This instalment of the Azimuth Blog Indie SFX Library Review will be a little different, as I will be writing about a website/SFX service instead of the kinds of standard packaged libraries I've looked at in the past. The usual guidelines still apply though; you can read about the basic standards and criteria I use in my reviews in this previous blog post.
SoundSnap.com is a website that hosts “140,000 sound effects and loops”. I can't find an exact breakdown of how many loops they have vs SFX, but it appears they have about 30,000 music loops or samples... so simple math suggests they have in the ballpark of 110,000 sound effects on the site. That is a fairly large library, one that SoundSnap boasts as being collected in part from Hollywood sound designers with big credits to their names.
The site was started by Tasos Frantzolas, a professional sound designer working out of Athens, Greece. When launched, it was the amalgamated library of a community of 20 sound designers, encompassing 30,000 SFX. It has grown from there with a focus on professional-quality SFX. Big-name contributors include Coll Anderson (5904 downloadable SFX), Chuck Russom (400 downloadable SFX), Blastwave (32105 downloadable SFX), SFX Source (3150 downloadable SFX), Frank Serafine (1358 downloadable SFX), Paul Virostek/Airbourne Sound (13800 downloadable SFX) and many more.
There are other websites that offer downloadable SFX files but SoundSnap is special because of two features: its 'Royalty Free' license and its annual subscription. A similar site is freesound.org. While freesound.org offers its SFX for free, there is a catch. Most of the sounds have an “Attribution” creative commons license. This means you have to give credit for each sound you use from the site. In 99% of the projects I work on this is not possible. The credits on some of the series I work on are so compact that there are many occasions that I don’t even get a screen credit as sound editor. If I went to the producer and told them they had to add 200 credits for each sound I grabbed from a website I would get laughed out of the room. It's simply not an option. SoundSnap's standard 'Royalty Free' license does not require attribution so this is not an issue with their sounds.
While freesound.org obviously has the advantage of being free, SoundSnap has an interesting pricing structure. When buying in small amounts it's not particularly cheap. SoundSnap sells its sounds in packs, with the smallest pack being 5 sounds. A 5-sound pack lets you pick any five sounds hosted on the site for $9, or $1.80 per sound (all prices listed in US dollars). That is still cheaper than most sounds on Sounddogs.com, but if you intend to pull down a lot of sounds it will start to add up quickly. But SoundSnap has a pricing structure that encourages bulk purchasing. If you purchase a pack of 100 sounds the price drops almost by half, to 99 cents per sound. Still not super-cheap but getting more reasonable. Yet here is the feature that really sets SoundSnap apart from the competition: the annual subscription. This lets you download an unlimited number of sounds over the course of a year for $249. On this plan, you are looking at a hypothetical price of 0.002 cents per sound. When looked at from that perspective, you might say SoundSnap’s annual subscription is actually almost free. (Well... don't think about that too hard...)
Now, in order to hit that 0.002 cent price point, you'd have to download the entire library in one year - an undertaking that would require a level of discipline and patience that I don’t possess. Downloading sounds from the site is rather easy but there is a protection mechanism in place to stop someone from setting up an automated download routine to grab all the sounds.
In order to download sounds you first have to sign up with a user name and password and then pick a download pack. Payment is easy and handled either through Paypal or credit card. If you get the annual subscription, all you have to do for the rest of the year is log into the site and you are set to pull down all the sounds you need, never having to worry about paying again until your year is up. Auditioning is straightforward, and the site responds to searches very quickly. You can search using a global search function or you can browse by categories.
I have a few criticisms of the site. One complaint is that the site only loads 10 sounds per page. So for example, if you search the word “monkey” you get 75 hits but they are spread out over 8 pages. So auditioning them all involves a lot of browser navigation from page to page. It's nowhere near as quick as using Soundminer to find sounds (Not sure if that is a fair comparison though since one is online and the other is local). Another drawback is a lack of consistent metadata for the downloaded sounds. When I download a batch of sounds and load them into Soundminer for future use I find some sounds have a fully detailed set of metadata while others have just the file name and hard attributes (file length, bit rate, number of channels, etc.) It would be fantastic if SoundSnap had a metadata policy that required everyone to include more detailed metadata for the sounds.
In terms of the quality of the actual sounds - I have found them to be really great. Obviously I have not listened to every sound on the site but with very few exceptions the sounds have all been up to quite high standards. This makes sense since since the contributors all seem to be professional sound editors and have their own high standards to meet.
I've also found this site to be a life-saver on occasions when I'm freelancing or at a mix without my personal SFX library handy. You can simply log onto SoundSnap wherever you are and hopefully find what you are looking for, without having to carry a hard drive, laptop and Soundminer key with you every where you go.
I would not recommend anyone attempt to treat an annual subscription to SoundSnap like a fully-functional stand-alone SFX library. I have found that SoundSnap can be an excellent emergency backup option though. In cases when you have exhausted your own library and you are at a loss to find that perfect sound a quick search on SoundSnap can offer a great find or a new perspective on what you are trying to find. I've never used it as a first resort, but SoundSnap got me out of more then a few jams when my primary library searches came up empty.
All in all, SoundSnap - with or without the annual subscription - is a great tool to have in your back pocket as a compliment to an on-site well-rounded professional SFX library.