[Written by Frank Bry for Designing Sound]
I have a love-hate relationship with metadata. I love it because it enables me to efficiently and accurately find exactly the sounds I’m looking for. I hate it because it can be a tedious, time consuming process, one that I would like to outsource to my alien clone living on Mars (if I had one). I love it because once it’s done, searching for just the right sound effect when you are under deadline, is so much faster and produces much better results. Metadata is a prerequisite for today’s digital audio files. It is crucial to both searching as well as tracking and importing your audio assets to your DAW.
In this two part article I’m going to discuss two types of metadata editing that I do with Soundminer Pro v4 on a daily basis as a sound designer using various commercial libraries and as a sound effects library producer. The metadata techniques and processes I detail here only pertain to working with sound effects. Any production audio metadata, and the other really hard stuff to write about, I defer to my friend, Tim Prebble. His Music of Sound blog has a few great articles on metadata, and he is a really knowledgeable and fascinating writer. The links are listed below. First up though, a little history of my experience before metadata was widely used in audio production.
The Good Old Days of Sound Effects Retrieval
There was a day when I did not have an asset management system. The best I had was printed sheets of my CD-ROM contents, a Filemaker Pro database, or those big fat sound effects library catalogs they printed at the time. This was hell especially when you’re in a creative groove or under a big deadline. You could look in the catalog, load the CD, find the track, listen through and load each file or portion into your DAW. Or, you could use Filemaker to search for your sound. Auditioning the file required some fancy footwork with the integration of a 3rd party program with Filemaker. All in all, not an easy task to find what was needed. I did not have a CD ripper and there was no metadata in the files—fun huh? I would load each track from a CD into a long forgotten program called Alchemy. Once extracted to my hard drive, I had a sd2 or AIFF file that I could audition with ProTools or in Sound Designer II. It was a long and painful process and the computers were not as fast as the ones we have now, so extracting was at 1x speed.
Today we have some awesome sound library tools that keep track of all the sounds and metadata on our hard drives. Today we have it easy… or so we think. It can still be a time consuming aspect of sound design that could still use some refinement. So here we go, my views and processes for the commercial library part of this article series.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Commercial CD libraries: we all struggle to use them but we all, at times, have no choice. The project, client satisfaction, budget, and our artistic integrity all play a role in whether or not the sounds in these libraries are used. I’m not going to pick any one library, but I’ve seen some great metadata and I’ve seen some not so great. Most all of the metadata I’ve seen is really good, but every now and then you can come across some that is vague or incomplete. Keep in mind that all this metadata that had been embedded into files created by SM Ripper or some other extraction tool can be quite outdated and are using text data provided by the CD library manufacturer. To correct these issues was really not the responsibility of the ripper manufacturer.
When working on designing a sound, searching for just the right sound can be a challenge. One has to drill down and listen to a set of search returns that don’t really show what the file might be. Below are some examples that I pulled out of currently available CD libraries:
Vague or Incomplete:
Sliding Door – 5 Versions
Large Object Movement
Warfare, Machine, Gun, Automatic, 7.62, Caliber, Russian, Pkm, Long, Burst, Close, Perspective
Whoosh, Multiple, Reverse, Pan, Production Element, Imaging Element, Accent, Transition
Franchi Spas 12, 12 Gauge Semi Automatic Riot Gun: Single Shot, Buckshot, Close Perspective
Most of us don’t have the time or energy to go through all the libraries, whether commercial or custom, and re-work all the description field metadata. I know I don’t so I have devised a system of keying in on sounds that I either use quite frequently, or as I’m auditioning sounds I need for a project, I quickly tag possible sounds with certain “Frank” style stupid words. Remember, these are techniques I use with Soundminer Pro. These can be adapted for other sound database programs.
ShortID: I use this quite often. Most if not all CD libraries ripped with SM Ripper have this field available for searching. I like the ShortID field because I can find sounds like Explosions (EXPL) or Movement (MVMT) really quickly and accurately. I also will tag some sounds that I use with tradition types of explosions with EXPL. Rocks, metal, wood, debris are some sounds I have in my database that I have used or think work well in designing explosions. I also have custom ShortID codes that I use for some types of sounds. MAJI for Magic, LFBM for LFE .1 boom channel effects and others. I use these ID tags for sounds that constantly give me good results in my work.
Stupid Words: I have my own set of words that I can quickly tag into the Keyword or Description fields for sound effects that I really love to use. I can quickly search for a sound based upon one of these stupid words without typing a long string of search terms. My favorite ones are:
- THUMPER: Used for deep heavy FX for larger than life sound creation like giant ogre footsteps, monster punches, etc.
- BOOMERZ: Used for explosions and certain impacts for bass heavy sometimes distant effects.
- SCHWING: More sword swings/shings and any kind of arm swish, knife swish, arrows, etc.
- DUDE: A voice clip for processing or a great animal growl or roar.
- INSANE: Used for sounds that really get my emotional attention like impacts, wild crashes and awesome whooshes.
- SCHVINGKTER: Splatty, goopy water, mud, food stuff, gushing blood, horror gore sounds, etc.
- GIB: Used with “schvingter” sometimes for great splats, blood spills and flesh impacts.
As I use these words in my search, I also add other words to narrow the results down even more.
Keywords: I will add words to this field that I don’t need to see in the description field. I like my description fields to look clean and simple. I’m a visual type of person and like to see the whole picture, and when things look complex or scattered, I have to really focus on a visually narrow area. I don’t know how to explain it any other way so I hope you get that point. An example is one I used for a fireball impact. This sound makes a great fantasy fire spell impact so I tagged it with SPEL and FANT in the keywords. It keeps the description field clean and still returns on a search for fire sounds used in spell sound effects design.
There are some other things I do if I have time to make my searching more accurate. An example is the word “Fire.” I like to only have that word on burning and flame sounds and sometimes a record will have “Gun Fire” in the description or keyword field. When searching for fire, I don’t want guns. There are ways to exclude the word gun in Soundminer like “fire not gun” but I’m typing challenged most of the time so I like to keep it quick and simple.
Narrowing Down Your Search
Most commercial CD libraries being ripped by a CD ripper will be separated into folders. One folder for each CD inside a master folder with the SFX library CD name and ID. I like this for organizational reasons on my hard drive, and it also comes in handy when you want to see just the files in that folder or on that CD. A lot of collections organized their sounds on CD by type and category. For example, some libraries put all their sword sounds on one disc and when ripped end up in one folder. (Key commands are for Mac)
Over the last few years, large CD library collections are shipping on DVD or hard drive and sometimes all the sounds from a library are stuffed into one folder, the name of the library. This is okay because you can still narrow your search by CD in Soundminer by Option-Clicking on the “Library” and/or “Source” column.
Also you can Option-Click on any column and show just the files with the same exact text in that column. Great for when you want to see just the files in a particular category. You can use it on library, ShortID, Source, etc.
By clicking on sections of the file path text separated by “/” at bottom right of the screen you can show just the records in the folder you clicked.
I could write forever on all the ways to find sounds but here I’ve outlined a few of the major ones that work for me when I’m in the creative zone or under pressure to deliver my work yesterday. We have all searched and searched for that perfect element to use making our assets and it can be quite a task sorting through hundreds of thousands of files.
Part 2 of this article will deal with inputing and wranging metadata for my personal libraries and my commercially avaiable sound effects libraries.
Some Metadata and Software Reading Material for Your Enjoyment:
Disclaimer: I have been using Soundminer for over eight years and during this time I have become very dependent on this wonderful and useful sound database tool. I find that without it I would feel all alone in this world. And, I am a user. I purchased the program and have had no other business dealings with the Soundminer guys other than sending them my money for their amazing work. Thank you, guys!