As a sound designer, my sound effects library is one of my most significant resources. It is slightly insane how much time I devote to finding the perfect whoosh, drone, hit or random squishy sound for my sound design work. I can demo hundreds of versions of the same type of sound for hours, looking for one that’s got just a bit more HF or is half a second longer or is a touch more organic than electronic.
I’ve built up my sound effects library with love and care over the years and like most designers, I have my favourite places to find new sounds. Here’s a few:
There are two reasons I love ProSoundEffects. One, the single-downloads library is comprehensive, well-organised and the sounds are high-quality. Two, the PSE Hybrid Sound Effects Library is one of the best investments I have ever made as a sound designer and my starting point for creation or inspiration for almost every project. The number of sounds is staggering (tens of thousands), the audio quality is excellent, and it has a good range of more specific sounds not included in a lot of other libraries, underwater, subwoofer and surround recordings in particular. The Hybrid Library isn’t cheap but you can get a significant discount through the Freelancer Program.
Sonniss is a great place to find more creative sound effects. I mainly use it to source sound design elements like hits, tones and rises and for interesting atmospheric ambiences and textures for gaming demos. You have to purchase sounds by collection, which can be a little annoying if you’re only after one or two files, but the prices are reasonable, and they do regular sales and giveaways.
A Sound Effect offers libraries from independent sound designers, which means their content is always pretty unique, even if it’s not as comprehensive as some of the other larger websites. It’s also great as a central resource for content that’s otherwise scattered across individual websites. Keep an eye on their social media feeds for sales and free stuff, in particular, the free downloads, which are great for discovering new designers and libraries that you can then explore in more detail.
Freesound is a hidden treasure trove of audio recordings and created sounds. Free to join, it describes itself as a “collaborative database” and as such, although the amount of content is vast, the quality is vastly variable. I use Freesound to find the every day and the exotic, particularly location recordings of various countries. I’ve found great recordings of medieval battles, Antarctic penguin colonies, Japanese markets and African villages all on Freesound. All sounds are available under a Creative Commons License, so be mindful of this when using the sounds and always attribute as required.
When you can’t find what you’re looking for, record it yourself! It’s fun, free (once you have the kit) and you’re adding to your own FX library. Some of my favourite sounds are ones I created myself and after hours of robotically demo-ing hundreds of sounds, you’ll probably be glad of the fresh air, or at least the blood flowing back into your legs. I created the sound of a girl drowned in a bath with me, my partner, our bathroom, a Zoom H4 out of splash range and well-rehearsed safety signals. Who says sound design isn’t edgy?
There’s a great list of suggestions to get your Foley juices flowing here
There are tons of sound effects libraries out there, and I’m sure you have your own favourites to add to this list. Once you start building up a collection, the next step is organisation. It’s not as exciting as the sounds themselves, but just as important if you want to avoid hours of trawling to find a precise sound in your database. Expect a future blog post about my journey into audio asset management, but until then, happy whooshing.
Kirsty Gillmore: A sound designer, engineer and voice artist, Kirsty will be blogging about Sound Design for Theatre and Film, in particular how to do it on a budget. She will also be sharing lessons learned throughout her career.
About Kirsty: Originally from New Zealand, Kirsty has been based in London, UK since 2002. Her 15 year career has seen her work in music production, post production, live sound and broadcasting, including 8 years training with and working for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She established her own sound design & voice production business, Sounds Wilde, in 2010 and now works as a freelance sound designer for theatre and film, as a voice reel producer and voice artist.