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Tools and Resources for Sound Designers

By • Jul 11th, 2008 • Category: Backstage, ShowBizRadio

For The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and it’s one act opening show (The Least Offensive Play in the Whole Darn World), (opening tonight, get your tickets now!) I ended up compiling the sound effects and music, as well as stage managing. And because there are so many sound cues in the two shows, the light guy (Chris Young, an up and coming lighting designer and all around good egg) and I decided we should run the sound cues from my laptop.

I used several applications on my PowerBook to grab, tweak, and prepare the effects and music we use for the shows:

  • iTunes from Apple (free, Mac, Windows). For playing the sounds during performances, and as a source for music (see below).
  • Audacity (free, Mac, Windows, Linux). Open source software for recording and editing sounds.
  • QuickTime Pro from Apple. ($30, Mac, Windows). For converting sound file formats. I use to convert bit rates to 44.100kHz.
  • Perian (free, Mac). A QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats, notably Flash.
  • Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba ($32 for hijackings longer than 10 minutes, Mac). Used to grab audio from video clips that wouldn’t allow the audio to be exported.
  • MP3Gain (free, Mac, Windows). Analyzes and adjusts mp3 files so that they have the same volume.

Other tools that should be a part of your audio toolbox, but I didn’t need for this project:

  • VLC (free, Mac, Windows). Another multimedia player. I use it because it supports the Ogg Vorbis audio and Ogg Theora video format, which you’ll stumble across occasionally.
  • Fission from Rogue Amoeba ($32, Mac). Allows you to copy, paste and trim audio, as well as split files, all with no quality loss. I tend to use Audacity for similar functionality, but Fission is a bit easier to use. (You can buy Fission with Audio Hijack Pro for $50, save $14).

Here are a few of the places you can get music and sound effects:

  • Freeplay Music Lots of music samples in many genres.
  • iTunes Store for Music 99 cents a song, very convenient for late night sessions when the director says “How about….”
  • EMusic Inexpensive monthly plan to collect music. A lot of smaller labels.
  • Pacific Digital Video Free Sound Effects Short everyday sound effects, mostly in .wav format.
  • YouTube Videos of every sort. Simply download the .flv file that makes up the video, then use QuickTime Pro with Perian to extract the audio.
  • Open Source Audio An enormous amount of materials, almost too much to look though, including presidential speeches, limited run CDs, podcasts, etc.
  • LibriVox Free readings from public domain books. Could be useful for maybe a voiceover at the beginning of a program.
  • Opsound A project to make new music available for free.
  • Garage Band Independent musicians.
  • SoundTaxi Royalty free music, after paying one license fee.
  • And of course don’t forget your own music collection. If you have time, ask your cast and crew if they have any music that would be appropriate for the show.

Make sure you stay legal with the licensing of music you play. Non profit organizations, educational theaters, and commercial groups will have different licensing concerns. For example, see the AACT/ASCAP License Agreement for Community Theatres. Some licenses, notably many of the Creative Commons licenses, require that the artist or performer is attributed in your show’s playbill or program.

Later this weekend I will share the process I used to prepare the sound effects of the ScriptCleaner5000. And then I’ll go through the setup I used in iTunes to run the sound and music. If you have any questions or suggestions for articles on sound in theatre, just leave a comment here or email me.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

2 Responses »

  1. Hi Kevin, I added in a 30 second track of silence between each sound cue. Then all I have to do is hit the space bar to stop the track from playing. So far it’s worked out fine, but I’ll check out your app as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. […] Last summer, I promised you an article detailing how I mixed tiogether various sounds to create new sound effects. Sorry about the delay, but here’s the promised article. […]