5 Ways To Record Better Sound Effects

sound effectsRecording sound effects or building a catalog of sounds to sell on some royalty free music or stock audio library sites? Follow these five tips for maximizing your library’s size and overal success. You’ll find that, with just a little careful planning and organization, you’ll be able to curate the sound library that your production business needs to succeed.

1) Make a list in advance. Just as film producers create a list of shots they need to complete a scene or a video, and optimize their lists to minimize shooting time (equipment rental is expensive, man), so should the professional sound designer. Whether your goal is to get a single animal sound, or a collection of city ambiences, know what you’re going for before you get on location. Make a list, and be specific! Do you need footsteps? Howling? Traffic? Once you’ve got your list, you can then optimize your locations — for example, you can get footsteps on a sidewalk, and at the same time get some traffic sounds if you record on a busy street. You can save time, and at the same time, get creative with your catalog. A little pre-planning can go a long way.

2) Invest in a high quality microphone and DAW. While technology is getting better and better, and cheaper quality equipment is becoming increasingly available, it’s still important for sound effects producers to invest in great gear. Do your homework, because just like quality gear is becoming cheaper, cheap gear is becoming more and more prevalent. Find microphones that have excellent reponse at all frequencies, a solid hard disk to store your takes to, and don’t skimp on your editing software. A quality digital audio editor such as ProTools or Logic can save you time and make your audio sound great.

3) Edit, Edit, Edit. Getting rid of extraneous noises is key in creating quality sound effects that are ready to use in production. No one wants footstep sounds with dogs barking in the background when they’re searching for footstep sound effects. Cut the extra sounds, and your clients will thank you for it. Reduce the ambient noise as much as you can, as this will allow your sound effects to be used in as many different projects as possible without much editing. Separating your sounds this way will also pay off big in the size of your catalog.

4) Master your recordings and create high-resolution mixes. Invest in some quality mastering plug-ins. This will make your recordings have the loudness they need, along with the equalization required to make them sound their best. But remember, don’t over-master. Chances are that whoever is purchasing your audio is likely to edit the effects to suit their specific needs. You can coun’t on them adjusting volume, changing reverb, or mixing with other sounds. The key is to give them the best base material possible. Along these lines, don’t forget to bounce to uncompressed formats like WAV or AIFF, which have far superior sound quality than a highly compressed MP3.

5) Tag and Describe your Sound Effects accurately. When you’ve completed your mixes, don’t just label your files Car 1, Car 2, Car 3. That doesn’t tell your customer anything about the sound they’re looking at, and wastes their time. If you’ve recorded a Ferrari Testarosa revving up it’s engine, label the file that way. People searching sound effects libraries have tons of material to go through, and need help finding things quickly. Similarly, you can save yourself numerous headaches when you need to dig up a file from your archives a year from now. With a little forethought and organization, you can build a better sound effects library with minimal effort.

Video Encoding and Conversion Software for Stock Footage Clips

When you download a stock footage clip from Productiontrax (or any other content provider, for that matter), sometimes you have to do a little work with the video file to get it to fit into your project just right, or to even be imported properly into your video editing software. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking for some more options to add to your arsenal, or you new to video editing and are looking for a good tool for encoding and converting your stock footage clips, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most poular video conversion software out there with a few notes.

Productiontrax accepts and delivers all stock footage in Quicktime (.mov) format, which tends to be universally importable these days in video editing software. There may be times, however, when you want the clip in .mp4 or .avi for different software and computer systems, so that’s when conversion comes in really handy. You may also need to adjust compression rates, frame rates, bit rates, or some-other-technical-specificatiton-rates to fit your project, maybe for broadcast, or web streaming purposes. Whatever the application, this list should cover your needs.

video software MPEGMPEG Video Wizard DVD (Windows)
Also known as MVW-DVD, this is video editing software that allows users to create DVDs with menus. You can export video files to MPEG-4, as well as shrink DVD files to fit on other media (useful if your client only has a CD player?), and transcode between certain formats, and saving of DVD disk images. Very handy PC tool when you’re in need of something that just does the job and is reasonably reliable.

Compressor (Mac OSX)
A personal favorite of mine, and I use it whenever I’ve finished editing a clip or video and need a polished delivery file. Compressor allows exporting of source video to a wide array of preset and custom formats, including several nice presets for high-quality video compression for Web and streaming on mobile devices, like the iPhone. Easy to drag and drop stock footage clips here, and works seamlessly in the Final Cut Pro workflow.

ProCoder 3 (Windows)
ProCoder 3 is a transcoding and encoding software that allows conversion between NTSC and PAL, exporting in a variety of useful video formats, and supports multipass vbr encoding, conversion of video to all popular formats, including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Windows Media, QuickTime, and more. Also includes some handy presets for delivering media and authoring for Blue-Ray, which should make all you super-HD audio-video-philes very happy.

Quicktime Pro (Mac OSX and Windows)
The defacto standard for video playback, encoding, and conversion, for a fairly affordable price tag. The universal quicktime player is well known, but Apple’s quicktime Pro adds advanced editing and conversion features, supporting a wide variety of popular formats. PC users will find adding the free Quicktime for Windows uber usefull in using and viewing video online, as well as for downloading and using stock footage clips.

Other great software tools for encoding and transcoding:

Roxio Creator (Windows)
Sorenson Squeeze
Telestream Episode (Mac OSX and Windows)
Cinema Craft Encoder (Windows)
ffMPEG (Linux, Mac, Widnows)

Production Music Using Video Game Controllers

Admittedly, one of my favorite music production plug-ins is RealGuitar by MusicLab. I use it daily for creating production music tracks in my project studio. It’s relatively inexpensive (like $200), and sounds great, is easy to use, and I’ve been able to fool a lot of people into believing they’re hearing an actual guitar. MusicLab announced the release of RealGuitar 3, and it looks great. Now, you can take that Guitar Hero axe from your xbox or Playstation video game, and play it into your sequencer like a guitar. The results of such an interface capability rival the expression and realism (well in performance, anyway) found in the old MIDI wind controllers, only this time with better sample quality. I was blown away by what I saw on the video and can’t wait to try this with my own production music in the project studio. Check it out:

5 Cool Music Production Apps for iPhone

As phones and mobile devices get smaller and smarter all at once, the nature of electronic music production and audio production is changing dramatically. Even more groundbreaking is Apple’s iPhone. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of the iPhone (I don’t leave home without mine). And now I’m an even bigger fan, as more and more apps are being developed for the iPhone that are geared towards music production, writing, and recording. Here are 5 seemingly random super-cool apps to get your iPhone rocking.

1) Studio Devil – The makers of the Virtual Guitar Amp tube modeling plug-ins have teamed up with Quixonic to create an authentic tube amp modeling app for the iPhone. (coming soon)

2) Quixpin DJ – Yeah, so Quixonic makes a few — this one’s a true DJ app that allows you to mix and beatmatch music without all the heavy equipment, and then output a stereo mix to use at parties, or even cue and beat match songs while another is playing. ($1.99)

3) Noise.io Pro Synth – by Amidio, has a deep learning curve, but gives you countless waveforms and processing tools to create your own sounds. Custom sequencer and effects processor make this one an awesome mobile instrument and production tool. ($14.99)

4) VoiceBand – so this isn’t really a pro app, but it is pretty cool stuff. Using your voice, this app plays a real sampled instrument that files what you sing. Control 10 virtual instruments at once using only your voice. ($2.99)

5) Xewton Music Studio – this is a complete music production studio in the palm of your hand. Full 128-track sequencer, 21 pro-quality sampled instruments, realtime effects, sustain, reverb, eq and more. Track settings include tempo and time signature, measure level copy/paste, delete, repeat, transpose, MIDI import and export…. This one is pretty wicked. ($14.99)

NAMM 2010: New Sounds and Software for your Studio

MOTU Updates Performer, Plugs

MOTU showed off their new plugins on a new version of Digital Performer (that thing is still around???) — some high quality stuff. Directly competing with Apple’s built-in plugins for Logic Pro, MOTU’s line of plugins features the following:

Electric Keys, a low latency 40GB keyboard sound library of electric pianos, organs, clavs, tape samplers, string machines and more classic and vintage instruments. Nearly all are sampled at 24 bit, and the plugin is 256-note polyphonic, and is complete with an effects rack and amp simulator.

BPM, which looks remarkably similar to Apple’s drum sequencer, gives you the ultimate rhythm programming experience. Includes plug-and-play support for hands-on pad controllers like the Akai MPD32, which is good news for many sample pad enthusiasts, but now with unlimited sample layers per pad (or as much as your computer can handle). Awesome tool for electronic music performance and beat sequencing.

Ethno2 delivers stunning ethnic and exotic instrument sounds from Africa, Asia, Australia, India, South America, and more. I may have to buy this just for the penny whistle and Celtic instruments, and the Flamenco Percussion and guitars.

I didn’t get to hear the Symphonic instrument, and I have a hunch that it may fall a little short compared to other libraries (ie Vienna and EastWest). If you’ve heard it, let me know what you think.

http://www.motu.com

BigFishAudio and Vir2 Instruments Ready to Release Electri6ity

Electrici6ity is the most epic electric guitar virtual instrument to hit the market (ok it’s not out yet, but get ready). This awesome instrument contains some of the most advanced, detailed, and versatile collection of guitars ever. The plugin features the Strat, Tele, Les Paul, P90, Rickenbacker, Danelectro, ES335, and L4 and uses 24-bit samples from each, with three pick up options for each. Every, and I mean every fret of every string was sampled for this library. Downstrokes, upstrokes, ghosting, mutes, hammer-ons, slides, pulloffs, and more are included for every guitar. Articulation and Velocity morphing adds depth and seamless transitioning between effects, while the advanced AI adapts to your playing, allowing for fluid lines, 2000 different chords and positions, and more. If you sequence guitars, this one is a must have.

http://www.bigfishaudio.com
http://vir2.com

Piano Sounds from Synthogy

If you’re looking for some fresh Piano samples that hit the spot with realism and features, you have to check out Synthogy’s new Ivory II virtual instrument. Featuring tons of pianos and synths from uprights to grands to synth combos, this piano instrument has half-pedaling, pedal noise, lid position effects, tuning tables, and even sympathetic String Resonance. Check it out at Ilio.

http://ilio.com
http://synthogy.com

Gear of the Year Poll – From SCOREcast Online

Saw this great poll SCOREcast Online. They are asking everyone for their vote on the Best Software of the Year for Music Production.

While I think all five of the choices are solid, two of them really stand out in mind. Kontact 4 is a definite candidate just based on how people are actually using it. Something that popular has to be a consideration.

My vote however, went to Melodyne DNA. This is a revolutionary piece of software that is really going to change how music production happens. In the demo I saw at NAMM, they took a guitar chord that had a single string out of tune and brought it into tune. They were also able to change the key of a whole song by changing the a single instrument. The ability to manipulate polyphonic audio is going to be huge for the industry. So I had to vote for that.

You can take the poll here:

NAMM 2009: Native Instruments Maschine

Anyone who works with groove boxes and drum samplers knows that one of the drawbacks of sequencing is the slow hardware programming. This year, Native Instruments has combined the flexibility of the computer-based workstation with the ease and tactile process of the groove box with Maschine.

Maschine combines an intuitive on-sceen sequencer, sampler and over 20 high quality effects with real-time control and flexible routing into an inspiring Groove Production Studio. The hardware component features 16 pads, 41 buttons, and 11 rotary encoders dedicated to playing, recording, sequencing, automation, and arrangement. The software interface is a graphical editing environment that is eerily similar to Apple’s built in groove plug-in for Logic Pro. Easy inegration via VST, Audio Units, or RTAS into any host DAW.

From a musical standpoint, Maschine boasts over 5 gigs of studio-quality sounds and 14,000 plus samples. The onboard loops and patterns are perfectly suited for electronic, urban, and indirtronic genres.

More info online at www.native-instruments.com/maschine

NAMM 2009: Celemony Melodyne Editor

One of my favorite and most useful tools in the studio is Melodyne. It’s great for making normal singers sound phenomenal and poor singers sound normal. It’s pitch correction an quantization features make cleaning up any audio mess a relative breeze.

One of the features sorely missed, however, has been the ability to edit different pitches on the same audio track, ie vocal harmonies where both singers are on the same track, but not on the same page intonation-wise. I missed it until now.

Celemony unveiled their new DNA technology this week, which allows for the recognition, correction, and editing of individual melodic parts within a polyphonic setting. Never again will your choirs have to sing in tune.

Other applications include cleaning up instrumental recordings, fixing guitar tuning, creative harmonization, etc… Scheduled for release in the spring

Songsmith – Intuitive Music Creation Tool or Just Plain Creativity-Zapping

Songsmith (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/songsmith/), a supposed creative tool for music novices and professional musicians alike, is the latest arrival onto the computer music scene. However, unlike samples, loops, and other instrument tools, Songsmith auto-generates a musical track to your singing. Sounds pretty cool, huh?

Now, anyone who can hold together a tune, or has a musical idea in their head, can quickly find the chords to their musical thought — all without a lick of musical theory knowledge or performance experience.

My first inclination was to gag. But maybe it’s just the videos that Microsoft put on their site to show off the product. After all, this is the holy grail of song-writing — it’s as close to writing what you hear as you can get without having to spend 10,000 hours of cultivating musical expertise. I can see a product like this leading to musical innovation in a time when creativity has seemed to stagnate.

I can also see our creativity stagnating further as a result of complete stupification… Just rely on the computer to do the creative work for you. Soon we’ll have thousands of “new” songs where the emotion and creativity has been thrown out the window and replaced with computer generated algorithms. So much for personality and originality.

So how do you feel about it? An incredible music composition tool in the beginning stages? Or the complete and utter demise of the craft and creativity involved in creating new music?