Monday, March 21, 2011

Sound Industry Past and Present

     Producers have used sound effects for a long time. However, the industry has changed over the years. For one thing, sounds are now recorded digitally and are on the Internet; does this decrease the quality of the effects available? A second change is that a wider range of people are beginning to use sound effects. Can any random person get some sound effects and throw them together into a quality project? That will be discussed.
         Michael Coleman, a producer for SoundWorks collection, said that the way sounds are recorded has changed in that effects are going “from analog taped to digital.” The sounds can be taken from the recorders and loaded directly onto the computer, which “kind of speeds up the process.” He also pointed out that since now effects are data, people don’t have to look through walls and walls of tapes. Digital sound effects are also more convenient because a person doesn’t have to be there or receive something in the mail; he or she can simply download it from the Internet.
         Adam Johnson, who runs the website and company SFXsource, explained that since sound effects are now available on the Internet, obtaining sound effects is much cheaper and more economical. Before, a person would have to invest as much as $5,000 for 20 CDs. The effects “weren’t available individually, so [people would] have to invest in a lot of products,” Johnson said. “Now you can go online and buy [sound effects] for like two dollars.” Johnson’s website has more than 100,000 sound effects and royalty free music that film makers, animators, web designers, and others can use in their productions. All of the sound effects are produced by Hollywood level designers.
         Although Johnson advocated online sound effects, he did explain that “online sound libraries are kind of split into two camps.” This reminded me a little bit of one of my previous posts about the quality of free verses non-free sound effects. Johnson said that there are user-generated sites on which anyone can upload songs. “It’s like a yard sale,” he said. However, a lot of those effects are not quality. The other “camp” for online sound effect libraries is the one just for professional effects creators. “A professional who is trying to make a video is going to waste a lot of time going to one of those user-generated sites,” Johnson pointed out. “One [type of site] isn’t better than the other; they’re just used for different things,” Johnson said.
         The sound effects industry has also changed regarding who uses the sound effects. “Everything is becoming democratized,” Johnson said. “Everyone can write, publish, have their own businesses—it’s the same with the sound industry. Anyone can easily and cheaply get into it.” One example close to home for me is how students at Asbury University use sound effects. Don Mink, operations manager and producer for the school communication arts program, said that student usually use sound effects in terms of post-production for their films. In post production, usually producers strive to increase the volume of footsteps or to add in the sound of a book being placed on a table.
         Johnson also gave the example that churches often put videos on their websites, and those videos often require sound effects and music. Even kids look for sound effects. Thousands of people make videos for youtube. “There are so many people who use [sound effects] now and have the skills to access the files. Actually, as a promotion for his site, Johnson actually has a youtube channel, and every video has a link to the free sound on his site.
         However, as available as sound effects are to the public, it still takes skill and knowledge to use them properly. Coleman expressed that this concept applies to the creation of sound effects as well as the usage of any kind of technical equipment in general. “It’s not like just plugging a light into the wall and turning it on,” he said. Coleman said that a good contrast example is a hammer; it does one thing. Sound effects are not at all like that because there are many way to implement them and many strategies to use them. “I think that’s the cool thing about sound effects—there’s not just one way to do it,” Coleman said. Working with sound effects isn’t something a person can learn just off of pure knowledge. “You have to go out into the field and learn from experience. You can learn the theory of it, but theory only goes so far.”
         So sure the industry is changing. The effects are used for more things and available to more people. I think it’s really cool that the average person can have access to them and use them in their work. However, I also agree that it is a craft that needs to be mastered by practice and hard work.