How To Organize Your Sound Library

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 VOLTEROCK's guide 
to organizing  your sound library
Organizing your sound library may be a task of excruciating misery especially when you must start from scratch and re-organize from the beginning! This guide is created so you hopefully won't need to ever organize it again and presents a plethora of options available to you. Please comment below if you think we missed something!


First Rule:

The first "rule" seems to be: Whatever method will help you remember where your sounds are is the best method to use. If you're having a difficult time finding something, try a new method or maybe you just need to get to know your library a little better.


3 THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
  1. How will you back-up everything later?
Will you need to separate some things to make it fit on another drive? Are some samples already on a hard drive or CDs and unnecessary to back-up? You probably don't want to back-up copies of sounds that you already have back-ups of to save space for things you do need back-ups of.

    2. What do you want your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to access for music creation and what should be ignored?

Is this sound always okay to use or should it be approached with caution?

Will I get sued if I use this sound? Separate these into two separate folders:
  • Ambiguous Royalty Sounds (sounds with ambiguous copyright rules). In this folder, you may also want these folders:
    • Sound libraries from friends
    • Collaborations: sounds you've made with other people while collaborating (ask your friend first before using)
    • Sounds from the internet with ambiguous permission
    • Sample libraries that require you to get permission first or have specific instructions if used
    • Acappellas or files from other remix projects or boot leg / white label stuff
    • Recorded vinyl samples or movie quotes
  • Free Use (because you purchased them, made them, or the license clearly says you can use them without restriction, they can be used with any project)
If you are creating something that needs to have sounds which are royalty free, you don't want your DAW or some other audio managing program searching within sounds which contain unclear copyright restrictions. Keep the folders separate.

    3. The size of your samples: Will you need more than 1 hard drive?

Figure out how much memory all of your sounds hold. Can they fit on one drive? Will some parts of the library grow over time and need extra space? This is how you check the memory size of a folder:
  • PC: Win + Enter or right click folder > properties
  • Mac: Apple + I
Usually orchestral sounds need to be on an entirely different drive unto itself because of the many gigs it uses. Also, if you have a sampler streaming the sounds directly off the hard drive, you may want to think about using more than one hard drive and breaking them up onto different drives so the sounds load faster.

Side note:

Personally, I think it is best to eventually extend out of your purchased and downloaded sounds and build your own original set of sounds. I think this should be something to strive for so you can be truly unique in your musical creations. Work on creating "Your Sound." You can maybe start organizing your sound library by having two folders like this:

  • My Sounds
  • Third Party Sounds
    • Ambiguous Royalty Sounds
    • Free Use

TYPES

You might want to now separate everything into its "type" within the next folders under the categories mentioned above. Some of these aren't necessarily sounds and are more closely related to data information:
  • Audio (.wav, .aiff, .mp3, etc.)
  • MIDI
    • drums / rhythm rudiments
    • scores
  • synthesizer patches / presets
  • Hardware: samples from a hardware synthesizer ie. Yamaha sysex banks
  • Software: .glo files for Absynth, .fst files for fl generators, reaktor ensembles, etc.
  • Sampler Specific (Are these sounds only capable of being opened from one specific sampler and not others? Put them here)
  • sound fonts
  • scores (project files for Finale, Sibelius, etc.) 
  • old project files
  • Tools
    • waveforms
    • impulse responses for convolution reverb
    • noise reduction profiles ( adobe audition / cool edit)
    • etc.
Some of these will need to stay in specific folders for your DAW to access them. Your DAW has already created these folders (synthesizer presets for example). I find it best to keep a log of where all the sounds are located for back-up purposes for when you create a new preset or modify a preexisting preset. Alternatively, you can copy everything in these folders into one folder for back-up purposes but this could be tedious unless you have a program doing it for you automatically.

You may also want to add another folder for files that are unique to your DAW: saved piano roll scores, templates, etc. (this is more of your sound data and structure than sound library).


METHODS OF ORGANIZATION

Now that you have all your sounds organized into its type, you can choose a method to organize the specificity of each. Here are all the found methods used for organization:

  • Artist / sound designer / company name of who created the sounds
  • file size (some people enable the size column to determine if it's a longer or shorter sound. Sound type is critical here and could render this method useless. For example, if you have .mp3 and .wav files in the same folder, .wav files will be much larger). An example for a file size search would be: larger file is probably a loop, pad, etc. while a smaller file is most likely a one-shot/hit, kick, etc.
  • date (maybe you are good at remembering what you recorded or which libraries you purchased each day of the month?)
  • pitch / key
  • Sound quality (Some low quality sounds may fit in a layer with something else but not sound so great on its own. Or, this may be related to a specific genre like chiptune music)
  • loop
    • bpm (it's generally better to put this number first in the file name)
    • marked / For example: .rex loops (propellerhead extension that marks positions in a loop)
  • hit / one-shot
  • regularity of use / favorites (Is this a sound that you choose more often or that you favor over others?)
  • music genre (Maybe you've created a "house" template for the house music you make in your DAW. You can also match that with a "house" folder of samples that you think best fit with the genre. This can limit you in creativity but is super awesome if it only consists of sounds you have customized yourself (ie. getting closer to the ultimate goal: creating your own sound)
  • Chronologically / Era (ie. 70's, 80's, etc.)
  • theme (comedy, angry, happy, calm, etc.)
  • Live performance (samples you might play while performing/DJ'ing)
  • MISC (miscellaneous / "do later" / "to be organized" folder. Obviously, you don't want your daw or audio manager searching in this folder)
    • Is there a long sample that you recorded that includes multiple sounds like feet walking and heads bonking that you need to chop up later? put it here.
    • Samples you don't want from sample libraries that you've purchased but might use someday later
Choose the best method(s) for you. Include one or more in the file or folder names but don't make the names too long because it may make it difficult for you to back up the data later (not true for macs but true for PCs?).

You may not want to keep some of these in one folder for your DAW to access (remember the copyright issues).


2 PRIMARY METHODS

The entire listed that was just mentioned above can fit into two primary categories.
Now, choose between these 2 methods:

  1. Would you like to organize your sounds by SOURCE (artist / company name) or 
  2. CHARACTER (Kick, snare, pad, jack hammer, sweep, riser, etc.)?
Personally, I think Source is best because you can always use a program or the search function in your DAW's browser to find a specific character of sound. If your library is too big for this, that's when you need a "favorites" folder with your most common sounds. Also, the artist and company may have already organized their sounds in a particular way which will conflict with your method later on and you could end up with duplicate file names. Having duplicate file names will confuse your search results when searching for a sound. If you have more than one sample library with similar sounds, sometimes they will be named the same thing. For example, two different sample libraries that you purchased could have, "Kick", "Clap" etc. and you may want to rename them so each sound in your entire library has a unique name. You could add a number after it (ie. "Kick 1") or maybe put the name of the artist or company after it.


ORGANIZING THE SAMPLES YOU CREATED

The source for your personal sound creations, field recordings, etc. is from you the artist/sound designer so put these into a "My Samples" folder. The categories below are put into this folder and can also be used as a guideline if you are organizing the rest of your sound library by its CHARACTER instead of SOURCE.

Organizing these can be a difficult process and it may be best to keep things more general. Only make another folder if you know there will be many of that sound. Some things WILL overlap and if you find yourself forgetting where it was, some people duplicate the sound so it appears in more than one category - having duplicate names is okay in this case because they will be the same exact sound unlike a sound from a sound library that you bought that is called the same sound. A kick.wav that you recorded and a kick.wav from a sample library are different sounds but your DAW DOES NOT know this so each of those samples need a different name like "Kick" and "Kick 1" so it is not loaded by your DAW by accident with the wrong sample - Where will you most remember it?

MY SAMPLES:
  • From other projects (never finished a song but you like something you created from it? put it here)
  • atmosphere
    • crowds
    • noise
  • Comedy
    • toys
  • FX (categorizing something by what it's doing can possibly go here)
    • sweeps, risers...
    • shuffling
    • rolling
  • Instruments
    • Drums
      • loops
      • single hit
    • Piano
  • machines
    • Appliances
    • Car
    • Computer
  • Organic
    • Animals & insects
    • human
    • water
  • mechanical & industrial
    • doors
    • office supplies
  • Synths (patches or presets bounced to audio format)
  • vox
    • name of the person who's voice is recorded
      • what they are doing (yelling, humming, singing, whispering...) 
  • Data/info folder: These are your notes about the sounds. How was a sound made? What mics were used? software? what was recorded and where? etc. It may be better to just keep a READ ME file of this information in the folder that contains the sound instead of having this extra folder. 
    • Example of something that would go in this folder: pictures of your microphones frequency response ie. Shure SM57 frequency response, iphone 3G mic frequency response, recording device used, etc.... 
PROGRAMS (THAT CAN HELP YOU FIND AND ORGANIZE SOUNDS)

Besides using your built in "browser" within the DAW of your choice, here are some other programs to use to help you organize your sounds:
Know of some others? Please comment below.


!!!! WARNING !!!!

  • Some DAWs need their "type" (ie. synth preset) to be in a specific folder. Remember where these are if you change or add more in that location so you know to back them up later when you do your regular external data backups.
  • If you change the LOCATION of a sample, it may not be found in past projects that you try to open. Because of this, stick with your organization method. Otherwise, if you want to completely re-organize again, make sure past projects are not needed, or keep a back up of that sound library you had in exactly the same way you had it
  • Some DAWs will allow you to save an entire project in a zipped file which includes all the samples used. This is another option but will take up more memory on your harddrive and may be very tedious if you have a lot of projects.
  • If you change the file NAME of a sample, it will most likely not be found because your DAW will be looking for the sound under the old name instead of what you just renamed it as
  • Try to have a DIFFERENT NAME for every sample you have. If two samples have the same name, a project may load the wrong sample in the future if the path is changed. If you have a folder that has a sample named "kick," include the name of the folder with it like, "Yamaha 2013 Stage Custom Birch kick" instead.
  • Consider duplicating a sample if you think it should go somewhere else if you have already started using that sample in past projects. Keep it there and duplicate it somewhere else.
  • If you have your samples on an external hard drive, sometimes the hard drive letter will change and your DAW won't be able to find your sample library. Re-locate it by changing the drive letter to what it was originally or tell your DAW to look in the "new" directory with the new letter drive
  • If you have too many samples, it may take a long time to search for something you need and hinder your work flow. Maybe you can break it up into different source paths? "I think it's in this path, so I'll search here first"
  • If you over-classify everything, it could make it more confusing for you
  • If the name of something is too long, it may not be able to back it up onto another hard drive (pc only? 256 character limit?)
  • You may be limited in creativity depending on what type you use. Audio may be more flexible for you to work with and help you be more creative. ie. you might want to bounce a synth preset you made to .wav and categorize it.
  • You might do destructive editing by accident and ruin the original sound. Some people make their entire library "read-only." You should also be backing up your whole sound library regularly just like you do for your songs. Should your hard drive crash, lightning strike, etc. no worries!
  • If you create and give away / sell your own sound libraries, you don't want to be using the same sounds in another pack. I keep a note of this with a "READ ME" text in the folder that contains a list of the sounds that were already used.
We hope every possible way of organizing your sound library has been covered in this article. If you can think of another way, please comment below!

We have a list of free sound samples that you can download that will help get your library started or expand on the library you already have.

In summary, here is one example of how a complete sound library can be organized:

YOUR SOUND LIBRARY HARD DRIVE #1:

  • Orchestral sounds 1-4
YOUR SOUND LIBRARY HARD DRIVE #2: 

  • Orchestral sounds 5-8
  • Fierce Over-Used Vengeance Loops (this is on another hard drive because you have the CDs of the samples already stored as a back-up from when you bought them. This does not need to be backed-up on to an external hard drive. This will be one of the paths that you tell your DAW to search for sounds) 
YOUR SOUND LIBRARY HARD DRIVE #3: 
  • My Sounds ( field recordings, sounds that were bounced to audio, sound design fx that you created, etc. )
    • Sounds from unfinished projects
    • atmosphere
      • crowds
      • noise
    • Comedy
      • toys
    • FX 
      • sweeps
      • risers
      • shuffling
      • rolling
    • Instruments
      • Drums
        • loops
        • single hit
      • Piano
    • machines
      • Appliances
      • Car
      • Computer
    • Organic
      • Animals & insects
      • human
      • water
    • mechanical & industrial
      • doors
      • office supplies
    • Synths (patches or presets bounced to audio format)
    • vox
      • name of the person who's voice is recorded
        • whispering 
    • Data/info folder - contains all of  your notes about these sounds
  • Third Party Sounds
    • Ambiguous Royalty Sounds
      • Audio (.wav, .aiff, .mp3, etc.)
        • Sounds from friends
        • Collaborations - ask the people you worked with to use these sounds for something else
        • Sounds from the internet with ambiguous permission
        • Sample libraries that require you to get permission first or have specific instructions if used
        • Acappellas 
        • boot leg / white label samples
        • Recorded vinyl samples
        • movie quotes
      • MIDI
        • drums / rhythm rudiments
        • scores
      • synthesizer patches and presets
      • Hardware: samples from a hardware synthesizer ie. Yamaha sysex banks
      • Software: .glo files for Absynth, .fst files for fl generators, reaktor ensembles, etc.
      • Sampler Specific (Are these sounds only capable of being opened from one specific sampler and not others? Put them here)
      • sound fonts
      • scores (project files for Finale, Sibelius, etc.) 
      • Project files created by other people 
    • Free Use - Sounds you bought, are public domain, or others that you have permission to use
      • Audio (.wav, .aiff, .mp3, etc.)
        • Black Box Cosmic Gold
        • Black Octopus
          • Siren
        • Image-Line
          • Sample Fusion
            • Bass Case
            • Killer Tweaks
        • Firearm Sound FX
      • MIDI
        • drums
          • rhythm rudiments
          • rolls
        • scores
          • Sibelius .sib files
          • Finale .mus files
      • synthesizer patches / presets
      • Hardware: samples from a hardware synthesizer ie. Yamaha sysex banks
      • Software: .glo files for Absynth, .fst files for fl generators, reaktor ensembles, etc.
        • Absynth
      • Sampler Specific
        • Battery .kt3 files
        • Kontakt .nki files

      • sound fonts
      • scores (project files for Finale, Sibelius, etc.) 
      • old project files
      • Tools
        • waveforms
        • impulse responses for convolution reverb
        • noise reduction profiles ( adobe audition / cool edit)
        • etc.
We have a Free Sound Database available to get your library started: GO HERE

Also, check out our Music Production Tips.  

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