Here’s my short survey of some of the current search options for free sounds. My test search keyword was “kitten”.

* Freesound.org is clearly the best search tool for Creative Commons sound FX clips. Fast results, excellent tagging and results filters, and easy aural preview. A few of its users obviously upload computer-generated FX (“My synth made a sound that maybe kinda-sounds like a kitten?!”) and those are shown alongside real-world recordings (“Here ikle-bitty kitten, mew into this microphone”). But the site has a filter tag for “field recording” which can remove the synthetic clips, provided users added the correct tag.

It’s also good to see that a potential tidal-wave of “samples” and “beats” — extracted from music or synths — have not been allowed to swamp freesound.org. The site’s curator obviously keeps the focus strongly on short home-made FX, field recordings and short vocalisations.

Content at Freesound.org is hosted locally, which means it’s a big community like OpenClipArt, rather than a search tool like Google Images + Creative Commons filters. Still, it’s huge enough to be impressive and useful, and is obviously still expanding in terms of content.

Many of the Freesound.org files appear to be either too quiet or too loud, and may need to be normalised in software such as the free Audacity (top menu: Effects | then either Amplify +/- or Normalize).

* Archive.org : Audio Archive currently stands at 3.4m items, but overwhelmingly it’s music, radio, podcasts and sermons. A search for “kitten” revealed only music bands (‘Atomic Kitten’ etc), podcasts and one pronunciation guide file. An Archive.org collection of future interest will be the large Old Time Radio collection of radio drama shows, mostly crime, western and sci-fi. It seems it should be possible for someone to compile an organised searchable library of isolated sound FX from all of these Old Time Radio shows, perhaps aided by an automated search-and-extract of segments that are not either speech or music or ambience.

But if you hunt hard enough on Archive.org you can also find small collections of FX such as: Frank Serafine’s Sound FX Collection; William Dyer’s Sound Effects Library; The Crazy Cartoon Sound Effects Library.

* SoundCloud has 313 tracks on a search for “field recording” “creative commons” but many results are for trippy semi-ambient music which incorporates natural field recordings. There’s also a more focussed tag of ‘field recording’, although its search results can’t then filter for Creative Commons. However, a Google Search query can provide good results…

   site:soundcloud.com “# field recording” “creative commons”

The results on this even turned up three minutes of Purring Cats and Kittens, placed under a Creative Commons license.

* If you need a wider Web-trawling search tool than Freesound.org, FindSounds has been around for 16 years now. However it could provide only 22 results for Kitten, and no license information. The audio clips are from a range of curator-selected websites, though, and not from the useless robo-sites for .mp3 listings which infest the search-engines.

* Wikimedia Commons has no filter for .mp3 / .wav / .ogg audio, bundling what clips is does have into the overly broad category of “multimedia”. So one does better at Google Search with…

   site:commons.wikimedia.org kitten inurl:File -jpg -svg -png -jpeg

However, a Google search this sophisticated will inevitably trigger the “You Are a Robot!?” alarms at Google, and if you run it more than about three times you will be at risk of being temporarily banned from your Google account.

* There are also a few isolated free FX libraries where the downloads are free, ranging from the small such as GRSites (free, but pay to get a big bundle of all their FX as a single download), to the huge SoundDogs.com (free, but pay per-file if you want to get a higher-quality version with a usage licence).

* The Cutting Room Floor is also rather fun, being a large fan-site dedicated to releasing un-used videogame assets. A search for “Audio” reveals over 900 pages, one page per game, with a wealth of audio, both FX and tiny clips of speech. For strictly non-commercial use, of course. Audio files can be previewed on the page, though on large games that can cause the page to take a while to load. A Google search can be useful in narrowing down the wealth of content…

   site:tcrf.net Audio cat

* If you want to search the indie commercial download shops, Sound Effects Search : Find Indie Sound FX Libraries searches speedily across 1766 “libraries” rather than individual files. Thus the test search needed to be widened from “kitten”. “Cat” revealed just two large libraries…

   Post-Surgery Cat Vocals – “a royalty-free collection of strange sounds made by my cat after he had surgery”. (possibly a freebie?)

   Wildcats : Tigers & Lions – “Over 3.4GB of growls, sniffs, snarls, mating calls, moans and incredible roars.” ($149).

* I also looked on Fiverr.com for $5 “field recording”, but it appears no-one there offers such a custom service. Which seems a pity, given the amount of endangered sounds (sounds in danger of extinction) there are, which might otherwise be affordably collected that way. Plenty of voiceovers though.

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