Im doing some research for my dissertation and some of it is based on the title of this thread.

In my practical side I found myself using a lot of sounds from commercial sound libraries (mainly gunshots as I live in england and do not have an opportunity to record automatic weapons, and some other aircraft sounds etc)

I was wondering how others feel about using commercial sound libraries when being employed as a sound designer?

Are there any particular companies that produce really useable libraries in terms of license agreement and quality of the sounds?

Any particular problems or areas commercial sound libraries are lacking in?

(I dont expect people to answer all these questions in one answer, it would just be nice to hear other peoples opinions on the subject - If there are some really good answers I may quote them within my uni work, please state if you do not wish to be quoted)

2 Answers 2


Hey Elliot,

I can affirm what C3Sound told you, so I want to add some other thoughts...

I like archives for the starting point they give for my sound design.

But there's always something that doesn't feel right, the distance to the microphone, some frequencies in the sound, the room around, ....

and people are used to the cinema sound effects, for example for gun sounds, you have maybe to add layers to the original recording to get the right impact otherwise it is possible that the audience won't recognize it, mishear it as something else (if there's nothing in the picture that does fit to the sound impression) or that it doesn't artistically fit with the picture.

If it would be that easy to create the right sound, just by adding things from the library, all the films, games, etc. would sound the same.

But the sound change with every situation, with every story, with the role, the point of view...that's the real art.

As I said, I use libraries for the starting point, then I get usually lost in all the "maybe this fits too" sounds, and often by chance you find something, that, if you treat/process it right, fits much better than the first searching matches. then i add all these, and throw away all unnecessary sounds. It's always the inner fight with the possibilities, the coincidences and the willing to not lose the thread.

And if there's something that I can work out for myself, I just grab my recorder and the microphone and get it in the way I want it to sound.

Hope I didn't told you something, that was already clear.

  • Subtractive layering haha - totally do that as well!
    – C3Sound
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 2:32

The following is just an opinion from just another freelancer.

In my experiences, I have never found a sound from a library that completely matches picture or fulfills the need with just that one layer pulled right off the hard drive.

Usually its layering many different sonic characteristics together to create a full sound that matches the style and universe that you are telling the aural story of at that moment.

Quick Example:

Processing can be implemented onto particular layers that you can dub as the unique layers of the sound. Say you are making a laser gun of an alien race. You could use a combination of gunshot layering so make the initial transient information, but you still have to make it sound like a laser gun - so you grab a couple of those layers with longer decays and process them into the sci-fi realm with manglers like iZotope Spectron. Use those combination with a pitch shifter that allows point-to-point manipulation of pitch along the timeline of the sound to make the quick rise and long dip in pitch of the "basic laser" sound everyone connects with, and even then you probably have just started to create something solid for the gun's audio.

Basically, its sound-design, not sound drag-and-drop. Sound libraries rock, but they have their place in the processes. Do I feel like I haven't created a sound because I have used a sound from a sound library? No, because I have never just drag and dropped a sound from a library without layering or processing it with something else - either recorded or also from library.... Actually, I think I have used a zap from a jacobs ladder from freesound.org before....

I have heard blastwave puts out some cool stuff. Plus, I believe they have a 5.1 library as well which probably makes for a good base to jump from.

Hope this helps!

  • Thanks very much for the response, its exactly the sort of reply I was hoping for! I did a at least some degree processing on any audio I used (pitch shifting, eq, reverb, layering etc) but as a there was quite a big portion of audio that hadn't come from my own recordings I started to wonder if I was in-fact still on the sound design track, or more heading towards sound arrangement with some elements of sound design. Thanks again for taking the time to reply in such detail. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 19:40
  • Also chuck russom and tim prebble's sound libraries I hear are quite rocking. :)
    – C3Sound
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 19:52
  • @Elliot Hockley: Although I'm a total beginner when it comes to sound design, I've found that there's a need to strike a balance between using library sounds and custom sound design. The decision depends on which one feels/works the best for the particular situation in hand. If the desired end result can be achieved by using a library sound source, then totally use it in the process if it feels appropriate. If you can't find or don't end up with what you're looking for, then of course you need to figure out something else / do it entirely or largely from scratch. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 5:48
  • It's totally unnecessary and can be impossible to try to fake something that's available in a library and which you have no ways to recreate, fake or record properly. Or that you're wasting time on that which could be spend on more important and custom sounds. But I still wouldn't want to use anything stock in its raw form. It has to be altered somehow (and always needs to because they don't work straight) or combined with something else for it to feel like it's my own idea and that I've fulfilled my creative commitment and get it to sound like I intend it to sound as the sound designer. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 6:07
  • @Mviljamaa Definitely good advice!
    – C3Sound
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 21:14

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