You’re searching for field recording tutorials. You click through to a website from Google. Before you finish reading the first line, a pop up overlay appears, asking you to subscribe to the blog newsletter.
Sometimes these block the entire page a few seconds after you arrive. At other times they appear after you scroll deeper into the post. It’s incredibly irritating. All you want is to read the article undisturbed.
These marketing tricks – known as overlays, pop-ups, welcome mats, and slide-in boxes – are universally despised for a good reason – they abruptly hijack the user experience. Even their creator has regretted inventing them.
You’ve likely seen other annoyances appear in your email inbox: surveys, polls, membership points plans, giveaways, and others. What purpose do these serve? Why would a company or website use them?
They use them because they work. They are an invaluable way to learn the holy grail of marketers: who their customers are and what they want. It’s one reason why marketing teams have so much power dictating a company’s direction.
Strangely, for something so vital to companies worldwide, knowing one’s customers plays very little importance in the world of sharing sound. Few field recordists or sound designers consider precisely who listens to their sounds, or what type of person purchases the clips they sell.
Today’s post is here to help. It shares ideas to help you learn about the people who hear your sounds, and discover the best way to share your work with the people who crave your creations.
Please note: I explore this idea in detail. This article should take you about 15 minutes to read. Click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.
Field Recording Goals
We’ve seen how important customers are to marketing teams. But are they really that important to a field recordist?
It’s true. Many field recordists aren’t interested in customers. They record for the joy of it. They spend every weekend hiking into the hills to record cool sounds, just for the enjoyment of hearing new sounds and capturing them to disk. The vast majority of recordists fall into this category.
However, there is a group of field recordists with another goal: they wish to share sound with others. Some post recordings on SoundCloud. Others describe their field recording journeys on a private blog. In the last decade or so, a more specialized group has grown: field recordists who sell sound online.
These people sell sound to game audio studios and post production facilities. They share sound bundles via distributors like Sonniss and A Sound Effect. For these people, field recording has become more than just a fun or creative pursuit – it is the way they pay their bills.
Whichever the goal – commerce or recreational listening – each of these groups benefit from a consideration that is just as important as choosing the sound itself: knowing the people who hear what they create.
You can call them whatever you like: audience, listeners, or customers. Whatever the term, it’s an element of field recording that is almost always overlooked: who are a field recordist’s audience, and what do they want?
I’ve asked this question to dozens of field recordists over the years. Not one had a firm reply. It’s understandable. Most people are concerned with the difficult task of capturing the sounds themselves. However, knowing the answer to this tricky question is vital to ensuring the sound you create reaches your fans the best possible way.
Not everyone wants to create for others, it’s true. Some field recordists capture audio just for fun. That’s cool. For those that want to share sound, though, it’s best to think more deeply. Why?
The Importance of an Audience
I’ve been sharing sound for nearly two decades. One experience in particular has stuck in my head.
Years ago I had a client that was a major distributor of sound effects. They hired me to scout for sound libraries to add to their Web shop. To make sure I would deliver just what they wanted, I asked them: what type of customers do you want?
They replied: all of them.
It was an odd answer. How could that be possible? Did that mean they wanted post production pros as well as the grandparents making iMovie videos of their grandson’s birthday? There was a vast difference between them. After all, would a video editor’s clips be the same as the audio needed for an iOS app? Surely each of these people used sound differently. They needed sound recorded and presented distinct from the others.
Without considering this, the shop made a risky decision: choosing to please everyone. They proceeded to spread themselves too thin attempting to cater to every possible website visitor but never fully satisfied anyone. Why?
Well, as the saying goes:
You can please all of the people some of the time, or you can please some of the people all of the time.
If you want to please everyone, a product ends up being so generic that it doesn’t appeal to anyone – especially not the unique sound fans that crave specialized field recordings.
Look what happened to the Pebble Watch. In 2012 it became the most successful Kickstarted campaign with over $10 million pledged. By the end of 2016, the company was bankrupt. What happened? Well, among other reasons, at the time of its demise, the company aimed to reach a mainstream fashion and health-oriented customer base further along the adoption curve – while at the same time trying to satisfy their geeky, niche early adopters, too. The result? No one was happy. They abandoned their original “enthusiast” customers that cherished the nerdy features, and lost the fashion crowd with the geeky options that remained. The upshot? Pebble didn’t realize that their best customers – their loyal early adopters – were the ones they should be creating for.
Here’s a video that explains why trying to please everyone led to the demise of one of the most popular Kickstarter products:
My Web shop client took a similar path. By trying to appeal to everyone, they neglected the specialized needs of individual sound creators. The collections weren’t general enough to tempt the causal sound fans either. Customers were forced to accept a generic standard meant for everyone.
The Risk of Ignoring Your Audience
What’s the point?
It highlights an important fact most field recordists overlook: if you don’t share sound the way your fans want it, they will stop listening. For sound library publishers, this means you will lose fans and customers.
We know YouTube creators need audio served differently from an AR audio team. Game audio pros need looped sounds prepared much differently than feature film ambiences. Every sound fan has different needs. When you share sound without knowing what your fans need, you run the run the risk of:
- Giving them the wrong sound (a blended car engine and exhaust sound instead of individual perspectives)
- Recording audio the wrong way (sharing close sounds that are preferred to be used when recorded farther away)
- Presenting clips incorrectly (whether many sounds in one file or each sound as its own clip)
- Naming sounds that don’t fit with their workflow (using technical names instead of user-friendly labels)
- Confusing names (using industry terms or abbreviations)
- Inscrutable categorization (using code words or needing spreadsheets to understand category shortforms)
- Adopting an editing or naming standard that works against your customers’ needs
The Risk of Adopting Standards
Standards are like templates. They provide a predictable, reusable way of presenting audio, sound libraries, and metadata.
In many ways adopting a standard is a great idea. They make life easier both for sound library creators and fans. However, they carry a risk, too: by definition, standards will include some listeners and rigidly exclude others.
Consider the Apple iPhone Lightning cable. It had benefits. It was reversible. It was a male jack, which reduced the risk of damaging ports the way female ones would. The trade off?
If you had a Lightning cable, you couldn’t use it on any other phone in the world except an iPhone. In most cases this isn’t a problem. It’s just a cable. Cables are cheap. They can be replaced or switched. Can the same be said about accepting a standard for a sound library?
Because of this, adopting a standard should never be done blindly, or just because everyone else is doing it. Instead, it’s vital to think about your listeners. Is the standard helping your customers? Have you asked them about it? Who does the standard exclude? Whom does it include? Are they the right people? Consider all of these questions before adopting any standard.
Whichever the case, giving your fans the wrong thing is an annoying hassle for them at best, and sharing unusable libraries at worst.
Unless you know your listeners’ needs, you’re not sharing sound as effectively as you could.
Don’t worry though, there’s an easy way to fix this.
Rethinking Sharing Sound
What’s the solution?
Expand Your Perspective
The first thing is to realize is that you’re not the only one using your sounds. I’ve consulted for many sound creators who make choices by thinking “I’ve done this for years, this is the way I want it.” That’s fine if you’re using sounds yourself. And most of the time this perspective is normal. After all, we first create sound for fun for ourselves.
When sharing sound with the world, it’s important to think more broadly. Why? Simply put, our own experiences are limited. They have the narrow perspective of just one person. How could that possibly relate to the needs of thousands of fans? You can please yourself, but you will be overlooking what your listeners prefer.
Satisfying your own inclinations will bring only limited success. It’s similar to a prescription note scrawl: something that the doctor can read but the patent – who is actually using the medicine – can’t understand.
Choose Your Audience
Secondly, it’s vital to narrow your scope. As we saw earlier, trying to please everyone rarely satisfies anyone. Sound fans have diverse needs. It’s rarely possible to share sound so that each specialized group is completely thrilled with the field recordings you capture.
Instead, pick a smaller, more focused group of listeners and create just for them. Perhaps they are music editors. Maybe they are Hollywood post production pros. They could be causal sound creators with less demanding needs. Whomever you choose, aim to give them the best possible recordings and most delightful experience. Capture sound, master it, and deliver it just the way these special people need it. The focus will not only make your audience enjoy field recordings more, but will help them use them more easily, too. This ensures your listeners get the sound they want just the way they need it.
I call these people your audience.
How to Discover What Your Audience Needs
Let’s learn how you can discover what your audience needs. To get started, here are a few different ways to think about sharing field recordings with your audience:
- Pick-up pattern/image: mono, stereo, MS, ORTF, binaural, Ambisonic
- Perspective: nearby, distant
- Performance: clinical and scientific takes vs. performances to picture vs. comedic?
Sound Editing and Mastering
- Handles: edit “air” before and after the effect or cut tightly?
- Sounds-per-file: collate many performances in one clip, or create a new clip for each sound?
- Levels: loud “audition-ready” levels or lower “scene-compatible” levels? (Learn more in earlier articles here and here.)
- Processing: provide “dry” clips or processed and stylized audio?
- Names: technical and scientific sortable names or user-friendly readable names?
- Categories: adopt a categorization standard or create a custom solution for niche needs? (Learn more in an earlier article.)
- File format: WAV, MP3
- File channels: interleaved or split stereo
- Fidelity: sampling rate, bit depth
- File decoding: Ambisonic A or B format, MS vs decoded
- Support files: CSV, TSV, TXT, PDF? Are they compatible with your audience’s software?
- Editing: what editing app do they use? Are your sessions and files compatible with it?
- Metadata app or sound browser: is your metadata compatible with your audience’s app? Will the library’s metadata be compatible with other apps, too?
- Listening environment: will the sounds be heard in a sound browser, on the web, or on mobile?
Use these ideas to decide what’s best for your own customers, and how you can deliver the best sounds to them exactly as they need it. For each decision, ask yourself: “would my fans like it if I did this? What do they need?”
Many Audiences of Sound Fans
Not long after I first began working on sound libraries, a sound pro wrote to another client of mine. They told them that the way my client was recording, describing, and categorizing their sounds was awful. But amongst the message was missing the only question that mattered: who are your audience and what do they want?
It was a bit perplexing. After all, for all this sound pro knew, the recordings were provided just the way my client’s audience needed them. As we all know, there isn’t any one objectively correct way to record, edit, describe, or share sound. Sound is far too nebulous to be crammed into a single box of understanding. Instead, it needs to be understood in context. When sharing sound, this is typically done by knowing what a listener needs.
In a way, I don’t blame that sound pro. Most audio professionals focus on one discipline of sound – sometimes for life. And let’s not forget that community of sound pros is still maturing. That pro could be forgiven for not realizing that there are hundreds of types of listeners out there, all with their own way of using sound. That’s why it’s important to remember that in the scheme of things what I or one sound pro prefers is not really relevant – it’s just too small of a sample size. This is why this post is written not to tell you what is right or wrong – how could I possibly know the best way you should use or share sound for your own fans? – but to introduce considerations of the impact of sharing with others.
Serve Sound People Want
Supercharge your sound library with a more conscious approach. Ask these questions before pressing record, making the first edit, and uploading sounds:
- What am I trying to achieve?
- Who am I sharing this with?
- What do they need?
- Are my choices helping my audience?
Is there one correct answer to each of these questions for everyone? Of course not. And that’s the beauty of it. Sound has many forms. It’s an articulation of one of our primary senses. There are endless ways to express it and experience it.
For your audience it’s more simple. They have preferences and desires. Unlock what they need. Then serve them the sound they want.
Read more about the philosophy of sharing sound:
- Two Things You Must Know When Creating a Sound Library. An exploration of a more concentrated approach to sharing sound clips with two examples to improve upon.
- How Small Changes Lead to Success. Why small sound Web shop modifications have a great effect.
- Why Small Changes Can Amplify Your Sound Library. How knowing your audience can impact sharing your field recordings.
- 3 Changes That Will Improve Your Sound Library. Ideas for ensuring your sound library has a greater impact.