I've been working on a project (within "friends" = no payment) that consists of one short-movie with loads of sfx and at least 3 webisodes, producing every single task related to sound.

Recently I was crushed by one director's request that is not to use my own sounds (I work freely in a studio with very good conditions and have time to experiment and explore) in a 4 minute scene fight where there are more sfx that you can imagine at first, and illegally use "hollywood" sounds.

His reasons for this request are: audience doesn't care and doesn't pay attention, top Hollywood effects is what makes the difference, it's good for me, and that I shouldn't put my ego first.

Well... obviously this could come only from someone who doesn't understand a thing about the sound production. I think this would be dishonest, non-ethical and bring almost or no value at all to my work.

What do you guys think about this? If we don't come to an agreement I don't see myself using 80% or 90% of copyright material as if it was mine, and I'd rather not do it, although I have already spent weeks on it.

  • Thank you all once again for all the great answers. It's very comforting to know somehow I am supported and that other sound designers actually care about respecting one's work. Btw, I came to an agreement with the director that I would send a draft as I wanted and if not accepted, I would quit their project. It's almost impossible to have a serious discussion about this matters with such limited line of thought so I may as well just do it and let them have a listen. Thank you all! Mar 12, 2012 at 17:31

8 Answers 8


This immediately reminded me, first off, of an excerpt for Dave Yewdall's book about the "Big Sound" (or Hollywood Sound):

The "Big Sound"

The key phrase being "It's a philosophy, an art - an understanding of what sounds good together to make a bigger sound."

The 'Hollywood sound' is a gestalt, or culmination, of individual parts and pieces fitting together in dynamic and complimentary ways which exude big, bold, and ballsy attitude (when such attitude is called for) - while at the same time having the composure within this gestalt to introduce rich subtleties and tasteful depth of contrast. What I'm getting at here is that the Hollywood sounds can't be bought outright, yet they ARE something that you are capable of creating yourself - it comes down to having the right source elements to work with, and the experience and wisdom gained over time of how to dramatically piece these puzzle pieces together in ways which effectively work to achieve that Hollywood sound (and do so quickly/efficiently). It's a slight digression from the topic question, yet I feel it's an important foundation to begin to address your question since the word "Hollywood sound" is being thrown around incorrectly as a noun in my opinion, when actually it's more a verb.

The question you pose then seems to be directly at it's core an ethical issue regarding your tangible source sound elements, or assets. Source elements can be bought legally from a variety of providers, some which have studio ties - for example, The Hollywood Edge is a distribution division of CSS Studios, which owns Soundelux/Todd-AO, and nearly everything from The Hollywood Edge label is in same way, shape, or form sound source that comes straight from the vaults of Soundelux itself. These are top, proven-to-work Hollywood sounds But even so, these sounds aren't "The Hollywood sound" itself in their own right - nice recordings, yes, but it still matters how you piece them together dynamically and dramatically. Many times this "Hollywood sound" is developed using a composite of bought source material from known libraries, along with custom sound effects recordings of our own. But who cares what we use as long as we create a believable sound? In the end, if "it sounds good, is good".

To come full-circle to your primary question, my personal thought on the situation you pose is that you are taking the correct ethical approach of choosing to work with material you are allowed to use (or record yourself). I strongly commend you for that. But "sound effects source" from copyright FX libraries are perfectly okay too as long as you purchased a license to the library - and trust me, we all use these libraries to pull from, even ones we feel dirty for using sometimes cough cough General 6000 cough cough ;)

And even more, please embrace your recording and editorial skills regardless of what anyone else says. We all have the power and the ability to create the 'Hollywood sound' with our recordings. Your own effects CAN be as good as the major effects, it is indeed attainable. The catch is most of these 'Hollywood sound' type effects are layered and processed in such a way that, yes, a raw single-layer recording of a punch may not be encouraging. But take a meat slap, a bone crunch foley sound, and other such 'foley-able' sounds and edit them together, slam it with a compressor and you can begin to turn these possibly discouraging recordings into a big Hollywood-style punch that is rounded out with a nice thud which hits you in the chest, an ear-piercing crack, and frieghtening flesh slap.

The bigger, primary part of question regarding him/her determining what you use is: it's not their business to tell you what to do. Especially so because it is not paid work. But even so, it's not their business to tell you what to use, and furthermore, undermine you by saying in effect "your sounds can't meet the cinema standard". For example, a client will provide suggestions for what they want their combat aesthetic to sound like (sock punches versus realistic versus cinematic sensational versus hyper-real), but it's not their place to judge what source I'm going to use to develop that sound (and in most cases I know what my go-to's are for each style) - it's not their area of expertise quite frankly to dictate what source I use, and by them approaching me (or you), it's because they value (or should value) the sound judgements you can make about what the right source material is required for developing the aesthetic they want to achieve, in this case, to achieve the "Hollywood sound'. The journey now is developing your creations to mirror a similar aesthetic with your own signature on it. You used your own recordings? so what! If they combine (on their own or in tandem with bough library FX) to achieve the end result of the 'Hollywood' aesthetic, who gives a damn that it was your own material ;)

Good luck with 'wrangling' the client on this one! Sometimes these types of clients can be the trickiest to handle, yet so far it appears that you're doing so with grace and a strong sense of ethical well-being and professional integrity (which is the right road). Embrace it! The silver lining in this situation: this gives you a fantastic opportunity to study the 'Hollywood sound' of others and work at achieving the same type of aesthetic from the ground-up the SAME WAY all these big shows' 'Hollywood sound' started from -> the raw source recordings! The world is your oyster in this situation if you choose to look at it from the angle of "lets create this Hollywood sound he wants to hear".

Hopefully that wasn't too long-winded Melissa. It's such a multi-faceted question!

  • 1
    What a fab answers inspiring answer! Cheers :)
    – Andy Lewis
    Mar 7, 2012 at 11:31
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    Great answer, Stavrosound! I completely agree. Unfortunately this is very hard for him to understand as he thinks it's only a matter of pick and drop sounds in the timeline. But I'm almost sure if I produce some good fx on my own, show them and say "I took this from this great action movie" he will easily believe. Of course I consider to use a few library fx to complement and strength one sound, once in a while, mostly of stuff I'm not able to record (like gun shots and maybe fire)... but yes, the good thing is that it will be a great exercise to learn "how they do it". Mar 7, 2012 at 14:17
  • Indeed! Hopefully it all works out well for you on this one and you create some big cool sounds! Mar 9, 2012 at 10:36
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    This reminds me of the client ;) : Dr. Ian Malcolm: I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done, and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you, you've patented it, and packaged it, you've slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now [pounds table with fists] Dr. Ian Malcolm: you're selling it. Mar 9, 2012 at 10:38
  • Ahah! Couldn't describe it better myself. This is the exact approach through all that short movie with everything. Obviously, I couldn't expect another attitude from the director. Mar 12, 2012 at 17:19

Here is how I look at it - don't use the stolen sounds, but imitate them using original material to the best of your ability. If the director wants the "hollywood" sound, show off your abilities by making your effects sound like the ones he or she is so fond of. Make this director want the "Melissa" sound.

If you're worried about time already spent - don't. It's a free project that I would imagine you've done for practice, right? It'll be great practice to try and "wow" this short sighted director. If he or she doesn't budge, well, it might suck that you didn't see it through to completion but at least you would be able to leave the project with your morals and dignity intact.

Good luck Melissa, and kudos to you for your sense of artistic integrity.

  • Thank you for your answer. I don't think that would result anyway, because there's not enough insight from the director... i made already very close sfx to the cliche punches and impacts and "it wasn't that good" simply because it didn't came from a super library, although I was even asked by some people if I took them from any... and is if sounds came all ready to simply drop them in the timeline... Mar 6, 2012 at 20:56

It sounds like a major client management situation. What i recommend is taking a plank wood, about a metre long, then hammering some nails through one end...

Ha, kidding.

But you should never let a client make you do something that's "over the line" for you (i'm talking serious stuff, not just insisting on some cliche like a heartbeat or underground wind). I don't really know the relationship you have with the director, or what you've tried, but i recommend sitting down and explaining the situation slowly and clearly. See if you can get him to work with you on finding a solution that satisfies you both, rather than just brickwalling your attempts. And if he really wants those "Hollywood FX", then you can go on Sounddogs or Productionmusic, or some other online FX library, and i'm sure you can get what you need for $100 or less (paid for by the production).

I'm sorry to be blunt, but the guy sounds like an idiot. I know these situations can be tricky, especially when you're a few weeks in, but if you stand firm on your convictions you'll either get your way, or get rid of him. Someone who's worth developing a working relationship with would never be so disrespectful.

Fight the good fight!


Seems like a tough situation. Since you're not being paid for this I would stick to your guns, make your points to the director and get as many other people in the production team to back you up, I bet he wouldn't like it if you simply replaced a scene from this movie with one from another film... If this were a real world situation where you were being paid and the director's word was final, fair enough but I think you should stand firm on this, take pride in your work and the effort you put in.


Get that conversation in writing. An ordinary email to the guy expressing your worries, then wait for the reply. Just in case......


Don't do it, you really don't want to ever be put in this situation.

Just make it clear that you can only continue to work on the project if everything is legal.


Wow. Can't believe your 'friend' would dare to ask you this. It's the equivalent of him ripping off a Hollywood script and passing it off as his own.

A) never compromise your own personal integrity.
B) free gigs never turn out well. Tell your friend to start paying you min wage for the project. Money begets respect. Respect for your time and respect for your creative decisions. I've done favors for people before and it usually doesn't end well. C) you can have the director pick and choose his sfx from soundsnap and then he can have 'Hollywood' sounds legally.

It's not what sounds you have, it's what you do with them.

  • Well, they want to see the results and do not comprehend the whole process of creating sound for picture. In fact, even the plot and the editing, don't help my work at all. I try to stay apart from this and focus on my work only, as long as it doesn't play with my dignity... Mar 12, 2012 at 17:23

If you are completely honest with yourself, is your original recordings (I presume foley type stuff) as good as the 'Hollywood' sounds you're talking about? Will the movie be broadcast in any way (even just at a local cinema or something)? Is there any way to buy the Hollywood sound fx and therefore not make them illegal (I know plenty studios who use sound libraries from various sources, morals intact)? I reckon answering these questions might point you in a direction....

  • No, of course I'm not assuming that my own sfx are as good as the HW FX and that ain't the matter, and there is now way those fx can be bought. I'm dealing here with a lack of knowledge regarding the sound production and an open request for dishonesty, since there's this line of thought that no one cares, no one notices. It'd be the same thing as having the same punch lines for one character stolen from any (good) movie. Mar 7, 2012 at 0:46
  • Ah, I see. Well, as Stavrosound alluded to, if you layer a few sounds of your own I'm sure you'll be able to create the sound the client is after. It's completely commendable that you're taking this ethical viewpoint (and sticking to it), especially in the light that you're not even being paid (although that could be worse in some ways). Stick to your guns and let them know why it's illegal. And as you mentioned, you could just try and say it is hollywood edge recordings. See what they say. Best of luck with it anyway. Mar 7, 2012 at 19:10

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