I've been thinking about this for a couple days, now.

On Thursday, David Sonnenschein and Ric Viers had a free webinar -- it was largely a promo for their upcoming online seminars, but it was still good -- and at the end they reviewed a couple people's videos. The first video they viewed was really pretty good, and then Ric asked the designer how much of the sounds were his own work.

After the designer admitted that only 20% of the sounds were sounds he recorded, Ric said something that got my head spinning. "If you show me a reel where you didn't make most of the sounds yourself, all you're showing me is that you're good at pulling sounds from a library."

Now, I realize that Ric is a huge advocate for recording your own sounds -- even though he runs one of the largest SFX library companies active, right nwo --, and we all should be recording our own sounds, but is that an opinion that is pretty prevalent in the industry?

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    The one thing I don't get with Ric is this: whats he actually done? Based on his credits listed on IMDB I'm not sure I'm interested in taking advice from him.... imdb.com/name/nm1938551
    – user49
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 4:36
  • More than me, that's for sure, but I see your point. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 18:56
  • 3
    The most up-voted comment in SSD history...
    – Utopia
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 3:29

12 Answers 12


I'm with Jay on this one. Nice answer, Jay.

I personally do not think that was right for him to tell that designer.. Kind of ironic that he'd be out of business if everyone recorded their own effects, but that's beside the point. I also think that one sentence from Ric might be being taken out of context a little here and I do see where he is coming from. He said "if you show me a REEL...". Reels are supposed to show your abilities to record, edit, design, make your own sounds and I personally think it's better in the long run to make a reel that is 100% your own recordings because that's what you're trying to show potential employers - but that's just my opinion.

But then I'd look at it this way: if everyone was digging the sound design and it was "really pretty good" as you say, I'd applaud his ability to take canned, blase and mundane "STORE-BOUGHT EFFECTS" and mesh it together with a few of his own effects he personally recorded and wind up with a believable, full sounding track. I would point out that it has an advantage to do it that way (80 to 20 ratio of effects) because it's economic, saves time, cost effective, etc. etc. etc.

One pertinent point I'd like to bring up is that Waves had a "Sound Design Challenge" this year wherein they provided you with hand-selected LIBRARY sound effects and gave them to you and told you that you could only use those sounds and NOT use your own recorded sounds and you had to sound design a full 45 seconds or so of a surreal racing crash. This competition had some very nice designs and I saw that it took extreme creativity and novel ideas of how to manipulate and use ONLY random "canned" library sound effects - and to say that all this competition shows someone is their ability to pull sounds from a library, I invite you to check out the top 10 designs of that competition. Genius stuff.

And recording all of your own effects newly is not a hallmark nor a "requirement" for being considered a "pro sound designer" by any means -- I think it was Randy Thom who said he uses mostly library sound effects - correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember that from the Castaway special edition commentary with him.

It ultimately comes down to what is right for the story and what sells and tells the story in the best way possible.

For example, in Alice in Wonderland, Michael Semanick speaks of placing in "B-rated Horror Film Thunder" sound effects in specific scenes--but wait, that cannot be! Not on a big-budget feature like Alice in Wonderland!! Yeah.. Sometimes it's needed to play the right chord in the audience's emotional memory bank.

But, my favorite analogy was said by one of my favorite Sound Designers of all time. His name is Erik Aadahl. He said in an interview once that a soundtrack is like a salad. The more ingredients you put into it that are fresh and home-grown from your own garden specifically for that salad, then it's going to taste better. The more store-bought, freeze-dried and GMOed ingredients you put into it, it's going to be that much worse. That's a philosophy I apply and strive toward on this proviso: If I have the time and budget to do so. When the time and budget call for using canned or store-bought sound effects, then sure - I'll do it with the mindset of making it still have the best possible quality I can get with minimal compromise on the integrity of the soundtrack which forwards the director's ultimate vision and goal for what he wants to induce in the audience.

One last rant: "If it sounds good, it's good. I don't care if you twist the knob backwards - if it sounds good, it's good". Who cares where the effects come from if they sound good and forward the story? I think we're in the top 2 percent of the audience who can recognize a "6030 Big Woosh" or an "Old Traffic" placed in a movie (can't say the same for the Wilhelm) - if you have to use sounds pulled from a commercial library and it fits and is tasteful, no-one should have the right to shoot you down for it.

p.s. the other day I pulled Mr. Wilhelm from my library and he actually did 3 or 4 other takes of screams before and after the famous one - I used one of the other takes yesterday. :)

  • You possess the full recording it? Been seeking it out for a very long time. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 8:58

That's ridiculous.

I don't agree with that comment at all. Just because you're using sounds that you didn't personally record doesn't mean that you're not making creative choices. Very seldom will library sounds work perfectly for the project you're working on, and it's up to you to mold and shape those sounds and make them your own.

Should everyone be recording, mastering and using their own custom recorded fx? Sure, in a perfect world with generous budgets of time and money. Now, show me that perfect world ----


I wonder what would have happened, had the sound designer lied and said 75%...

I think perception is all the matters in the end. Recording your own fx can let you follow your sound-vision more accurately; but library FX search/selection/placement is an art that's often looked down on. You'd think that people in an often under-appreciated industry like ours would understand the arrogance of looking down on any creative process, but i guess everything is relative.

I guess the point of my rant is that where you got your FX is of 0 relevance; only the perception of the end product matters.



When I am designing sounds, I would be incredibly happy to admit that I recorded 20% of the source I'm using. But, more often than not, I'm pulling from libraries. We just don't have the time/budget to record everything we need for a project. You can try recording stuff between gigs and building your library, but even those become "canned" effects that won't always fit your project perfectly.

If you are working on a project, you have to find the sound that works within the schedule and budget you have. If that means recording fresh, then so be it. If it means pulling from a library, then that is what you do.

I feel that designing for a show reel is a different beast. With a reel you want to present your absolute best. Even if you are pulling stuff from a library, you need to use the sounds creatively enough so that they are not easily identified.

  • That's good to hear...I was in an interview once with a guy at a big video game company who told me, "I don't ever want to hear you pulling a sound from a library," but he didn't give me the impression that any of the projects I'd be working on would have the time or budget to record everything anew--in fact, the timelines he laid out implied the exact opposite! Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 4:11

I also don't agree with this sentiment - Sound design is about telling the story and creating the emotion, especially for a show reel. I love hearing fresh and exciting newly recorded sounds but that is only one aspect of the whole sound design process, ultimately the only thing that is important is what comes out at the end, how you get there is totally up to you.


I agree with everyone. The question that was asked was, "how much of the sounds were his own work?". I am guessing that very few of us just pull a sound from a lib and slap it in place. Only part of the "work" is recording. There is also a lot of editing, fx-ing, mixing, futzing, and most importantly selecting.

I also recognize that for certain types of recording, there are people who know more than i do how to do it well (guns and vehicles for example). So if i hire those folks, is it "my" work? And most of those folks have already produced libraries. GOOD LIBRARIES.


I was at the same webinar, and what Ric reacted to wasn't against use of canned effects, it was against calling it a design when it really mostly was a sound edit. I too thought it was well made and all, and especially good mixed, but I see his point and agree. Sound design is about building new sounds and soundscapes that preferably hasn't been heard that very way before, the very definition of Designer is someone who's making something new. It's no problem integrating canned effects in that work, but for it to be an original work one can't really base the stuff on it.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with regular sound editing, it still takes talent and feeling to get it right,and true sound design takes a lotta time, and time is money. Frankly, if everything really was individually designed, there would not be much to see on TV or cinema. But Ric's point was, as a possible employer of sound designers, that if you send in something to him or others seeking designers as a showreel in specifically design, then all the work must truly be yours, otherwise he has no clue how you do as a designer. And that includes recording your own sounds, which by far is the absolutely most important aspect of the trade if you're to make a lively and vivid soundwork on a movie that convinces the audience that everything is real.

With good recording technique half the work is already done, mind you sound design is MUCH more then mere swooshes and gunshots, and clean effects like rain and cutlery to mention just a fraction of all possibilities, can't really take much processing before sounding really bad.

Of course there are many kinds of designers, there's a reason they don't give any Oscars in that as the criteria for being one is fluid at best, but there are mainly two kinds generally accepted in Hollywood what I know of; making specific sound effects for specific applications, often things like lightsabres, swooshes and monster sounds for example, and there are shaping the entire soundtrack minus the music into a living breathing entity with a complex interaction between elements. Both kinds crave quite a lot of original recordings as such, nothing kills the moment like looking at a C.H.U.D. and thinking of Godzilla...

Which leads me to another take on it! A design can BECOME a canned sound! Just look at Godzilla, Dirty Harry's revolver, Tie-Fighter pass-by's, and Tarzan's yell to name but a few! They all began as complexly designed effects, and went through movie after movie unaltered! Of course they can't really be re-used in any other franchise than what they came from, save the revolver, but still! Sounds like punches and gunshots, on the other hand, transfer easily :-)

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    Good counterpoint @Christian. Thanks for the additional perspective on the conversation. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 13:19

I guess there is no right answer here.

But I think that Ric says the same that always say Gary Rydstrom or Randy Thom. They don't use library not because of their recognizability or because they will record it better, of course not because of some copyright rules. They record sound because they love it. Because the process of recording it is a part of their sound design. And production companies allow them to do that just because it is Gary Rydstrom or Randy Thom :) And this is what I personally want to do. If someone loves to sit in a studio and work with libraries, well, good luck sir.

I agree with Chuck Russom. Mostly you have to use library. But you should use it creatively at least. Like aforementioned people in Waves Competition.


I believe that you should use what you need to use to achieve the emotion on the deadline given. I love to have all of my own recorded sfx in my projects, but that's just not possible.

In reference to Ric Vier's comment about the design. He made that remark in reference to a sound design show reel. In addition that comment was made specifically from a sound professional watching a reel from the mindset of would I hire this guy. I think his comment was completely justified because as he continued with the rest of the comment, he explained that if told that the work is 100% the sound designers it demonstrates other KEY skillsets that he looks for in a person when deciding whether to hire him or not.

He then gave a link to a youtube video where a guy recreated all of the sound minus the score from intro to Toy Story 1 and it was all recorded and done in the guys apartment.

He said that once he found out that it was 100% original, the impact that the reel had on him was more significant as a sound professional than the material alone, because it demonstrated to him those abilities.

I think it kind of shows the duality of the industry. If you are making a reel to show a director/producer/non sound person your design/edit abilities, then I think anything goes.

If you are showing a sound company to get a job, then I think they are also looking at other skills in addition to just the design and edit abilities and when you have a reel that is 100% original, you are able to demonstrate that more effectively in a single reel.

Ultimately I think when designing or editing a project, do whatever it takes to lock into the emotion and make it work. If the canned sound does that better than other sounds you have recorded, then use the canned sound. Use whatever sound supports the story.


I agree with you all, but with one proviso ..............please don't use canned, SFX or processed library sounds for documentary production.

  • I think your answer is a little too broad - What type of documentary? I've seen History Channel documentaries that have whole battle reenactments - would you rather hear the "documentary style" camera mic audio for those scenes? :)
    – Utopia
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 16:07
  • Or a biiiiig LOTR style foley session. But i agree with @Utopia. Say you have scene where you can see some heavy wind in pine trees needs some aural fleshing out - do you find your nearest pine forest, wait til it's windy, then head out and record it? Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 16:25
  • @Roger Yeah! Also, I just remembered this one: Blue Planet would be really boring if there wasn't good sound design created for it. They did a lot of work on the soundtrack and it shows!
    – Utopia
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 2:06
  • @Utopia ...not to mention that there are stock-footage companies now creating those battle reenactments, so the picture's already out of a can (and probably MOS)! Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 4:13
  • Ok Got your point! I was in fact referring to live documentaries where the audience is often conned into believing they are listening to the live audio track, whereas more often then not it is a mixture of library, foley, synthesized sound etc. Mostly used in natural history productions, but now covers a broad field of use. Wouldn't mind if they categorized it as part factual documentary. Apart from deceiving the audience; these so called 'documentaries' are worthless for future scientific interest/reference, just for the sake of saving money on a decent team of field recordists. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 15:19

What if you are going for a canned sound....


i think what Ric meant was it was labeled as a sound designer show reel. when one 20% of the sounds were recorded or designed by him.

maybe if it was labelled as a sound effects editor show reel it would have had a different reaction?

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    IMO, there's nothing in the job of a sound designer that states that you have to record your own sounds -- just that you have to design new ones. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 13:59
  • true, and even if you dont manipulate any sounds at all and in a scene you use all library sounds. couldn't it be that you have still designed the scene as a whole, just by choosing which sounds to use and where they go. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 22:01

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