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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.