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Regardless of how much field recording you do and how big your personal library is, it is always useful to have commercial sound-effects libraries on hand. You’ll find general and specific sound libraries that are filled with excellent, well-organized material, both basic and exotic. Those libraries are convenient and useful, but always remember their chief limitation: other people own them, too, and the same effects will be used repeatedly in audio projects of all kinds. Try to use commercial effects sparingly, and give the sounds your unique stamp by editing, layering, and manipulating them in every way you can.

FIG. 5: Commercial CDs are a good source of high-quality sound effects. The Hollywood Edge’s The Edge Edition is one of several libraries that include a wide range of traditional effects.

There are two major distributors of royalty-free, professional sound-effects libraries on CD: Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge (see Fig. 5). Both companies sell high-quality libraries that cover a broad range of commonly used effects. Both also offer libraries that focus on specific areas such as vehicles, explosions, and footsteps, as well as inexpensive starter sets. In particular, Sound Ideas’ The Library set and Hollywood Edge’s The Edge Edition are both good basic libraries.

Good CD libraries can be pricey, averaging $25 to $50 per disc. The reason is simple: the market is quite small, and each disc represents a lot of labor by some of the best sound designers in the world. I try to offset the cost by purchasing one or two new libraries at the beginning of each major project.

One of the problems with purchasing large sound-effects libraries is that you end up paying for many sounds that you will never use. An alternative to buying complete libraries is to utilize Internet-based services that let you audition specific sound effects, then download and pay for just the sounds you need. The two largest online distributors of individual sound effects are Sound Dogs ( and SFX Gallery (
For example, at the Sound Dogs site, you can search for sounds by category (such as “doors”) or keyword (such as “bulldozer”) and then go to a page listing all their entries. You can audition low-resolution versions of the sounds and select the ones you want to purchase. The price depends on the length of the sound and format you choose; higher quality means higher prices. When you’ve made your selection, download the sounds from an FTP site or have a CD-R burned and mailed for a nominal extra fee. Other sites, such as, offer a monthly subscription that includes access to whatever sound effects are available on its site.

In addition to online commercial libraries, you can also download repositories of free sound effects and use them legally in your projects. Those free effects are wonderful for starting your collection; however, their resolution and quality vary considerably. Web sites with free sound effects include,,, and Keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

Synthesizers. Synths aren’t generally used for creating real-world sounds, but they can be a great source when you need abstract, otherworldly material. They’re well suited for making all sorts of sci-fi, computer, robot, and starship sounds, but avoid clichés. I used a Nord Modular synth to good effect on a recent pair of Star Wars games by modeling my sounds on the ARP 2600-based, ring-modulated style that Ben Burtt used for the droids and machines in the films.

Reprinted with permission from Magazine, March, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.

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