Interview: Soundbites with SoundBits
SoundBits has contributed some great sound effects to Zapsplat (which you can download an use for free here) and the thing about their content is you never know what’s coming next. Their libraries span the full range from the cinematic, gruesome and sinister to Foley and human vocalizations. First up, here’s a demo for just some of their content:
So when I heard that they released a new library, Antiques, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up with Saro Sahihi (the owner of SoundBits) to find out more about his process and where his diverse range of ideas come from. Oh yes and keep reading for news of an exclusive discount he’s offering to the Zapsplat community.
ZS: What first kindled your interest in sound and how did you start indulging that interest?
SB: There was no special event that triggered my interest in sound. But I always had a deep affinity to any audio-visual stuff and felt a strong urge for being creative and to create something.
ZS: How did you get started, either professionally, in a volunteer capacity or both?
SB: I didn’t make a definite decision to become a sound designer at some point. It’s been a very long process. Always driven by that urge I mentioned before. It all started about 17 years ago, when some friends and I decided to do some hip-hop and electronic music. I was very curious about beat making and all that technical stuff. I got my hands on some simple tools for that along with Cubase (Version 3.5, a long time before SX). I got deeper and deeper into audio production, made a lot of mistakes, good mistakes.
I spent all my money on new (and constantly changing) audio equipment. The drivers license and my first car had to wait since I spent all that money for 2 Yamaha DSP Factory Cards with 4 I/O Expansions and Cubase (until today the best DSP Mixer/FX integration) and later a full grown Creamware Scope System. Well, while I was not even close to knowing what these system were capable of. But it taught me a lot.
In 2004 I decided to do audio-production more professionally and started my formal education at SAE Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. I successfully graduated in 2006. Where I later worked as a lecturer, supervisor and was also responsible for industry relations.
ZS: Were there any sound libraries or sound designers that particularly inspired you coming up?
SB: In 2010 I agreed to do the sound design for a short film, without having deeper knowledge of film sound post-production. This task later developed into me overseeing the entire sound production of this project, while it evolved into a full feature movie.
In that process I came across the Sound Ideas General 2000 and 3000 sound libraries. I was fascinated by the amount and quality of the offered sounds, which made it possible to accomplish a satisfying result. This experience was my first encounter with professional sound effect libraries and made me want to create one of my own (Screams & Shouts).
During the time I was building industry relations at SAE Institute I got in touch with Brian Nimens from Sound Ideas. So I mentioned my efforts to him in our ongoing e-mail conversations asking for his professional feedback. He was very supportive and even asked for a non-exclusive buyout – mind blown. This encouraged me to dive deeper into the world of recording and creating sound effects. The timing was just right with the Independent Sound Effects market. Today I am working with strong partners such as Pro Sound Effects, A Sound Effect and Sonniss.
ZS: You’re a very prolific sound producer and your libraries cover a wide range of subjects. How do you organize such a wide range of ideas. Do you work on several libraries at once or focus exclusively on one project at a time?
SB: I do work on several projects simultaneously, usually with an emphasis on the one I feel like working on for which I see the best immediate recording opportunities. Sometimes I have a libraries lying in wait for 2 years, while another three others are being completed.
ZS: Are you suddenly inspired with ideas for libraries that you then act on, or do you plan quite far ahead?
SB: It’s both. But mostly it’s these sudden events, words or things that I see or hear that trigger an Idea for a new library. This idea is then thought through in terms of feasibility, and time and money investment.
ZS: It certainly doesn’t seem like it from the uniform quality of your libraries, but is there or has there ever been a particular area of sound design that you feel drawn to – that you particularly enjoy? If so, has the area you have the greatest affinity with changed over time?
SB: I’ve always been a big fan of any powerful sounds implying motion and momentum, as you may have noticed from all my whoosh, impact and transition-related releases. This affinity is not replaced, but complemented by a growing passion for recording and editing Foley-style sounds and hard effects. As you can hear in the Antiques, Open & Close and the Sound Design Elements Series.
ZS: What’s been the most challenging sound effects library you’ve ever produced and can you tell us about some of the challenges?
SB: I’d say Screams and Shouts 1 & Screams & Shouts 2 feel like the most challenging ones, because gathering all the human scream queens and kings was quite time consuming and took a lot of initiative and persuasion skills on my part.
ZS: Do you like to keep up with the latest and greatest tools, either hardware or software, or do you have a set that works well for you that you stick with?
SB: Mostly yes. I am always keen to check out new tools and updates and am always on the hunt for fresh inspiration and new possibilities to speed up and improve my workflow. I am also in close contact or in Beta teams of several manufacturers to get my hands on new stuff ASAP and to bring in my own ideas.
ZS: What equipment do you use when you’re recording?
SB: For field recording I mostly use the following gear: Recorders: Sonosax SX-R4+ (+ Sound Devices MixPre-D); Sound Devices MixPre-6; Sound Devices 744T and the Sony PCM-100. Mics: Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF Kit; Sennheiser MKH 30 + MKH 8050 MS Kit; Sennheiser MKH 8060 and the Beyerdynamic MC950 + Ambient ATE208 MS Kit 2x RODE NT1-A … and of course a bunch of Rycote Stereo Windshields and a Rycote Cyclone 10.
ZS: I was particularly struck by how, in your libraries “Tiny Transitions” and “Tiny Transitions 2“, you turned the most mundane of sounds, including simple human vocalizations into cool whooshes and pass-bys. Can you tell us something about the types of processing you like to use when you’re going for a more abstract sound – favorite plugins etc?
SB: It’s mostly editing like layering, pitch shifting, time stretching, reversing, fading, … Also using reverb and delay tails and of course a lot of modulation and special effects. For the source sounds I recorded mostly stuff and actions that already came close to a transition sound in terms of volume envelope behavior.
Generally when going for more abstract sounds I am glad to have tools such as Soundtoys’ Tremolator, Chrystalizer and Phasemistress, Krotos’ Reformer Pro, Cablesguys’ Shaperbox, Convolution Reverbs and sequenced or modular effect racks such as Sugarbytes’ Effectrix, Artillery and Turnado, Glitchmachines Fracture XT or lately Unfiltered Audio’s Byome. There are also some great stand-alone tools like Sound Particles, PaulStretch 3 or Digital Brain Instruments Transformer or Voxpat 2.
ZS: I really enjoy the cinematic sounds you’ve produced. It’s easy to recognize that powerful, larger-than-life cinematic sound when you hear it, but it can be much harder to quantify. What makes a sound “cinematic” for you?
SB: I agree, it’s pretty hard to quantify, I also have to play it by ear. I’d give the cinematic tag to sounds which are – as you said – larger-than-life and deliver a feeling of grandeur, emotion and dramatic impact.
ZS: Tell us about your latest library, “Antiques“, how did the idea for that come about?
SB: I walked by an antiques shop in my hometown where a lot of interesting antiques were standing in front of it and in the shop window. Luckily I had the MixPre-6 and the MKH8060 in my backpack. So I stepped inside and told the shop keeper what I do and that his shop was something ‘close to heaven’ for me. He let me in and I instantly started recording for three hours straight, kneeling on the ground in the narrow messy gaps, left between the shelves.
ZS: How did you go about persuading antique dealers to let you handle their wares? Did you have to take any special precautions to avoid wear and tear?
SB: I called quite a few shops and wrote a lot of e-mails, some rejected the idea, some did not react at all but those who invited me, were very friendly and trusting, they let me go wild on my little recording spree unattended.
ZS: Did you borrow/buy the props for studio recording or did you record on location? If you recorded on location, how did you go about mitigating background noise?
SB: I bought some objects in one local flea markets or eBay, but most recordings took place in actual antiques shops. There was a lot of background noise and traffic and workers with electrical tools, so to get some clean recordings, I took the props to some calmer corner of the shop, timed recordings and did multiple takes of every sound to insure having at least one usable recording. Mostly there was still quite a lot of background noise, that I painstakingly cleaned in Izotope’s RX 7 Advanced.
ZS: Were there any props you thought would be more sonically interesting than they turned out to be or vice versa?
SB: That is the ever lasting peril of a sound designer. Items rarely sound as impressive as they look. So yes, there were a lot of beautiful pieces, that disappointed sonically and did not find their way into the library. You can guess my reaction every time the vendor told me some gears had just been oiled.
There are also often items that look rather boring but sound just awesome. There was one very old film projector that I didn’t expect to do anything. It was still working but with heavy wobbling and sometimes got stuck with very cool malfunction sound.
Another example was a metal crank on a public fireplace for adjusting the grillage which made a very special and intense squeaking noise.
ZS: Did you handle any props that were intrinsically very valuable or have interesting stories attached?
SB: Maybe not very valuable ones in terms of monetary worth but some props made such unique sounds due to age and decay, like an old squeaky tobacco cutter, some mechanical video cameras from the 50s and several undefined items, that I just grabbed for their looks or the sounds they made and still am not sure of their actual purpose, but made very valuable additions to the Antiques library.
ZS: With technology evolving so rapidly and, consequently, some sounds on the way to becoming extinct, might we expect an Antiques Volume 2 at some point in the future?
SB: Definitely yes! This and the fact that the distinct sound of an antique item develops with the varying wear and tear of the prop, that make each piece sound unique are more than enough reason to record Antiques 2 some day.
ZS: Do you have any tips for other sound designers or recordists, particularly those just getting started?
SB: Oh, of course: Love your job, always stay hungry for more and never stop learning. Master and know your tools and always have an eye on the market for new tools that might inspire you and speed up / improve your workflow. Be kind but also confident. Build up a network and get into social media… Don’t be afraid of the new. Say ‘Yes’ more often than ‘No’… …but don’t get exploited. Think outside the box and take a look at the other departments.
ZS: Can you tell us anything about your future plans?
SB: I have a few projects in the making, Not going into too much detail there, but you can count on me keeping up the flow of new SoundBits Sound Effects libraries.
Thanks very much to Saro Sahihi of SoundBits for his time. We look forward to seeing what he produces next.
Get discounts on some excellent SoundBits libraries by clicking the button below and using the following discount code at checkout: ZAPSPLAT-DEAL