Q and A #1: Travel Recording, A Career in Sound FX, Giving Credit


It’s always a good surprise receiving email from readers. Often I’m asked questions about selling sound effects, which gear to buy or field recording techniques.

It’s started good conversations, and I’ve met many cool people this way.

It’s interesting, though. A small handful of questions are popular. It makes me realize that there’s just not enough information about some aspects of field recording.

It’s also made me think that the answers to these questions would help others. So, starting today I’ll begin a Q and A series to answer the questions I receive the most.

I’ll continue to post common questions and answers every few months.

In this Q and A I’ll write about:

  • what sound effects are good to record while travelling
  • whether a career in field recording and sound effects is possible
  • how to give credit when using a sound library

I’ll also pepper these Q and As with responses I’ve written on forums like gearslutz.com and socialsounddesign.com. I’ve had more thoughts on those questions since the original posting, so I’ve expanded on the answers I’ve written there. I’ll link back to those posts so you can hear from other voices in the conversation.

Q: I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing my recorder. What sound effects should I record?

A: I’ve thought a lot about this. Travelling and recording is my favourite way to capture immersive sounds.

Being in a new environment is a great way to refresh your field recording creativity. You’ll hear completely new sounds and old sounds in a new way.

No two cities are the same. Even mundane things like traffic can sound different (cobblestones, scooters, diesel engines). There will be a vast amount of sound to draw from.

I’ve traveled in more than 30 countries recording sound effects. I’ve noticed it’s more rewarding, creatively speaking, to capture sounds distinctive to the city, country or people there. It helps you relate to their way of life.

I wrote a bit about this with the idea of projection. I find this is helpful putting yourself in the shoes of natives. You become more of a traveller instead of a tourist. More of a participant than just an observer. This will help you hear distinctive sounds in the new place.

For example, I was in Rome when Italy played their World Cup quarter final match. I skipped the ex-pat bars and hostel pubs. I slipped into a ratty bar with real Romans so I could get a feeling for how important the country felt about the match, and then capture those kind of sounds.

So, you may want to consider recording things that are unique to your environment. I find these sounds get a lot of mileage.

In Toronto, for example, we have streetcars here that aren’t anywhere else and make some characteristic traffic tracks. Another idea is a specific farmer’s market, or a classic location (Champs-Elysees, Times Square, etc).

Of course stock ambiences are necessary for flexibility. I’d suggest also seeking out those characteristic recordings to make recording even more interesting.

Thread on socialsounddesign.comPS – the Italians won. Here’s a shaky camera video I shot after they poured into the streets after the win. Thankfully I was recording sound effects too. Those recordings should be in Sound Ideas’ World Series library.

Q. Is it possible to have a career in sound effects or field recording? Is there a demand for it?

A. It’s a tricky question. Yes, it is possible. As proof, there are people who are doing this right now. Look at this list of the indie libraries. They’re doing it and if you read their blogs they all seem thrilled.

The problem is that there aren’t job postings for this kind of work. So you need to create the work yourself.

As for myself, it took me time to build things. I knew I wanted to do this kind of work, so I had to create the opportunities for myself. How can you do it? It involves putting on your boots, getting out there and recording sound, teaching yourself, creating a website, meeting people and so on. It may seem a long road but it’s not so bad when you break it down step by step. If you love sound you can do it.

Is there a demand for it?

Exceptional sound is always in demand. The world needs more fresh, inspiring sounds to create compelling films, games, ads, YouTube videos and sound art installations. That is, not just normal sounds but outstanding recordings.

Since it’s unlikely that someone is going to provide this opportunity for you, you’ll need to be self-motivated. And also persistent. For example, I’ve been at this for 15 years. But these things won’t be hard for you if you are passionate about sound.

When I look at successful colleagues in sound I’ve found that the credits or gear you have aren’t so important, so don’t let that be a concern.

Also, the exact steps to get there are different for everyone so make your own path. One idea is to start working on a sound career on the side while you keep your stable job then switch later.

I’m a big fan of creating evocative, meaningful sounds, of investing your passion in sound. If you do that, be persistent, and create your work opportunities in the image you want, you’ll definitely be successful.

Q. I’m using sound effects I’ve downloaded from a Web store in my project. Do I need to give credit? What’s the proper way to do this?

A. I managed sounddogs.com for years, and our policy was “credit is not required but is appreciated.” I use the same policy on my own site airbornesound.com.

I have worked with many sound libraries (soundsnap.com, shockwave-sound.com, and others) and this is the generally the attitude they all adopt.

So I think you’ll be safe with no credit at all.

The only distinction would be for free sound libraries. For example, some sounds on freesound.org require you to give them credit in your project. The idea is that you’re giving them exposure in exchange for using the sound free of charge.

It’s a good idea to email the library’s customer service team to make sure.

If you want to include credit, this works well:

This [project type: movie, tv show, video game] uses these sounds from [website]:
[Sound file name 1] by [user name]
[Sound file name 2] by [user name]


This [project type: movie, tv show, video game] uses sounds from [website].

Thread on socialsounddesign.com

More questions

For those of you that haven’t seen answers to your questions, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. I have many questions that I’ll answer in future Q and A posts.

Curious about field recording worldwide? Interested in sharing sound effects with the world? Email me your questions.

Thanks to everyone who has Tweeted and emailed questions. It’s always awesome to get your emails, questions and hear your thoughts.

To stay in touch, receive free updates by email newsletter or RSS feed.  |  Follow on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or SoundCloud.