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.

Hell Sauce: A Mashup

Yes, this is a weird name for a blog post.  But it’s the title of my mashup that I did for my Desktop Production 2 midterm last spring.  Basically, a mashup is taking one or more songs and literally mashing them together (for additional reference, mashups are popular on TV show “Glee”).

For this project, we were given a list of songs to choose from, and the two songs I picked to mash together were “Hot Sauce” by Thomas Dolby and “Gonna Raise Hell” by Cheap Trick along with some instrumental loops that were provided for us.  I picked “Hot Sauce” for the fun spaghetti western intro, and I wanted it to combine it with “Gonna Raise Hell” because, well, hell is hot.

I used ProTools to create the mashup . I synced both songs to 120 beats per minute using Elastic Audio and the TCE tool, then I chopped them both up into usable chunks, and chose parts that I found interesting, arranged them into a pop song format, then automized the volume.  I found that the best way to mash up the songs were to use an instrumental part of one (or both) songs and then overlay vocal parts.  I kept the drums from “Gonna Raise Hell” going pretty much throughout the song; I wanted the whole song to be cohesive, to make it difficult to tell which song was which, and I believe this came across in the final product.

Desktop Production Final

Last winter at IPR, I took a class called Desktop Production.  For our final project we had to cut a movie trailer down to 30 seconds, remove the audio, then add in all of our own sound.

The Wizard of Oz was one of my favorite movies as a kid, so I couldn’t resist doing Oz The Great and Powerful which had just come out in the theater.  I downloaded four different trailers from Apple’s website, and picked out sections I liked, put them in order and edited it down to 30 seconds in Final Cut Pro 7.  Once that was complete, I dropped it into a ProTools session.  We were given IPR’s sound effects library, so I really wanted to mess around with sound effects for this project.  In the end, it was a little more sound effects heavy than a trailer would normally be, but it was fun to do.   I layered a lot of sounds together to make them sound more appropriate – for example, I did not have an actual tornado sound effect, so I had to layer multiple wind sounds, including sounds like high winds, low winds, some fast winds, whistling winds, moaning winds, winds with debris, along with thunder and some flag flapping sounds for the hot air balloon.  

I learned  some basic automation for this project, which is where you tell ProTools to do things (like turn up the volume, or pan the sound to the left or right) at a certain time, and ProTools will remember to do it every time.  So for instance, in the part where the witch throws a fire ball, I told the computer to pan the sound from the left to the right at this point (so I didn’t literally have to sit there and turn the knob while I recorded the audio).  I automated the volumes of the different sound effects so that they would blend with each other, or become louder and softer.  

For the music I wanted a string section and I wanted it to be simple, but I was having a lot of trouble coming up with something fitting.  I happened to be watcing a lot of Downton Abbey, so the day before I threw the music together and you can kind of hear some similarities in the rhythm.   The challenge was getting to some kind of chord resolution by the end of the 30 seconds, because 1) I was putting the music together at the last minute and 2) the sound effects I found for the light battle had some tones that needed to mesh with the chords.  In the end, I figured out what chord would go with the effect, and then just shifted the key in ProTools so that the music would match.

It’s a little choppy and by no means perfect, but I got an A and a fist bump from my teacher, so I’m happy with it considering it was my first ProTools/Final Cut project.  Let me know what you think!