You’d think that sharing sound libraries would be simple. I once thought so. After all, I thought, how hard is it to send an MP3 to a fan?
That was in 2000. Since then, I’ve peeled back layers of library ingestion, SSL, licensing, and other arcane Web shop terms. There’s no manual for sharing sound. It was exciting exploring this world and discovering how it worked. But good information remained clouded. One reason I started this blog was to part these clouds. Why would I do this?
Well, one benefit to creating this site is that I’ve had the privilege of hearing cool tracks from people who visit. Others need to hear these recordings. They will love them. It still amazes me that we can hear recordings from thousands of kilometres away seconds after they happen. It’s easier than ever to trap and ship audio anywhere.
But this has introduced a problem. While transferring sound is simple, sharing it well is not. Why?
The transmission of a creative idea is never easy. It can be misunderstood, or corrupted midway. Crafting an irresistible collection is trickier. Serving it to others is harder still. Web shop ingestion is a maze of confusing requirements littered with land mines of bugs. And every shop is different. You’re busy recording cool tracks. Who has the 13 years I did to learn the ropes?
This is why I wrote my upcoming book, Selling Creative Sound. I’ve read email from many people who want to know how to share sound smartly, and support themselves from their work. The book is designed to help send your audio to fans quickly, wisely, and support you while you do it.
So, today I’ll share how to prepare a sound library for Web shops. It’s an abridged checklist taken from the book. It’s meant to prepare a bulletproof package that will be prized in Web shops, and, later, perhaps a site of your own.
Update: Selling Creative Sound is now available. Learn more about the e-Book.
Why a Checklist?
Is a checklist necessary? Surely putting sound online is just a matter of uploading to a server, then collecting cash when clips are sold?
In a technical sense, that is correct. It’s more complicated when sharing sound on a commercial Web shop, however. I’ve ingested a lot of libraries. I’ve seen which slide smoothly into stores and are shared quickly, and which falter.
Sound libraries become choked by a bottleneck when placing them online. Part of this has to do with organization. Messy collections are harder to work with. Also, Web shops receive hundreds of submissions. Evaluating them takes time. Ingesting sloppy libraries requires effort and labour costs. Frankly, these libraries are often forgotten.
I’ve used the tips below myself to ensure my library is shared in Web shops quickly. They’ll help your collection move to the front of the line.
Even if you’re not interested in sharing on the Web, I hope these tips will help strengthen your library for the friends, co-workers, and clients who will use your sounds.
Sound Library Checklist
Captured some cool clips? Spent hours in Pro Tools mastering them to perfection? Ready to share your sound library online, or with friends in the studio? Review your collection with this checklist to ensure your library is bulletproof.
60% signature tracks, 40% foundation tracks. Foundation tracks are handy, but are quickly drowned by competition. Signature tracks allow your creativity to shine. They’re your best work. They radiate your passion capturing compelling sounds, props, or locations. Widen this percentage over your career.
No filler. Do not include a single fluff track. No duplicates. Your collection must be tight.
Delete weak sounds. No library is improved by boring sounds. Your customers are invested in their projects. They want your sounds to amplify their creations. Mundane recordings won’t help. Be ruthless. Deliver only your best work.
Not sure? When in doubt, delete the sound.
Use real instruments. One Web shop I worked with had a vicious selection process. It would only accept music that used real instruments. Rock tracks that used drum machines were rejected. So were obvious string or horn patches. Patches are appropriate, even desired in certain genres. Mostly they were avoided. Why? The belief was that real instruments broadcast emotion better. They also sound superior. Don’t skimp. Strive to record real performances whenever possible.
- Separate perspectives. Split tracks for close, medium-distant, and distant recordings. Do the same between distinctive microphones. Each track should be sonically self-contained, and not introduce surprising changes in tone, distance, or perspective.
- Proper fading technique. Avoid risking jarring pops at the beginnings and ends of your sounds. Bounce your tracks with tactful fades. Ensure cross-fades within a track are smooth. Avoid harsh edits with abrupt level changes. They are distracting.
- Use pristine sounds. Remove all slates, click tracks, and tones. Eliminate recordist movement. Customers want only a pure file.
- Sounds per file. Each sound editor has a preference. Some prefer one sample per sound file. Many like similar sounds combined together in one long track (i.e., one file containing many door opening and closing clips in a series). What does your audience need? Combine or split as needed. Be consistent.
- Naming. Write compelling names. We looked at this last month (article one and two).
- Metadata. Include these metadata fields at a minimum: title, description, category, subcategory, keywords/tags. Music libraries add version, instrumentation, composer, publisher. (Sampling rate, bit depth and so on should automatically populate.)
- Processing. Some equalization may be necessary to remove rumble and whines. Be careful how far you push your sound library. Some fans look for punchy, compressed tracks with slick production. Others may prefer transparent sounds they can tweak themselves. This is different for music libraries, however, which use compression, reverb, and other plug-ins to properly prepare a track.
- Restoration. De-noising can fix hissy recordings. De-crackling saves hours removing pops and clicks. Be careful, though. Excessive use of restoration software sucks vibrancy from recordings. It scatters subtle digital artefacts throughout tracks. Inexperienced editors may miss this. Using this software well requires a gentle hand and years of experience. I commonly hear over-processed clips. Avoid pushing your plug-ins too far. Too much hiss, distortion, or clicks in your recording? Skip the plug-ins and record the sound again. Learn more about noise and sound.
- High resolution. 96 kHz, 24-bit or greater. Stereo. There are decent sounds at lower resolutions, of course. However, they are beginning to sound comparatively old, especially where bit-depth is concerned. Aim for higher resolutions.
- Interleaved files. Meshing multiple discrete audio channels into one single file makes delivery, searching, and storage easier. Some Web shops like the flexibility of split-stereo files, although this is rare.
- Consistent file type (WAV, MP3, etc.). Do not give multiple file formats unless a Web shop requests it. Some may, especially for their preview files.
These aren’t sound files. They are supplementary data. They’re meant to ease your way into a shop. Stores often don’t have much time for you, sadly. They’re often understaffed, and busy. The more information you can provide them makes their decision to work with you easier.
Demo montage. What Web shop has time to listen to each of your tracks? Help them choose you by preparing a preview of your library. This showcases your collection quickly. Edit together a brisk montage of your sounds. Use only your best work.
Highlight diversity: mix genres, categories, lengths, and styles. Pepper atmospheres with overlapping succinct, specific sounds. Duration is one minute or less. Upload to SoundCloud. (Airborne Sound example montage one and two.)
- Support documents. I make it easy for people to find information about Airborne Sound. I create documents that provide info about every aspect of the library. Web shops often require this info on their publisher page. Upload these documents to free file-hosting services like Dropbox or Google Docs:
- Images: logo, personal photo, promotional shots.
- Company or personal biography.
- PDF document listing your websites: your blog, Twitter account, Facebook, LinkedIn, SoundCloud, home page, IMDb page. Embed text with hyperlinks to the sites.
- vCard or digital business card.
- A spreadsheet listing every sound in your library in CSV, tab-delimited, text, or PDF format.
- Payment info: wire info or PayPal.com account.
Creating bonus material helps answer anyone’s questions about your work, whether a partner, a client, or a customer. Having these files ready helps add your library to Web shops quickly.
- Upload your library off site. Store your library on Amazon S3, Dropbox (bonus 500 MB signup link), Gobbler, or Rackspace. This has two benefits: it creates a backup of your library, and it makes it incredibly easy for Web shops to transfer your collection to their servers.
- Protect your library. Attach a copyright licence with your sounds. Use the Creative Commons website to develop a basic licence. Work with a lawyer to create a detailed version tailored to your nation’s laws. Include this document wherever your sound library appears. Read more info about protecting your library.
- Check your work. Review your entire library before you offer it elsewhere.
Assembling Your Library for a New Purpose
It’s important to remember that building an elite sound library is not done solely to help yourself. You’re shaping it for the purpose of sharing. You are offering it for others to use in their projects. That’s dramatically different from simply collecting clips. You’re moulding a library for a purpose now.
When you follow this checklist, you ensure that your collection is usable and attractive for others, not yourself.
And then, when your library is prepared and packaged well, it will slip easily into Web shops and ears of fans worldwide.