Archives For creativity

DVD Hero

The Compact Disc introduced the first widely accepted digital audio format. It became popular partially because of improved audio quality. There were other reasons, too. Listening and accessing the audio was also far more convenient than the previous vinyl and cassette formats.

The Compact Disc has reigned as the dominant physical audio format since it was introduced to the public in 1982. Even in 2007, over 200 billion CDs were sold.

Of course, digital sound file delivery is overtaking physical optical disc shipments. However, the CD format set a fidelity standard that has lasted for over 30 years. In one way or another, this has affected every sound pro.

As sound professionals, we know how greatly higher fidelity sound affects our work. Higher sampling rates allow more flexibility in sound design. Higher bit rates increase dynamic, and, generally speaking, make sound clips appear more full, lush, and rich. But does high fidelity audio really matter to listeners?

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Spiral galaxy NGC 1232

In a recent blog post, I described my experience lecturing for Edinburgh Napier University.

At the end of the post I shared a thought I had: field recording strengthens when recordists exchange ideas.

I’ll explain more about that today. I’ll also offer one way to accomplish this.

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Frank Bry on Runway

How can you record great sound effects?

Field recording well requires using gear properly, having a solid recording sensibility, and knowledge of acoustics and signal flow.

However, as a listener, these things rarely come to mind when we hear an impressive sound. It’s similar to watching a movie: we never wonder how the gaffer lit a scene. That may come to mind after, of course.

It’s the same with sound effects. Whether hearing them on their own or skillfully blended with other audio or video, our first reaction is to simply experience them. We react to booming thunder, a crisp gunshot, or forlorn, howling wind. But, after we’ve assembled our gear, flicked the switches and turned the dials, how can we as field recordists create an experience for our listeners?

One field recordist who knows is Frank Bry.

Bry is a pioneer in the world of sharing sound. He posts frequently on,, as well as his Twitter stream and field recording blog.

Bry is well known for his voluminous collections of tricky sound effects. His recordings are known to be pure and powerful. But his recordings also contain something more: instinct, inspriation, and “vibe.”

Frank kindly spent some time answering questions about his origins in sound design, how he shares sound, and his method for evoking the best possible experience for his listeners.

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Rob Nokes Recording Plane

I’ve written in these pages that field recordings have great power to become more than simple data files. A thoughtful recordist can add personality, emotion, and meaning to the sound effects they record. To do this, a recordist must invest themselves into their work.

One field recordist who practices this is Rob Nokes.

You may have heard of Nokes. He is a Hollywood sound recordist who has contributed to films such as Snow White and The Huntsman, X-Men First Class and 3:10 to Yuma. He is also a sound supervisor, having helmed projects such Bones, and The Finder.

He is well known for a relentless approach to capturing only the best sound effects. He has pursued seals and walruses while recording in Uruguay, and flown to Khazakstan to gather tribal recordings for the film Nomad.

What you may not know about Rob Nokes’ work is how he uses his passions and experience to enhance his sound effects recordings.

To learn more about this intriguing approach to field recording, I asked Nokes about his past, the impact of a sound library, the characteristic projects he’s joined, his current projects, and more.

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Toronto in Fog

I read an interesting question on Social Sound Design this morning. It asked whether selling a sound effects library on your own website was viable. Would one pack be downloaded ten, 100, or 500 times?

I added a few thoughts of my own, and shared my experience selling sound effects on the Web. At the end of the post, I mentioned that recording rare sound effects with reflection and effort give a sound library an advantage.

I thought about this last bit as I grabbed my coffee later. I think there’s more to add.

So, in this post I’ll answer a few questions I often hear from new field recordists.

  • How do I build a sound effects library?
  • Which sound effects should I record?
  • What makes one sound effect more valuable than another?
  • How can this help me share my sound library on the Web?

I’ll share what I learned, the path I took, and some ideas how you can shape a powerful sound library of your own.

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What is the best first step a new sound effects field recordist can take? I’ve written before that getting out and recording anything is a good way to start.

Recording foundation sound effects like traffic, crowds and household sound clips teaches you:

  • How your gear works: nuances of microphone range and frequency response, recorder foibles.
  • How sound moves or works in different environments: reflections, etc.
  • How much intruding noise your recording can tolerate before it is ruined.
  • Subtleties of your subject: when birds are most lively, how crowds react or how machines respond when manipulated.

Well, what’s next? How do you improve your sound effects library to take it from good to great?

Have you exhausted all the cool sound fx around you? Out of ideas? Not sure what to record next? Interested in challenging yourself? Want to record sound clips that involve more than swinging microphone stands and pressing buttons?

I’ve written before that I believe that the best sound effects are meaningful, evocative and powerful. What do I mean? How can you create these sounds?

In this article I’ll suggest some concrete actions you can take to make your sound library better.
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Royal Hudson H1e class 4-6-4 steam train

Photo Credit: Karl Zimmermann, "Magnetic North, Canadian Steam in Twilight"

Earlier this week I was listening to my steam train sound effects. They’re field recordings of a Royal Hudson H1e class 4-6-4 steam train. I was gathering them into a sound pack collection (or as I wryly name them on Airborne Sound, ‘Jet Packs’).

Steam trains are in that category of field recordings that are pleasing to hear like streams, rain, thunder or birdsong. I like those trains. They’re cool and have interesting history. But I won’t write about steam trains today.

Instead I will write about revisiting your sound effects library. I thought about this while I was browsing the steam train tracks. I’ll share why the process of mastering then reviewing them years later was important.

And I’ll write why you’ll need only one tool when mastering and reviewing your sound effects library: a shit-detector.

(The language is crude, I know. I’ll explain in a moment the reason I use the term.)

I’ll return to the posts on productivity next week.

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Yin and Yang in Stone

courtesy ell brown

Shortly after the new year I made a list. It was my sound effects new year’s resolution list for 2012.

There were a dozen things on that list. Some were mundane tasks that I needed to finally complete. Some were exciting ideas like creating field recording apps and new websites. Others were events I wanted to record like races or festivals.

It’s now mid-May and that list keeps growing.

What about you? Is your ‘to record’ sound effects list outracing what you’re editing? Do you look back on your work week exhausted but have trouble naming exactly what you’ve done? Do you wish you could be doing more?

All this has made me think about the role of productivity in sound.

When people say they’re productive they mean they get things done. Sometimes it means doing things faster or better. It’s crossing off lists.

It’s no different with sound pros. It could be finishing designing the sound concept of a video game character. It could be capturing a 300 sound effects a year. Perhaps you need to deliver a completed TV episode by Friday.

I’ve been thinking lately how productivity applies to sound effects libraries, field recording and sound professionals. It’s actually a bit strange. I think sound pros face a unique challenge when trying to be productive.

In today’s article I’ll explain why. I’ll write why productivity works differently for sound effects field recordists and editors. I’ll share some ideas on how you can boost productivity and achieve goals.

In the following weeks I’ll offer specific tricks and tips for getting sound tasks done faster and better.

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Techniques and skill and even a point of view are often handed down, formally or not. It’s easier to get started if you’re taught, of course.

But art, the new, the ability to connect the dots and to make an impact–sooner or later, that can only come from one who creates, not from a teacher and not from a book.

– Seth Godin

Quote: “All Artists Are Self Taught.” Field Recordists Too?

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.

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