How to Create an Irresistible Sound Library Preview


Audio Waveform

You’ve finally decided to share your sounds on the Web. And why not? You’ve spent countless hours recording sound effects. You’ve tweaked endless plug-in settings. You’ve slaved mastering each clip: sculpting every fade, the slice of each edit, and each precise pinch of EQ.

The result? A collection of clips you can objectively say are excellent.

The problem is no one knows.

How, then, can you show off how impressive your sound library has become? With a sound library preview montage.

In today’s post I’ll take a focused look at this important part of sharing a sound library. I’ll describe:

  • What is a sound library preview montage?
  • How preview montages are used.
  • Why sound library preview montages are essential.
  • Preview montage errors to avoid.
  • What a superior montage must include.
  • How to create an irresistible preview montage.

What is a Sound Library Preview Montage?

You’re likely already familiar with website sound samples. You’ve probably used them to audition tracks on downloadable shops, or the iTunes store. They offer a low-resolution preview of a track, or a portion of the whole.

A sound library preview montage is a bit different. Yes, it’s a sample from your sound library. What makes it unique is the way it is done: it is a montage. In other words, it’s a mosaic of audio, combined together into one extended piece of many samples to express more than its individual parts.

The montage may depict a bundle of sounds you’re selling as a pack. It may present the audio you recorded that year, or the scope of your entire library.

How Preview Montages are Used

You may think that isn’t particularly earth-shattering. Isn’t a preview montage just a string of clips following one after another? Or maybe it’s a chain of your top 40 sound effects hits?

Yes, of course. The majority are. These do the job sufficiently. Because of this, previews may seem to be a tiny part of a sound library. Perhaps they’re seen as a begrudging requirement, or, at best, an afterthought.

Preview montages do so much more:

  • They present the scope of your bundle, pack, collection, or library in a single concise sitting.

  • A library preview montage is your sonic resume. Your credit list isn’t the only way to describe what you’ve accomplished. Your sound library is an asset too. A superior collection improves the projects you work on. Share a montage with potential clients or employers to showcase the tools you bring to the deal.

  • Do you want to sell on the Web? A demo montage is essential if you want to share sound on a partner’s downloadable Web shop. It persuades a busy store owner they must sign your library.

  • Selling sound effects on your own Web shop? How long do you expect new visitors to take to decide to trust you? A preview embedded on your home page convinces visitors to stick around and dig deeper.

Those are a few practical reasons. A montage has greater significance, too. It takes advantage of an opportunity that simpler previews miss.

Preview Waveform 1

Why Sound Library Preview Montages are Essential

Nobody knows how impressive your work is.

And how can they? Your library collects hundreds, or even thousands of tracks. What fan has the time to listen to every track? This is especially true when sharing sound on the Web. We’ve trained ourselves to abandon websites that lag even five seconds loading a page.

If you visit Walmart, you’re more inclined to stay and choose a near match for what you want than the hassle of driving across town for something better. Not so on the Web. It’s non-linear. You’re competing for mouse clicks. How strong is the chance that your collection will be picked? It shares a neighborhood with other libraries and bundles, after all. It’s easy to switch to other sites. There’s no guarantee yours will be chosen.

There’s also a creative aspect. Recording, mastering, and curating have many layers. It’s tough for anyone to detect the craft you’ve embedded in your work.

Because of this, creating a sound library isn’t complete until you’ve composed a thoughtful preview montage.

How Preview Montages Are Used

A preview montage is a sonic business card that draws people toward your work. It creates fans.

When done well, a preview montage describes:

  • Content. The obvious reason. A preview depicts what the larger pack or library includes. It’s a sonic abbreviation of your work.

  • Reliability. It accurately represents what is in the larger collection.

  • Quality. It showcases your recording, mastering, and curating skills.

That’s what most preview montages include. But that’s only the baseline. How can you go farther?

The best previews contain:

  • Identity. This conveys what your library is about: your aims, and your goals, and why you are different. It does this using only sound. It allows listeners to get a feeling not just for what sounds are included (that’s content), but who you are as a creator.

  • Narrative. When samples are arranged well, a montage can tell a story in a only a few seconds of audio.

  • Appeal. The best previews invite listeners in, compel them to seek more information, and pull them deeper into your work. They hook listeners.

    The next time you open a new book, read the first sentence, then stop. What does it tell you? The first sentence of a novel is crucial. Authors slave over it. Why? Journalist Barney Kilgore of The Wall Street Journal famously explained:

    The easiest thing for a reader to do is to stop reading. A good first sentence propels the reader forward into the rest of the story.

    It’s the same with your audio montage. With the first sample in your preview, you begin building a chain of sound that tantalizes, engages, and draws listeners closer to your work.

  • A portable voice. It’s easy to talk up producers when they visit your edit suite. However, you won’t be present when every Web visitor browses your site, and listens to your library. A good preview is a spokesperson for your work, wherever it drifts across the Web.

As you can see, there’s quite a bit a preview can convey. The cool thing is that a good preview does all these things in a very short span of time.

Preview Waveform 2

Preview Montage Errors to Avoid

What makes a preview montage good, or poor? What should you aim for?

Well, to start, providing any preview of your library at all is a great first step. Watch for these common problems, though:

  • Duration. Too long and you drain a listener’s patience. Too short and you’ve not used your time well enough. Be aware that seconds on the Web equate to days of patience in the real world.
  • Conciseness. Avoid merely stacking samples one after another. In a way, there is merit to displaying everything a library has to offer in sequence. Fans will know what they’re downloading, after all. In most cases, however, this extends previews far longer than most listeners have patience for. And, while they are representative, a sequential catalog of clips isn’t that eventful.
  • Poor selection. Choosing random sounds risks not depicting your library accurately.
  • Sloppy editing. It’s tricky to weave dozens of samples attractively in a short span of time. This can result in jarring edits and abrupt cross-fades. That does more harm than not having a preview at all.
  • Some previews catalog every sound in a pack. That happens when duration, conciseness, and poor selection combine. It’s common, but it’s a mistake. Why? Boring previews. There’s a way around this, which I’ll explain in a moment.

Pretty obvious stuff, right? Well, what can we do to ensure your preview is not just error-free, but superior?

What a Superior Preview Montage Must Include

The best preview montages are carefully constructed:

  • They are short. One minute or less. Two minutes at the most. People will not stick around for anything longer.
  • They include clips that highlight your skill.
  • They describe the diversity of your collection.
  • They identify the nature of your library. Maybe the preview shows you’re a guru of detailed car recordings, right down to gas cap pops. Perhaps it effortlessly conveys your plug-in mastery.
  • They engage and delight your ears. This can be done by creating narrative skillfully. I’ll explain more in a moment.

The best business cards impress you, rest in your mind, are pinned to your corkboard, and return to your thoughts at the right time. Your preview montage has the same potential.

Preview Waveform 3

How to Create an Irresistible Preview Montage

Here are some guidelines to create an irresistible preview montage for a bundle collection, or library sample.

  1. Select the best clips from your bundle. If you’re working with more than 50 clips, you’ll want to select a rough draft of fewer clips. Creating a preview from 500 clips is torture. Choose recognizable sounds that can be identified quickly. Choose obscure sounds only if they are sonically interesting (this means they’ll be compelling, even if listeners can’t tell what they’re hearing).

  2. Gather all the tracks in a new Pro Tools session.

  3. Trim each clip. Specifics should be no longer than five seconds, atmospheres no longer than ten seconds. Shorter is better. Often listeners only require an instant to recognize a wind chime, or a jackhammer.

    How do you choose which section to trim? Famed editor Walter Murch cut entire films by finding the most important moment in each scene, and placing that at its centre. He then arranged all scenes into a whole film. Do the same with each of your sound clips. Find the most evocative moment in each recording. It must be the portion that defines the sound most clearly: its emotion, power, or appeal. Examples: the highest rev of a car engine, the most brittle thunder ripple, or the most plaintive baby wail.

  4. Add fades to each end of every clip.

  5. Checkerboard the clips across two tracks. This allows you to overlap, or cross-fade, the ending of one track with the beginning of the next. Checkboarding also allows you to shift the clips amongst each other easily. It also lets you fit more samples in less time, since they overlap.

  6. Arrange the clips to convey narrative. Simply stacking the clips end to end randomly won’t do. That’s a missed opportunity. Instead, create a story for your preview by varying:

    • Frequency.
    • Stereo imaging.
    • Building or receding processing.
    • Loud or quiet sounds.
    • Short and long sounds.
    • Content: atmospheres or specifics.
    • Create humour by juxtaposing effects.
    • If you own a music collection vary tempo, genres, and instrumentation.


    Integrating any one of these is excellent. Using all of them is hard, but the result will be superb. Think about creating an arc of sound. Perhaps the sounds begin slowly, rise, terrify, recede, then conclude with a triumphant feel. Maybe it’s more literal: a sweep of audio that describes waking, getting ready, boarding a plane, landing in the tropics, and so on, all in ten seconds.

    Ensure that the total length of the track is shorter than a minute, or two minutes at most. No listener will have patience for more.

  7. Bounce out or render the total track. This creates a self-contained copy of your editing.

  8. Embed metadata, including your company logo image.

  9. Upload the preview to SoundCloud. You don’t have to do this. You can embed it in a simple Flash player on your own site, of course. However, SoundCloud offers some cool advantages:

    • It’s a network of thousands of listeners. People may randomly find your tracks, and become fans.
    • It’s free. You won’t be charged bandwidth costs for streaming. You can host up to two hours of sound, free of charge.
    • It can be embedded on a website with just a small snippet of code. You can customize the code with different player styles, waveforms, album artwork, and so on.
    • Comments. You can add markers to your waveform to display text notes as your track plays.

  11. Share it. Embed the code on your site, or blog. Tweet the link to your preview. Invite comments, ideas, and feedback.

Preview Waveform 4

Crafting a Preview Montage

A carefully crafted preview montage is the elevator pitch of your sound effects library. It’s your chance to not only present your sounds, but to showcase your skill, your identity, and aim of your work.

Have you heard a library preview you admire? One of your own you’d like to share? Post the link in the comments below.

Want to know what else you need to create an untouchable sound library? Read about preview montages, metadata, and naming sound libraries in my e-Book, Selling Creative Sound.

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