Sound design for automobiles


As we move to electric and hybrid vehicles, the relative silence is proving an issue:

Here The Mercedes Benz sound design team talks about how it designs the car acoustics to make the identical engine sound different between it’s family sedan and it’s sport coupé model. (I have been talking about this for years and finally have some proof that they’re doing it!). The key phrase to look out for is “two acoustic patterns for the same engine performance”.

And, the design of the indicator sounds:

Which finally led me to:

Oh dear

An Association for Sound Designers

This email went out to over 100 sound designers working in theatre in the UK today…


Dear All,

Recently a few sound designers got together lamenting the fact that there was no industry body that represented what we as sound designers do. We thought it would be a great thing to set up an association along the lines of the Association for Lighting Designers.

We discussed some of the issues that face a lot of us: parity of pay with other designers, training in emerging technologies (for example transitioning to QLab, or using Ableton Live), raising the profile of our job in the eyes of the industry, amongst others. We looked at some of the things that the ALD does for its members, one of which was the Suggested Fees document. If you haven’t seen this, have a look here:…dFeesSept07.pdf

We thought we’d organise some get-togethers over the coming months where we can meet and chat about these and other issues. Along the way, we can create an Association that can represent and promote what we do, and be a resource that we can all draw on, letting us feel like we are not entirely on our own doing this job.

We are proposing two meetings:

1. Friday, February 18th, at 1pm

2. Friday, April 15th, at 1pm

We would like to invite anyone who makes a living, or a partial living from designing sound for theatre in the UK.

The first meeting will take place in the Ashcroft Room, front of house at the National Theatre, London and will be an opportunity for a lot of us to meet up, perhaps some for the first time. We will also talk about what we have done so far to establish an association. At the end of the meeting we will ask for people to go away and think about volunteering to be on the board.

The second meeting will continue on from the first, and as well as being a great opportunity to talk and set the agenda for what our association does, we will also elect a board and vote on a name for the association.

If you can’t attend just let us know that you are interested (via the link below) and we will send you some record of what happened, and in the case of the second meeting, an opportunity to take part in the voting process.

We envisage holding future meetings in a variety of locations across the UK, not just in London. Our thanks go to the National Theatre for providing us with the space and laying on some light refreshments for our meeting.

We have started compiling a list of sound designers: http://www.garethfry…ads/SDnames.pdf
Apologies if we have left anyone off who should be on this list – we are keen to include everyone working as a sound designer. If you know of someone who isn’t on this list, please let us know by sending an email to we will add them to our list and send them this email. If you want to be removed from the list please let us know too.

Click below to let us know if you can or can’t attend the first meeting or just to register your interest or lack thereof! If you want to share any other thoughts with us prior to the meeting you can reach us by emailling We will be in touch again just before the first meeting.

Yours Sincerely,

Paul Arditti
Nela Brown
Steven Brown
Ian Dickinson
Carolyn Downing
Gregg Fisher
Gareth Fry
John Leonard
David McSeveney
Gareth Owen
Christopher Shutt

Creating a sound effects library with metadata

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks re-building my sound effects library and how I access my sound effects. I thought I’d share some of what I learned.

Where i started from:

I ripped all my CD’s many years ago, long before metadata and the like. Most of my files are simply named, for example BBC41 01.wav. However I like to travel light so I have an mp3 version of my sound library (encoded at 320bps) on my laptop hard drive for getting things fast when I’m in rehearsals and in the theatre.

I have a Filemaker database of most of my sound effects. I got this by downloading the free search engines from Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge and merging them together. From there I used a combination of Butler, AppleScript and Snapper to audition the sounds. I’d click on a sound effect I was interested in hearing in the Filemaker database then press F12, which would launch an AppleScript from Butler. The AppleScript I wrote would look at what I’d clicked on in Filemaker then it would locate the corresponding folder, eg BBC41, then try to click on the right file within that so that Snapper would open and display the waveform and let me listen to it, convert it, etc.

This process worked reasonably well but wasn’t particularly fast or reliable.

Moving forwards

I’ve spent years looking at solutions like SoundMiner v4Net Mix ProBaseheadLibrary MonkeyAudio Finder. But they all seemed very expensive or didn’t quite have the functions I was after. And frankly some of the websites for these very expensive products contain virtually no info about what the product does, how it does it or how you might set it up – hardly conducive to spending many hundreds of dollars on them. A few of them are dongle based, and I hate dongles. I’m often having to work in less than ideal physical locations – balancing on a stool is not uncommon in the latter days of previews, so it’s a pain having these things plugged in, and a nightmare when they get lost. But enough was enough, and there were a few plugins I wanted that necessitated the reluctant purchase of an iLok. Then Soundminer HD was released which seemed to be perfect for me- enough functionality and not too expensive.

Time now for a simplified explanation of metadata. There are essentially 3 common forms in use: BWAV (aka BWF, it is essentially a wav file with an extra section containing info about the audio), Soundminer and mp3 ID3 tags.. The first two types are associated with wav files and the latter with mp3 files. The BWAV metadata is fairly simple, and it’s read and written by lots of different programs, and in different ways. The SoundMiner metadata has more ways of categorising the sounds and has been adopted by the big library producers as a standard, but it isn’t an “open” system so fewer other programs currently understand it. Some boutique sound effects come with just BWAV, or with BWAV and Soundminer. Soundminer handily can use both forms. There’s two nice articles about metadata here and here that go into more detail.

Creating an mp3 version of your files is tricky as most programs that can convert a batch of wav files to mp3 either don’t read the metadata to start with (such as iTunes), or they don’t translate the BWav or SoundMiner data to the mp3 data. Both Soundminer and Basehead (mp3converter and Injectore respectively) make programs that deal with making mp3 versions but they’re expensive ($199).  Soundminer HD has a handy feature to help with this though. It allows you to create a library using the wav files with their BWAV or SoundMiner metadata, then you can relink to mp3 files on another drive retaining the metadata.

So with this in mind I had the following to achieve:

• Get all files into .wav format (I’d ripped some as aif’s)
• Tidy up all the filenames and folders
• Embed metadata into all the .wavs
• Create mp3 versions of all the files
• Build the SoundMiner database with the wav files
• Relink the SoundMiner database to the mp3 files on my laptop

So to do this for yourself:

• Get all files into .wav format

This is a job for iTunes.
In iTunes preferences > Import settings, choose wav files
Create a new playlist and drop all files needing conversion in this playlist. Select all and right click, choose Create WAV version. All the wav files will appear in your main library – right click on one and select Reveal in Finder to get a window with all the files in.

• Tidy up all the filenames and folders

I used a combination of NameMangler and The Big Mean Folder Machine v2 to change the filenames and sort files into folders. After conversion in ITunes you end up with one folder full of files. The Big Folder Machine can be used to automatically create a bunch of folders based on the filenames and move the files into that folder. Name Mangler can then be used to clean up the filenames too, which is essential for embedding metadata.

• Embed metadata into the .wavs

This is one of the trickier aspects to describe so I made a little video tutorial. The Excel formulas mentioned are below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Click here to see it in full-screen:

The Excel formulas I used are:

For files that had index numbers, ie 6001 01 03.wav:

=TEXT(B2,0)&” “&TEXT(C2,”00″)&”.”&TEXT(D2,”00″)&”.wav”

For files without index numbers, ie 6001 01.wav

=TEXT(B2,0)&” “&TEXT(C2,”00″)&”.wav”

I also used this to tidy up tvarious duration fields, for example from “:53: to “0:53″:


I had some files that were extracted without index numbers, but with metadata relating to different indexs. Here I needed to combine the descriptions of the various files into one. I used some Excel formulas to speed this up, though Excel has a limitation of 255 characters to a cell so I had to truncate some of the descriptions.

• Create mp3 versions of all the files

Again I used iTunes for this. It took 2 mac mini’s running full time for about 8 days to convert my entire library. For files that were 192k and 96k I used Twisted Wave‘s batch convert feature to create the mp3’s. The Big Mean Folder Machine then sorted the 85,000+ mp3 files into folders.

• Build the SoundMiner database with the wav files
This was the simple bit – drag and drop my external drive’s wav files into SoundMiner. A very short while later I had a shiny database with all my sound effects complete with metadata.

• Relink the SoundMiner database to the mp3 files on my laptop

I quit SoundMiner and disconnected my external drive. I then restarted SoundMiner which came up with the error message: Cannot find files. Relink? With the option to ignore the file type. With the latter option checked I just had to select the folder of mp3’d sound effects on my internal hard drive and SoundMiner linked to them. Unfortunately it only seems to relink one folder at a time, and as i have one folder per CD that’s a lot of relinking.  But the end result is I now have a big shiny collection of sound effects, all with metadata embedded into them, which makes for faster searching auditioning and being able to seartch my entire collection.

The next step is for me to go though and add all the sounds I’ve created over the years…

PS I’m not affiliated or associated to any of the companies mentioned here.

Some old bits of self-promotion

A nice piece by the Guardian about sound design in theatre:

An audio slideshow about Pains of Youth – nice bits about the prepared piano halfway through

Some video interviews with me about the National Theatre’s production of Women of Troy

An interview with me from 2007 in Lighting & Sound International:

Best of 2010

My best buys of 2010:

Sound Devices 744T
ultimate compact location recorder. Next stop USB Pre2 to get those extra 2 mic inputs

Genelec 1092 sub
for £370 on eBay, an absolute bargain

Sound Cloud
just so useful for letting people audition or download sounds

Spotify Premium
I’ve saved so much money in unnecessary music purchases by being able to listen to a full track

lovely Mac show control software

Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix) – D-Sides (Deluxe Edition) – Gorillaz
Dirty Harry with chinese instrumentation

King Britt Presents: Sister Gertrude Morgan – King Britt
great reinterpretations of southern USA religious chants – crying out to be in a show!

At Home – Bill Bryson
fascinating description of the history of everything you might find at home

LogMeIn Ignition iPhone app.
Very useful for remotely accessing computers – works surprisingly well from a phone

Touch Mouse iPhone app
Very useful for accessin
g computer when watching TV from across the other side of the room!

thetrainline iPhone appVery handy for checking train times

Hipstamatic iPhone app
Produces great retro-style photos:

Disabling audio iLok plug-in’s

I do 90% of my work on a laptop in situ in various theatres and rehearsal rooms. Sometimes I’ve got space to setup my external hard drive and my other acoutrements, including iLok & HASP dongles – which are the bain of my life! Sometimes I don’t though and having just bought a big Waves bundle, if i start up Logic or Live, or FCP or anything else that uses AU or VST plug-in’s I’m now deluged with 30-odd dialog boxes for each plug-in complaining about the absence of my iLok key.

So I’ve written a little AppleScript to disable/enable those plug-in’s acording to whether I’ve got my iLok plugged in. Feel free to use it if you like.

Continue reading “Disabling audio iLok plug-in’s”

Kinect-controlled puppet

Just as the wii-mote has become a popular experimental device for music-making and control of MIDI parameters, it now looks like the Microsoft Kinect device is going to have similar possibilities…

This video clip shows some people using the system, connected to a Mac, to generate a virtual puppet, controlled by the puppeteers arm movements. Some interesting things to come in the future…

Vodpod videos no longer available.