Use of library sounds vs recording from scratch?



Hi all

Was just wondering how much of your work consists of library sounds (bought or licensed) for generic / hard effects like doors, vehicles, footsteps, etc, etc....

Are there certain scenarios where you rely on these rather than create things from scratch?

Or do you gradually compile your own libraries and avoid using these altogether?

Thanks everyone


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 87



It's really a question of schedule and the time available. In an ideal world, I prefer to record things from scratch. There just isn't always time for that (not in TV audio at least). However, there are occassions where it's more efficient to record from scratch than to spend time building a complex sound from library components.

I try to spend down time at work adding to our library. Whether that be sounds that just aren't available in our libraries, or collecting unique recordings of common sounds. That practice has come in handy on plenty of occassions. There are a number of sounds in our library that just don't exist in any of our commercially purchased sets.

Shaun Farley

Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 14 704

Shaun, why aren't you eating turkey?! – Utopia – 2011-11-25T00:34:42.407

@Utopia - because I was done eating at 4PM (eastern time) ;) – Shaun Farley – 2011-11-25T02:19:16.603

Oh, how could I forget. It's 8AM HERE WHEN YOU'RE ABOUT TO HAVE LUNCH... AND... BEGIN WEBINARS.. AND STUFF.... – Utopia – 2011-11-25T02:44:15.517

glare . – Utopia – 2011-11-25T02:44:34.630

@Utopia - hey, no one is FORCING you to get up for that. ;) – Shaun Farley – 2011-11-25T16:27:46.827

Thanks Shaun, I'm pretty inexperienced compared to most on here, so it's always great to have some industry insight. I'm focusing on sound design for my BSc Music Tech final year project, which involves doing things from scratch - something which sits better with me than using library sounds (famous last words)...but fortunately I have time to try things out....for now! – Geth – 2011-11-25T20:40:29.017

@Shaun hehe I know. I'm playin' :) – Utopia – 2011-11-25T22:16:38.553


I share Shaun's sentiment, mainly as I too work in TV.

I disagree with Conant who's response seems a little naive to practicalities of life. I would love to record all the sounds I need but there simply isn't time (and budget) to do such things in the world of quick turn around TV work.

Besides, another argument is why would I spend time and money recording, cleaning, editing, labeling basic things like footsteps when I can buy them for very little money and be using them in within minutes of purchase. That's less time than I would spend setting up a recorder. Additionally, there's some sounds that would be extremely difficult to source due to the props needed (guns are not easily available in the UK for example) or their location. Why would I travel thousands of miles to record ambiances I can easily source from a library?

On the flip side nothing takes me out of a film or TV show like recognising a sound from a library.



Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 3 911

Ha ha, that's funny. Since when the desire to work with the original content it is a naive idea?

I just wrote that there are many people who have different preferences and opinions on this question. And not just one – schedule and budget. I constantly hear that: “Oh, if only we had time and money...”. Go and work overtime, record something new, astonish the audience. Why they should hear the same sound again and again. Try create something that will echo in eternity. – Conant – 2011-11-25T11:11:28.930

2@Conant - there's nothing there saying that it's naive to want to work with original content. the naivete he's alluding to is your belief that it's plausible to work with ONLY non-stock/non-commercial library materials. your statement to, "go and work overtime," is also naive. it shows that you've never had to work overtime, despite having the speed and covenience of stock/commercal libraries, just to get a project done. – Shaun Farley – 2011-11-25T16:33:42.220

@Conant - Well perhaps the word "naive" is a little strong, my apologies that you were upset by it. However, idealism is something we all share but as one progresses with their career and spends more and more time working to deadlines it soon becomes clear how useful libraries are.

We work in an artistic medium which is incredibly important to our culture and society. But let's be realistic, it's not important in the big scheme of things. Things like family and friends are far more important. It's all about work-life balance, something even the great Ben Burtt commented on that recently. – ianjpalmer – 2011-11-26T13:21:32.740

Go to 12:19 on the video.

– ianjpalmer – 2011-11-26T13:21:48.700


I'd have to second Ian's sentiments here. It's not as simple as "Go work overtime.". The games industry sounds similar to TV and often it's not possible to record new sounds. Before I worked in the industry I was all "I'll never use libraries!" and now I'm actually working to deadlines and see what production is actually like, I'm thankful we have libraries because our games would sound AWFUL otherwise. I can guarantee the company I work for wouldn't fork out for a trip to the US for gun sounds, or give up days for us recording, not because they're tight fisted, but simply because there is NO TIME.

I'd love to record stuff after overtime, but when crunch is 60-70 hours a week, I tend to want my free time for me.

Should also say at this point, the studio I work at is great, and crunch is paid and voluntary.


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 999

Thanks for your input Joe - noticed from previous threads that you were involved in a sound design project for your I'm in a similar situation, I was wondering how it worked out? Did you manage to get the results you wanted, i.e. the identification and solution of a particular problem/trend? I remember reading that you were thinking of doing a natural recording vs synthetic version of the same clip - did you stick with that idea in the end? – Geth – 2011-11-30T00:40:07.737

I ended up doing a fairly straightforward audio re-skin of the original video but without listening to the original so as to avoid being influenced. I think on the positive side, I didn't use any huge commercial libraries, so it had it's own flavour. On the downside, you can probably tell a lot of the sounds are "homebrew" because it's not my best work! – JTC – 2011-11-30T19:37:18.270

I think I've also learned loads since doing that video so it's hard not to look back on it and think "What was I doing?!" – JTC – 2011-11-30T19:37:38.567

Did you manage to make it fit from an academic perspective? That's what I'm struggling with....coming up with a specific concept that you can draw conclusions from in a sort of scientific way - you know what I mean? I'm hoping to work on original content with local filmmakers/animators to try and keep it fresh and end up with usable portfolio's like pulling teeth trying to work out a specific technical trend/problem though!!.. – Geth – 2011-11-30T22:12:46.933

Ahh I found out after posting that that we didn't have to have an academic goal, which made it much easier. I put in my report that I was doing that to get experience and some portfolio material so I could try and get a job, and lo and behold, I'm now employed! Paid off if you ask me :) – JTC – 2011-12-01T16:59:59.743

Excellent - glad it worked there's still hope for us yet!? – Geth – 2011-12-01T20:28:30.610


I use libraries when it simply isn't possible or practical to record specific material, be it for schedule/budget reasons or because I simply cannot access them.... But I also use them when I want as big a range of source material as possible eg I had some big fire scenes in the Cirque 3D film and while I have a lot of fire sounds in my library I also recorded a fire performer recreating the exact moves.... but I was also very happy to buy Franks Fire library, to expand my options beyond what I already had.... Every recordist records differently & finds different ways of manipulating props etc... You could give the exact same prop to five recordists & get (at least) five very different sounds....

I think another important aspect of using libraries is HOW you use them. Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing an obvious sound library effect, with no editing/alteration whatsoever.. eg that metal hatch door open from Hollywood Edge makes me feel a little sick, and I kind of laugh/kind of groan every time they use it in The Simpsons since for them its a running gag.. but I hear that sound in some big budget films & think WTF? How hard is it to record something unique? But if that isn't possible how hard is it it to layer it, pitch it, process it a little or something just so its not sitting there like a sign saying: LIBRARY EFFECT #017.... (maybe the picture editor cut it in as a temp effect & they fell in love with it?)

Regardless of the source of the sound, if you aren't personally invested in it - if it doesn't have some of your character (taste/aesthetics etc) in it - then I think there is something wrong...


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693


Thanks Tim - really appreciate your input. As a novice in this area, it helps to get an understanding of how things are done in the real world. I'd hope that those who have a keen ear would modify library choices to suit their style and the context - as most would with synth patches and plugin presets...interesting that this doesn't always happen though, even in big pictures. Do you think that use and modification of library sounds will ever threaten to overshadow field recording? Especially in terms of efficiency, time and costs, and of course quality and sheer availability of libraries?? – Geth – 2011-11-27T03:05:04.563

No, film is too specific & requires unique material, sourced & recorded with specific reference to the film.... vehicles would be an obvious example - you could do 100 moves with a vehicle &s till not capture some specific aspect as it appears in the film – None – 2011-11-27T06:25:31.243

Good point. Would it be fair to say that this issue is more relevant for smaller/low budget productions? – Geth – 2011-11-27T19:41:13.710

Maybe... Of course it takes effort, time & access to equipment so I think it also depends on the people & situation involved - if it is a priority for a sound editor & they see it as important then it is usually possible to some degree.... – None – 2011-11-28T18:38:52.213

Is that dreaded hatch sound you speak of the same one I heard free-nand-clear on its own in Lincoln Lawyer near the beginning when ai jail door opened? God I've heard that everywhere... ;) – Stavrosound – 2012-03-26T07:54:11.493


To echo a bit of what @Shaun said, it's definitely preferable to record your own material and build your library. Time and budget don't always allow, but when they do it's a perfect occasion to build your personal stash of sounds and set yourself apart from all the rest.

Jay Jennings

Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 15 432


Time and budget hardly ever allow for recording everything you need. We try to record the more unusual or signature stuff as much as we can for each proect. Watching the cut of a show and then going out to record always leads to me recording in a different way, trying to get the specific stuff I need, rather than a complete recording set; unless time allows. So for me the answer is always a mix of fresh and library stuff. Plus , there's always the stuff I recorded for previous projects as well.....

Harry Cohen

Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 31


Hi. Welcome to Social Sound Design.

Check out these previous questions:

SFX recorded or library

Canned sounds vs. ones you record yourself


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 14 155


Well heres a story about a Sound Ideas was loops and there was somebody repeatedly screaming in pain in the background.

At least with recorded sounds, you know what you're putting into your mix.


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 2 594


I live in Denmark. I speak Danish. Most of the films I make are in Danish.

I cannot have American walla in a Danish street, restaurant or bar, so I record Danish walla instead.

On the other hand, for instance the sound of rain on a car roof is pretty international, as well as wind in trees, planes passing overhead and the sound of car tires on cobblestone.

If I don't have the budget for a foley artist, about 90-95 percent of the sounds I use are from the library, the rest are recorded for the film.

Morten Green

Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 1 937


I would say that this is mostly depend on your personal attitude and schedule or budget are secondary things.

Some people work only with libraries some people hate them and some people find compromise. If you don't want to work with stock material just change your job and find people who share your vision.

I'd better advise you to read articles from It has a great section “Featured Sound Designers”:

Here you definetely can find some good answers on this question.


Posted 2011-11-24T23:51:51.693

Reputation: 363