[Written by Ric Viers for Designing Sound]
The problem I’ve always had with sound effects libraries is the “stock” sound effects idea. I’m a big fan of creating your own sound effects. The catch is my primary gig is developing sound effects libraries. Enter my dilemma…
Sound effects libraries are necessary. You won’t have the time or budget to gather every sound you need for your project. This is when you grab a canned sound (yes, they used to come in cans). When I started Blastwave FX, the vision was simple – give sound designers tools to develop and create their own sound effects. The bottom line, Don’t Be A Lazy Sound Designer! If you have to use stock sound effects, blend, layer, twist and manipulate them so that they are unique to your project. While it’s fun for me to hear my work at the movies, on TV and when playing video games, I’d much rather never hear my work. Stock sounds can become campy and overplayed. So, it’s important for sound designers to use them as the icing on the cake, but never the batter.
With Blastwave FX, we’re trying to keep our libraries fresh and consider them living entities. In other words, it’s alive! It grows, and continues to give you the tools you need to create great soundtracks. Enter Sonopedia 2.0.
We spent three years creating and recording new sound effects, including sound design elements that just aren’t found in any other general sound effects library. We even added a brand new category called Textures. Textures work kind of like production elements, except that they are real world sounds that you can use to combine and create your own effects. Sounds in this category include crunches, squishes, scrapes, slides, fruits and vegetables, etc. By far, I think this is the most useful category for sound designers.
And speaking of sound-design-friendly material, we took special care with the sounds in post. One of the things that make stock sounds yucky is the over use of compression and EQ. This makes the sound effects sound almost artificial. With our material, we tried to use better mic placement to get the sound we were after and used little or no compression in post. This allows the end user to have more control over the sound. Remember, you can’t un-compress a compressed sound. I have no idea how you will use the sound, so why would I make critical decisions for you? Instead, we leave the sounds as flat as possible with plenty of dynamics still intact. Of course, when it comes to the larger-than-life sounds like creatures, science fiction and serious crashes, all bets are off.
Our recording sessions covered Foley, weapons, vehicles, monsters (yes, they are real) and even original wax cylinders of recordings from the 1800s. We went to two-time Grammy nominee Ken Flaherty’s home to record his incredible collection of phonographs. The session was very awe-inspiring for me. There is a recording of Thomas Edison straight off of an original wax cylinder print of his “Let Us Not Forget” speech after World War One. It was surreal. I was a recordist recording a recording of the inventor of the recorder (say that ten times fast). During that session, I was also able to record on one of the ten original foil recorders that Edison created. This was essentially the first recording device. I got to record my voice on the device saying “Blastwave FX, the new wave in sound effects”. Quite ironic, considering that I was recording this on an original device that was a hundred years old.
Other sessions included snowmobiles, ATVs, helicopters, guns with several perspectives, water effects, snow and ice, destruction and tons of industry sounds including an incredible session at General Motors. The hardest part about recording at the major automotive manufacturer was getting permission. We tried to get in for years. Then, one day we found ourselves inside both the assembly and stamping plants. Some of these machines were absolutely huge! There was one stamping machine that was about two hundred feet long, thirty five feet wide and twenty five feet tall. It was breath taking. So, we recorded the machine from the sides, top, bottom, middle and even underneath in a basement that collected all the scrap metal. Because of the sheer size of the machine, we were able to find unique sounds and perspectives from nearly every angle.
It was fun to start over again and fill in the gaps. I recorded a blizzard that hit Detroit in February and captured the sound of a tree getting knocked over by the violent wind. That was super spooky. It was in the middle of the night. I was all alone in this forest and it was dark. All of a sudden, I heard bending and cracking and finally a thump as this huge tree came crashing to the ground nearby. It was pretty hard to keep quiet, but I didn’t want to ruin the take.
During a trip to lecture at Full Sail, I stopped in a day early and spent nine hours with Colin Hart and several students recording anything and everything on their sound stages. There were tons of props, machines and studio equipment that we recorded. Its one thing to write a book about sound effects or even lecture about the topic, but it’s another thing to throw headphones on everyone in the room and explain the process with a hands-on approach. That was a cool trip!
Overall, the biggest challenge was finding new things to record. We worked hard on the first version of Sonopedia to cover all the bases. So, in this version we focused on sound design elements in addition to rare antiques and machines. There is also an emphasis on hard to find Foley effects including simple things like cloth tracks, tying shoes, scrapes, slides, movements and the like. In fact, we recorded many Foley sounds on location to capture more real world environments and props that were impractical to bring back to the studio.
A big focus for me was to enjoy the process. I didn’t want to rush anything. I wanted this new version of the library to evolve on its own. I think that will come across in the final product. You can check out some of the fun we had making Sonopedia 2.0 by watching the Chop Shop Video Diaries. Of course, we didn’t document the hundreds and hundreds of hours spent designing and editing. This is mainly because no matter how cool the music is in the video, nobody wants to sit and watch some dude staring at a computer screen all day!
Sonopedia 2.0 will have 30,000 general HD sound effects including production elements, 5.1 surround effects, science fiction and lots of interesting material for sound design. There’s over 300 GB of content with all the metadata your heart desires as well as a free search engine to find the right sound to drag and drop into your session. And to show our commitment to producing fresh material, Sonopedia 2.0 comes with free updates for life. That means you get new sound effects delivered to you four times throughout each year you own the product – for free. Our goal is that this will be a Comprehensive Lifetime Sound Design Solution. But, keep in mind; I’d still prefer if you made your own sound effects! : )
Oh, and I should also point out that despite the addition of 10,000 sound effects, the price will stay the same. And if you are a student or have recently graduated from college, check out the Blastwave FX Facebook page for an announcement about upcoming student edition pricing.
Now, for you gear heads, here’s a list of some of the equipment we used for Sonopedia 2.0:
- Rode NTG-3
- Rode NT4
- Rode NT2A
- Rode NTK
- Sanken CSS5
- Sennheiser 416
- Sennheiser 418
- Sennheiser MKH60
- Sennheiser MKH800
- Fostex FR2
- Fostex FR2LE
- Sound Devices 702
- Sound Devices 744
Sound Editing / Design Software
- Sound Forge 10
- Vegas 10
- Sound Forge 10
For more information check out www.blastwavefx.com.