Building a Sound Effects Library

Sound effects can be a great way to add life and intrigue to your podcast, particularly if you are producing a fiction podcast. Sound effects give the imagination cues to visualize what is happening, give the recording a sense of place, and give the production a “real” feel. In the days of radio, in-house Foley artists would create the sound design and effects live in studio alongside the voice actors. Today, for the most part, sound effects libraries are used. You can get CDs filled with royalty free sound effects, and there are many sample libraries available online, both free and behind paywalls. While there is nothing wrong with using these libraries and they contain many wonderful sounds, creating your own original sound effects library can be a lot of fun and will make your production standout by having sounds that can’t be heard on other podcasts. And as an added bonus, you can also sell them through royalty free services to make a few extra bucks, if you don’t mind others using your sounds as well.


Chances are that if you are podcasting you already have a means of recording. If you do not, you can use your phone to record sound effects, although these will probably not be of professional quality. For around a hundred dollars you can get yourself a good field recorder, and this will be enough to get the job done. Tascam and Zoom both have great affordable options. Make sure when recording that you are using the highest quality settings

The Creative and the Mundane 

Almost every object makes a sound, either on its own, or when agitated, and many, if not all, of these sounds can be useful. Your kitchen and garage can be treasure troves of sounds and sound producing materials. While it is tempting to try and capture the most exotic sounds available (and you should), it is also worth turning the creativity off and capturing the mundane. Blinds going up and down, doors opening and closing, footsteps on various surfaces – everything can come in useful, and it is worth having the widest variety of sounds available in your library. Even sounds that you don’t think you will need can come in handy, and you never know what sounds a story might call for, so it is worth capturing as many sounds as you can.

Another thing to keep in mind is to record objects in action. For example, don’t just record a saw being turned on, record it cutting wood. Recording objects in action makes them sound more real because the context is correct. Beyond the sounds that objects and everyday things make, it is also useful to capture the general sounds of various environments or doing field recordings. This is where the portability of a field recorder proves extremely useful. Go out and listen to the world around you and capture the plethora of soundscapes available. Record traffic sounds, birds, cityscapes, anything you can think of. Again, you never know which sounds you will be needing, so go ahead and overdo it.

Don’t Be Overly Literal

When adding the sound effects to your mix, be selective. It can be tempting to put in a sound effect for every action, but this overly literal approach will come off as overdone. Many sounds can be implied by the text, so are unnecessary to include. For instance, if someone leaves a room you don’t necessarily need to have the sound of a door closing. But if they leave because of an argument, it could be worthwhile to have the sound of a door slam. Experiment liberally and hear what works and what doesn’t. Sound design is an artform and can take a while to learn, so practice and don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out on your first try. 

Creative Processing

Once you have built your library, you can get further mileage out of your samples by processing them in different ways. Try reversing the sounds, applying various filters, removing the attack, etc. Your DAW will have many effects plugins that you can use to process your samples, and you can maximize your library by having the sounds preprocessed and ready to go for your mixing stages.

Selling Your Sound Effects

If you don’t mind others using the sounds, you can sell your samples through non-exclusive royalty free sites. There are many sites that focus on stock materials that also sell sound effects. Many of these sites allow you to sign up as an affiliate seller and while it won’t make you rich, it will generate some additional income. 

Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.