A Few Thoughts on Free vs. Paid Audio
Now you might think this brief guide might be a bit slanted toward purchasing audio vs. downloading for free. As a person who makes their living creating audio for Escape Rooms,
Haunted Attractions and Video Games I would much rather you make a purchase from me rather than download audio from the Internet. However, my thoughts on Free vs. Paid Audio really comes down to what works best for your attraction.
With that being said, I thought I’d offer a few tips to those looking for audio and how to best go about getting what you’re looking for and understand what it is you might be getting.
The “Rights” of FREE
When it comes to electronic media on the internet, there is an abundance. You can’t type in a search for any one thing and not get pages and pages worth of download options whether it be audio, pictures, video, blogs, etc. It truly is a wonderful time!
When it comes to audio (like photos and art) there are always copyright, creator and owner considerations to be made.
- Someone took the time to create or record the sound, mix it, render it and post-it
- There may still be usage conditions that need to be followed
- Even if you pay for it, read the licensing terms and make sure you have the right to use it in public or,
- if you plan on distributing it, you may have to pay for additional licensing or royalties.
Ultimately, getting what you need may come down to simple courtesy. If you find a piece of audio, a musical track or sound effects that really meet your needs, contact the person who posted them. Find out if they mind you using them.
Something else to keep an eye out for is a Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work on conditions the artists chooses.
Getting What You Want vs. What You Need
When I’m shopping, I try to create two columns for myself to understand my desire, vs. requirements for my hard-earned dollar. (usually comes down to raspberry filled donuts vs. deoderant… but I digress)
If your Haunt or Escape Room doesn’t really need a custom-made track or SFX library because you are on a budget, and have spent a majority of your resources on a build and/or other components, you may only NEED a simple soundtrack or SFX that will help augment what you have built.
If you are in your second year, looking for a better immersive experience for your customers or simply want to invest in better audio, you may WANT custom sound design and music that is commiserate with your attraction and is designed around your theme and specifications.
Quality and Originality
When it comes to quality and originality, it is not unheard of to be able to get something like that for free. However, remember that anything you download can be downloaded by anyone else, so being “Original” in your audio isn’t necessarily something you can truly do in this case.
Quality isn’t so hard to do for free, but keep an eye out for some specs. Here’s a quick list of what to look for.
- How does it sound to YOU? Is there unwanted background sound?
- CD Quality = 16bit/44.1 kHz
- Film / DVD Quality = 16bit / 48kHz or higher
- MP3s are compressed and lose fidelity and dynamics for the gain in smaller file sizes. However, look for or ask what the Kbps (Kilobits Per Second) is.
- 320Kbps = Best.
- 192Kbps = OK. Musical tracks lower in Kbps than this should be questioned or listened to thoroughly before downloading.
- 64-192Kbps = Generally good for individual Sound Effects depending on dynamics and volume.
- Stereo or Mono
- For the fullest sound, Stereo is often the best route to take for musical tracks. However, always test your Stereo track to ensure that any hard panning doesn’t negate the audible experience. For instance, if you have a stereo track and one speaker or another speaker not in close proximity, and a musical piece of the track is panned hard left or right, only one speaker will pick up on the audio and the other will sound “dead”.
- Mono is great for individual SFX! Mono also reduces the size of the file. When played back in Stereo, Mono is very forgiving and will play in both speakers equally.
As mentioned earlier, if it is something you can download for free, so can everyone else. Like your design, we imagine that there are often times you want to present something new and original to your patrons. That’s where having music and sound effects that are recorded, created, mixed and
mastered to your specifications comes into play. I often like to compare it to the props, designs, lighting, décor and overall visual detail you put so much hard work into. Audio just happens to be another important piece of your immersive environment. Do you get something off-the-shelf or design it to meet your needs?
When you ask the question, “Where can I get some great audio for my Haunt, Escape Room, etc.” you will get a plethora of answers. The trick to making that decision is knowing what you want and, perhaps when. As I mentioned, maybe this is your first room or display and you need to get up and running quickly. Maybe Free is the way to go for now. Down the road, you may want to augment and be more discerning in your audio and have something custom created for you.
Remember, it’s all about you and what you want versus what you need. Just make sure that with the countless options out there, you find what you’re looking for that will make you and your customers happy!
Ken Webster is a professional sound designer who enjoys creating new and original soundscapes for Escape Rooms, Haunted Attractions and Video Games. He also enjoys helping others get the most from their audio and welcomes any questions or feedback you might have.
Something of important note. This is a general guide and opinion. I am in no way a lawyer or otherwise able to give you legal advice. This is for you to explore more fully as needed.