Pro Sound Career Advice – Field Recording and Selling Sound FX

2015/05/06

Field Recording Gear in Sunlight 2

Today’s post is the second post in a short series about pro audio career advice. The last article explored general pro sound tips and tricks.

Today’s post answers two of the more common questions I see in my email inbox:

How do I become a field recordist and share sound libraries on the Web?

How do I get and established selling sound, and what’s the most effective way to break into that world?

Do you want to record sound effects beyond the studio? Are you eager to share your field recordings with other sound pros? Today’s post includes suggestions to help you build a field recording career sharing sound on the Web.

Field Recording to Sell Creative Sound

Last week’s post included general suggestions to help aspiring sound pros. Today’s article is more focused. It describes tips for field recording specifically to share sound on the Web.

Can you find work field recording for Hollywood productions? Yes. It’s not common, though. Field recording gigs are so rare that even the Hollywood pros get only a handful of gigs throughout the year. I wrote earlier about field recording for feature films if you’d like to read more.

Instead, today’s advice is for beginners to pro sound who want to make an living by selling field recordings online. Like the last article, I’ll assume you have some knowledge of audio recording.

So, how do you get started?

  1. Research.
  2. Practice field recording.
  3. Specialize with signature sound effects.
  4. Build a sound library.
  5. Share your work.
  6. Sell your library.

Let’s begin.

  1. Research

  2. Research Field Recording

    How do you learn field recording? That’s actually a considerable challenge: there are few places to learn field recording. The quickest options are:

    • Courses. I described some community courses where you can learn about recording sound clips in the field (article one, article two).
    • Workshops. These workshops place a sound recorder in your hand and get you capturing actual audio side-by-side with pro field recordists.
    • Books. There are great books that explore practical steps and field recording theory.
    • I also explained the basics of field recording in an earlier article.

     

    Start by researching field recording fundamentals. Ultimately, though, you’ll need to get your hands dirty in the field. That’s next.

    • Time: varies. You can attend a workshop or read a book in a weekend. Post-secondary courses may take up to two years.
    • Cost: varies. Books are free at your library. Nature Sound courses begin at $89.00. Formal tuition will be higher.

  3. Practice Field Recording

  4. Practice Field Recording

    Field recording is a tricky profession to break into. Why? Unfortunately, there aren’t many staff field recording jobs. That means a career in field recording often begins with supplementary work. Perhaps you capture a few sound effects for a film you’re working on. You may continue doing this in your spare time. The important thing to note is that field recording begins slowly and requires dedication and persistence to evolve into a career.

    Most of the time you’ll need to teach yourself by practicing. The best way to learn is to get out there and record sound. How exactly can you do this?

    Here’s one method: record a different type of foundation sound effect every day for a month. Record ten sounds a day. That shouldn’t take you more than two hours. This will introduce you to the variety of sound you can capture. (If you’re interested, the Upgraded Edition of my book, Field Recording: From Research to Wrap explains this method in detail.)

    The important thing is to practice regularly. Start now.

    Tips:

    • Record simple sounds. Don’t choose complex recordings for your first shoots (e.g., guns or cars). Those will be intricate sessions that have a low success rate for beginners. That’s frustrating. Create achievable goals recording accessible sounds before tackling advanced subjects.
    • Use good gear. Use the best equipment you can afford. But don’t stall saving up for a $3000.00 kit. Many portable recorders capture serviceable sound.

     

    What can you expect to invest?

  5. Specialize With Signature Sound Effects

  6. Funnel Cloud by Mark Kilner

    You may wish to specialize in a single field recording subject. For example, some sound pros focus on only animals, or guns. I learned pretty quickly that I don’t have patience for the diligence and detail needed for Foley recording sessions. However, I can easily spend a day patiently recording ambiences trudging all across town. Find what type of sound effects suit you and develop those skills. This is the aspect of aptitude I mentioned in the last post. Not sure which clips are best? Pay close attention to which recordings resonated with you in the previous step.

    Some believe that a field recordist should be able to capture any type of sound with a wide variety of microphones. There’s certainly merit to that. Successfully recording animals, markets, or shattering glass requires separate skills and knowledge of different gear. Becoming familiar with a wide variety of microphones and recorders helps you learn which is the best gear for the job. It’s the same for sound subjects: learning how to capture specific sound effects in the studio as well as outside it, together with urban, rural, and wild atmospheres expands your repertoire.

    Just remember, there’s only so much time in the day. So, eventually you may wish to specialize. If you do want more flexibility, continue to dabble in other areas to keep your skills up. Just don’t spread your skills or gear so thin that you sacrifice mastery for flexibility.

    Whichever your choice, eventually you must evolve your field recordings from foundation sound effects into unique signature sound effects that showcase your personal expression and unique skills as a field recordist. I wrote more about the concept of creating a unique, specialized sound library earlier.

    Some articles that help with this:

     

    • Time: 3 months of solid practice.
    • Cost: $0.00.

  7. Build a Sound Library

  8. Build a Sound Library

    Eventually your field recordings will begin to grow into a sizeable, high-quality sound library. If you record just 10 sound effects a day for a year, you’ll have 3,650 sound clips, which is quite impressive.

    Take an hour each day to master and curate your recordings. Generally, it takes eight times the duration of any sound to prepare it for use or publication.

    Read an article about mastering sound effects, some mastering tips (post one, post two), and some other mastering tips on Airborne Sound.

    Tips:

    • Soundminer metadata is essential. This is more important when you share sound libraries amongst colleagues. Learn more about sound fx metadata in a series I wrote last year.
    • Own your audio. You may record sound effects while working on a gig. Did your client specifically state in writing that they relinquish all ownership of the sounds? No? Then there’s a good chance that they own the rights to those sounds. Do not include these in your sound library. Why? You want to own all rights to your collection to be able to use it completely freely without a second thought. Avoid potential copyright entanglements by recording sound only on your own time, with equipment you yourself purchased. Learn more in a series about sound recording mistakes you want to avoid (part one, part two).

     

  9. Share Your Work

  10. Upload by John Trainor

    Share your field recordings, sound design clips, or Foley tracks on a blog. I included tips for creating a blog and expressing ideas (“Create a Website”) and also sharing your work (“Join a Community”) in last week’s article. The same tips apply to your field recordings.

    Why share your work? The feedback will help you improve your craft. It gives your creations exposure.

    • Time: 2 hours a week to write new blog posts.
    • Cost: $0.00 – $100.00.

  11. Sell Your Sound Library

  12. Share Sound Libraries

    One way to jumpstart a field recording career is by selling your sound library. This will support you while you sharpen your recordings skills and look for field recording gigs.

    There are two paths to sharing sound: sell clips yourself on your own site (also known as the “indie” sound fx libraries), or sell tracks on websites other people own (such as sounddogs.com).

    The quickest way is to share on other websites, but there’s a lot of competition. I wrote about this in Selling Creative Sound.

    The most success comes from sharing an independent sound library on your own site. However, this takes time, and you need a few tricks to be noticed. I explained how to create an independent sound library and sell it from your own Web store in Sharing Sound Online.

    These days it’s pretty easy to share sound on an independent Web shop. It just requires two things: a solid bundle of sound effects, and a Web store to share them from. I wrote an article that explained how to create an indie sound bundle, and also how to create a Web shop.

    Will people want your field recordings? Will your indie collections be successful? Will your sound library pay your bills?

    It’s possible. For your sound library to support you full-time, you’ll need a balance of quantity, exposure, a technically-sound collection, and an attractive sound library idea.

    • Specifications. Take care of the tech specs by following the steps in this sound sharing checklist.

    • Topic. What sounds should you choose for your first library? You learned above that you can improve your sound effects by adding one or more points from the Sound Effects Star: difficulty, rarity, quality, distinctiveness, or creativity.

      The main idea is that for your sound library to be appealing, you must offer something new. A few packs of unusual, rare, or cool sounds will support you. Or, you can have many common sounds to achieve the same effect, which leads me to the next point: quantity.

    • Quantity. Record a good breadth of audio before you make your splash. Aim for 1,000 fully-polished sound effects, or 5 sound libraries. Spread out your releases. That will have a stronger impact, give you greater distinction, and help you recover from the effort of creating exceptional sound libraries.

    • Exposure. Of course, no one will know of your sound bundle without exposure. You learned about sharing your work with your own community in step five. Post your collection on A Sound Effect, Sonniss, or Wild Track Sound Library to get your library in the ears of sound pros, worldwide. Don’t forget to add it to my indie sound library search engine, Sound Effects Search, too.

    The hardest part about sharing sound libraries is building your first collection. Every subsequent sound library will be much easier.

    The second hardest part is remaining motivated. It takes a lot of energy to produce a sound library and share it. Just the same, it is vital to keep producing good sound. Every sound designer and field recordist has something unique to offer. We need to hear your field recordings, and I encourage you to share your creations with the pro sound community.

    Good luck!

Do You Have a Question?

Is there anything you’d like to know about field recording, sound libraries, or sharing sound? Email me, or comment below. I’d be glad to answer your questions.

Funnel Cloud image by Mark Kilner Upload image by John Trainor.





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4 responses to Pro Sound Career Advice – Field Recording and Selling Sound FX

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for a great article. I love your conversational and practical step-by-step approach.

    As a kid (late 50s, early 60s) I loved playing with sounds and making effects. After pestering my folks for months, I got a Webcor reel-to-reel 1/4″ tape recorder. My Dad had a Wollensak. I remember using magazines to raise the Wallensack so that the two playback decks where in alignment. Then I threaded the tape from the supply reel on the Webcor, through the heads on the Wollensak and onto the take-up reel.

    I would start both decks, record on the WebCor, playback on the Wollensak. As sounds played back, I’d move the mic closer to to cause echo, feedback and general audible anarchy.

    I guess I’m trying to say I’ve always had a fondness for making strange noises with electronics. After retiring from a 35 year career as an engineer/programmer, I’m dabbling in film making and sound recording.

    Your article intrigued me enough to think about making sound effects again. I don’t exactly need the money except to justify buying more tech toys. The one think you didn’t cover was the prospects of making a significant income if I follow your advice.

    Can you speak to the income question? How many people make a living selling field sound recordings or sound effects?

    Thanks for being a great resource.

    Rob:-]

    • Hello Rob,

      Thank you for your supportive words! Really loved your story about the Webcor and Wollensack. I bet that produced some incredible sounds (and I’m sure that would make a fascinating sound library).

      Can you speak to the income question? How many people make a living selling field sound recordings or sound effects?

      It’s hard to say exactly. My best guess would be based from the lists on my other site, the independent sound effects search engine, Sound Effects Search. It currently lists 95 Web shops from sound designers and field recordists. Some of the creators there are recent. However, I would guess that the larger libraries, or the popular ones, do make sound effects creation a full time gig.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Great blog overall, I’ve been mainlining it all morning 🙂

    I’ve done some limited field work to supplement my library for sound effects editing/post gigs, but I’m starting to get into it a bit more lately. Mostly to build up a unique library for my own editing work (there’s only so many times you can stand to hear the same Series-6000 staple effects!) but also with half a mind toward releasing some libraries down the road. I live in Tasmania, a pretty amazing part of the world with some really unique sound-recording opportunities.

    Just one tiny correction to a detail the above post. You’ve listed Reaper as free software, which is a common misunderstanding, but not actually true. While it DOES have a non-expiring trial (you’ll get a nag screen and that’s it) the licence technically requires you to pay US$60 for the “discounted license” (non profit/personal/educational or up to $20,000 in commercial use) or US$225 for the full commercial licence.

    Even at the commercial licence cost it’s an astoundingly capable piece of software. I’ve used it for sound effects editing on some fairly high profile broadcast documentaries. I also did effects-editing, music composition and a 5.1 mix for a cartoon series all in Reaper last year – it was an absolute chamption, and my Pro Tools & Logic licenses sat largely unused 🙂

    Anyway – just a minor quibble. Love the blog! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Nick

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for checking out the blog, and for your supportive words. Thanks also for your thoughts on the post, and about Reaper. I haven’t used Reaper as much as I would like, however I am a big fan of the software. I appreciate the info about the pricing. I have added those details in the post.

      I think a collection of field recordings from Tasmania would be eagerly welcomed by the community. Best wishes with your library, and I look forward to hearing it.

      Paul