Building Your Own SFX Library

Sound effects libraries are useful to have on hand when adding sound to any kind of visual media, such as a films, commercials, television shows, or video games.  While some sound effects are recorded directly in sync with movie (Foley), many pre-recorded sound effects and ambiances are pulled from well-organized libraries.

Building your own Sound Effects library is a great start to working on Audio for Visual Media projects.  First, it helps you understand how to record effects, whether outside with a handheld or field recorder or inside in a controlled environment. You also develop an ear for interesting and creative sounds, because part of the fun is capturing unique sounds that you don’t hear every day.  Finally, practicing editing of the sound effects is very useful to hone your skills at not only mastering your own library, but for the ability to edit them into a final picture as well.

This past fall I took an Audio Engineering 2 class aimed for working with visual media.  For our final projects, we were told to go forth and create our own sound effects libraries with 5 groups of 5 sound effects each, along with two ambiances.  I checked out one of the Sony PCM-M10s handheld recorders we have at school and recorded most of my effects with it.  They turned out pretty good!  (I ended up buying my own handheld recorder, (the Zoom H4N), but by the time it arrived I was on to editing all of my sound effects, and I haven’t had a lot of time to play with it yet.)  I recorded most of the effects at my friend Mike’s house, because he has a ton of tools (one of my groups was just saws), and home-brewing equipment.  Surprisingly, I actually captured some really fun sounds from his baby!  –I haven’t had a chance to get any up my effects on Soundcloud yet, but I will put a few examples up here in a few days.

Handheld recorders are great for beginners, and they are also great to have on hand to capture accidental sounds.  Professionals would use higher-end field recorders such as the Sound Devices field recorder, but they may keep a smaller hand held recorder to carry around to capture any unplanned sounds.  Truly, the best sound is one that you capture, so even if you have to use the voice memo app on your iPhone, that is still better than not capturing the sound at all, it just won’t be as great of quality.

For more information on field recording and building your own library, one blog that I have been enjoying is Creative Field Recording.  The author, Paul Virostek, is a professional field recordist, and he shares a variety of great tips on field recording, as well as resources and some free effects.  It’s definitely worth a look.  One great article for beginners is How to Record Sound Effects on a Budget.  My New Years resolution is to continue building up my sound effects collection, by recording some sound effects every day.*  By the time the year is over, I will have a pretty solid sound effects library!

*He suggests 10 a day, but I will start out with 5 a day and work up to 10 once I graduate from IPR and have a little more free time to devote to the effort.

The Internet! The World Wide Web!

You should be on the internet if you know what’s good for you.  Just ask these kids from 1995!

But in all seriousness, it is amazing that everything the kids talked about – using the internet as our television, workplace, phone, to shop – and more – is now reality.  It is interesting to look back and think about how the internet and the World Wide Web has evolved.  

In class, we have been talking about some of the major players and inventors of the internet.  One person I’m particularly fascinated by is Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and then basically gave it away for free.  In the 1980s, Berners-Lee worked for Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which is a physics laboratory.  While he was working there, he found it frustrating that in order to get information from a computer, you often had to go to that actual computer to look at the information – for example, there was no easy way for the physicists to exchange information with each other without meeting face to face.  So, Berners-Lee developed a way to make the internet more accessible to the public.   He invented HTML, URI, and HTTP, along with the World Wide Web.  Cern made the WWW technology available free to the public in 1993.

Currently, Berners-Lee leads the Worldwide Web Consortium, (, and in the FAQ section, he answers a popular question, if he has “mixed emotions about ‘cashing in’ on the Web”.  He states that he does not:  “It was simply that had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.”

Truly, Tim Berners-Lee is an important figure when we think about the internet, because he is the person that helped develop the protocols that made it possible for the public to easily access and exchange data.  (Technology that even allowed children from 1995 to find cat food cupcake recipes on the internet!  Important stuff, there.)