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Tips for Recording a Sound Effect Library

Jun 17, 2008
One first needs a professional quality recorder in order to record sound effects that can be good enough to be used personally or professionally. Though there are many expensive options, a handheld $150 to $400 digital recorder no larger than a small digital camera will provide professional quality .wav files. Furthermore, many of these units accommodate up to 4 gigs of recorded audio with the use of a flash card and utilize a simple drag and drop method for saving the .wav files via a USB connection.

Since video has a 48k sample rate then sound effects supplied for video need to be 48k, not the standard 44.1k used for CDS, so any recorder you purchase must be able to record up to 48k quality. If you have a library of 44.1k these samples always have to be up-converted by a video editor and their quality can be compromise. Therefore, do yourself the favor of recording at 48k and you will have a more valuable and usable sound effect collection.

There are two basic types of sound effects that you will be recording: "hits" and "ambiences." Hits are single short sonic events such as a slap, gun shot, or dog bark. Ambiences are longer background elements such as ocean waves, restaurant environments, or playground noises.

In creating a library it is most valuable to have many of both types as they are both used in sound design. You will find that ambiences are the easiest to obtain, as you merely have to go to a new location such as a supermarket or post office and just stand there and record. Hits need a little more forethought and preparation such as collecting the items you'd like to record or stalking the neighbor's dog for that perfect dog bark.

The basics of recording a sound effect is literally as simple as hitting the record button. However, there are several tips to keep in mind in order to get the best recordings possible.

1. When you record you want to have the loudest signal possible without clipping the microphone, called recording as "hot" as possible. If you notice a small red LED light lighting up during your recording then you need to pull back from the sound because your incoming signal is too loud. The goal is to avoid distortion but capture the strongest sound possible.

2. In order to record sounds with high decibel levels, such as fireworks or loud crowds, buy a 10dB pad which will fit between the digital recorder and your microphone. For $20 purchased online, this pad will lower the incoming signal by 10dB

3. While you want to minimize unwanted sounds and noise in your recordings as much as possible, do not obsess over finding the quietest recording environment because great sound effects can occur unexpectedly such as a beefed up motorcycle cruising by. If you are too uptight about getting that perfect recording environment you will slow yourself down in your efforts to gain content and just remember that you can always filter much background noise from your recordings during the editing process.

4. Protect the microphone with a windscreen or simply keep your recorder out of the wind by using physical barriers such as trees, walls, or even your jacket, because wind hitting the microphone head will ruin your recording efforts. Sometimes wind noise can be cut out during editing with a high pass filter and cutting frequencies below 200-500 khz but for the most part wind will destroy your work.

5. Keep background music from loudspeakers or live performances out of your recordings. Your efforts will be compromised if you inadvertently include music in the background, such as the music played in a restaurant. This music is copyrighted and if it appears in your ambience recordings you will be violating copyright law.

These tips are simple and meant to point an aspiring sound effect artist in the right direction toward the creation of a sound effect library for use or for sale online. Future articles will discuss the process of editing, categorizing, and marketing these raw recordings.
About the Author
SFXsource's sound effects categories can be visited, auditioned, and seen at Download Sound Effects, and Free Sound Effects and Loops
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