Making Your Own Sound Samples


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It's not too hard. If you have a sound card and a VCR/DVD player,  you can do this...

First, look at the sound card on the back of your computer. (if you have speakers hooked up they will be plugged in there) In addition to the jack where you plug in the speakers, there should be one or more "input" jacks. On Macs, the input is labeled with a microphone icon. These are usually "mini" connections, the same type as are used for headphones on a walkman. Are there two inputs or only one? Is one marked "Line" or "Line In" ? If there is, read on. If there's only one input, you need to look in the manual for the sound card and see if there's a switch that will make sure the jack can receive a line level input.

Then, look on the back of your VCR at the jacks labeled "audio out". Some VCRs have only one, if you have a strereo VCR there will be two. That type of connector is referred to as an "RCA" connector. You need to go to Radio Shack and buy a cable that will connect the RCA connectors on your VCR to the mini jack on your sound card. Usually this will be a "Y" shaped thing with two "male" RCA connectors on one end, and a mini plug on the other. If your VCR is mono, it will be an adaptor that fits on the end of your audio cable to give it a "mini" end. If you can't position your VCR within a few feet of your computer you may also need to get some RCA extension cables while you're there. (just tell the sales person what you're trying to do and they'll make sure you get the right cables)

 

Once you've got the cables home, and the VCR near the computer, plug the RCA end of the cable into the audio out jacks on your VCR, then plug the other end into the sound card jack that says: "line." (as opposed to "mic") If you don't have a "line" input, look farther down.

Now you need software to record the sound. Sound Recorder, which comes with Windows, works OK but is kind of clunky, not to mention the fact that it only allows for a maximum of 60 seconds of recording time. If true quality sounds are your game, try downloading Cool Edit at Download.com or, if your soundcard came with recording software and instructions, check out those. If you have a Mac, the Sound Control Panel will allow you to make sounds of 10 seconds or less, but you're better off getting sound software like Sound Effects.

In any case, you want to cue the movie up a few seconds before the quote you want to hear, select "new" on the sound software, play the movie, and hit "record" (on the software, not the VCR!) at the point you want your sound clip to start, and stop at the point you want it to end. With Cool Edit or Sound Effects you don't have to be exact, you can edit the sound after you've recorded it to include only the parts you want. With Sound Recorder or the Mac Sound Control Panel, the only control you have is start and stop, thus our recommendation for using 3rd party software instead of the recorders that come with the operating system you use.

Now play back the sound to make sure it sounds OK. If it sounds like a jet engine warming up instead of a sound, it's because you have the line level VCR plugged into the mic level input on your sound card. Try switching inputs and trying again. If it sounds OK, but you started or stopped the recorder at the wrong point, just hit "new" again and start over. You'll get the hang of it through trial and error. I've done this for 5 years now and I am still working out all the kinks.  Just check out the difference in quality of sound between a movie I did 4 years ago such as "The Toy" and what I can do now in movies like "The Matrix."

RECORDING THE SOUNDS

If the software displays a waveform while you're recording, you'll know the audio levels are right if you can see it moving while you're recording, and if during the loudest parts of the sound, the waveform comes close to, but does not touch the top of the display. Some recording software such as Cool Edit do not show the waveforms while recording, but once you hit "Stop", you should see the waveform on the display.

Fig.1 - Proper recording level for loudest parts on Windows Sound Recorder Fig. 2 - Audio levels here are too high. Notice flatness on top of display

Proper recording levels are critical to making good sounding samples. I use an old audio board to control audio levels, but if you've got an audio cassette deck, it can provide the same function. See #2 below.

Once you've got it the way you want it, save it the same way you would any other file and move on.

Let me know how you make out, or if you have any other questions. It's not as hard as it sounds. Once you're done and your want to share your work, look here to find out how to submit your sounds to The Movie Sounds Page.

Ahh.. but what if I don't have a line level input on my sound card?

Fear not. There is a way... it just takes a little more involved connection. There are two ways to go about reducing the output of the VCR to work well with a mic level input.

1. Use an attenuator

For this you need a special adapter or cable from Radio Shack. Tell the salesperson you want to take a line level RCA output, and go to a mic level mini input, and you need an "attenuating connector" This is a special connector that knocks the level way down so that it doesn't overwhelm the mic level inputs.

2. Use an audio cassette deck with level controls.

If your cassette deck allows you to set recoding levels manually, (most do) then you can use it to bring the audio down to a mic level. You can also use this method to do fine tuning of audio levels with a line level connection. Plug the output of your VCR into the input of your cassette deck. Then take the output of the cassette deck into the sound card using the special cabling described above. Put a blank tape in the cassette deck and hit just the "record" button, not record and play as you normally would. This allows you to adjust the audio levels and pass the adjusted audio on to your sound card. Start the VCR playing, and hit "record" on your recording software. If your software has a realtime waveform display or record level meters, you should see the audio way overmodulating. With the software still recording, slide the record level controls on the cassette deck all the way down. When you get close to zero, you should see the waveform of record level meters showing a more normal display. Make a fine adjustment, until the levels look right: the waveform should come close to touching the top of the display, but never actaully touch it. If you have LED meters, the red light should never come on, but the meter should come very close to it at the loudest parts of the sound.

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The Movie Sounds Page is maintained by Tony Wittrien