How to Use Filtering to Record Better Sound Effects


Selling sound effects downloads is a rewarding experience.

It allows you to share your creations with the world. With any luck, a sound clip you’ve crafted will appear as part of someone else’s vision in a film, video game or viral YouTube video.

Of course, supporting yourself with something you’ve created is satisfying too.

Those are tantalizing ideas.

However, sharing sound fx takes time and effort. Launching a sound clip website can take months of work. I know one Web shop owner who is still building a store after two years.

The problem? It’s easy to lose perspective during this time. You’ll be struggling with HTML, CSS, databases and payment gateways. What does this have to do with field recording cool sound effects? Nothing.

Creating a downloadable sound effects Web shop means that a large portion of your attention is diverted. Often for months. Sometimes for years. It’s even worse when it leeches unnoticeable slivers of time every day.

Do you ever feel that running a Web shop is stopping you from creating more great sounds? It’s often the case even if you’ve hired someone else to build or run your store. Are you tied up responding to email and Tweets when you would rather be recording race car sound effects? Are you hesitant to create a downloadable sound effects store because of this?

How do you keep creating sound effects when you have other responsibilities?

Maybe for you it’s more general. Perhaps you’re stuck in your edit suite deciphering a deal memo when you’d rather be cutting.

The idea can be applied to any task that takes you away from creating what you love.

This week I’ll share one reason why this happens and what you can do about it. I’ll have suggestions for Web shop owners but the concept can be applied generally too.

I’ve also included one trick I’m using that helps me get away from my desk and into the streets field recording more sound effects.

The trap of sound effects Web shops

Recently I exchanged emails with a reader about creating a Web shop to sell downloadable samples. This reader, Christian, shared a great quote:

There is a joke in the Internet marketing world: work 16-hour days and make money in your sleep!

For some web shop owners this is exactly what happens. Often e-commerce is portrayed as a shortcut to easy riches with little effort. The reality is that it takes time and energy.

One promise of the Internet is to increase efficiency. Another is the concept of location-independence. The idea is that using this technology we’ll be able to pursue creative interests instead of toiling at labour we don’t like in places we don’t want be.

It is a bit of a myth, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

I think that the ease at which we can now find information, buy anything or find anyone on the Internet deceives us about the amount of work needed to accomplish these things. The Web has made things instantly attainable. The idea of easy money obscures the work that is involved achieving it.

It does indeed take work. But don’t let that scare you.

There are tools that make life easier. In fact, after the initial creation of Airborne Sound, the website now needs only an hour a week to run. That’s because I specifically crafted so I would not be chained to my desk. The most important thing to me is to continue field recording the best sound effects I can. Creating a website that would prevent me from doing that would be pointless.

But it’s not always this way. It’s common to be grinding away at tasks instead of doing what inspires us.

So why does it seem so hard to maintain creativity when surrounded by administrative tasks?

Why distractions undermine sound effects recording

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I missed out on roughly two years of field recording while working at At that time, about ten years ago, the site was deluged with customer email. There were hundreds of messages a day. Much time was spent finding clever work-arounds for site bugs. The website took endless, constant attention to run successfully.

This is an extreme case. The point is that distractions like unexpected communication can pull you away from other, more meaningful work.

One common reason is the fear of missing communication. If you own a sound effects Web shop you know what I mean. You want to answer customer concerns right away. Whenever I get mail from an Airborne Sound customer I respond immediately.

You can swap out ‘client,’ ‘sound supervisor’ or ‘whip-cracking boss’ for the words ‘Web shop.’ It’s the same. There are times when we are beholden to someone and must stay in touch.

The problem is that this need to respond compromises our work. Tasks like these divide our attention and take us away from our craft and creativity.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I realized that there are two needs:

  1. Practical. You need to respond to ‘mission-critical’ communication. How can you create meaningful sound effects and be constantly available at the same time?
  2. Mental. I think this is important but rarely recognized. Merely wondering if you’re missing a critical message can distract you from doing your best work. You need to free your mind from that concern and use all your mental energy to embrace your creativity.

So how do we make important, creative work without being distracted by demands on our attention? How do we respond to important tasks, and only those tasks, and leave the rest for a better time?

How filtering helps

The solution is to only engage communication that is absolutely essential. Everything else must be ignored so you can focus on creating expressive sound effects.

Everyone has their favourite way of connecting. These distractions may come from:

  • email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS feed updates
  • phone calls

Communication itself isn’t bad. I love Twitter. The problem is when these distractions divert you from creating great sound.

Hearing your email app ping when you receive a message doesn’t help you. It dispels concentration. It removes you from your creative mood. The same thing happens when your Twitter client burbles with each new Tweet in your stream.

Some communication is important. You don’t want to miss it. So how do we separate the critical messages from the mass-emailed jokes your friends send?

How to filter your goals

Only very important things should interrupt creative work. Otherwise nothing will get done.

This means you need to do two things:

  1. Know your goal. This separates what’s important from what can wait. What’s the difference? It’s really up to you. Think about your primary goals. For me it is field recording. For you it may be finishing editing reel 9. Identify the top priorities.
    Everything else is secondary. Decide on that division. Reject everything else. That includes less important gigs, or things like browsing Reddit, checking RSS feeds, phone calls, whatever. This means saying ‘no’ often to people or technologies that distract you. It’s not easy.
  2. Know what emergencies supersede that goal. This may be communication from certain people (boss, client, girlfriend), server failures, customer questions and so on. Only you know what is so important that it will interrupt you from achieving your goal. In most cases these emergencies will make a short list. Otherwise too many things will pull you away from your goal. You’ll get nothing done.

Is filtering selectively avoiding responsibilities? Not at all. It just divides your work so you can focus.

In fact, filtering will improve the quality of both your sound effects and your communication. You’ll record better sound clips when you’re not worrying what you’re missing at the office. And when you are at the office you can communicate with your entire attention and interest.


A specific example: email

For me, the biggest distraction I have is email. I respond to all of it but not everything is so important that I should be spending hours slogging through my inbox instead of recording fresh sound clips. But until recently that’s exactly what happened.

Other sound effects Web shop owners I’ve talked to have the same problem: stuck behind their inboxes instead of creating.

However I do want to know when customers have questions, the server fails or there is any problem with Airborne Sound.

To spot these messages I use Gmail filters. Then I use a free notification service called Boxcar to send only critical messages to me.

This method is fairly specific. It addresses distracting messages Web shop owners receive.

Don’t have a Web shop? After the section on Gmail and Boxcar I’ll have some general suggestions on how filtering can help you.

How to use Gmail and Boxcar to filter messages

  1. First, I direct all my email to a Gmail account. Gmail gathers all my Airborne, Creative Field Recording, personal and client email accounts.
  2. I use Gmail’s labels to sort and visually tag email from each family. For example, labels separate Airborne or Creative Field Recording email into separate folders. They’ll also have different colours so I can spot them right away.
  3. Then I use a Gmail filter to sort these emails further. A Gmail filter spots critical email I don’t want to miss: emergencies, customer needs and so on. Gmail filters use a combination of keywords, sender/receiver email address, subject text and so on to identify specific messages.
    For example, I use to watch my server. It will send me an email if it sees the website fail. Obviously, this is something I need to know immediately. I created a filter to that watches incoming email for the sender ‘’ with a message that contains the word ‘failure.’ If Gmail sees those keywords it places the message it into a filter.
    For you it could be something as simple as creating a filter that watches for your boss’ email address.
    This step separates the important communication from things you can resolve later.
  4. I then forward that filter to Boxcar. So, whenever Gmail receives email that matches a mission-critical filter it sends a message to my private, secure Boxcar account.
    Why forward an email one more step further along the path? That’s the beauty of Boxcar.
    When Boxcar receives an email, it immediately pushes a text message to my emergency mobile phone. I can customize this message with a specific sound, message or whatever. So, if there is an emergency, I’ll be alerted immediately.

If I hear an alert on my iPhone, I know there’s an emergency and I respond immediately. Otherwise all other messages will not be filtered by Gmail and Boxcar and I can keep recording sound effects. They’ll collect and I can respond to them later with my full attention. I can keep recording sound and not be distracted. And I won’t be wondering if I’m missing something critical. I’m only notified with essential messages.

It also means I can keep my email, Twitter client and Facebook closed. For a Web shop owner this solves the problem of continually refreshing your inbox for fear of missing something.

This may seem elaborate. It has had a huge effect on my productivity though.

Using a system like this makes sure I record sound effects without worrying what I’m missing. It breaks the chain to my desk. It gets me out of the office and recording more sound effects.

Don’t have an iPhone? No problem. Boxcar also has a desktop app that will notify you while you’re cutting in Pro Tools.

Not concerned about missing email? Maybe you don’t want to miss a specific Tweet. Boxcar handles that too. It watches dozens of services and will alert you with the ones you choose.

If you’re at a desk anyway, it means that you can keep working without distractions. You won’t be bothered by every message. Just some of them. The important ones.

Read more about Boxcar.

Read more about Gmail and filters.

Read more about connecting Gmail and Boxcar.

Why filter your work?

I’ve used a specific example to get away from your desk and back in the field recording sound effects. It’s especially useful for Web shop owners. It may also be useful for anyone who receives many messages but wants to be alerted only to the essential ones.

However the main point here isn’t about Gmail or Boxcar. It doesn’t matter if you have an Android phone instead of an iPhone, or Windows instead of OS X.

The point is to find tools that can help you get away from admin and back into the field recording sound effects. You may not need an app or an email service at all. It may be just as simple as setting your mind to it:

The first step is to know your few professional goals and focus only on those. Reject everything else.

The second step is to know what events or messages are important enough to set aside your goals momentarily and give them your attention.

Focusing will help you get back into the field recording sound effects. It will streamline your concentration. It will broaden you creativity.

And it will let you escape from grinding, boring tasks so you can continue doing what you love: recording more evocative, meaningful sound effects.

In the following weeks I’ll share some more productivity and sound effects tips. Stay tuned!

Do you have any ninja productivity tips? Share them in the comments below.

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2 responses to How to Use Filtering to Record Better Sound Effects

  1. Thanks for this one Paul (the post and the mention). It’s funny how it’s often the advice non-specific to one’s profession that seems the most valuable.

    Another way to lower the noise-floor, so to speak, would be to build out your on-site support to the degree that even the most helpless customers have nothing left unanswered (and therefore would have no reason to email you).

    Anything from how-to articles, to rewriting and publishing manuals, if you were into selling physical goods. You’d also get a rep for exceptional service and support!

    Looking forward to more from your hand!

  2. Hi Christian,

    Those are all great ideas. I think you’re right. The goal would be to make it as simple as possible for people to be able to use a website and lower the ‘noise-floor’ as you put it.

    For Airborne Sound, I’d like to get it to the point where it is so intuitive that customer service isn’t actually needed. Like how anyone can pick up an iPhone and use most features with little guidance.

    Not for my sake, really, but for theirs. Anything to make the website easier, more enjoyable and intuitive to use.

    That’s the goal, anyway!