One of the things we talk a lot about on No Film School is worldbuilding. People usually put it to the directors, actors, and writers to get that done, but the movies and TV shows whose worlds feel most complete are the ones with the best sound.
Can you hear the babbling brook in Game of Thrones? What about the bubbling meth in Breaking Bad? And let's not get started about all the wild animals traipsing around the forests of Pandora in Avatar.
The point is sound, and in particular sound effects, can help build a rich and dynamic aural world for your story. Whether you have the money for a James Cameron movie, or you want to shoot a short with your friends, the sound is going to be a critical component. But, let's face it, most of us do not have a large budget for top-tier foley artists or deep studio catalogs. That's where royalty-free sound effects come in.
So what are royalty-free sound effects?
Royalty-free material may be used without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use. This means that a sound effect or piece of music can be used over and over again without having to pay residuals for it.
Today, several different resources provide royalty-free sound effects, but not all are created equal. That's why we went ahead and put together a list of our favorites. Each site offers a plethora of genres, formats, and unique sounds that can get the job done. Not only are royalty-free sound effects a good option for a finished product to keep costs low, but you can also use them as temp sounds during an edit that can be replaced later.
The 16 Best Royalty-Free Sound Effect Websites
While this list only scratches the surface, we compiled them based on quality, variety, and usefulness. This list appears in alphabetical order. Let's dive in.
99 Sound Effects is a free collection of modern sound effects. Their sounds are easily searched and split into categories to make finding the right noise fairly simple. They have a wide range to pick from, even with a set of field recordings captured in Iceland using a geophone. Pretty sweet!
Audition is a comprehensive toolset for creating, mixing, editing, and restoring audio content. While you pay for that upfront, they have an extensive library that can surely help most filmmakers' needs. Better yet, the sound effects are now integrated into Premiere so you can easily search them and add them into your timeline with ease.
Trying to pinpoint that perfect sound? This site has 440,196 sound effects from Star Trek, Apocalypse Now, Kill Bill, and more.
The BBC has been around for a long time and recently has spent time making some of their sounds available for free. The archive incorporates effects used by the corporation's radio output since 1920. There are 16,000 sound effects available now for free, with more released all the time.
This is a one-stop-shop for a lot of creative resources. You have to dig a little, but the right sound is within their back catalog, and they are always taking suggestions for what they should ask for next.
It's all in the website title. This website is minimally designed with lists and lists of what you want. Over half a million sounds categorized for you to download and try.
Another site whose name says it all. Freesound calls themselves "a collaborative repository of CC-licensed audio samples and non-profit organisation." But they are so much more. They have over 400,000 sounds and effects, and 8 million registered users.
This site is an aggregator of sounds collected from all over the internet. They troll lots of other sites and then have deep folders with royalty-free sounds and music you can collect for yourself.
It's hard to phrase it better than Sonniss, so check this out: "Every year we give away thousands of dollars worth of sound effects for free in celebration of the Game Developers Conference. This is our archive. Everything is royalty-free and commercially usable. No attribution is required and you can use them on an unlimited number of projects."
10. GR Sites
This site will go down in May 2021, but for now, you can download an extensive sound effects archive with 5,700 background textures and images, 6,800 true-type fonts, and 1,980 sound effects. Get them while they're still available.
Easily our favorite website title on here. This one specializes in royalty-free music, though it has a smaller sound effects page. Always worth checking out, depending on how specific of a sound you need.
If you're working in the 360° surround sound format, there's nothing better than the RØDE Ambisonic Library. From natural ambiance to urban sprawl, the curated selection of high-quality royalty-free ambisonic recordings is sure to immerse your audience.
SoundBible offers free sound clips for download in either WAV or mp3 format. They're easy to drop into your edits and very clean. The site houses other FX you might want as well. All free.
Where else can you get 5,000 free sound effects recorded, designed, and produced by a team of audio professionals? While not all of them are royalty-free, they do have a very clear licensing page that helps you sort what you can do with them.
The header on this site just says "free sound effects." You kind of have to do the leg work here, using their search option and category list to find what suits your needs. But that level of simplicity can be nice.
Second place for best name, you have the ability to download over 77,000 free sound effects and royalty-free music tracks in mp3 and WAV format. Professionally recorded and constantly updated, the libraries give you so many options for any of your sound FX needs.
Hopefully, this list has helped you get your finishing touches on your project. You don't have to spend a bundle, just spend wisely.
If you have any favorite free libraries, share them with the readers in the comments section.
For more, see our ongoing coverage of Sound Week 2020.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the Sound Week 2020 is sponsored by RØDE.