When faced with a design challenge, what is your first instinct: To reach for a mic or a piece of software?

Of course it often depends on the project or task at hand, but in general, where does your creative mind take you first?

7 Answers 7


I'll usually reach for a mic first, but it's an efficiency thing for me. The bulk of our sound effects at work is on cd, and I just can't bring myself to transfer and log all those CDs to a hard drive. There are much better uses of my time.

If I'm challenged by a particular element, I don't want to spend the time auditioning through all of those CDs either. I can easily lose an hour of my work day looking for just the right sound. I'd rather take 10-15 and get something that's either close, or perfect if I'm lucky. Then, as a bonus, my hard drive based effects library has grown as well. Every little piece I add here and there means one less sound I have to turn to those CDs for.

Of course, I usually reach for a piece of software immediately after I get it into the timeline....sometimes you just gotta tweak. ;)

p.s. I do go to our sound effects library very frequently. I tend to bypass it only when I know it's going to take a certain amount of effort to collect the sounds I need out of it to build the sound I want. Just thought I should add that clarification.


For a long time I was 95% library and processing and 5% recording with a mic. But in the last 6 months I have been making a very concerted effort to get out and record original project specific sounds. And I don't think it is a coincidence that I started reading this website with fervour in that same time frame, this site has definitely been a source of inspiration and knowledge.

I still go to my library often because I know it so well but I feel so much more of a sense of accomplishment and creative fulfillment when I set up a mic to capture that perfect sound. And best of all I think the clients have noticed it and they are happy as well.

Thanks to all for the creative rejuvenation.


At my day job I have the opposite problem as Shaun. Every sound effect I have has been digitized with Ripper and cataloged in the workspace. Meanwhile it's the microphones and preamps that I have to go down the hall, pull from the closet and set up in order to use.

Since I'm always in "the box" I'm already reaching for software when the challenge arises. What I find to be the biggest challenge is the latitudinal thinking of: What sounds am I hearing in my mind? How can I best get those frequencies/transients/envelopes represented? Okay, now what search terms do I need?

Sometimes, on more complicated scenes, I do have to get up and setup a scratch mic and vocalize it all out so I don't lose ideas for one sound while working on another. But 98% of the time the end result is derived from library fx.

At home, my library is small. So, rather than give more money to Sound Ideas, Hollywood Edge, etc. I've invested in mics and gear in an attempt to be forced out of my routine of staying in the box.

Now I just need to not be spending so much time at work! :)


Software first for me. When I want to frighten, I like to take animal sound effects and make them sound entirely different from the original. I also like to mess with synthesizers like Absynth 5 for some cool effects. The last piece of software I reach for is my virtual instrument library by EastWest/Quantum Leap. They have some pretty interesting sounds that you can use in a non-musical sense.


I like to use a mixture of both. Sometimes I just don't time to spend creating a new interesting city atmos and go with a couple from the library. However I do try as much as possible to create new sounds as I hate being given the same stuff from our library for every flipping show we do.

I've just bought as Zoom H1 so as of next week I can really start to collect random stuff to use which is something I've struggled with these last few years since my MD recorder died.

One thing I often do is collect ideas. That's to say I had the idea of creating an unsettling atmosphere to use in a house that didn't contain any room tone or sounds you'd expect to hear. I thought if I used some wind sounds and added room size reverbs I could create a sound that matched the image but also made it uncomfortable. I've finally found a a place to use it, don't you just love short films, such a great place to experiment.

Sounds like we're in the same boat Steve!


I wish I could honestly say that I go for the mic first. While I almost always use digital processing in some degree, the organic method of designing is what sound lords like Randy Thom, Gary Rydstrom, Ben Burtt, David Farmer, Ethan Van der Ryn, and many others seem to subscribe to. They seem to be doing well with that, and I'd like to join their camp.

However, I catch myself very often thinking that if I only had that one plugin, then I could make cool sounds. Perhaps I should spend more time browsing noisemakers, and less time drooling over B&H.


I almost always find myself going to my library, then to Freesound.org when I start a new project, assuming the file is something I can automatically import into Sonar to start playing with.

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