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In this seventh installment about how SFX creators have pushed artistic and professional boundaries, we hear from Pro Sound Effects, Mindful Audio, BLINKSONIC° and Collected Transients. Stay tuned for more stories from our community next week.
What is your name, and who are your team members/co-creators?
Pro Sound Effects @prosoundeffects: My name is David Forshee. I’m the Library Specialist at Pro Sound Effects. Other key members of Team PSE include Douglas Price (Founder and President), Jeremy Siegel (Licensing Manager), and Andrew Emge (Operations Specialist).
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to capture the perfect sound effect?
Pro Sound Effects:
David Forshee: When recording the ‘NYC Ambisonics‘ library, we happened to be shooting in Battery Park to capture the general ambience of the New York Harbor. However, when we finished setting up our rig, we noticed around 30-40 hungry seagulls had made their way over to us. It was the middle of winter and these seagulls relied on the human presence in the city to survive. When we finished the setup, I decided to run over to the Staten Island Ferry terminal to grab a large pretzel. When I returned, we tossed pieces of the pretzel to have the birds maneuver closer to the SoundField mic for some cool seagull flybys and wing flaps. While the library mostly consists of NYC ambiences, this particular recording of the seagulls is one of my favorites in the library, especially when played back in 7.1 or with headphones as a binaural rendering.
Mindful Audio: I’m constantly pushing my boundaries and getting out of my comfort zone (which incidentally looks a lot like my studio). For example I recently had to wake up at 1am, drive for an hour, and then hike several miles with all my equipment so I could record the mating displays of the Common Snipe. Once I got there I set up the microphones and had to sit still for several hours in cold, damp weather. All this was quite demanding, but in the end it was definitely worth it. More details are on my blog. I’ve also tried to record trees creaking in 70 mph winds, which proved to be a bit more difficult than I had estimated.
BLINKSONIC°: Since 2002, I always had the desire to integrate natural sounds in my compositions to create different harmonic and rhythmic fields. I wanted to transpose classic compositional structures in an acoustic environment not based on any known instrument timbres but directly from concrete sound recordings processed by granular synthesis and micro-sampling. It often leads to improvised recording sessions from the stream of sounds I filter using a fairly impressive DSP effects chain. I’ll get into the infinitely small to create and recycle new waveforms and produce original impacts, both liquid and electric. But after this step, it’s often the interpretation process that determines the overall color of the sound environments I create. Sounds are sequenced and then re-contextualized in an experimental groovebox with another FX chain. It’s a continuous recycle.
Collected Transients: My ‘rOtation’ library is a nice example of throwing standards out the window. Instead of sticking to traditional mic placement, I decided each prop needed to be recorded in a way that maximized its rotational nature. Take for example the hurricane balls featured in the library. They’re pretty small props, so it’s tough to get a nice stereo image using traditional mic setups like XY or Mid-Side. I ended up recording with two mics outward and pointing in at the bearings, almost like a spaced-pair/XY hybrid. The end result was very nice! While the sound of ball bearings spinning at thousands of RPM is cool no matter what, it was nice to be able to get such a wide stereo image from such a small prop.
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to design a new sound effect?
Pro Sound Effects:
David Forshee: While the Ambisonics format is not new (it has been around since the ’70s!), ‘NYC Ambisonics’ represents a new approach for us and a relatively new way of thinking about sound effects libraries. We partnered with TSL Products to include their SurroundZone2 plugin (AAX, VST) with ‘NYC Ambisonics’ to give our users complete control over microphone position and polar patterns. So instead of a bunch of static wave files, we’re delivering very malleable field recordings of an entire 3D sound field! B-format recordings are certainly not appropriate for every scenario, but we think it is a perfect (and future-proof) format for capturing ambiences and general backgrounds.
Mindful Audio: Most of the sound design techniques I employ have been devised and used by others before me. I’m lucky enough to be a sound designer in an age when there’s a wealth of information easily available. This however may be a double-edged sword, as there’s little that hasn’t already been done by someone somewhere. That said, when I experiment and get decent results it feels a lot more rewarding than when I use tried-and-true techniques. One example that comes to mind is spectrally cutting minute clicks and other annoying sounds from voice recordings (I used to do a lot of dialogue editing) and using them as UI elements. These are unwanted noises that make a recording sound annoying/unprofessional, and they are usually removed and not thought about too much. A few years ago I was going through a recording and one particular mouth click stuck to my mind for a while. It sounded a bit like an old Windows mouse click. Once I realized this, I started to actively look for interesting clicks. Adobe Audition is great in this regard as it allows spectral editing, which means I can simply select the click in question, cut it and paste it to a new wave file. This is how I ended up with upwards of 100 different UI sounds that I’ve used in countless games so far.
BLINKSONIC°: ‘RUIDOZ’ is the most successful example. It is a unique tool for producing unstable environments with distinct mental images. Apart from the quality of the sound set, I realize I had something special when I tested the random rolling sequencing of each sound together. Thanks to the power of Reaktor, the random module lets you define something predictable and aleatory at the same time, especially when you apply it to the sample selection wire of the sampler module. You can call it back via snapshots. I managed to build so many loops in no time that I told to myself « wow! here is an authentic instrument » and felt it could be pushed forward by other musicians.
When have you pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects (whether they be yours or others’)?
Pro Sound Effects:
Jeremy Siegel: With some of the big shops like Sound One in NYC and Soundelux in LA shutting down, we’ve seen a huge influx in the past few years of extremely talented independent audio professionals like never before. In 2012 we introduced the Hybrid Library, which was designed to be a go-to professional sound effects library at a freelancer-friendly price. The idea was $10,000+ in value, priced at a huge discount of $1500, but available ONLY to freelancers and independents by application—no corporate budgets allowed. When you’re competing for a gig, it’s really important to have the same tools at your disposal that any studio would have, so this has been our way of lifting up a vital, growing community of professionals. Not only has it become a cornerstone of our business, but the feedback we get from our Freelancers is enough to warm our bones on a cold night. Last year we expanded this to what’s now called the Freelancer Program, which is still centered around big discounts on the Hybrid Library. Now anyone can apply for year-round access not only for the discounts on sound effects but also the offers from our software partners such as iZotope, Soundminer, SoundMorph, and more.
Mindful Audio: I can’t say I have ever pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects. So far I’ve been putting together libraries in my spare time and selling them with the help of a handful of industrious individuals. Paul Virostek’s books were of immense help, so I’d recommend them to anyone who’s just starting to do this. I could say I’m merely following in the footsteps of others and I’m lucky I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
BLINKSONIC°: I am new in this market, which is very broad but I feel it has evolved in a fascinating way. Sound libraries conceived as virtual instruments with good graphic design tend to be welcomed in a similar way as the release of an album. In any case, it triggers the same kind of enthusiasm and infatuation… Democratization of music technology brings this. People procure virtual instruments with a greater adhesion than buying MP3s on iTunes. I think the more we advance, the music producers won’t only sell their albums but also the possible processes established and involved in the creation of them. It’s lots more playful and interactive like this, and I really believe in this model. I don’t remember where I read that « developer and demo makers are the artists of the future ».
Collected Transients: One thing I do differently than many libraries is include multiple resolutions with each purchase. If I record a library at 192kHz/24-bit, anyone who buys it gets it at that resolution as well as the more standard 96kHz and 48kHz resolutions. I do that for a couple reasons. Some people don’t see the need for super high-resolution sound effects. Some people like having the high-resolution files on hand, but maybe they want the lower-res files because they’re streaming SFX over a server. When someone has access to multiple resolutions of the library, they get to make that choice and don’t have to do the work of converting to a lower resolution if they want. This comes from me having to deal with A LOT of different sound libraries at work. If I can save anyone from the frustrations I’ve experienced, I’m a happy camper!
Have you ever created a sound or synth that made you or your team laugh out loud? If so, what was the sound?
Pro Sound Effects:
Andrew Emge: While it isn’t a sound we created, this recording of tiger copulation from the BBC Nature Library has always been a hit.
Jeremy Siegel: Yeah, “Tiger Sex” is the #5 most played sound on our Online Library, probably 30% of which can be attributed to Team PSE… Don’t judge!
Mindful Audio: One thing I enjoy doing is pitching down my field recordings by one or two octaves. As soon as I get back from a field recording trip I normally download all the files to my computer and listen back to various snippets. If I find something interesting I pitch it down and listen back, usually with weird-sounding birds and other creatures. This way, simple dawn chorus recordings sound amazing, much like our conception of a prehistoric rainforest. I was once in my studio listening back to one such recording after pitching it down by one and a half octaves. After a few minutes of bird songs and various creature calls (crows, magpies and ravens are excellent for pitching down) I started to hear something like a giant approaching. There were huge footsteps, a deep and growly breath, and lots of big reverb and slap-back delay from nearby trees. When I played back the recording at normal pitch I realized I had simply recorded a jogger passing by close to my microphones. Switching back to the pitched down recording I couldn’t believe how well the giant footsteps worked in the context of the “prehistoric rainforest” ambience. Needless to say this was more than amusing.
BLINKSONIC°: Laugh isn’t the word, but with another instrument I released, ‘AETONZ’, it was surprising to discover how interesting it was to apply randomness to the timbre waveforms of a keyboard. When you play chords, a field of random tones execute on every new note event. The result is both playable and fascinating.
What is your advice for sounds designers who want to create and sell their own SFX libraries and synthesizers?
Pro Sound Effects:
David Forshee: My advice for someone getting started in creating sound effects libraries is to do lots of research on what working sound designers and sound editors actually need. Look for holes in the market and create a library that will meet that need. Sometimes these needs aren’t very flashy or easily marketable, but that’s okay!
Mindful Audio: This is a discussion I’ve had with several sound people so far and it seems like we all agree that it’s not about equipment. Decent gear will definitely help, but it’s not worth waiting until you have the most expensive preamps or mics to go out and record stuff. Sound recordists had to do this many decades ago. They had to lug around gigantic equipment that offered very little dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio. They still did it, and with excellent results. Just watch Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey.
BLINKSONIC°: Quality of sound is key, but the design cannot be forsaken. The GUI is very important and not only for the eyes—it’s not a question of making something beautiful but something that will define the way you take advantage of the sound content. It can really transcend the use of an instrument.
Collected Transients: Make sure you really want to! That’s not to say don’t start unless you’re sure. In fact, making and distributing a library is probably the best way to figure out if you actually want to continue creating them. Most of the people I know who create libraries do it because they absolutely love it. While there’s money to be made, I think most people recognize it’s not the easiest thing to make a living off of. Great libraries take a lot time in planning, creating, and distributing—time you won’t mind spending if you truly enjoy doing it! I wrote a nice long post about creating SFX libraries on my blog that some might find helpful.
What is an area you’d like to see pushed even further?
Pro Sound Effects:
David Forshee: I’d love to see some movement on the development of metadata standards, both in format and style. We have put together our own internal metadata style guide, but everybody would benefit from a common style and format. This is a tall order on one hand since describing and categorizing sounds can be very subjective and the metadata format often depends on which asset management software you are using. As of now, improving metadata and attempting to organize libraries from many different companies/recordists is a constant struggle for users.
Mindful Audio: Many AAA games take sound into account early on, but the majority of indie game developers treat audio like an afterthought.
BLINKSONIC°: I’ve used laptop/touch computers for years because they are the most powerful and versatile tools for music production, but sometimes I get bored using them—not from being pasted to a screen all day, but I think we have enough technological knowledge to emancipate the operating system that manages your email reader, internet browser, image editor, and all these recreational applications and related updates for mainstream use that can smash or make your audio set-up obsolete. I dream of a computer platform solely dedicated to audio creation, offering the best software and hardware in a single environment. I love the work of Teenage Engineering with the OP-1 or more recently the Organelle by Critter n ‘Guitari.
Collected Transients: SFX distribution within sound library applications. Adding new SFX to a database is a fairly segmented process right now. Find library on the internet… Buy library… Download library… Manually add library to database. It’d be very nice to be able to search for/audition/purchase SFX within the sound library software you’re using. There’s actually an app out right now that does this (Soundly), but it’d be great to see this idea developed more.
We hope you enjoyed reading these stories and words of advice. To hear more about their experiences, check out their blogs:
Pro Sound Effects: prosoundeffects.com/blog
Mindful Audio: mindful-audio.com/blog/
Collected Transients: blog.sto.sh