Allow me a moment to take you on a trip back in time to one of my favorite historical eras…
THAT’S SEVENTEENTH CENTURY PRUSSIA YAAAAAALL!
No no wait! Come back! There’s a bear in this story!
Okay, so, Frederick The First, King of Prussia, loved really tall people, which were officially referred to as “giants” at the time.
He loved them so much, in fact, that diplomats from foreign lands would send their tall-folk to the king as tribute. The king even formed an army regiment formed entirely of these vertically-gifted people called Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam.
Frederick loved these Grenadiers far too much to risk them in a war, but he did train with them every single day. And when he was feeling particularly gloomy, he’d just have them all march through his rooms, led by the regiment’s mascot, a live, probably-regular-sized bear.
While King Frederick had a pretty weird filtering mechanism, us sound designers actually need to do a similar thing with our audio assets. We need to keep what we want and get rid of the stuff that we don’t need.
When we start recording our own sounds, we often encounter a ton of noise that can totally ruin an otherwise fine recording. Just like King Frederick, we need to be able to choose just the “giants” and get rid of the stuff we don’t want — and to do that, we need to use a tool that’s crucial to all sound designers: noise reduction.
Basically, noise reduction allows us to get rid of… well noise
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you go out, record, and then transfer those hot hot files to your computer, that you’ll often find things like background traffic noise, low rumbles, hissing, air conditioners, etc. sneaking into your recordings.
And in most cases, we need to get rid of that! The more unwanted background noise that’s in each of our files, the more that will ruin our final effect when we start layering things together, pitching them down, and otherwise adding our truckloads of effects to them.
A lot of sound designers follow a no-noise rule
Meaning that in the sounds that they use, they can contain none of the hiss, or other unwanted “noisy” elements that I outlined earlier. The reason being that the more noisy files you pile on top of one another, the harder things become to discern or mix in-game.
Sure, you may want to use noisy sounds as an effect or a layer. You totally can. Just use it intentionally.
At the very least, do some basic cleanup
Take your app of choice (which I’m gonna cover! Hold on!), and do at least a quick denoising pass on the recordings you’re getting out in the field. Every app works a tiny bit differently, but essentially you point them at a noisy bit of your sound, make the app “learn” what the noise is, and then let it scrub through your audio to clean it up.
Note that when you’re recording, you do want to record a bit of silence before and after the actual thing you’re recording whenever possible. This will leave plenty of easily-detectable noise for your denoising software to pick up and learn from.
There are a lot of denoising options
And the most famous among them is iZotope RX. This quickly became an industry standard, and I can’t think of a single pro sound designer who doesn’t use it.
That being said, RX is pricey, so there are some other great, cheaper options out there, such as Brusfri (which is my personal favorite amongst the cheaper options) and Waves Z Noise or X Noise. Audacity even has a very simple denoising feature built into it. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing!
Not every sound you ever record will need to be denoised, but many of them will. It’s worth the investment to have at least one of these options ready to go at all times.
It would be ideal if we could just record in a quiet environment all the time
But unfortunately, that’s rarely the case — especially if we’re just working out of our home studios, and/or with inexpensive gear. Cleaning the noise out of your sounds can sometimes turn something that was unusable to perfectly workable in just a few minutes.
Other than some delicious history, let’s cover what we learned today:
Noise reduction is pretty essential to our work as sound designers
There are plenty of options out there — iZotope RX being the most powerful, versatile, and widely used
Audacity even has its own (not-too-great) denoising feature built in!
Just like King Frederick, it’s a good idea to be selective and take only what we want
So when it comes to our own recordings, it’s a good idea to have some way to filter out the noise of our recordings and leave just the sweet sweet innards.
Learning all of this stuff on your own can be tough
Which is why I created two free courses for you to jumpstart your career in the game industry. Inside, you’ll learn how to charge for your work, find gigs, and build a super strong game industry network.