BOOK REVIEW: The Sound Effects Bible

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A friend of mine, Biagio Messina, who’s a super-talented TV producer and filmmaker, once told me: “The easiest way to make something LOOK good… is to make something SOUND good.” (I may be paraphrasing, but that’s how I remember it.)

And he’s right.

A few weeks ago at work, we shot a sketch with a fight scene which—when I watched it the first time—felt completely weak and uninspired. But as soon as our editor, Jorge, unleashed an orgy of sound effects on it—punches, bones crunching, etc.—it was wonderfully hilarious.

In this moment, I learned three lessons which—to be honest—I learn over and over and never remember as well as I should…

LESSON #1: Jorge is an awesome editor.

LESSON #2: Biagio was right and always is. And...

LESSON #3: Whether you’re working on a reality TV show, a short film, or a 6-hour miniseries, sound effects are one of the best ways to bring something to life and make it sparkle. The world’s most dazzling visual effects are often worthless if they don’t have the appropriate sounds to make them pop.

Having said that, I’ve always known very little about how sound guys work their magic. I pick up some lingo here and there… and I’ve done a few radio pieces… but for the most part, I’m a sound idiot.

And—at the risk of making a gross generalization (which I’m gonna go ahead and make)—I think most writers are probably in the same boat.

Which is why Ric Viers’ new book, The Sound Effects Bible, is such a helpful tool.

Now, I’m gonna be honest… this is not a book you curl up with and enjoy in a single sitting. It's also not the book you read to stir up your creative juices or think differently about your writing.

It's exactly what the title says it is: a thorough introduction, a reference book, to the practical world of creating and using sound effects.

...Which means this IS the book you read if you’re producing your first film
and must learn how to produce sound effects… or if you’re starting your
first job as a post-production P.A. and want to learn more about the
post world… or if you’re a writer/producer and need to communicate more
articulately with your post department… or even if you’re an
experienced sound guy and just want to keep an easy-to-read manual handy.

The book begins with an overview of the “science of sound,” discussing frequencies, amplitudes, decibels, etc. If this sounds like stuff you learned in junior high science class, you’re right… it is. And while the last thing I would EVER want to re-read is my junior high science book, The Sound Effects Bible takes this information and helps you apply it practically, in the recording and usage of sound effects, in ways your junior high science teacher never did.

Viers goes through microphones… different types, how they work, which to use for different kinds of recording. He talks about recorders… how they’ve evolved throughout history, differences between digital and analog, how to set up a recorder correctly. He even walks you through designing your own sound effects recording studios and Foley stages.

For me, the most fascinating chapter was “The Ten Recording Commandments,” which outlines exactly how to record top-notch sound effects. I’ve never before had to record any sound effects… and I don’t foresee needing to do it any time soon… but I love getting in-depth peeks into other artists’ creative processes, and Viers does such a good job of detailing his “commandments,” I felt like I could do it this afternoon.

The book also has a corresponding websitewww.soundeffectsbible.com—that includes the actual sound effects samples discussed in each chapter, video tutorials, and a ton of other useful information. As of this morning, many of the coolest parts of the site (like the sound effects themselves) were still under construction, but once it’s up and running, the book and site together will be a powerful resource for anyone wading into the world of sound effects.

(I also hope Viers keeps the site updated with news on the latest sound effects developments, technologies, and resources, helping the book to be a constantly up-to-date guide to the world of sound.)

Anyway, if you're getting ready to produce a film... or work in post... or just want to learn more about one of the most important-- but often over-looked-- processes in film... check out the book and lemme know what you think...

In the mean time, here’s a tutorial video of author Ric Viers smashing a station wagon with sledgehammers and cement blocks (and if this is what sound effects guys do all day—count me in)…

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