You’ve been working in pro audio for years. Perhaps you’re a sound editor that has occasionally collected sound clips for projects. Maybe you’re a production mixer that’s gathered field recordings in the off-season. You may be a musician that has started capturing nature sound beyond the studio. Why not share the audio you’ve recorded?
It’s a great idea. After all, we need more excellent sound in the world.
So how can you share your recordings well? You may ask yourself, how do I sell sound effects the best way? How can you promote them wisely and authentically?
Today’s post begins a three part series with answers to those questions. The first two articles are about ideas. They explore how to shape your sound recordings to make them irresistible using two very different methods. Next week will share over a dozen practical tips for promoting your sound effects collections in ways your fans will love. Together, they aim to form a solid strategy for getting the field recordings you’ve carefully captured into the ears of eager listeners.
These articles will explore the ideas in great depth. So, grab yourself a coffee and settle in.
Let’s get started.
Please note: I explore this idea in detail. This article should take you about 16 minutes to read. No time? Click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.
New Challenges for Selling Sound Effects
Lately there has been a wave of troubling comments from sound effects library publishers. They have worked hard to record sound effects with great skill. They’ve packaged them with care. Their collections are placed in popular Web shops or their own stylized storefronts. However, the same comments resurface. Revenue has been falling. Competition is intense. Packs cost too much to make and maintain. Promotional sales today are less effective than just six months before.
There is a creeping sense of unease that the business of selling sound is no longer viable.
What’s wrong? What has changed?
On the surface, one answer may seem obvious: competition. The market is flooded with thousands of libraries from independent recordists as well as the host of offerings from established corporate publishers. Sound Effects Search, a portal for independent sound effects, currently lists 3,888 indie sound libraries. Why so many?
The barrier to entry for recording sound effects has been reduced. After all, anyone can buy equipment for under $300 and record perfectly serviceable audio. That’s partially responsible for the huge surge of sound libraries. However, despite the torrent of sound fx releases, the difference in quality between them is vast. So, shouldn’t it be easier for good libraries to do better?
It’s true. The amount of sound libraries isn’t a problem. There are larger issues at work.
Last year, an article explored a more subtle issue: The Downward Spiral of Sound Library Sales. In that post, we learned that an unhealthy, predictable pattern of discounts was undermining not only the viability of recording sound for sale, but the perception of sound effects itself.
Some good news: recently independent sound effect publishers have begun to change their approach. Sales are fewer and less cutthroat. Some publishers have opted out of sales completely. As result the perceived value of sound is slowly increasing.
So why then are people still experiencing trouble? Why is it becoming more difficult to sell sound effects?
The answer? Merely removing discounts alone won’t fix things. The problem runs deeper, and it is an issue that nearly every one of those 3,888 sound libraries experience.
The Missing Piece of Selling Sound Effects
Many sound fans begin field recording for the love of it. They enjoy being in nature and bringing a sliver of that experience back home in sound. Others chase elusive subjects rarely heard and use them in games and films. Still more use equipment to twist and warp audio into unusual soundscapes. They create powerful, moving sound we all love to hear.
None of these guarantee a successful sound sharing business. Simply put, good sound is no longer enough to succeed. Using elite equipment won’t help either. As the amount of excited field recording fans grow, the viability of even elusive subjects like rare vehicles, distant lands, and emerging gadgets will eventually expire.
Yes, all those things – equipment, fidelity, or subject rarity – have the potential to capture incredible field recordings. But that’s not the same as assuming that those sounds should be sold, or that they would succeed if they were.
Well, typically recording sound effects is done for utility and need, and expression: to use in our projects, or invoke a sonic experience. That’s natural. It’s been done this way for decades. Field recording is often an add-on practice that’s carved out busy post production schedules or out-sourced to meet rushed game audio milestones. It can be a weekend hobby done while hiking in the hills. It’s completely normal to think about field recordings in terms of what you need for work right now, or how you enjoy replaying soothing nature recordings. Perhaps how other sound fans would do the same.
You could have found five precious uninterrupted minutes of a lonely twilight moor and can’t wait to upload the soundscape. You may be excited that you’ve recorded a library of monkey screeches. They sound cool, they work perfectly for your superhero series villain, and you know everyone will be amazed at the shrill vocalizations. For years, it has been normal to think of field recordings in terms of how useful they are, or as a recreation of place and time.
However, sharing sound puts a new spin on this established craft. To share sound well, a mental shift has to take place; instead of thinking of sound effects as an experience or their usefulness in a project, it is vital to think of the listener: what they need, how they use sound, and what delights them.
This is a challenge many field recordists have with sharing sound – and they may not even realize it. It is genuinely hard to set aside the thinking needed for the tangible craft of recording and instead prioritize abstract qualities for a nebulous group of people. In a way, it’s like thinking in reverse: considering how the sounds will be used even before recording. It’s a challenging notion for an art that demands balancing technical skill with creative input to even begin to get the job done. That’s hard enough. And now I’m suggesting to set it aside to consider the desires of someone you’ve never met?
Precisely. There is a river that one needs to step over to move from enjoying or using field recordings to selling them. They’re two different things, and to succeed, you must to make the leap.
It is not easy to develop this skill. In my 20 years of selling sound on the web – from the first online sound library at sounddogs.com to consulting for corporate sound shops today – I’ve rarely seen it. That’s not criticism. It’s understandable. Field recording and sound design are highly specialized fields. After all, it can take decades of experience to succeed at capturing the trickiest sounds. Mastering those talents leaves little room for other disciplines, especially ones as alien as marketing and sales. But it presents an opportunity for success that you must seize.
The keys to unlock this? They’re quite simple, and neither have anything to do with sound itself. They are value and intention.
Two Ways to Sell Sound Effects
So that’s the idea. But how does that help you sell sound effects well?
Sound effects have typically see-sawed between being seen in two ways: as tools to get the job done or as artistic creations. Usually publishers present their collections as one or the other, with the first being the most common.
Tools help people solve problems. They’re sounds that are used to describe a character with sound, provide building blocks for designing a soundscape, or even for filling a gap in a sound library. Sound bundle tools make people’s lives easier. They’re typically the tangible benefits people can use and calculate.
Creative recordings highlight expression. They are the benefits a sound recording brings from conveying emotion, style, or inspiring ideas. These are the intangible, unique qualities that you as a creator – and no one else – inject into field recordings.
Tools bring value: practical benefits for the price. Creations provide intention: they help differentiate your collection from others, and transmit emotional value.
The truly untouchable, most successful collections blend both in a way that highlight the value of using the sounds, and express the emotional intention seared into the recordings. To ensure your sound libraries will succeed, you must use both.
How to Add Value to Your Sound Effects
Enough of the conceptual stuff. Let’s get our hands dirty and learn how you can get the job done.
Our first step for success? Add value to your sound effects by solving problems for your customers.
Who are your customers? Who would you like to buy your sounds? And no, “everyone” is not the right answer. That’s too broad. Instead, focus. Are they game audio editors? Meditational listeners? Feature film facility sound librarians? Podcast creators? VR designers? Each of these people have different problems and needs.
How can your sound libraries solve their problems? What benefits do your sound packs give?
If you’ve never considered field recordings from the perspective of what your customer wants, this may be a difficult question for you to answer.
No problem. Below are four ways to think about adding value to field recordings by solving problems for your customers.
The Classic Trinity
You may have heard of these three classic benefits before: time, money, and relationships. Let’s see how they can help sound library customers.
- Time. Your recordings save customers time, or increase their productivity (getting more done in less time). Example: pre-pitched versions of animal recordings save sound designers time processing them themselves.
- Money. Your libraries save them money, or help them earn more money. Example: providing access to rare vehicles saves sound supervisors the expense of paying for fresh Ferrari recordings.
- Relationships. The library helps build a community, create branding, or enhance reputation. Examples: a pack of trailers that help a podcaster choose a sonic brand.
The goal here is to find the benefit, then present it that way:
Bonus: save time using pre-pitched jaguar vocalizations as creative creature groans and growls for sci-fi aliens or rabid orcs and goblins.
The trinity of time, money, and relationships is a quick way to redirect your sound library to highlight a benefit.
The trinity is a good starting point, but it doesn’t provide many specific ideas to help you.
Let’s look a bit more deeply.
The Benefit Chart
If you want to have a successful sound library, help your customers solve their problems. The bigger the problem you solve, the more successful your collection will be.
Well, what’s a big sound effect problem, and what’s a small one? How do you solve them using sound?
Here are four ways at looking at them:
|Solve a problem your customer cannot fix||Solve a problem your customer won’t fix||Solve a problem your customers don’t fix||Solve a problem your customers already solved|
|Sound Type||Rare sound, special technique used, deliver bonus add ons||A complex or detailed recording that you make available easily||Common sounds packaged well||Another option of sounds they already have|
|Difficulty||Difficult sounds||Involved creations||Routine recordings||Simple and easy sounds|
|Example||A battleship||A comprehensive suite of smashing glass||A collection of room tones||Household sound effects|
|Access||Customers lack the tools or opportunity to find it, or cannot create it on their own||Customer could create it but cannot (lack the time or tools), or the library is difficult to find||Customer could create it or find it elsewhere, but don’t bother||Sounds customers can create themselves or find anywhere|
|Need||It is an important sound they need urgently||They need the sound urgently but it is not important||It is an important sound but not urgently needed||Not important or urgent|
|Benefit||It’s a rare sound that’s a perfect match that they need to use now||It's a rare sound and it helps them now. You make it easier to find or use it||It’s an uncommon sound that would help them from time to time||It’s a common sound that may help them some day|
|Pricing Scheme||Price it as high as you want (within reason)||Price it high||Price to match your competitors||Low price, loss leader|
The chart shows, from left to right, the type of problems you can solve for customers, and how much success that will bring your libraries.
On the left are sounds that are tricky to record and really help customers. On the right are easily recorded sounds that provide a small benefit to your customers. From top to bottom are descriptions of the kind of sounds you can share, and how customers use it and need it.
So, moving from left to right are sound libraries that:
- Provide the most value to the least. In other words, sounds towards the left help customers solve bigger problems.
- Have the most appeal to occasional interest
- Generate the most income to the least revenue
You can also think about it in terms of competition: you’ll have no competitors creating sounds in the left column, and will be overwhelmed with copies on the right.
Let’s look at examples.
Difficult and Unique Sound Effects
If you solve problems in the first column, you’ll have very little competition. This is because the sounds are rare and customers need them desperately: they’re hard to find, and they need to use them immediately. They lack the tools or opportunity to create those sounds themselves, and can’t find them anywhere else.
An example could be the sound of a rare tank that a game designer needs to use right now.
You can charge a premium for this, and customers will be happy to pay since it gets them out of a difficult spot.
Involved and Rare Recordings
The second column is a bit different. The sounds here are more common. However, they are complex, and the recordings feature detailed perspectives or performances. Your customers probably could record them themselves or find them elsewhere, but it’s unlikely. The benefit you give is to present these challenging recordings well, and make it easier to find and to use them. Customers will probably use these sounds daily.
Imagine a package of 1,000 well cut and labeled metal screeches, recorded with high-frequency microphones from a half-dozen angles.
You can charge a high price for the benefit of an authoritative suite of sounds presented in an easy-to-use format. There’s some competition here, but the way you record and present the packages makes that negligible.
Routine and Uncommon Recordings
There are fewer problems to solve in the third column, and that means collections here provide fewer benefits. They’re good sounds but they’re not really used a lot and are not that rare. The chief benefit you provide is saving customers the trouble of recording them themselves, or going elsewhere to purchase them. They could easily find similar useable sounds elsewhere or record them simply. So, recordings here do indeed help people, but the benefit is not strong.
Example: a collection of city skyline recordings.
Since it’s likely there are many other packages like this on the market, you’ll have to price your bundle to match or slightly undercut your competitors. The competition here is common; your collections will be at risk of being copied and will probably be subject to price wars.
Easy and Common Sounds
What problems can you solve with easy and common sounds? This one’s a bit trickier. Customers don’t really need these sounds, have multiple copies of them already, or can easily find them elsewhere on the Web. The main benefit you provide is giving them extra options of the same sounds they already own.
Example: a door library, or household sounds.
Price this library low, and use it as a loss leader to inspire customers to purchase other, high-priced collections. There is a lot of competition when selling these sounds.
Don’t despair if you read the chart and discovered you record routine or simple sounds. There’s room in the market for everyone. How can you succeed with common sounds?
Here are four tips:
- Sell sound libraries to more customers. Continually uncover new customers and sell to these people.
- Sell more sound libraries. Reconnect with customers you already have and sell them more collections.
- Sell more often. Increase your content. More products raise the chance of additional sales.
- Sell at a higher price. Present your collections as premium recordings, and ask for a higher price in return.
Need something simpler? No problem. Just ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a problem? What sounds do people need?
- Is the problem a big one? Do people really need it solved? How badly do people need those sounds?
- How often do people have this problem? Will people need this sound every day, once a month? Yearly?
- How many people have this problem? Will many people need and use these sounds?
- What is your competition? Do other copies of the sounds exist online?
- Are your recordings better than what exists? Creating superior sounds will sidestep the competition and guarantee success.
You’re considering recording a hissing alligator collection. How does that stack up to the questions above?
Is it a problem? Sure. Editors always need more sound design tools recorded well.
Is it a big problem? Let’s say it’s moderate. No one is specifically desperate for alligator sounds, but it would be helpful if they had them.
How often will people have the problem? Well, it’s admittedly not as common as needing barking dogs or door slams. So it has limited need.
How many people have this problem? There are hundreds of sound designers that could use cool alligator vocalizations. That doesn’t compare to the thousands that need room tones and water Foley, but still a solid amount.
What is your competition? There are likely under 5 good alligator collections out there at the moment.
Are your recordings better than what exists? If you record well with high-frequency microphones from multiple angles, and evoke good performances from the alligator (dangerous!), your collection will surely succeed.
Sell Sound Effects to Solve Problems
The point of all this? Know your customers, then find what problems they have, and solve them.
The tricky part is articulating the benefit of your sounds in solving those problems, and then expressing it to your fans.
You’ve spent endless hours perfecting the audio you’ve ensnared. You know it’s special. When you’re sharing sound, you must move beyond recording just for the sake of it. Consider your libraries more thoughtfully. Think of the people who will hear and enjoy your creations. Craft your collections just for them. Solve their most difficult problems with exceptional audio.
With hard work and mindfulness, you will seize success.
Next: one more way of ensuring how you can sell sound effects for success: by distinguishing your sound library.
Below are a few articles from the Creative Field Recording membership, a list of carefully curated articles that help you sell sound wisely.
- How to Create an Indie Sound Bundle
- What You Need to Share SFX Online
- How to Sell Sound Effects Article Roundup