Buying (& Selling) Sound Effects

Presuming you work in post have you ever bought sound effects? If so, where did you buy them? I’m primarily talking about sound effects as opposed to music samples or libraries, although these have some aspects in common… And even more interesting (to me) do you sell sounds online? I ask due to having thought about both subjects more than bit myself in the past, but also more recently on a gearslutz forum thread which evoked a wide range of responses…

On most film projects my primary three sound resources are (1) production audio, (2) my existing 3TB sound library and (3) my portable HD recorder & mics… As far as sound effects & ambiences go, production audio often yields basic coverage of a few things ie a few locations and a few props are covered… When I first read a script I tend to tag specific unique sound requirements & for example if it involves vehicles I will request that production provide some basic coverage of them. This usually involves the production recordist spending half a day after the shoot finishes & it at least gives us a starting point, especially handy for temp mixes early in the schedule… but inevitably we will go out & record further material either with the vehicles ex production or with another available vehicle of the same make/model vehicle. The reason for this is that despite how great a job the production recordist does with their time available, when you see a sequence edited together many different perspectives & performances will be required…
Next source is my existing library; despite all the technology within these four walls my sound library is my most important asset and it is in never ending development. Every time I go out recording for a specific sound I keep an open mind as to other unique sounds that I can record at the same time… My trip to New Plymouth recently was a good example – I stopped at the industrial ruins at Patea primarily to shoot photos & some HD but I also well knew I could capture some great interior impulse responses… but in the process of recording them I also ‘found’ a few other sounds that I captured & will go in the library for no other reason than the sounds were there to be recorded. Two examples: I kept recording when walking between rooms in which I was capturing IRs & I accidentally stepped on an old dried out plant/weed.. As I had the gain cranked up for recording reverb trails the crunch I made when I stood on it stopped me in my tracks. I have no immediate use for this sound but I bet one will become apparent in the near future (and it already has) so I stopped for a minute or three and crunched that plant in every way imaginable… Ditto for an industrial space nearby that was full of rubble:

To most people thats just an eye sore but when I saw it I instantly thought of all the times I have had to cut debris and rock sounds & never had enough source material…. As I get older & my library grows I appreciate more & more the sounds I have recorded in the past ‘for no particular reason,’ especially as I find homes for them in film soundtracks… And many of those sounds I just would never have found if/when I suddenly needed them!

Another source of sounds that is important is friends & acquaintances; most sound editors I know maintain sound libraries and are open to sharing and/or trading sounds to help each other out. But that is contextual as well, eg I wouldnt share specific sounds from a project I am currently working on as one of the aims of my work is to provide specific sounds uniquely suited to the project… But once the project is finished & it has had its release this becomes less of an issue, especially considering that from my many record sessions only a small percentage of the sounds are actually used in the project eg recording two hours of various material for a 30 second scene in a film…

But some sounds are hard to find, no matter how hard you look: it may be cost related, availability of props or it may be simply dangerous to even try eg guns, explosions etc.. And its times like that commercial sound librarys can be invaluable and in the past I have used two primary sources, which both work under very different business models:

Firstly, SOUND DOGS – most people know of sound dogs (check their youtube channel too) who provide a great service for sound effects which can be auditioned via low rez MP3s and downloaded… Rates are as described here ie ‘sound prices are determined by rarity, originality, source, quality…’ and are listed for each sound as you browse and search the library. As an example, if I search for ‘gun’ sounds, there are 14,193 hits which range in price from $1.85 up to $11.40, but bear in mind many of these are for literally single sound effects, so if you need a dozen for variety then you will be buying & paying for a dozen sounds….

Secondly SOUND MOUNTAIN which is more of a boutique sound library where Ann Kroeber maintains the library she & Alan Splet built. The approach here is to describe what you need & Ann will provide material to audition and once you have selected what you will actually use a rate is negotiated based on both the sounds and the budget of the project they will be used in.

I interpret these two different approaches as being about context & I guess an example of my use of them both on the film Worlds Fastest Indian illustrates this point:

Due to the time period of the film I needed a collection of fairly generic 1960s car passes for the ambiences. I first tried a few local car clubs but those were mostly hotted up & less than typical of the era so I went to sound dogs and bought maybe 25 or 30 different car passes of various appropriate age cars & happily paid approximately us$100 total

One of the difficult sounds to recreate for the film was of the Speed Racers, most of which used in the film no longer actually run & are in museums, so getting ‘actual’ recordings was impossible. So I contacted Ann at Sound Mountain & requested a variety of very high performance engine sounds including start/away, onboard & passbys…. Now some of these speed racers have four engines, one driving each wheel, so the sounds had to be uniquely powerful & Ann came through with a really wide range of fantastic sounds (some quite lateral & not sources I would have thought of) for me to audition & ultimately select from. Once I was happy with the choices I’d made in context, we negotiated a fee that was based on the unique aspect of the original recordings. The fee was many times the total fee from sound dogs for far fewer sounds, but that was totally justified.

Now the other price comparison to be done when buying sound effects online is relative to actual sound librarys on CD. One of the advantage of sounddogs etc is you dont have to buy an entire library (or even a CD) to get the one sound you need… but equally we often DO need variety and a good recent example for me is relative to Explosion sound effects. I auditioned a bunch of explosions at sounddogs but prior to buying them did a bit more research & heard of an infamous explosion recording session done a decade or more ago where after collecting up a number of investors $70,000 of explosives was detonated in every way imaginable & recorded. The investors gained access to the multitrack recordings (made on an MTR-90 II Otari 16 track analogue recorder and a Nagra D 4 track digital recorder) while the stereo composites were released as a commercial sound effects library on 2 CDs, and speaking from personal experience, if you need some serious explosion sound effects then your money is well spent on Patricio Libenson’s EXPLOSIONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY where for US$180 you get two CDs full of explosions…

Sure glad thats not my mic & Rycote up there!

But hey so where else do you source sound effects from?
I well know about freesound which is a great idea although it suffers from two problems, the first being quality control and the second being the ‘free’ part – with film making it is often easier to pay outright to license something royalty free than to have to worry about potential conflicts of creative commons licenses (which vary when used in commercial projects) or the request for the sound to be credited -l if every sound source was credited for a film it could be on hell long list!

And I presume the best place to buy sounds is also the best place to sell them? I had a deeply disappointing experience with a big name sound effects company a few years back (& no I wont mention their name here, nor anywhere else in this article!) where I pitched a unique idea for a sound effects library to them on the basis of trust; they insisted a non-disclosure agreement was unncessary… Anyway they agreed the idea was good & commercially strong, and then proceeded to offer me an outright buyout price for the sounds, or…. nothing… I considered it & stalled for time until a month or two later I received an email from them saying that if I didnt wish to proceed with the project then THEY WOULD, using another sound designer!!!! I was stunned, contacted my lawyer, sent them a letter & they promptly referenced a sound sample online that was very very vaguely related to what I was proposing & that was that. My lawyer advised me to forget it, the only people getting rich from pursuing it would be the lawyers & if nothing else learn a valuable business lesson:
Don’t swim with sharks!

5 thoughts on “Buying (& Selling) Sound Effects

  1. Anders

    Hi Tim!
    I have just finished the first version of my Fx site. What do you think?. More sounds are coming up later. To tired now…. been some work…

    mvh Anders

  2. Pingback: Designing Sound » More than 50 Articles/Tutorials about Sound Design, Recording and more, Plus Wooshes Sound Desing

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