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Fixation on death aside, this is lovely —Soge, accidentally describing my entire life

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Workflow for Finding and Using Sound Effects in Fanfiction Readings · 4:26am May 24th, 2015

Let me get this out of the way right now: Adding sound effects to fanfic readings takes time. A single sound that a listener may hear once for a half a second could take you upwards of a half an hour to find, edit in, and fine tune to fit exactly how the story is interpreted. But adding sounds can really make your finished product come alive in a way that a normal reading would not be able to accomplish.

In this post I’ll be going through my current process for finding sound effects and the resources I’ve used in the past that have helped. The three methods of getting sound effects that I’ll be going through are freesound.org, Adobe Audition’s free sound library, and making your own.

1. Freesound.org

This will be your #1 source for sound effects.
Freesound is designed to give anyone access to free stock sound effects. Users have to upload these sound effects themselves. It is a complete mixed bag as far as quality and how the sounds are tagged. But this is where I do most of my searching for sound effects.

There is a huge caveat to using this site though. You have to be aware of what the license is. For you, non-profit fanfic reader, you mostly care about whether the license says “attribution” or not. Attribution means that you have to link back to where you got the sound from when you publish your reading to Youtube or wherever. As you create your reading, make a google doc of all the sounds you are using and the link back to the sound itself. Yes, you have to do this for each individual sound.

For a good example of how you would do this, check out all the links the HPMOR podcast provided when they did a reading of BlueShift’s Nineteen Neighty-Four. However, a link to a Google Doc with the links to used sound effects would do just as well.

If you’re like me, I download a ton of effects and see which sounds fit best and I don’t like keeping track of where each individual sound effect came from. So I’ve made a conscious decision to only use “Creative Commons 0” sound effects. I don’t even look at the attribution ones as I use the “Creative Commons 0” filter for which sounds I’m looking for. There’s a good debate for either side, so you’ll want to decide for yourself if it’s worth the hassle of keeping track of your sounds or whether you would prefer to simply only use CC0.

The best way to use Freesound is to have the sound you would like in mind. For example, in my reading for Anxiety there is a scene where Twilight and Spike are having breakfast and Twilight pushes her cup of tea away. I wanted to find a sound that would coincide with this.

I searched “sliding cup,” click on “Creative Commons 0” on the right side, and listen to each of the three sounds that pop up. But all three of them don’t sound like what I’m looking for. By the way, you don’t have to click on each sound and listen in another tab, you can press the small play button right on that page. (I can’t believe how long it took me to realize that)

I searched “teacup” but didn't find a sliding sound like I wanted, (but there is a good sound of a teacup hitting a saucer that I download just in case).

I stepped back and thought. Do I really need a teacup sound? The sound I want doesn’t have to come from just a teacup, it could come from any sound of ceramic on a surface. Ceramics could be plates, bowls or anything else. I finally found a suitable sound by searching for plate sliding. I had to use a little bit of Adobe Auditions Noise reduction on the sample so the background noise would go down, but it ended up sounding good.

Searching for sound effects is an exercise in thinking about what sounds like what, and what sounds can be substituted to sound like something else, and sometimes even in an exaggerated manner.

Let’s do a quick exercise, I want you to watch the following Youtube video, but mute the sound:

Here we watch as Pinkie Pie takes a hold of Twilight’s face and tugs on it as hard as she can. Stop and think for a moment: What sound would you use then?

If you’re like me, I went to my cheeks and grabbed them in an effort to figure out what my face sounds like. And it doesn’t really sound like anything. There’s a tiny bit of sound as my fingers touch my face and maybe the sound as I lose my grip, but for the most part I feel pretty stupid attempting to wonder what on earth a face being pulled is supposed to sound like.

Go ahead and replay that clip with the sound on.

What sound is that? Can you figure it out?

I’m almost 100% sure that it’s the sound of stretching an unblown balloon (or some other kind of rubber), they pull and twist the balloon and then snap it back all at once. In fact, next time you have an unblown balloon in your possession, play with it and listen to all the sounds you can make with it. I think it’ll surprise you how much versatility in sounds it can produce and just how often sounds like those show up in the show.

Now, no human face, or horse face for that matter, sounds like a rubber balloon. And yet, we watch that scene and do not for a second stop and think “HEY, that sound doesn’t fit at all!” Most sounds on television and movies are very over exaggerated. Even sporting events have people using prerecorded sounds to make the event more “real.”

The point I’m trying to reach here is that it’s totally possible— and in fact necessary— to use substitute sounds. So when you are searching for sounds to use, keep a VERY open mind. What you are searching for may be entirely different from what you want, but may be just what you need.

2. Adobe Audition's free sound library

I have dug through the legal documentation for this looking for where it says you actually need to own a Creative Cloud Membership in order to use this sound library. I haven't found anything yet (As of 2015.05.23). And at no point do you need to login to Adobe to access any of these files. As far as I can tell, these files are completely free to use for anything (just don't try to sell them as-is and say you created them). The only reason I was able to find this site was because of AllTheFreeStock.com.

This is A TON of absolutely amazing sound effects that are recorded with far higher quality than has any right to be free. Seriously, look up most sound packs online and you'll see how crazy expensive these can get.

The best way to use this pack would be to download everything and get familiar with what is available to you. The more familiar you are, the better you'll be able to pick out which sounds to use when adding sounds to your fanfic readings.

I used several sound effects from this library when I edited the last chapter of Blueblood's Just 'Zis Guy, You Know?.

Here's the line I wanted to add sound to:

Discord nodded his head so quickly it flew off and ricocheted around the room, before landing back on his neck.

Kind of gruesome, but Discord's done stuff like this in the show before. I ended up using some of the files from "Foley Footsteps" to get a sound of Discord's head knocking against the wall else and adding an echo effect. Then I used "CrashWoodCrunch.wav" in the crashes folder to simulate the sound of Discord's head reattaching to his body.

What it looks like in Audition is below, and you can listen to that moment here.

3. Make your own sound effects

If you’ve reached the point where Freesound and that Adobe Sound Library don’t have what you are looking for and you absolutely must have that sound, consider creating your own sound effects.

This is the most time consuming aspect of adding sound effects but also the most fun you’ll get out of the whole experience, and the process of looking for sounds in the real world will make you more aware of what sounds can be used when.

Creating sound effects is a bit like being an artist. An artist looks at the world around him or herself and recreates it via a drawing or a painting, but that observation of the real world is crucial. Artists get better when they look around themselves and see things they want to recreate.

So too does someone on the look out for sound effects. You have to observe the world around you constantly. The process almost rewires your brain to think in a way you’ve never considered before.

Thoughts that have crossed my mind as I've been on a "Sound effect hunt:"

“Hmm… my chair makes an interesting creaking sound as I lean back in it. I wonder what I could use that for? This candy wrapper makes an interesting sound when I crumple it up. I wonder if the sound of that water fountain might be used to create a continual casting magic effect?"

Now, unless you have a mobile microphone, or your phone is somehow a paragon of audio recording, you can’t record outside of your current environment. But for most purposes, I think you can manage by bringing various objects to your personal microphone and seeing what sounds you can get out of them.

The act of doing so will help you see— or should I say hear?— more of how sounds can fit into your narrative.

Let’s do another exercise. Here's a line in a fic I read that I thought needed a sound effect:

He looked down at the apple and suddenly, without warning, threw it to the ground. The fruit exploded upon impact, sending bits of red delicious flying everywhere.

I always envisioned apples as pretty hard fruits, if I threw it on the ground I would expect a kind of thudding sound. But the way Bad_Seed_72 describes what happened to this apple doesn’t lend itself to a hard thud. I need a kind of exploding sound to go along with it.

What would make a sound like that?

Think. If apples don’t fit the bill, what other fruit/vegetables could I use? Do I even need fruit/vegetables? (If I had edited “Anxiety” today I would have probably just used “Impact Vegetables Hit 02.wav” from Adobe’s “Impacts” collections, but at the time I just used what I had available I thought might fit.)

Go ahead and listen to that part and try to guess what I used.

Give up? I actually used a nearly empty plastic water bottle I had with me at the time (always keep hydrated when recording). I shook it in various ways to hear what kinds of sounds it might make. The sound you’re hearing is the water bottle hitting my hand as the water inside shakes. It’s a bit of a stretch, but no one’s called me out on that sounding unrealistic yet.

My last piece of advice concerns your “DAW” or your digital audio workstation. If you’re like most fanfic readers, you are probably using Audacity. Whatever program you are using, be sure to play around in the effects settings. And I mean REALLY play. Know what tools you have at your disposal. Run a sound effect and your voice through some of those filters and hear what you get out of them. You’d be surprised how many different kinds of sounds you can get by playing them backwards or putting some kind of echo filter or voice modulation on them.

Sounds that would seem outlandish before might just end up being perfect after a lot of tweaks with your software’s effect rack.

This process of thinking about sounds and scenes and "what can be substituted for what?" is why putting sound effects in takes so long. And you can be very deep and VERY thorough in what you do.

Hoofsteps, wing flaps, ambient noise (Are they in a crowd? A café? Outside in nature?), can all contribute to the sound of the story. But for our purposes— recording free stories for people to listen to— you don’t want to get too deep or you’ll be editing for weeks instead of days. It is totally possible to get carried away and do tons of sound effects for each sound in the text or implied from the text.

If you watch an episode of MLP and close your eyes it will astound you the amount of sounds that occur. I do not recommend doing that for your fanfic readings, that’s just too much work. Keep in mind that the show itself employs about ten people just for the sound alone. You can’t do that much work in a reasonable amount of time, but there is a balance you can feel around for to help the stories you read become even more effective methods of storytelling.

If you're serious about producing the highest quality readings you can, and you're already doing the basics (using a high quality microphone, removing background noise and editing out all mistakes), I would recommend trying out some of these resources and seeing how you can make your next fanfiction reading come more alive.

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Comments ( 4 )

If you're a fanfic reader that has used sound effects in the past, please let me know what I got wrong or key foundations or good resources I might have missed. I'm new to this, but I thought I knew enough to fill the lack of sound effects tutorials in the Brony reading community.

3092895 - Wow, I'm bookmarking this. This is a really great resource, thanks! I think anyone who's making any kind of multimedia production will find this very useful.

Author Interviewer

I will have to remember this journal for later. :O

This would be very helpful. Thank you.

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