My Exclusive Q and A with Designing Sound

“The Recordist”, an Independent SFX Company by Frank Bry [Exclusive Q&A]

Originally Posted on Designing Sound by Miguel on Thursday, August 5, 2010

Frank Bry is a sound designer and recordist who has worked on several game titles such as Dungeon Siege Series, Supreme Commander Series, Metroid Prime Series and more. He also likes to record sound effects and has an incredibly amount of sounds in his library.

Today I’m going to talk about his company, called The Recordist, a place where Frank deliver sound effects since 1999. He has a lot of different packs and all kinds of sounds, and lately he is releasing “Ultimate collections”, big packs of hi quality sound effects on a very affordable price.

His catalog has different categories, including a standard packs (Soundbox SD) with 16-Bit/44.1kHz sounds of all types, such as airplanes, doors, fire, thunder, trains and more! There’s also another option with better qualities called Soundbox HD Professional, offering all kind of sounds with 24-Bit/96kHz quality.

And the other category is called Soundbox Pro. There, Frank releases big packs of sound effects at 24-Bit/96kHz. The first of this category was Ultimate Concrete:

The Ultimate Concrete Sound Effects Library from The Recordist contains an incredible 662 concrete blocks, bricks, ceramics, sidewalk slabs and debris sounds. Recorded and mastered at 24-Bit 96kHz and over a year in the making this library is one of a kind collection of concrete sound effects ready for destruction.

Contains the following source and actions:
– Cinderblocks, bricks, ceramics pots, chimney liners, sidewalk slabs, cement debris.
– Dropped, hit, dragged, dumped, smashed, crushed, rubbed, broken, scraped, scooped, handled, moved.

And the second one was releases this week, called Ultimate Ice:

The Ultimate Ice Sound Effects Library from The Recordist contains a whopping 715 cracks, impacts, scrapes, rubs, tension and icicle debris sounds. Recorded at 24-Bit 96kHz and over 4 freaking cold North Idaho winters in the making this new library will give you the chills. Ice has lots of character depending on how cold the environment is. I can sound brittle, crunchy, solid, wet and like glass. It has many uses in audio production for video games, film and television but is most useful for keeping your beer cold.

Contains the following source and actions:
– Puddles, drainage ponds, solid blocks, melting snow banks, icicles, ice sheets.
– Cracked, hit, dragged, dropped, smashed, crushed, rubbed, scraped, scooped, handled.

Also, there are three more HD packs available including Thunderstorm HD, Broken World Glass and Special Edition.

And you may be wondering… where are the free sounds? Here you can find lots of free MP3 sound effects

And to know more about this project and Frank, here is a Q&A session I had with him. Hope you enjoy it!

Designing Sound: Frank, I see you’ve been in this industry for a long time. Please tell us how you got your start and how your career has evolved over time.

Frank Bry: I moved from Boston to Seattle in 1989 to be a songwriter. Rumor had it that Seattle had a vibrant music scene and was ready to explode. It was possible to hear Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains in the local clubs. It was the beginning of the Grunge Era that exploded on the national scene in the early 90′s. Seattle was THE place to be.

I had an Emulator III that I wrote music on and was always looking for new musical instrument sounds. Because I was not earning a living as a songwriter, I had to find a new way to pay the bills. After a while a few Seattle based commercial composers found out that a new “EIII guy” was in town who had sounds. They started hiring me as a sound designer for their projects even though they had no clue that I had no idea what I was doing. Over the next few years the sound effects design gigs rolled in and I was off and running. I also had the good fortune to be hired as a recording engineer on various projects.

With every up comes a down and by 1993 I was scratching my head trying to figure out how I was going to pay the rent. I had lots of time on my hands so after trading some equipment for a used portable DAT machine and some used DAT tapes, I ran around Seattle and recorded whatever I could. I compiled the sounds and started peddling them to various CD sound effects library companies. I finally got a bite with a major supplier of CD sounds effects libraries. In the end, I had some CD library material to work with for my next idea… video games. I found out it’s not easy to get in the video game industry so I gave up that idea, but I kept on track recording and designing my own sounds. Then, completely by accident, a friend introduced me to the Audio Director at Starwave Corporation, a new media start-up funded by a Microsoft co-founder. Starwave was working on CD-ROM multimedia titles with Sting, Clint Eastwood, Peter Gabriel, and The Muppets, along with major sports and entertainment Internet websites, and they needed a sound designer. So by 1995 I was Senior Sound Designer at Starwave.

After a couple of years at Starwave I moved to North Idaho, built a studio, and landed Total Annihilation, Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights and Metroid Prime. I continued to record my own sound effects and continued to sell some of them to the major SFX library players along with archiving my own SFX for a possible library release of my own. By 1998, the Internet had hit in a big way and I started as a vehicle to promote my sound design services for video games. To get traffic to my site, I gave away free original sound effects in mp3 format. Funny, we were on 14.4 modems back then and we still downloaded stuff… slowly.

I have really enjoyed my career. From musician to songwriter to recording engineer to sound designer and sound effects recordist, it’s been a great ride, and I have worked with some amazing people.
If you would not mind, I would like to thank the guys who gave me my first shot. Steve Allen, Dan Dean and Chris Taylor: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me.

DS: When and why did you decide to start your own sound effects company? How has it evolved?

FB: Around 2004 I started getting requests for the original CD quality versions of the mp3 sound effects that I offered for free on my website. The mp3 versions were offered for non-commercial use only, but some people wanted to use them in their projects. I told them to send my $5.00 per sound and I’ll email you the 16-Bit 44.1k versions in WAV format. Well, this was a challenge because most requests were for sounds they needed “right now.” You know, deadlines and all that. I thought of the a la carte approach like but that was way out of my technical reach even for 250 sounds. So I continued on with the email system for some time to the frustration of some customers, but it worked well and most understood that it might take a few hours to get the sounds to them. Some of my sounds are still available on The Sounddogs people are great to work with and I am grateful to them for launching my sounds online.

Because I like to record and work with lots of source material, I thought that maybe I could do sets of sounds for a good price and see how that worked. By 2008, the tech with online digital delivery had evolved enough that I came up with the idea of “SoundBox” collections. My friend Paul Virostek of fame told me about a third party service that would connect to the payment system and deliver the sounds to the customer. The SoundBox was born. Originally I offered just my CD quality sounds. As I recorded more high definition material, I started to offer that online. Currently I have 120+ SoundBox collections for sale and recently, thanks to Tim Prebble (Hiss and Roar) and Chuck Russom, we have super-sized everything! It’s very cool what they started with the massive sound collections for a great price. Cheers to Tim and Chuck!

DS: We’ve seen similar projects these days. I personally love all of them because they give fresh and new sound sources to work with at a very affordable price. What do you think about this new wave of independent sound effects distribution?

FB: I think it’s wonderful! There is some amazing stuff available from some incredibly talented designers and recordists. I wish this kind of material was available when I started out in video games. I also know what it costs to get unique sounds recorded, organized, edited, and mastered. It’s a great deal.

DS: Is there any difficulty or something you would like to change on that model of distribution? What is needed now?

FB: It’s all good. We’re all just regular guys making sounds that get our juices flowing, give us joy, and maybe make us a little dough. If it gets too complicated, it’s not worth it. The cool thing about all of this is the individual. When you buy sounds in this new model you are actually getting the personality, soul, and vibration from the sound designer. I kind of get a feeling by listening to the sounds available what a person is like. It’s very cool. Am I getting way too out there? Who knows what the future will bring? I never even imagined this.

DS: How was your experience recording Ice? Do you have any special stories about that adventure?

FB: Cold…freaking cold! North Idaho is an amazing place to live year-round but sometimes the winter is very long. Over the last four years I have gotten up way too early in the morning in the winter to scope out my property to see if any new ice had formed. North Idaho, believe it or not, has very dry air in the winter and summer. Average snowfall is around 14 feet a year so there is lots of source. After a storm, I plow off my driveway with my trusty JD tractor and eventually end up with eight-foot snowbanks. During the day the sun melts some of the snow and it flows onto my pot hole ridden dirt driveway. Overnight the top freezes over and the water underneath evaporates, leaving an air pocket for amazing ice crack material! I would go crazy running around my seven acre ranch with a mic, cracking the ice with my feet, a wood stick, my hand, etc. I would also drop and kick around the ice pieces when it was very cold to make frost and debris sounds. Sometimes after a heavy winter rain, my fields would pool up and freeze over and I would hit those also.

Up here in snow country, most of the houses and barns have metal roofs so that the snow will slide off easily. Snow from one side of my house roof falls onto a very large deck. Over the course of the winter the snow pile can reach six feet, and when the early spring rains come, it turns into solid ice. One winter I broke the ice up into large blocks to get them off the deck. For the ice block recording I strapped my Sony PCM-D1 recorder to the block and slid it around on the icy wood deck. I almost crushed the recorder, by accident, as the block smashed into the side of the house a few times.

Up behind my house at 3000 feet above sea level there is a rock quarry that was blasted out for a housing development (no houses yet). Because the road up there was so steep and had many switch-backs, the developers were required to install many drainage ponds. One day I went up there after some of the coldest temperatures I’ve experienced here and found a pond that had frozen over with six-inch thick ice and a massive air pocket underneath. I was in heaven! I completely demolished the entire ice slab and got some great material. Possibly a once in a lifetime experience.

DS: And what about the concrete library? You recorded a lot of different concrete elements (some of them appear really dangerous to record)… How did you go about this?

FB: Making the Ultimate Concrete SFX library was quite an experience… lots of heavy lifting and a sore back. I did use my tractor for a lot of the heavy stuff but most of it was done by hand. It was really fun destroying concrete. It makes such a great noise when hit and smashed, solid but with unique tones. I spent about a year recording all of it in my yard. When I bought the property it came pre-installed with tons of concrete blocks, bricks, and slabs. One day I was digging around with the tractor in an embankment to clear a flat, dirt covered area to record sounds and I uncovered the floor of an old barn that had burned down. It was buried under four feet of dirt in the hillside. I said to myself, “Man this is cool! My own outdoor foley studio to break and smash things.” Most of the concrete was laid to rest on this floor. I also used this floor for my upcoming Ultimate Rockslide library.

Recording the concrete was a little dangerous at times. I wasn’t really worried though; it’s not like I’m on a rock cliff at 3000 feet pushing stones over (which I did for the Ultimate Rockslide library). I was mostly concerned for my hands. I did not want to smash them because I kind of need them for my work. I do most of my recording alone, and at times it’s tough because I’m concerned with the technical aspect of getting a good recording and with getting a great performance. It can be daunting and dangerous. I always remember: gear can be replaced, body parts cannot.

DS: Have you had any kind of accident during those recordings? Perhaps an accident that became a great and unique recording?

FB: Yes. One time as I was lifting heavy concrete slabs in the air with the tractor, the engine stalled. I had hearing protection on, and as I was taking off the hearing protection, my arm hit the lever that lowers the metal bucket. The bucket slammed into the ground with the engine off… CLANK! What a sound! I will do more of that in the future; it was awesome.

Also, one time when I was recording ice on the drainage pond I slipped and fell. The ice collapsed under me and with my weight on the ice it made a great ice KABOOM! It’s in the library. I won’t say which recording, but you can hear faint profanity.

DS: What are your favorite tools for field recording and for the sfx mastering process?

FB: My recording rig consists of a just few microphones and recorders. My current favorite microphone is the Sanken CSS-5 stereo shotgun. To me, it has a sweet, warm sound. It also has two different stereo width settings and one mono that I can switch to on the spot very quickly, depending on the source, without a lot of bulky external matrix boxes. It is kind of heavy so handling noise is sometimes an issue. I just upgraded my Rycote suspension with the latest plastic cradle and it’s much better. I also have a AT-835ST stereo shotgun that is very light and easy to hold on a 16 foot boom. It also sounds pretty good for a mid-priced microphone. It has a bump at 6 or 7k that sometimes is too much, but I can master it out if needed. I do want to expand my microphone collection soon.

I use a Sound Devices 702 recorder, which I love. It’s easy to use, sounds great, and is very sturdy. I also have a Fostex FR-2 that I do not use that much, only when I want to have multiple microphones recording at the same time. I love the limiter on The FR-2. You can hit the input pretty hard and it holds up. The only downside is battery life. Using AA’s with it just doesn’t last too long. It was my first high sample rate recorder and I have fond memories using it to record thunder at my old mountain cabin.

My “Oh my god what’s that! I need to record that now” unit is my trusty Sony PCM-D1. It’s a wonderful, compact recorder with great microphones. I do a lot of recording on the fly with it and get awesome results. It’s always ready at the front door in case I need to run out and record something. I used it quite a bit on my Ultimate Ice library because it handled the extreme cold very well and was easy to carry around while I was slipping, sliding, and sometimes falling on my butt.

I also keep a Sony D-50 recorder in my SUV at all times. It’s a great compact device that I like having with me on the road. I expect the unexpected. Passing sirens, traffic, anything cool to record while I’m away from home. Recently I had to pick up my wife at Spokane International Airport and arrived a little early. I drove around and found a spot at the end of the runway and placed the D-50 on a tripod out the window and recorded some great jet landings. The wind was calm, it was quiet, a perfect day to record jets.

I edit and master my sound effects 90% of the time on my Pro Tools HD2 rig with version 8 software. I love Pro Tools for editing hundreds of small files in a take at a time. I have most of the plug-ins available and use some quite a bit in mastering the SFX. Waves L2, MV2, C4 and PuigTec EQP-1A are my favorites right now. I use the Eventide Anthology II collection for FX stuff and beefing up sounds as needed. The Eventide Octavox Harmonizer is very cool for the beef.
I also use BIAS Peak Pro 6.2 for the Mac sometimes for the longer length ambient SFX editing and mastering. At times it’s easier and quicker to load Peak Pro, top and tail, master and save. Sound done. I have a back log of around 2000 recordings so sometimes I just want to lighten the load and work quickly without making a full on Pro Tools session when I can do it with a two-track editor. I like Peak, been using for many years. It’s a beast though, has way to many features for my simple editing needs. I wish I could find a simple, powerful, visually modern looking audio editor.

DS: Besides your SFX company, what kind of projects are you involved in these days?

FB: Most recently I finished up some Supreme Commander 2 downloadable content sounds for Gas Powered Games and sound effects design on Monday Night Combat for Uber Entertainment. Earlier this year I worked on 5.1 Cinematic sound design and mix for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and all the sound effects for the full release version of Supreme Commander 2. It’s been a busy year so far and with the new sound effects libraries I have been recording it means “no rest for the wicked.”

Thanks for allowing me to do this interview.

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