Tag Archives: music and sound effects

Review: Soundly — an essential tool for sound designers

By Ron DiCesare

The people behind the sound effects database Soundly and I think alike. We both imagine a world where all audio files are accessible from any computer at anytime. Soundly is helping accomplish that with their cloud-based audio sound effect searchable database and online sound effects library. Having access to thousands of sound effects online via the cloud from any computer anywhere with Internet access is long overdue. I am so pleased to see Soundly paving the way to what I see as the inevitable workflow of the future.

When I started out in audio post production years ago, sound effect libraries were all on CDs. Back then I had to look through a huge directory listing the tens of thousands of sounds available on all of the audio CDs, which I called “the big phone book of sounds.” I remember thinking to myself that there must be a better way. After years of struggling with these phone books, technology finally made a viable step forward with iTunes. That led to my “innovative” idea to rip all of my sound effect CDs to iTunes to use it as a makeshift searchable database. It was crude, but worked a hell of a lot better than the phone books and audio CDs!

Once digital audio files became the norm, technology got on board and finally offered us searchable database programs exclusively for sound effects. Now Soundly has made another leap forward with its cloud access.

Over the years, I have acquired well over 100,000 sound effects — 112,495 to be exact. In my library, there are a fair amount of custom sounds (particularly vocal reactions) that I have recorded myself. All of these sounds are stored on a 1TB external hard drive (with an ilok/dongle) that I take with me to every studio I work at, including my home studio.

The problem for me is that I am a freelance audio mixer and sound designer working at many different studios in New York City, in addition to my home studio on Long Island. That means I am forced to take my external sound effects drive and ilok to every studio I work at for every session. I am always at risk of losing the drive and/or ilok or simply forgetting them behind when going to and from studios. I have often asked myself, wouldn’t it be great to have all my sounds accessible from any computer with Internet access at all times? Enter Soundly.

Soundly can be broken down into two main parts. First, they offer 300-plus or 7,500-plus sounds included in their database for immediate use. This depends on which price option you choose, which is either free or a monthly subscription. Second, they offer the ability to upload all of users’ existing sound effects to a local drive or, better yet, the cloud. Uploading to the cloud makes your sounds available from a computer with Internet access, in addition to the over 7,500 sound effects included with Soundly.

A Wide Appeal
Soundly is available for Mac and PC, and is very easy to install — it took me just a few minutes. Once installed, the program immediately gives access to over 7,500 high-quality sound effects, many as 96kHz, 24-bit Wav files. This is ideal for anyone not able to spend the thousands of dollars needed to build up a large library by purchasing sound effects from a variety of companies. That could include video editors who are often asked to do sound design without a proper or significant database of sounds to choose from. All too often these video editors are forced to look to the Internet for any kind of free sound effect, but the quality can be dubious at times. Audio mixers and sound designers, who are just starting out and getting their libraries underway could benefit as well.

In addition to accessing 7,500-plus high-quality sounds, Soundly allows for the purchase of additional sound effect libraries in the store section of the program, such as “Cinematic Hits and Transitions” from SoundBits and “Summer Nature Ambiences” by Soundholder. The store also gives the user access to all free sound effects across the Internet via Freesound.org. This will no doubt help fill in any gaps in the large variety of sounds needed for any video editor or sound designer. But just as the Soundly disclaimer notes for the free sound effects, there is no way to enforce any kind of quality control or audio standard for the wide range of free sounds available throughout the Internet. Even so, Soundly manages to be a one-stop shop for all Internet sound searches rather than just randomly searching the Internet blindly.

Targeted Appeal
Any seasoned audio mixer or sound designer will tell you that it is best to stay away from free sounds found on the Internet in general. Audio mixers like me who have been working for over 30 years (though I do not look like I am over 50!) are more likely to have built up their own sound effect libraries over the years that they prefer to use. For example, my sound effect library contains both purchased sounds from many of the various commercial libraries and a fair amount of custom sounds I have recorded on the job. That is why uploading a user’s own entire sound effect library to the cloud for use with Soundly (which in my case is almost 1TB) is an absolute necessity.

Now I admit, I am the exception and not the rule. I need access to all of my audio files at all times because I am never in one place for long. That is why Soundly is ideal for me. I can dial up Soundly and access the cloud instantly from any computer that has Internet access. Now I can leave my sound effects drive at home, which is a huge relief.

I know that the vast majority of audio professionals on my level have a staff position. Most of them typically work at multi-room facilities and rarely, if ever, need to leave their facility for an audio mix or sound design. Soundly offers multi-room licenses for just that reason. But more importantly, it means that most of the major audio facilities have their sound effect libraries accessible to all their staff on some kind of network server such as a RAID or NAS. So why switch to Soundly’s cloud storage service when an audio or video facility has access to many TBs worth of network storage of their own? The answer in a nutshell is price.

To fully understand if Soundly could replace a network server in a large audio or video facility, let’s breakdown Soundly’s pricing options starting with the free option. Soundly offers access to the free cloud library of over 300 sound effects, a maximum of 2,500 pre-existing local files and no upload space allotment. Next is Soundly’s Pro subscription for $14.99 a month, allowing for all the features of Soundly, access to the 7,500-plus cloud-based sound effects and unlimited access to pre-existing local files.

But for the real heavy lifting, Soundly offers storage space options needed to upload large amounts of sounds to the cloud at a very competitive rate. For example, to get access to my pre-existing sound effect library totaling nearly 1TB worth of sound effects, Soundly offers an annual fee of $500 for cloud storage that size. Compare that to the cost of installing and maintaining RAID or NAS storage systems that a large facility might use and it could very well be a better and more cost-effective option, not to mention it’s accessible everywhere. So freelancers like me, or staff audio engineers, can count on reliable, safe, large-scale storage of their data by switching to Soundly.

Operation
Installing Soundly is fast and easy. I was instantly able to access all of the included sounds. Once my entire sound effect library was uploaded, it was well worth the time and effort needed for such a large amount of files. Searching for sound effects worked exactly as I expected it to. All possible sounds came up with the search criteria I specified, all based on file names and metadata. Simply click on any sound file to play it and see if it’s right for your project.

Now here is where Soundly really impressed me. There are two ways of exporting your sound files: drag and drop and what Soundly calls “spot-to.” Drag and drop works with Pro Tools, Nuendo, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro CC and FCP X and 7, to name a few. The “spot-to” function works with Pro Tools, specifically Pro Tools HD 12.7. The “spot-to” function is where the real power and speed comes into play. The “spot-to” icon appears automatically whenever Pro Tools is active (it disappears when the Pro Tools is not active, so just be aware of that). Click on the icon and your sound file is sent to Pro Tools in an instant.

There are two great options when using the “spot-to” icon, spot to bin or spot to timeline. Each one has its advantages depending on how you like to work. Sending to your bin makes it accessible via the clip list in Pro Tools. Sending to the timeline adds it to wherever your curser is located on any track. That is a real time saver. To illustrate this, let’s look at how few steps are needed to get your sound file in your time line or bin. I counted three steps. Step one: select the sound in Soundly. Step two: send to Pro Tools using the “spot-to” icon. Step three: immediately working with the sound file in my session, which really is not a step. So, we can say it is actually just two steps. Yes, it’s that fast and easy.

For me, the most important aspect of Soundly’s “spot-to” function is that it copies the sound file to Pro Tools rather than referencing it. This is significant. Some people may have learned the hard way, like I have, that referencing a sound effect does not include that sound effect in your audio folder within your session. This is key because coping it into your session’s audio folder allows you to move your session from drive to drive, room to room or studio to studio without the dreaded missing sound file error message in Pro Tools when the drive or network housing the sound effects cannot be located. As far as I know, only Sound Miner’s higher priced options do this crucial copy to audio folder step. In contrast, all of Soundly’s pricing options do this essential step.

Let’s not ignore the fact that Soundly works as a stand-alone program without any DAW or video editing software needed. Simply drag and drop the sound file to a folder located anywhere, say your desktop, should you happen to want to work outside of your DAW or video software for whatever reason.

Organization
With Soundly, there are a variety of ways you can organize your library, all customizable and up to the user. For me, I kept it very simple. I chose a three-folder hierarchy as follows: Soundly’s built-in cloud library, my entire personal sound effects library and my “greatest hits” for my most useful sounds. All three folders are located under the master cloud folder, which means that all my sounds and folders can be searched at once, or in any combination. You can choose one or more of your folders whenever you do a search. That means you can really hone in your search if you would like to set up multiple sub folders – or not. For me, when I do a search I will typically want to search all my sounds all at once since I cannot take the time to think of sub categories that may or may not yield better results. My organization and set up is purely my own preference and it is sure to vary from user to user. Each person can set up their folders however they feel best to organize their library.

Hard to Pick a Favorite Feature
I think my absolute favorite feature of Soundly is the pitch shift function. That’s because whenever I am finding and auditioning sounds with the pitch shift engaged (up or down), the sound file will be sent to my DAW with the exact amount of pitch shift applied to the sound effect! That means I do not have to recreate or guess the amount of pitch shifting I used when auditioning the sound after it is imported into Pro Tools. The same goes for the reverse function. There is no doubt that pitch shift and reverse are the two most common alterations for sound effects done by sound designers. Soundly has these two crucial functions built-in to the search and export functions.

Another feature worth noting is marking favorite or popular sounds with a star, like flagging an important email. Marking your favorite sounds with the star icon means you do not have to make a separate folder for your favorites as I have done in the past. Playlists are another noteworthy feature. Making playlists can be a great way of storing all your sounds as you are searching for a project that can be downloaded or sent to your DAW in a more organized fashion after your search. This is much faster than downloading each sound effect one by one as you find the sound effects needed for larger sound design projects. Making multiple playlists is another way to speed up the searching process over all. Playlists can be shared with other Soundly users.

More to Come
In the future, we can expect to see more options for the output format. Currently you can choose bit rate and sample rate, but you will only be able to export .wav files. Future releases are slated to include AIFF, MP3 and even Ogg Vorbis for the gaming world.

As Soundly grows, there will be more sound effects added to the cloud for use. Not surprisingly, the folks behind Soundly are sound designers and the program clearly reflects that. Soundly’s developer Peder Jørgensen and sound designer Christian Schaanning really understand how today’s sound designers work. More importantly, they understand how tomorrow’s sound designers will work.


Ron DiCesare is an audio mixer and sound designer located in the New York City area. His work can be heard on promos and shows, including “Noisey” featuring Kendrick Lamar, “B. Deep,” “F**k That’s Delicious” and “Moltissomo” with Chef Mario Batali on Vice’s Munchies channel. He also works on spots and promos. He can be reached at rononizer@gmail.com.

Quick Chat: Lucky Post’s Scottie Richardson on ‘Reclaim the Kitchen’

Wolf Appliances and agency The Richards Group recently launched the “Reclaim the Kitchen” campaign meant to inspire families to prepare and eat meals together. At the center of this initiative is a film that shows audiences the joys of home cooking. Lucky Post’s Scottie Richardson, based in Dallas, created the sound design, music edit and the final mix for the three-minute, stop-motion piece directed by Brikk.

In Reclaim the Kitchen the viewer’s perspective is sitting at a dinner table or making tasty dishes. There are statistics, meal suggestions and recipes. You can see the film on http://www.reclaimthekitchen.com, a site created to offer “tools to cook with confidence.”

We checked in with Richardson in order to dig a bit deeper into the sound and music.

When did you first meet with the agency?
I was put on hold by The Richards Group producer David Rucker, but didn’t truly know what the job would be. I only knew that I was working on a video for Wolf and I had two days to work on my own before the creative team would come in.  David and I had just worked on a huge Chrysler campaign so there was a strong trust factor going in.

Scottie Richardson

Scottie Richardson

What direction did they give or were they open to ideas?
The concept behind the Wolf project is “reclaim the kitchen,” getting people together to share home-cooked meals. It’s not meant to badger viewers; it’s more like, “Wow, what have I been missing? I can do this!” Inspiring and whimsical. In terms of the sound, I was just told to “do what I do.” That’s a dream on any project — to have the time to immerse yourself in the narrative. I wanted the sound design to match the integrity of this initiative.

There are many layers of sounds — the home, cooking, technology. What were you trying to convey with the audio?
The creatives did an unbelievable job creating a sweeping yet simple message. Preparing a meal isn’t just about the food. Time is ticking, money matters and family are all important. These factors are influenced by myriad circumstances, but rather than ignore them, they’re addressed head-on. The sounds outside the kitchen are designed to resonate with viewers, to put them in these moments that influence their meal decisions. Phones are often seen as tools that distract us from our family time, but they can be used to help with family participation — Googling recipes, meal-planning apps, converting measurements — there are ways to use these tools mindfully and together.  Fast food may be a modern solution to creating more time with your family, but if that time is allocated to a mission in the kitchen, your time is invested in camaraderie.

In some cases the sound was meant to add atmosphere, while in other cases it was to specifically key off of what was happening on screen. We used it to interplay with the voiceover script. There is a scene nearing the end that is a tight close-up of a food scale. Meanwhile, you hear a ticking from a stopwatch as the camera pulls out to reveal that it is a food scale. That sound was to accent the voiceover talking about “time” rather than the image, but it provides a nice juxtaposition. Overall, the goal was to key off of the verbal cues and visuals with both sound design and music edits so they were additional characters in the narrative. In some sections, we chose an absence of sound to allow moments to breathe and stand out. This piece was designed to inspire people to recalibrate, be somewhat introspective and learn, but not feel intimidated, so creating moments to process were crucial.

Can you talk about creating the sounds?
I have a large sound effects library that I’ve built over the last 20 years. I start with using the logical pre-recorded, time-tested sounds as a baseline. On this particular job I pulled from my stock library but also Foley’d lots of sounds. I like to be musical with sound design, so I am constantly making sure the sounds work with the music track in tone or pitch. Sometimes that’s using verb and delay to match the music and its space, or pitching things up or down. Being a musician I like to use musical effects like cymbals or shakers to accent things as well.  These elements integrated well on this project because Breed’s music track was so lively and elegant.

What about the mix?
At the end of the day what the voiceover is saying is important, like the vocals to a great song. I made sure all of that was clear, then I experimented with the music and sound design. I built a nice bed for the voice to lay in that would hopefully let the poignancy of the message resonate. Sometimes it’s best to just feel the sound and not actually be able to articulate what it is. You miss it if it is gone but you can’t actually say, “That was a scooter running over an umbrella.”

You wore a few different hats on this one. Can you talk about that?
Well at first it was as a sound designer. I created a sound scape from beginning to end of the cut. Then I brought in the editor’s sound design and went through to see if anything clashed or to see what needed to be replaced or enhanced. When agency creative Dave Longfield came into the session, he had very specific things he wanted to try with the music, so we spent a half-day cutting up the music stems and trying out things to hit with picture. Breed’s music was amazing. It balanced the narrative with energy and the intelligence of the message. After that, we edited dialog, trying out various takes and pacing that felt right. This was followed by the mixing stage to bring it all together.

What tools do you call on?
This was all built and mixed in Avid Pro Tools. One tool I use often on sound design is Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. This allows me to make more music sound effects and really transform them into something new.

ReclaimTheKitchenmain

Where do you find inspiration?
Honestly all over. Art, movies, music. One of my favorite groups as a young kid was The Art Of Noise. I just loved how they made music out of door slams and breaking glass. I love how layering many sounds together make one solid sound. I enjoy seeing a good movie and hearing how they use a sound you wouldn’t think of for what you are seeing, or how the absence of sound speaks better than having one.

Finally, how did this project influence you personally?
I am truly the healthiest I have been in a long, long time. I have not had fast food in over three months and we have been cooking as a family every night for dinner. I’m avidly researching recipes and trying to one-up the next meal. This is a project that changed my lifestyle for the better. I didn’t see that coming.