From clichés like record scratches and angelic choirs to signature sounds like Andrew Huang’s high-five, sound effects are an integral part of many popular YouTube and Twitch channels. If you want your videos to be fun, engaging and keep your viewers’ attention, good sound effects are a must.
But where do you find sound effects for YouTube videos and Twitch streams? Which are okay to use and which can get you in trouble? Should you use free sounds, pay for higher-quality assets or make your own? In this article, we’ll answer all of those questions and more, so you can stop using sketchy sites to rip low-quality audio from videos like “20 Sad Trombone Sound Variations in 75 Seconds.”
Drum roll, please...
BEFORE YOU START
Before you go looking for sound effects, you need to understand exactly how you’re allowed to use them. If you get caught using someone else’s work without proper permission, your video could be taken down (or worse, your account could be suspended). Severe offenses could even result in legal action. This means you usually can’t just rip any old sound effect from a movie, game or someone else’s video.
Just like with music, you need a license to use most sound effects. However, unlike with music, you usually don’t have to worry about paying royalties. While many sites advertise “royalty-free sound effects,” royalties are not usually part of a sound effects license anyway. All you need is consent from the owner to use their assets in certain situations, and there may or may not be a one-time fee to use the assets, but you don’t need to worry about paying every time someone watches your video or stream.
Here’s the bottom line: always make sure you have permission to use a sound effect. We’ll go into the specifics of licensing free and paid assets in the sections below so that you’ll always be operating above board. And if you’re unable to secure a license, we’ll briefly cover how to make your own sound effects for free.
Sound effects are a great way to increase the production value of your content.
FREE SOUND EFFECTS FOR YOUTUBE AND TWITCH
By far, the most popular sound effects for YouTubers and Twitch streamers are the free ones. Most beginning creators are on a tight budget, so these are the obvious choice. Many people look for free sound effects on YouTube itself, but we don’t recommend this because the files are often compressed and low-resolution, and it’s usually unclear if they’re okay to use. The good news is that the internet is full of high-quality free sound effects that are easy to find and download. If you’re sick of bad-sounding, overused YouTube sound effects, here are some places to look:
- Soundly offers a free plan that includes 2,500 sound effects to use as you please. Downloading the app and creating an account takes just minutes, and you can always upgrade for more content.
- SoundQ is a software-based sound effects browser from prosoundeffects.com that includes a free library of more than 2,000 sound effects and 100 music files and stems. You can even organize your own library and purchase more sounds and music directly through SoundQ.
- Adobe offers free sound effects to download directly from its website. Scroll to the middle of the page to find four small libraries including a range of cartoon sound effects, gunshots, retro video game sounds and more.
- Freesound.org has been around since 2005, accepting submissions from amateur and professional recordists all around the world. The quality of these sounds can be hit or miss, but sometimes it’s the only place to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Just remember, even free sound effects require a license. This means that the creator has officially offered their content for use without compensation. The most common type of free license is a Creative Commons license, and there are several different types which each grant different rights. A CC0 license means you are free to use a sound in any context with no restrictions, while a CC BY-NC-ND license means that you must give credit to the creator, use the asset only in noncommercial works, and refrain from making any edits or changes to it. To learn more and browse CC works, visit the official Creative Commons website.
WHERE TO BUY SOUND EFFECTS
If you want more unique, high-quality sounds that are less likely to be used by others, it’s definitely worth investing in paid assets. There are many places to buy sound effects—some are more convenient for finding specific single sounds, while others offer larger collections (called “libraries”). Some, like Soundly mentioned above, even feature subscription plans that let you pay a fixed cost per month for unlimited sounds. Here are a few reputable sources for high-quality sound effects:
- Pro Sound Effects sells single sound effects as well as libraries, and even provides helpful information about licensing and other topics. Choose from dozens of categories ranging from “Acid” to “Zippers” and everything in between.
- Pond5 sells single sound effects as well as stock music, video and other assets to use in your content. Sounds are grouped into broad categories like “Birds,” or “Boing and Boom,” and you can even filter by price.
- A Sound Effect mainly deals in full sound libraries, which offer a great value if you need a lot of related sounds, such as gun noises or retro video game effects. Although it’s primarily intended for audio professionals, this site still has a lot to offer for creators.
Licensing paid sound effects is easy because the agreements are usually included in the documentation that comes with each purchase. Typically, these licenses allow you to use and manipulate the assets in commercial and noncommercial works with no restrictions—the only thing you can’t do is re-sell the content. Of course, you should always check the license agreement so you’re clear on the terms.
Sometimes, the only way to find the right sound is to create it yourself.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN SOUND EFFECTS
If you want unique sound effects for free, making your own is the way to go. This way, you can have full control to make sure your sounds are exactly what you need and be absolutely sure that nobody else is using the same ones. Here are a few ideas:
- Record a dozen or more layers of clapping at different distances to recreate the sound of a full crowd applauding.
- Record sounds around your house such as doorbells, ticking clocks or toilet flushes (just don’t put the mic too close) to use as stream alerts.
- Record yourself saying a phrase like “Don’t forget to like and subscribe” or “Thanks for the sub” using Blue VO!CE to make you sound like a robot, gnome or alien.
We recommend using condenser mics like Spark SL, Ember and the Yeti family for recording sound effects, since they pick up an amazing amount of detail. Dynamic mics are much less sensitive, so we don’t recommend using them unless you’re recording something very loud that would distort a condenser mic. Whatever you do, don’t record with your phone—not only will it be extremely hard to capture a clean sound, you’ll probably be limited to a compressed audio format.
You don’t need to be a professional audio engineer to record your dog barking, but here are a few tips to help you capture a decent sound:
- Record in single-channel mono unless the sound requires a stereo effect, such as a passing car or a large crowd.
- Before recording, do a quick test to make sure your recording levels are loud enough without causing distortion.
- Record in a quiet environment if possible, and try to position the microphone to capture only the sound source with minimal external noise or reverb from the room.
After recording, import your sound effects into editing software like GarageBand, Reaper or Audacity and make any necessary edits to ensure that they’re ready to use. This way, you won’t be surprised when you go to play your sound effects in a video or stream and discover that they’re inaudible, way too loud or harsh-sounding. Here are three easy steps for quality control:
- Take a look at how loud your sounds are and adjust the volume of each clip until the waveform peaks take up most of the space in the graphical display.
- Trim any empty space from the beginning and end of each clip and apply fade-ins or fade-outs if desired.
- Use an equalizer effect to filter out low-frequency rumble, reduce high-frequency hiss or boost middle frequencies to bring out more detail, and a limiter to tame loud peaks.
CUE THE APPLAUSE
There you have it: how to find sound effects for YouTube videos and Twitch streams. Whether you use free sound effects, purchase them or make your own, your channel will be better for it. For more ways to improve your content, check out our articles How to Choose and Use YouTube Background Music and Can You Play Music on Twitch?