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Working as a sound developer
Sound developers have one foot in this world and another in the realm of the fantastic and impossible. Much like a writer may go off into a fictional world of drama when they write, the sound developer does the same thing, only in terms of sound. Each sound is a statement in itself, a story with a beginning and ending, complete by itself yet also having a role in a larger structure of a sequence, a theme, a song or a movie.
Since samplers hit the ground in the late 80's, a small cottage industry has risen for the development of samples. At first, sounds and samples were distributed on proprietary cd roms for the major sampler (Akai, Emu, Roland, Yamaha). The audio loops appeared, distributed on CD Rom for ACID and the Ableton Live, which were first to the game. Then came the big software samplers like Sound Fonts, Kontakt, the EXS24, Mach five and others. Then there are the proprietary sample playback devices like those from Quantum Leap/East-West, Spectrasonics, and others.
The Boring parts of developing Sounds
Formats. Of the most boring things about developing sounds is deciding on the format for the work. If you are just making sounds for yourself this is no problem. Select the format you like to use the most. But if this is for a commercial product, now you have to think: Which sampler am I targeting? Which Loop program, Which sequencer? This is of critical importance. All of the sample formats may use .wav files these days, but the preset and multi data will be different for each sampler. Ditto for loops. Apple sequencers like Logic and GarageBand will let you put certain features in your loops that Sony's ACID won't use.
Media. Once you have the file format for your work you should decide on the media you will use. The days of the sample CD are just about over as they only hold 650 MB of data. DVDs are now commonly used as are online downloadable options. The online option requires a server capable of secure distribution of large files.
Marketing. Without a plan you are unlikely to sell many products. Advertising and Distribution are the two things that will make your project a success. Does the fact that you want to sell the product shape its artistic focus? We would all love to tell you it does not, but the fact of the matter is that unless you get someone to like what you are doing enough to buy it they won't. This means making audio demos, getting people to review your work, giving out lots of freebies. Most important is building your internet presence. You can do this on online forums with links back to your website, joining music sites like SoundClick to display your demos, and your own music with some of your most striking and adventurous sounds.
Once you get the format and media issues solved you can focus on the creative part of your enterprise; The building of sounds.
The Exciting Part about Developing Sounds
Without getting too dramatic or esoteric, let me just say that creating sounds is like creating your own virtual world. Sounds convey feeling, emotions, light, darkness, in millions of shades. Sound is more immediate than words and more multi textural than colors, though as one gets closer to their art one can get a sense of the interrelation of words, sound and color. Each sound tells a story all its own. It has a beginning, a middle part and an end. One of the big tricks of sound development is to come up with sounds that can both function on their own and also be a small brick in a much larger composition.
I like to let my current mood dominate the quest for sounds. Its like you are trying to synthesize a mood from your different elements at hand. It is good to stay fresh by participating in the other arts. Inspiration lies at every turn. Go to the movies and try to figure out how they made the elements of the soundtrack. Go home and try to do it with your gear.
The Mixing Path
Its a great idea to have all your sound sources fired up and easily switched into your mixing path. The mixing path is nothing but a 2 channel bus that you are mixing elements into. In software, this might be 8-16 tracks you are routing to a Master bus. You can have different plugins, eqs and compressors on each track, just as you do when you mix a song. The difference here though is that you are mixing a single sound, and all of your sequencer's resources go towards the creation of this single sound. You can also do this with a hardware mixer and hardware effects and eqs. This method, though dirtier, is more hands on and can be more fun.
Concocting sounds is much like creation in the sciences
Use Hardware as sound sources.
Nothing is better than old vintage hardware synths. Many of today's software sample sets come with a license restriction that forbids you from using the software for sound development. This is not the case with old tweakable synths.
Run each source through an analog mixer channel. Connect a bus to the audio interface or soundcard. That is the bus you record the sound going through the mixer.
Get a good midi generator/arpeggiator/ randomizer.
This can be software. If you can find an algorithmic composer, get it. Let it run hours and keep recording, but when you hear something, grab it!
Connect in Omni mode
Connect your modules in a way that you can have everything running off the same trigger on the same channel by default. At the mixer, you mute the sources you do not want sounding and can sculpt the ones you do want sounding.
Attitude vs. Cleanliness
While it is true that people buy samples for sound quality they cannot achieve in their own studio, it is also true that they want to be inspired by sounds. Lately, that is since 2008, cleanliness is taking a back seat to attitude. Clean samples can be seen as boring. Naturally, no one is going to let you get away with crap like hiss and hum imbuing your source samples, but they will let you get away with over compression, extreme EQ, extreme limiting as long as the sound imparts an attitude that improves the overall attitude of their composition.
Superb Sound Quality
You need to make your sound as high quality as it can be. This means using the best microphones and preamps you can afford, the best converters, minimizing conversions, avoiding jitter at every stage
Organization is key
You need to save your samples in a framework that not only lets you fin it, but lets your client sort and find them as well. I use prefixes on each sample so i can list them by type. For example,
-Always name the root note in the sample name unless is a C. If I see bas:Clean Bass in a list I know the root note is C, other wise it would be like bs: Clean Bass F3 where F3 is the root note. If this were a multi-sample I would put it on the C as well
In the full list of samples you would see
bas: Clean Bass C2
Tweak! What is the best software for making loops?
A) I think it is Sony's SoundForge. However, Apple's Logic lets you make loops with embedded midi files, which is very cool. But if you do this you can only develop for the Logic and GarageBand platforms.
If I were making a loop collection, how should i go about marketing it?
A) You can choose to advertise and distribute it yourself, or have some other company do that. The problem is they will often want 50% of your revenue, sometimes just for advertising. To avoid this you can market it yourself. Get a website, advertise, open a PayPal account and get a lot of blank DVDs and mailers. Its a lot of work but if your stuff is good you will sell some sounds!
Should I sell sounds on ebay?
Personally I think that is a mistake. The ebay sample theives have done a huge disservice to the industry, by selling pirated samples really cheap. Just the fact that you are selling sounds on ebay undervalues your work. While there are many legitimate sound devs on ebay, the widespread piracy taints everyone using it. It is far better to sell ten disks at $75 dollars than it is to sell 100 at $7.50. Don't go cheap. Quality all the way. Besides, think of all the mailing you have to do to earn $750.
Always be on the lookout for new sounds!
"Listen kid, take my advice, never hate a song that has sold half a million copies."
Irving Berlin 1888-1989
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