8

I just started field recording about a year ago. I initially took a tech course on GameAudio, that's what initially sparked my interest. While in the class we were encourage to listen to and study soundfx in games as well as from various sound companies.

One thing I didn't understand and still don't is why sound companies leave the noise in the recordings. Why don't these companies bother cleaning their sounds before releasing libraries?

I don't want to point fingers (as some companies post here), but a lot are pretty huge and have been in the game for a while charging anywhere from $50-$500 per library and sometimes more, but all the sounds have background noise or horribly edited tails.

Is it an expectation that the buyer is responsible for cleaning the sounds or do the clients not care about the noise as they can mask it with other elements of their project (film/music/game etc)?

Am I missing something here?

It's infuriating when you look at a sound library and the page tells you about all the expensive gear used then you purchase and listen and there's background noise in the recordings.

One would think that you'd want to deliver clean sounds, but the more I study libraries the more I realize that is not the case.

I'm not trying to sound like a jerk I just need a clear understanding of what is expected from us as sound designers and recordists.

Ps - when I say background noise I mean hissing, hums, movement noise, muffled talking, traffic etc.. random noises in the background that shouldn't be there

  • funny ..that's something I've noticed too..and surprised me as well..pretty curious to know more about it – coroneddu Jan 22 '15 at 14:52
  • I notice that in the odd sound from a few libraries but it's pretty rare, really poor show if people are releasing sounds like that on mass! – HowardSinden Jan 22 '15 at 15:56
10

I want to tell the story from the designer perspective and I totally agree with Rene's answer. I do sound design for video games. I always prefer non-edited files even if they require some extra work.

Sometimes I find a very nice sound to fit my project but disappointed to see it was ruined because somebody assumed that it is better to add some fancy FX so that the sound would fit some genre in their mind (not mine) perfectly and everybody will love their SFX library. So I'm left with an "if it was unedited it would be very useful sound" with a strange reverb and 3 seconds of fade out on it.

Let's check what the Library Producer says about that:

I don't have context. I'm giving you all of the clean sound that was in the air in that moment, and relying on you to use that sound as you see fit in your project. If I were to do a fade that I might like, you'd be cursing me for that the moment my fade didn't match your context.

If you do a lot of sound design work you get used to and small clean up requires just a little effort which definitely worths rather than searching for a similar sound although you already have the ruined version of a perfect fit.

I think edited libraries are mostly fast-food libraries for people looking for some quick work that doesn't need or doesn't have budget for a sound design job.

  • Guney, that makes sense. Thanks for for replying. – Lilie Jerns Jan 23 '15 at 15:50
10

Library producer here (echo collective, echo collective:fields)

regarding cleaning background sounds -

All background fx cleaning is destructive and alters the source in some way. The reason this step is not done is because that type of work really requires context to be done well.

In other words, if you place a sound with some background wind or traffic into a mix that has elements which mask it, you'll never hear the wind or traffic anyway, so why degrade the sound by cleaning out parts that won't rate in the mix? Of course, there's always a balance, and if a sound is actually ruined by a background sound then it should not be included in the release, but that said, its amazing what you can get away with regarding low level noise when cutting sfx into films and games. And if you do need to RX something, you can use the context you're placing it in to inform exactly how much NR you need to do.

As an example, on our utility helicopters library there was a highway about a mile away from the tarmac. We obviously didn't use takes where a bomber was cruising overhead, but we were similarly unwilling to discard a take because of a small amount of traffic noise present in the quietest parts of the recordings. With that said, any attempt to completely isloate the helicopter rotor sounds from the traffic would have had at least some impact on the recordings so the mastering process only included time aligning the various mics, hipassing judiciously on certain channels, level balancing, and output. No multiband expansion, no algorithmic noise reduction. There were some spots where I went in with RX and removed various bird chirps and other tiny blemishes, but that was the extent of it.


now lets talk about editing tails - in our pro hockey ambiences library the methodology was this: arrive early, set up mics in one location, record entire game, teardown. change locations in the arena and repeat.

For the various crowd swells and cheers my heads and tails were dictated by the moments that the music director (DJ Whiz) would play a song. Since I can't include copyrighted music in my recordings (and since music ruins crowd recordings regardless of copyright issues) my decision was to end the file (with no fade) the moment before the music started playing. Sometimes Whiz would be right on top of a play with a music cut, and I wouldn't have much for crowd tails. Sometimes he'd let it breathe or otherwise search for a different cut for a bit and I'd have nice long tails. In either case, I left max tails in the recordings and cut them off with no fade (ok, a 5ms fade) right before the music kicked into the recording.

The reason for not including a fade is the same reason I don't do NR on library releases - I don't have context. I'm giving you all of the clean sound that was in the air in that moment, and relying on you to use that sound as you see fit in your project. If I were to do a fade that I might like, you'd be cursing me for that the moment my fade didn't match your context.


field recording is a messy business. The world is polluted with noise, and while good mic choices and technique will yield very good recordings, they won't stop the world from being noisy.

With that said, the industry standard is to do zero noise reduction or expansion, and to leave tails as long and unfaded as the recordings allow. Its not a bug, its a feature. :)

tldr - noise reduction and fades are destructive and require context.

  • 1
    I can hear multitudinous echoes of the phrase 'hold the roll' running through my head right now & I'm with you all the way… :) Also, incidentally reminds me of the time i cleaned up an entire short movie soundtrack, killed every extraneous noise & squeak - then the director made one edit & dropped the original soundtrack back in. Last time I worked with him. – Tetsujin Jan 22 '15 at 19:14
  • well..makes a lot of sense now .. thanks for the input – coroneddu Jan 22 '15 at 21:09
  • 1
    Well, if audio library has recordings from start to finish it's a different thing, but if it contains single shot edited or constructed samples which are noisy it's unforgivable, since you can't use NR efficiently without proper noise sample. – sauli Jan 22 '15 at 22:18
  • I appreciate the detailed response. It really puts a lot into perspective.I understand that outside recordings will yield bg noise as expected. What would you say is the standard is (noise wise) for FOLEY recordings. Those captured in controlled environments. I understand that context plays a role, but I always figured the cleaner, the better as it allows the client to create their own environment. – Lilie Jerns Jan 22 '15 at 22:32
  • Now I have to toss names out there. Ric Viers.. His libraries (foley/field) are clean and they sound great imo. SoundDogs & SoundIdeas (just naming two).. I shouldn't be able to hear the light buzz, the refrigerator, AC in the bg, handling noises (at times) etc. I don't think those should be kept in the recordings. As a client, I'd rather add those elements during post if needed. Am I being a little too critical here? Is there a standard for isolated recordings or is this where the recordist's/designers personal taste and QC come into play? Thanks again, you guys are amazing. -Lilie – Lilie Jerns Jan 22 '15 at 22:42
1

In addition to the very good answers here, I'd also add that most destructive noise reduction adds artifacts at certain points within the frequency domain, and while those are imperceptible in isolation, if you're layering multiple layers together which each have those artifacts, they can add up to being quite audible on their own.

For example, MP3 encoding is effectively similar to most destructive NR techniques. It takes imperceptible noises away, but also adds in new imperceptible noises. As an experiment, take any one of your projects where you have, say, 10+ tracks. Bounce each track to a separate 192Kbps MP3. Each track sounds fine, right?

Now pull all 10 tracks, completely unaltered, back into a DAW, and listen. Sounds like it's gone through a blender filled with gravel, right?

Those little tiny imperceptible artifacts add up much more quickly than the sound you actually want to hear.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.