects, it is important to try to get a clean recording without any extra background noises. I also like to vocally mark the start of my recording by stating what sound I am capturing, along with the distance I am from the sound source. This aids in file identification and makes life easier in the post-production stage of your project.
Think outside the box when it comes to recording your own sound effects. Need a gunshot or cannon sound? Record fireworks, bass drums and hard impact sounds. For gory effects, wet pasta, borax slime, snapped celery and slowly torn lettuce can be made to sound horrific with just a little imagination. Never forget, you can confuse ears as easily as eyes into believing a narrative. Just take your time and be creative.
Create a sensible filing system that you understand for your audio library. I personally create a .txt document for every file I download and write in where I downloaded the sound from, who created it and attribution rights. This way I can see at a glance what I am legally allowed to use for each project and if the file somehow becomes corrupted I can easily download it again.
Good organisation and a clear naming method is especially useful for anyone creating their own sounds. I create a temporary folder when transferring my sound files onto my PC. From here I check each file for quality before naming them, then finally moving them over to their new home in my library.
“One last thing,” I say in my best Columbo impression. Never work from your library directly. Create copies of the files you need and place them in a project folder. It is only too easy to accidentally overwrite or delete something from within a program during post-production. Save yourself the frustration and always make a project folder in another location on your hard drive.