How to make a living in sound Asbjoern Andersen


If you want to make it in sound, diversifying your revenue stream helps insulate you from the ups and downs of the audio industry - and in effect, it allows you to keep doing what you love (and make a living from it), year after year.

Ready to branch out into other fields of sound but aren't quite sure how?

To make it easier for you, we're really excited to kick off our all-new Sound Success series, exploring the many different types of audio-related work, what it takes, and where to find it.

We've got lots of interviews in store for you to give you the big picture - and in these first 3 interviews, you'll hear about film sound design from Nia Hansen, documentary sound design from Peter Albrechtsen, and trailer sound design from Karél Psota:


By Jennifer Walden and Asbjoern Andersen, with Nia Hansen, Peter Albrechtsen, and Karél Psota
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Sound Design: Film – insights from Nia Hansen:

A woman with brown braids and glasses smiles.• What working in sound design for film entails:

The sound designer’s main roles are to create new sounds for the film and to guide the editorial process to support the client’s vision and storytelling. This involves recording new source materials, designing unique sounds (from recordings, library materials, layering, and plug-ins), and cutting sound effects in the areas of the film that need design attention. The designer may also — through guiding the sound effects editors and Foley team — ensure that the sound is supporting the story, hitting the right emotions, and forming a coherent tone or palette. They may also meet with clients (sometimes composer as well) for spotting and review sessions to make sure the design is fulfilling the clients’ vision and aiding the storytelling.

While sound design often shines in the creation of sounds for nonexistent events —mythic creatures, aliens, technology, magic and superpowers — it’s equally important in subtler contexts where sonic symbolism, subtext, and emotion plays a huge story role. Design can come into play in the choice of ambiences, the styling of a door creak, or the placement of a sonic motif. While much of this comes simply through good sound editing, the designer can take a big picture perspective on the message of the film and guide the rest of the team to achieve it.
 

• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:

The sound designer needs strong editorial skills and proficiency with a DAW (Pro Tools is the film industry standard). Software plug-ins are very useful, but designers vary in how much processing they like to do. Plug-ins aren’t necessary to get started, but will definitely be needed somewhere down the line!

Sound recording ability and equipment is a huge plus — at the very least a recorder and good microphone.

Mixing is a very useful skill, whether in Pro Tools or on a console. The sound designer is often responsible for delivering design ideas or entire scenes for review before the film has been mixed, so an ability to present nicely balanced material is a plus.
 

• How to learn it:

There are some audio post-production technical schools that have courses in film sound or sound design, but the very best way to learn is to find an internship or apprenticeship with an established sound designer and start learning from their process while experimenting and practicing on one’s own.

The very best way to learn is to find an internship or apprenticeship with an established sound designer and start learning from their process while experimenting and practicing on one’s own.

Sound recording and mastering is often a large part of this entry-level position, and will hone one’s ear to quality as well as technique and use of plug-ins.

Sound effects editing is the next stepping stone to a sound designer position. In addition to improving Pro Tools skills and teamwork, it will teach taste, style, organization, and story awareness.
 

• How to find work:

Jobs in film sound design are project-based and generally come through an existing relationship with sound supervisors and/or filmmakers and studios. At a post production facility, the management may be seeking out films and matching them with a designer.
 

• Essential advice for working and making it in sound design for film:

The industry is driven heavily by reputation and many jobs will come from someone recommending you to someone else. It’s important to not only put in your best effort and continue improving your craft, but to also be easy to get along with and a fun asset to your crew. Network whenever you can; always be open to learning; ask questions —especially if you’re unsure about something! And keep an eye out for opportunities.

More practically, I think the best way to start tuning your ear and improving your skills is to get a recorder and microphone and begin collecting sounds, listening to the world creatively, and mastering and manipulating what you gather. If you can’t find opportunities to cut and design sound, find a video online and redo the sound for practice. Volunteering on student films or indie projects can be another way to network and build experience if apprenticeships seem elusive.
 

• Further reading and resources:

It’s well worth exploring sites like this one (A Sound Effect) that feature interviews with sound designers in film, TV, and video games, as well as blogs that focus on field recording. Some examples include: Soundworks Collection, InDepth Sound Design, Designing Sound, and the Tonebenders podcast.
Listening to and analyzing films with great sound is hugely beneficial. If unsure where to start, check out the MPSE Golden Reel Award nominees of current and previous years.


About Nia Hansen:

Nia has been at Skywalker Sound since 2009, first interning with Director of Sound Design Randy Thom and then apprenticing with Gary Rydstrom on several films that cemented her understanding of sound design as a storytelling element. Nia has worked on Disney and Pixar animations, as well as VFX-heavy sci-fi and fantasy blockbusters including seven films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She enjoys the creative challenge of designing unique technological and otherworldly sounds.

Website: www.niahansen.com
IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm3614489/

 

Get these interviews in the free Sound Success Guide:
Sound Success GuideThese interviews are also available in the massively-popular - and entirely free - Sound Success Guide, a 60+ page guide featuring insights from 20 industry experts on how to get started and succeed in 18 different types of audio jobs:
Click to download (.zip)
Click to download(.PDF)

Sound Design: Documentaries – insights from Peter Albrechtsen:

A man with a blonde beard and glasses smiles.• What working in sound design for documentaries entails:

When you’re the sound designer on a documentary I think you’re in many ways the ears of the director. You’re creating the sonic world of the film and making sure that the sound of the film is supporting the story, supporting the characters, telling the story in the best possible way, no matter if it’s a very realistic, journalistic documentary or a much more abstract, subjective doc. Sound is incredibly important no matter what.

To me, it’s mandatory to be part of the process very early so that the sound can be an integral part of the film and the storytelling. Being part of the process early also means that you have time to do research and record sounds for the film. In this way, you can also make sure that the sound is recorded properly during the shoot. It’s very rare that the sound designer is an actual part of the shoot, but it’s great to be in touch with the director during that process to make sure that the material is recorded as good as possible. ADR isn’t something you usually do on a doc — one of the few things that is actually different to working on fiction films — so getting good recordings from the shoot is invaluable.
 

• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:

I want to highlight the small handy recorders on the market which are quite cheap and which make wonderful recordings. Those have been a revolution in the documentary world because you can suddenly get good sound in a very affordable way.

In the film post-production world, ProTools is pretty much the thing everybody is using. It’s quite amazing that I can do the sound editing for a film in my studio in Copenhagen and then travel half way around the world and just attach a hard drive to a computer and then I’m instantly up and running and ready to mix. That flexibility is just awesome.

On top of that, I want to highlight the small handy recorders on the market which are quite cheap and which make wonderful recordings. Those have been a revolution in the documentary world because you can suddenly get good sound in a very affordable way.

But of course, the most important gear is your ears. Take care of those. Remember to listen. Always. Listen to the world, listen to the film, listen to your collaborators. The better a listener you are, the better a sound designer you will be.
 

• How to learn it:

You learn all the time. I’ve been doing sound for movies for 20 years and I still learn all the time. But for getting some basic skills it’s about just playing around — work on some small films, do some jobs as an assistant, become an intern, go to film school, record sounds, and listen again and again to all your favorite films. There’s so many ways of learning this. And the great thing about sound is that you can keep on finding new sounds, finding new way of telling stories with sound. It’s an adventure!
 

• How to find work:

There’s not an easy answer to this question. A lot of TV stations do documentaries and you can get some nice basic skills by working there. But otherwise, I would recommend getting hold of some upcoming filmmakers and get connected that way. Filmmaking is about collaboration and finding some great collaborators is key to getting to do interesting work. Several of the directors I work with now I’ve worked with for many, many years — we started out doing no budget movies and now we’re doing Dolby Atmos projects. But we still have a lot of fun. Never forget to have fun.
 

• Essential advice for working and making it in sound design for documentaries:

Find your own voice and personality. What do you like? Which movies do you like? Which stories would you like to tell? What sounds do you love? I think it’s important to stay true to yourself.

You get to work with lots of amazing people and tell a lot of inspiring and maybe even important stories.

You should only do this if you really like it. Working in film sound means lots of long hours of hard work, tough deadlines and crazy, unpredictable schedules. But it’s also a lot of fun. You’re constantly inspired in new ways by new projects. You get to work with lots of amazing people and tell a lot of inspiring and maybe even important stories. As a wise man once said, “This sure beats having a real job.”
 

• Further reading and resources:

There’s not that much written about that subject, I’m afraid. Most of the writings are focused on sound in fiction films. Google will bring you some nice articles, though. I wish someone would write a really great book on sound for documentaries.


About Peter Albrechtsen:

Peter is a sound designer, mixer, and music supervisor working on both feature films and documentaries. Recent credits include festival favorites Generation Wealth, The Distant Barking of Dogs, Blind Spot, Godless and sound effects recording for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. He’s also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. When not in the studio, Peter is writing about music and movies and lecturing about sound design around the world, most recently at Sheffield Doc/Fest and at the Berlinale Talents in Beirut.

Website: www.offscreen.dk
IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm1022700/

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
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    This is our premiere foray into sound libraries here at Steamboat Sound, and we worked real hard to make it equally high-quality and easy-to-use – we hope you enjoy!

    Recordings include:

    Mockup channel order (panned, for easy editing in NLE):
    Channel 1 (left) – Exterior
    Channel 2 (right) – Interior

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Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Trailer Sound Design – insights from Karél Psota:

A man with a shaggy beard and hair in a blazer sits at his workspace.• What working in trailer sound design entails:

In my experience, we mostly design abstract sounds to help editors and composers. Think about Whooshes, Whoosh-Hits, Booms, Pings, and Power Downs. They all have to: emphasize transitions and impacts, enhance production value, wow the audience, and create a memorable signature for the campaign.

I rarely see the picture or talk with the editors. Trailer music supervisors request custom samples packs, and months later I get a quote request for the few samples that made it through all the focus groups.

On the other hand, some trailer sound design companies focus on “audio finishing.” They mix the whole trailer and design some of the sounds in-house. The pressure is really high since the director and the “suits” are all there. That’s not the case for me.
 

• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:

Skill-wise, you will need a sharp ear. Being able to spot a problem really fast is valuable for mixing. I do a lot of exercises. They are very frustrating and would drive most people insane. A lot of EQ matching, and chord and melody dictations. I also remake famous songs. Anything cool I hear, I’ll sit down and remake it.

The more I advance, the more I realize how little gear is needed. Cultivating taste and seeing the big picture is the key

There’s maybe a 20% success rate, but the sheer fact of focusing on layers, compression, reverbs, etc… it keeps my ears in shape.

Gear-wise, the setup is pretty standard — if not sub-standard compared to my peers:

• Recording: Zoom H5.
• Raw Processing: Reaper, iZotope RX, SoundMiner V4.5 Pro.
• Production, Mixing, Mastering: Ableton Live 9, xFer Serum, Waves Sound Design Suite.
• Monitoring: Apollo Twin, ADAM A7X, Auratone, Audeze LCD-X.

The more I advance, the more I realize how little gear is needed. Cultivating taste and seeing the big picture is the key.
 

• How to learn it:

As I say to my students: “remakes, remakes, remakes.” You’ve got do your homework first. Study the greats and bridge the gap between your ideas and your speakers. After that, you’re welcome to experiment and do weird unique stuff.

Study the greats and bridge the gap between your ideas and your speakers. After that, you’re welcome to experiment and do weird unique stuff.

For the existing music producers and sound designers that are looking to transition into that field, I made a course with Evenant. It goes from recording to mixing to licensing your own sounds for trailers. It’s over 4 hours of video where I break down my most licensed sounds. I also improvise sounds from scratch so you get to see my thought process and mistakes. There are a lot of secret tricks and mix tips. Note that the entry level is higher than most courses — a basic knowledge of your DAW, EQ, and compression are required.
 

• How to find work:

Well, there are many options, but I’ll share the two methods that worked for me:

• Public Release – selling your own trailer sounds to the general market through a website. It can be your own or a third-party. Third-parties obviously take a cut, but they reach more people.

On AVA – INSTINCT, I teamed up with a childhood friend. He did all the web design, ads, visuals, and marketing. I did all the sounds, demos, Kontakt scripting, and UI design. It was a great combo!

• Industry Release – licensing your sounds privately to studios that are working on trailers. You can do that on your own (company required), or use a publisher (no company required). Publishers usually take 50% but have a larger reach.

I created a company 4 years ago. It allowed me to deal directly with Sony, Universal, Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, and others. When an editor uses my sounds in a trailer cut, the studio then has to license the sound from me. I get to negotiate the price, so the sky is the limit.

I also have some sounds with trailer publishers. They allow me to tap into markets that I know nothing about, like TV show licensing for example.

By the way, both methods are equally lucrative, “Public” being more stable, “Industry” being more like a roller-coaster with 6 months delays.
 

• Essential advice for working and making it in trailer sound design:

I think it all starts by being very curious and having a taste for high production value.

The following tips really helped me get my s*** together:

1) Understanding function. Why was that sound used there? Did they change anything around it to make it pop out? Does it serve multiple purposes (creating sonic depth, emphasizing a title card, ending a musical passage, contrasting with the previous narrow stereo field, etc…)

2) Be organized! Learn how to name files properly and consistently. Batch edit samples to save time. Select only the best samples so you don’t waste your time browsing later on.

3) Tunnel vision is the enemy. Work fast and efficiently. If you’re spending more than 5 min on a sound, you’re probably doing it wrong. Save multiple versions. V02 might be better than V17. Take frequent breaks. Listen to multiple references. Try to maintain a flow state.

4) Provide value to your friends and clients. Don’t write a novel in your emails. Don’t waste their time by sending un-mixed samples. Surprise them with free material from time to time. Make it look sexy — visuals matter. A bit of artwork goes a long way!

5) Have high standards. Compare your work to the best sounding trailers. Even if you’re only 60% there, that’s probably better than if you hadn’t compared it at all.

6) Be useful first, original second. Remember that you are providing tools to enhance the narrative. Try to think about what storytellers need. It doesn’t always have to be an incredibly unique sound like the SW II Asteroid Bomb. 99% of the sounds you hear are generic.

7) Less is more. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It’s also easier to mix for you… and for the dubbing mixer.

8) Don’t narrow your field of study. Film, orchestration, physics, acoustics, dubstep, psychology, psycho-acoustics, even Photoshop concepts can be directly applied to trailer sound design.

9) The answers are often in front of you. Synth presets can teach you so much if you take the time to reverse engineer them. You can also hear each layer in a hit with a bit of ear training. Not sure which limiter is the most transparent? Download demos and try them all… or maybe play around with the release knob you never touched. You would be surprised how little people do all that.

10) Give Back. You can charge a fortune to corporations… and help out kids for free. You’re not devaluing yourself. Also, what’s a better business card than an excellent free sound design pack with your name on it?
 

• Further reading and resources:

It’s a rather hidden industry. There’s almost no resources on trailer sound design. Since trailers are ads, nobody gets to see our credits. We also don’t get a Blu-ray featurette on how an elephant was recorded to make a spaceship reactor.

However, I’ve been seeing more and more interest. Maybe people are finally noticing the sounds… or how lucrative it can be?

These few articles were quite influential in my process:

Mick Gordon – DOOM Behind The Music (GDC Talk)
16 pedals side-chained to each other, guitars morphed with chainsaws… you get the idea.

Charles Deenen – 100 Whooshes in 2 minutes
The mastermind behind Source Sound Inc (Battlefront II Trailers). Very advanced article that gave birth to the Melted Sound – Whoosh Engine.

Boom Library – Tutorials
One of the top trailer sound design companies. Very nice tutorials where you get to see what they layer, what reverb they use and how they master. I remember learning about the Altiverb – Vigeland preset from them.

I also made a few videos on my YouTube channel, but if you want to dive in completely, the Evenant course is the sum of my knowledge. Although I show everything I used and offer the stems, I also made it fun and inspiring so you can do your own thing… and maybe stop using my racks haha (I see you, students!!!).

Check out my Free Fireworks Pack. I processed it to sound like massive trailer hits. I also left the raw so you can practice yourself!


About Karél Psota:

Karél is a sound designer, composer, and mixer. His music was used in the theatrical trailers for DC Shazam, LEGO 2 and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. His sounds were used in Avengers: Infinity War, Justice League, Spider-Man Homecoming, and more. He also produced the AVA – INSTINCT Trailer Sound Effects Library.

Website: www.karelpsota.com

 

A big thanks to Nia Hansen, Peter Albrechtsen, and Karél Psota for sharing their valuable insights!

 

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Succeed in sound:

• How to Set (and Get) the Right Price for Your Audio Work

• 10 Essential Tips for Game Audio Freelancers

• How to be a successful sound designer – with Scott Gershin

• 5 Useful Tips for Upcoming Sound Designers and Sound Editors

• Sound Opinions: How to get game audio pricing right

• Building a successful audio post studio – with Kate Finan and Jeff Shiffman

• Rebuilding your studio: Goals, tips and lessons learned

• Creating audio for games – with Martin Stig Andersen

• A life in sound: How to foster creativity and protect yourself from burning out – with Chance Thomas

• Tips and thoughts on running your own audio post production house – with William McGuigan

• 30+ year audio veteran Andy Greenberg, on building client relationships in the advertising industry

• 7 Sound Alternatives to Working For Free

• Audio Outsourcing Success: Essential Tips, Thoughts and Working Practices from Adele Cutting

 
 
The sound success series:

• How to succeed in UI/UX Sound Design, ADR Recording, & Audio Programming

• How to succeed in sound design for Film, Documentaries, and Trailers

• How to succeed in sound design for Games, Animation, and Television

How to succeed in Field Recording, Foley, and Teaching Sound

• How to succeed in Audio Branding, Music Editing, and sound for VR

• How to succeed in Theater Sound Design, Podcast Sound Design, and Podcast Production

• How to succeed in Sound Editing, Sound for Advertising, and Production Sound

 
Breaking into audio – guides and resources:

• The ‘Quit Aspiring’ book – by Adam Croft

• How to get hired in game audio – thoughts and insights from your potential employer’s perspective

• 4 Effective Ways to Break into Game Audio

• Tips for Creating a Perfect Resume for Audio Industry Jobs

• Yet Another Game Audio Hiring Article – by Ariel Gross

• 5 Tips for Getting a Job in the Audio Industry

• Applying for a job in game audio – by Matthew Florianz

• Freelance Game Audio: Getting Started and finding work – by Ashton Morris

• How to get started (and make it) in game audio – 10+ fundamental questions answered by Akash Thakkar

• Courses: How to network and get paid for your work in the game industry – by Akash Thakkar

• How to Craft a Perfect Cover Letter for Audio Industry Jobs
 
 
Finding those audio jobs:

• Get the weekly Audio Jobs newsletter

• Join the Audio Jobs Facebook group
 
 
Showcasing your work:
 
• Get a free profile on Soundlister

• Upload your demos to Soundcloud

• Upload your demos to ReelCrafter
 
 
Networking:
 
• Find game audio community groups around the world

• Find interesting audio events around the world

• Find other audio pros around the world
 
 
Coping with a layoff - and how to bounce back:

• How to prepare for – and power through – a layoff in the game audio industry, with Brian Schmidt:

• How to Survive a Game Audio Layoff – insights from Damian Kastbauer

• What it’s like to be laid off from your video game studio

• What To Do Before and After Being Laid Off

• Facebook Group: Survival Skills for Creatives
 
 
Education and knowledge:
 
• Get an audio mentor at the Audio Mentoring Project

• How To Learn Game Audio Online – A talk with Game Audio Educator Leonard Paul

• Read the 100s of sound stories and guides on the A Sound Effect blog (search for stories here)

• Browse Industry Data: Game Music and Sound Design Salary Survey Results

• Browse 100+ Sound Design Guides

• Essential books about sound – for film, games and audio post production

• Get tips and ideas for making your own sound effects

• Discover 1000s of sound libraries from the independent sound community

• Take online courses in Wwise, FMOD Studio, Unity, Pure Data & Unreal at the School of Video Game Audio
 
 
Getting into independent sound effects:
 
• DIY SFX libraries - Your guide to your first sound effects library

• Sound effects survey results: Here are 90+ ideas for new SFX libraries

• How to create an indie sound bundle

• The quick-start guide to adding sound FX library metadata

 
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THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
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    Great for linear work or games – especially since it includes an easy-to-use Interior vs. Exterior mockup folded down to 2-channel files (ISO’s also included separately).

    This is our premiere foray into sound libraries here at Steamboat Sound, and we worked real hard to make it equally high-quality and easy-to-use – we hope you enjoy!

    Recordings include:

    Mockup channel order (panned, for easy editing in NLE):
    Channel 1 (left) – Exterior
    Channel 2 (right) – Interior

    Isolated tracks of all Exterior and Interior perspectives on idles, revs, engine starts & stops, various speeds, and more!

    Interior knobs, buttons, dials, seatbelts, sunroof, turn signals, buttons, windshield wipers, door open/close.

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  • MAGIC SOUND EFFECTS REDEFINED
     
    Enter the world of MAGIC – ARCANE FORCES, where supernatural entities can be heard raging with ultimate power and fury. The distinctly forceful and kinetic character of this comprehensive sound effects library and its designs is supported by countless pristine source recordings of the elements being pushed to their limits. Whether in post production or sound design for games, MAGIC – ARCANE FORCES gives you the edge on the other side.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:
    INCLUDED SOUNDS – KEYWORDS
    ACID, ARCANE, BARRIER, BREATH, BUFF, CURSED, DEBUFF, DIVINE, ELECTRIC, ENERGY, FIRE, GLASS, ICE, IMPACT, LIGHT, LIQUID, METAL, PROCESSED, PROJECTILE, RUMBLE, SEQUENCE, SUMMON, SWEETENER, SWISH, TELEPORT, TEXTURE, VOICE, WATER, WHOOSH, WIND
    20 %
    OFF
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  • “The Shoe Collection: Soft Hardwood – Woman’s Knee-High Boot“ by Periscope Post & Audio, provides 22 high quality footsteps on soft hardwood floors with the knee-high boot.  The audio files are recorded at 24bit, 192k with mono and stereo recordings.  The Sennheiser MKH-60 was used for the mono files with a slightly more distant mic placement than the stereo files, which were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and the Sennheiser MKH-30 near the shoe.  From different walking speeds, to jogging, sprinting, jumping, hard stops, scuffs, and more!  There are several performances with each file to fit the right action you need.  That’s a whopping 620 footsteps between the mono and stereo files!

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  • Recording of the Pulse Jet Snowmobile. Powered by a 50 Hz Pulse ethanol/water jet engine the same used by a WW2 V-2 rocket.


    The Pulse Jet Snowmobile sound collection shares 28 clips of field recordings in 1.42 gigabytes of audio. Powered by a 50 Hz Pulse ethanol/water jet engine the same used by a WW2 V-2 rocket, this bundle presents the snowmobile racing at extreme speeds for a mix of perspectives.

    Both onboard and exterior perspectives are shared in two takes. The exterior perspectives arrange microphones at a mix of distances at the beginning, end, and middle of the racing strip. The onboard microphones were positioned onboard the body and at the jet engine to portray steady fast driving, with bonus custom mixes of the onboard and exhaust tracks.

    The sound library includes iXML, Soundminer, BWAV, and MacOS Finder embedded metadata, metadata keyword import files for 7 languages, and Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions.

 
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