Downloading sound effects vs making your own
Sound effects are cool additions to lots of different media projects – they may even be essential in many cases. It is said among video pro’s that bad images are OK, as long as the sound is great – but there is no excuse for bad sound. In other words; what we hear is as important as what we see, when we watch a movie, play a game, etc.
So why not make some sounds of your own – for that vacation video or power point presentation you are making? I guess you could, but do you know how? Audio and sound design is a complex field of its own. Do you know how to use music synthesizers? Can you make a clean recording of a car horn, a slamming door, a cash register going “ka-ching”? Unless you feel you need to, you’re usually better off downloading professionally made sounds – rather than attempting the DIY route.
Why do sound effects categories have those weird names?
So – you do a web search, you find a few web shops where you can buy sound effects. But what is the deal with all those strangely named categories? What’s a “Whoosh”? A “Stinger”? “Walla”? It is a bit confusing at first, but yes – some categories do have weird names. The ones I just mentioned have their names from the film sound world; they are simply jargon words. “Walla”, for instance, means a crowd mumbling something that sounds like random conversation, but in which the words are indistinguishable. This type of sound is often used in the background of many movie scenes.
Just browse around if you’re not sure. Use the sounds any way you want – regardless of what film sound pros call them. There is no right or wrong here.
What is the difference between file formats?
File formats and file resolution are two points you need to pay attention to. Whether you need an mp3 for your power point presentation, or a Chinese gong sound for a quiz you’re hosting at a family reunion, you need to know how to find the right file format. In both these instances, an mp3 may sound just fine, but note that there are several different possible quality settings within that format. Personally, I wouldn’t go lower than 128kbps for mp3 – and even at that point, things like cymbals or quiet background sounds can have a strange, warbling sound to it. That is a limitation due to the compression algorithm used to reduce the size of the sound. Go for a slightly higher setting; like 192kbps or more. A bit longer to download, but sounds a lot better.
If you’re doing video editing, and you have a fast computer and a fast internet connection, you might want 16bit/48kHz wav files – or perhaps even 24bit/96kHz. These are professional sound qualities, and they sound very good indeed. But they also take up a lot of space and can be hard work for a computer – especially if you have several channels of audio, along with HD video.
How can I tell if I’m getting quality sounds?
A well recorded and well mastered sound effect will have little-to no noise. You should be able to see from the title and the description what sounds are in the file, meaning that a sound file labeled “Rain”, should not contain audible birdsong, traffic noises, etc – if these are not mentioned somewhere in the sales text. The main sound should have a little “empty” space around it – you don’t want the sound of a slamming door with too much of the reverb tail cut off. That would sound unnatural. And of course – you should be able to tell, just by glancing at the title, if a sound might contain what you are looking for.
I hope this little write-up has armed you a little better in your search for great sound for your projects.