In order to record sound effects for a personal or professional sound effect library one first needs a quality recorder. Personally I’ve tried all sorts of pricey gear and microphones throughout my sonic adventures only to discover that a solid $150 to $400 handheld digital recorder no more massive than an old-school cassette tape box suffices to create sounds good enough for placement in any Film, TV, and media project. In addition, these units run on battery power and the recorded files may be dragged onto your desktop via USB.
Be aware, however, that any device you use must record up to at least a 48k sample rate because video uses audio with a 48k sample rate, not 44.1k. Any 44.1k samples you have will have to be upconverted to be used in a video production and this process always runs the risk of audio damage. Because of these potential problems with lower quality files, 48k sound effects are mainly valued more by video editors and thus command a higher sale price should you choose to sell your sounds online.
Two basic categories of sound effects to be recorded are “ambiences” and “hits.” Hits are single audio events like a burp, splash, or automobile horn. Ambiences are longer recordings mainly between 30 seconds and 10 minutes that contain background sounds such as those found on city streets, in a hotel lobby, or a doctor’s office.
Any quality sound effect library needs both types of sound effects so you should be intent on recording both types. Ambiences are the easiest to obtain because they require only being at a location, standing there, and recording. Hits, though, need more planning because you commonly need to do foley to get what you need or wait around at various locations for the right moment, such as visiting a new mom and her newborn in order to capture that perfect baby cry.
Actually recording each sound effect is a simply process that only requires hitting the record button. Though, in order to make the best possible recordings, keep in mind these several tips.
1. Make sure that you record as “hot” as possible, meaning with the loudest signal that does not clip or overload the microphone. If you recognize a red LED light blinking when recording it means that your incoming signal is too hot and you’ll want to pull back your mic a bit from the source. You want the loudest signal without distortion.
2. Very loud sounds such as explosions or loud cheering requires that you purchase a 10dB pad which will allow you to record high volumes. This sort of pad lowers strong signals by 10dB and may be purchased on the web for $20.
3. Keep background noise out of your recordings as much as possible without being obsessive about creating “the perfect” studio recording environment because positive and unexpected events can occur such as animal sounds or automobile noises. A good amount of background noise may be filtered out during editing and being to strict about your recording environment will slow your work down to a crawl.
4. Wind hitting the head of your microphone will ruin your recordings so keep your recorder out of the wind by using trees, walls, or your body as a physical barrier. If you cut frequencies below 200-500 khz during editing you can get rid of a wind sound but mostly your recordings will be ruined by wind.
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’ll be violating copyright law.
It is the hope of this author that the easy advice in this article will aid new sound effect artists in their efforts to create a worthy sound effect library. New articles on editing distinct sound effects from these recordings, categorizing these new sound effects, and licensing them are forthcoming.