Behold, the sound effects library. The only library I know of where you won’t be told to “SHHHHHHH.” What a glorious notion!
For sound designers in search of source material, there are so many options to choose from.
On one side, you have the big boys like The Hollywood Edge, Blastwave FX, Sound Dogs and Sound Ideas. And on the other side there are small, independent producers like Rabbit Ears Audio, A Hiss and A Roar, Unidentified Sound Object and Echo Collective. And there are all the others in between.
If you’ve made the decision to join the ranks of the sound designers out there that are releasing independent sound libraries, you’ve probably got a lot of a questions on your mind.
I aim to address some of these questions and hopefully provide some guidance for folks looking to explore the entrepreneurial world of independent sound effects libraries.
Hopefully, I encourage you to get out there and do it!
What to do, what to do?
The first hurdle to clear when releasing a collection of sounds is deciding what to record or create. This can be quite daunting because really, the sky is the limit.
There are two schools of thought in regards to the what: Create something that people need a lot of, or create something that is extremely unique and hard to find/duplicate.
Starting out, try something that you have relatively easy access to. You could have an uncle that’s a marine officer and can get you onto base to record some maneuvers. Or you could have a friend that has a fully restored, hot-rodded ’57 Chevy that sounds killer!
Chances are, you know someone that can get you around something that sounds cool. When you’re starting out, you don’t necessarily want to have to shell out a bunch of dough just to get access to something awesome. If you settle on something that isn’t exactly unique, then make it something that is created in a unique or different way.
Most importantly of all though, make it something that you would want to buy and use yourself!
If you’re going the designed route, make sure you’re starting with source material that you have ownership of.
Notice, I keep saying create. Sound libraries don’t always have to be raw sounds recorded in the field. They can be designed or synthesized also. If you’re going the designed route, make sure you’re starting with source material that you have ownership of.
When it comes to sound libraries that you sell, you should ONLY design with sounds that you record yourself. This protects from any legal woes down the line.
Now the how
This is a delicate topic. Ask ten different sound designers which mic to use for a particular application and you’re liable get ten different answers.
I’ve always been of the school of thought that if you capture an interesting sound or performance, the quality of the gear shouldn’t matter as much as some would like you to think. Some folks get all caught up on the specs of the gear that they’re using.
Focus your energy on capturing interesting sounds in a way that makes the most sense.
Don’t worry about your gear. Focus your energy on capturing interesting sounds in a way that makes the most sense.
I’ve got a whole folder of stuff that I recorded with my smartphone’s built-in microphone, the contents of which regularly make it into projects I’m working on. Not the most ideal, but if it’s a cool sound, it’s a cool sound and I’ll find a way to use it. Okay, getting off the soapbox…
Some collections will beg for multiple perspectives.
Car collections for instance might have 6+ channels of material being captured at once. A collection of switches and buttons might only need 1 or 2 channels. 6 channels would be overkill. Be smart and efficient with regards to your gear choices.
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I always like to map out my collections up front so I know if I can accomplish my goal with the gear I already possess or if I need to rent additional equipment.
If you’re in the field, choose only the essential gear you need to get the job done. Don’t load up your 50 pound car battery if you know you’re not going to need it. Remember that limitations can be helpful.
I often times will only give myself 2 channels to work with. It forces me to use my ears to find the sweet-spot which in the end can result in a better recording.
Try miking things in unusual ways. Try contact miking. Don’t just record an interesting sounding item, try recording it in a unique setting. Try miking the item underwater or in a giant culvert.
Coverage is king
When you’ve decided on what you’re recording, record ALL of it.
Just like with shooting video or film, you want coverage on the item. Especially if it’s an item that was difficult to gain access to. You don’t want to have to go back later because you missed something.
Obviously there are limitations to this, but do your best.
If you’ve settled on releasing a car sound pack, make sure you’re recording EVERY single sound the car makes. Get the hood, doors and trunk opening and closing. Get all of the locks, handles, knobs, buttons and sliders. Get all of its compartments.
I can’t emphasize this enough, GET IT ALL!
How about the windshield wipers? Gas tank? Turn signal sound? Radio static? Fan belts, why not?
There is so much more to a car than just the engine, wheel-wells and tailpipe. I can’t emphasize this enough, GET IT ALL!
Yeah, it’ll make for a lot of material to sift through later, but you’ll be thankful you have it. You might not use it all for this particular pack, but you might use it for another release later on!
With some smaller objects and only if you can afford it, you should even consider purposefully misusing the item at the very end to produce malfunction, damage or destruction sounds.
These are always unique and so many games and films feature destruction, so you know they’ll come in handy.
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About Mark Camperell:
Mark Camperell is the Founder & Creative Director at Empty Sea Audio and its sister company,
The Library by Empty Sea. Mark’s direction, along with his ability to assemble uniquely talented audio teams, is positioning Empty Sea as a leader in creative audio services ranging from sound effects libraries to original music composition to full service post audio packages. In addition to his position at Empty Sea, Mark is also a freelance Supervising Sound Designer, Re-Recording Mixer and Music Producer with over 100 titles under his belt. Mark is an active member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors and Motion Picture Editors Guild.
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