Introducing The Well (SFX)
The Well (SFX) is sound effects librarian software. It was designed for feature and television picture editors and assistant editors to offer a free yet complete tool to find and export temp sound effects, whenever the creative whim strikes. The idea is to avoid ingesting a large library into the editing system and instead use this external reservoir. You need a better jail door slam? Go back to The Well.
The Well allows you to 1) search for sounds based on description, 2) mark the ones you want, and 3) export them to a folder:
- Search is Google-like. Type multiple words to perform an “AND” search (descriptions containing all the words are displayed: “this” and “that”). Or you can lead words with a slash “/” to perform an “OR” search (to find both /this OR /that). Lead a word with a minus “-” to exclude that -word. Use quotes to find that whole “word” only (no partial matches), or around a phrase to find “that phrase” (instead of the words that make up that phrase). Or use any combination of the above techniques.
- Play back the sounds you find and place a checkmark next the ones you want to export. The Well is able to play back many file types, and will search for the correct file type if the wrong one was set: just hit Play. The Well figures it out.
- Export the sound effects to any folder. Exported audio files will have names that tell you which personal or commercial library the files came from. In addition, you can add a custom text label to the beginning of the file names in an exported set. Licensing information tags can be added to the ends of file names, as well. These options are on by default and can be disabled by just unticking the respective checkmarks in the export section.
The Well is built using Filemaker Pro Advanced 11 (OSX 10.6 through OSX 10.9) and 14 (for OSX 10.9 through 10.11), with heavy use of custom scripts to make it behave as a proper stand-alone application. A completely stand-alone version is available that does not require you to have a copy of Filemaker. The original Filemaker file is also available here for courageous tinkerers.
The Filemaker Pro 11 version of The Well can be run on older systems such as OSX Lion (10.7), which is meant to help those who, for reasons beyond their control, are still on older systems. The Filemaker Pro 14 version has been tested to work through Sierra (OSX 10.12) and may work on higher versions of macOS (untested).
The Well is specialized, a little ugly, and requires some setup before it becomes useful. But once sound effects have been successfully integrated, it is quick and flexible to search, and it has some unique features aimed at film & TV picture editors and their assistants who need to get their temp work done efficiently and under time pressure.
Why this app and not something else?
Consider the following features:
- It’s free, which means a team can use it without asking the post producer for funds.
- You can collect your most-used sound effects in Favorites Lists, which themselves are organized hierarchically by Favorites Group > Favorites Project > Favorites List. Just create a List and add and subtract sound effects from it with the plus and minus buttons visible in each sound effect record. Then, call up any Favorites List to display just those sound effects.
- Audio files can live on a network share (it works well on Avid Unity/ISIS/Nexis, for example).
- The app never deletes or renames audio files; it can only add, not take away (helpful in networked environments!).
- Folders full of audio files can be imported, organized, and renamed automatically without much prep work.
- You can optionally import with conversion to .mp3, and optionally import using the files’ parent folders for Folder names to make organizing sound files into your Library that much quicker (v0395+).
- The app supports sound libraries that use indexes; additionally:
- if you have indexes in your metadata, but your audio file for a certain Track is a mashup of all of the Track’s Indexes, the app will still play the audio file (i.e.: the app has failover from Indexes greater than 1 to Index 1 for playback)
- if you have no indexes in your metadata, but your sound files on disk are split into several Indexes per Track, there is a Find Missing Indexes function to bring those missing audio files into the database as new records (the audio files only have to be in the proper folder and correctly named)
- The file names of exported sound effects reflect the Group/Folder/Track/Index of the sound effect (equivalent to collection/CD/track/index), so your post-production sound team can see what you used to build your temp tracks.
- An optional prefix can be added to the file name on export to help you stay organized (e.g.: “swamp fight” or “Sc.3 saloon atmos”).
- A licensing code can be appended at the end of the file name indicating whether the sound has yet to be licensed, which allows post-production sound teams to keep or discard your temp work based on what you, or they, own (defaults to “Not Licensed” to protect you).
- Durations and formats are automatically detected when a sound is played (fail-over from, say, .mp3 when the file on disk is really .WAV).
- External apps can be triggered to edit a sound effect, etc. (by default The Well can open an audio file in Quicktime Player and iTunes); Audacity is a free audio editing application that can come in handy as an alternative.
- Quickly switch from search mode to a special maintenance mode to fix descriptions and other issues in your Library, then switch back without losing your place.
- Duplicate detection, based on Group/Folder/Track, Group/Folder/Track/Description, or just Description, can be used to eliminate redundant sound effect entries.
- Tab-separated value lists of sound effects can be imported: you can collect effects or commercial libraries and integrate them into your library easily.
- Tab-separated value lists of sound effects records can be exported: share effects that you recorded in an open format with good organization that works like most commercial libraries.
- You can make backups of the entire Library – or just individual Groups or Folders – including time-stamps to determine the most recent version of any given record (you can keep older records or newer records when restoring from a backup, or allow duplicates if that’s your thing); this allows you to manage a growing set of effects for a full team (e.g.: use the Restore feature on each workstation and keep newer records).
- …and a few more things I’m forgetting about but managed to put in the app!
But also consider the following disadvantages:
- As a working editor, I don’t supply tech support: you are on your own.
- The app may be free, but your time isn’t free: it’s another environment to learn.
- The app requires careful batch-renaming of your commercial libraries’ sound effects files, using a third-party utility that is probably not free.
- There are no audio waveforms, and I don’t intend to add that feature (in practice and from a creative standpoint, waveforms seem not to be necessary when searching for sounds in picture editorial).
- changes in future versions of macOS may break something fundamental, such as sound playback, rendering the app clunky or even useless (so be sure to export or back up your Library in case you need to migrate to another platform in the future!)
How do I get it?
Starting January 2018, I decided to risk opening up access to The Well to anyone who stumbles upon it and creates an account on this website. You can now create an account, log in, and the download links will be revealed above.
If you decide to try The Well, be sure to read any instructions, both on this site and in the app itself. The beginnings of a Help page are here.
Also be sure to explore the free sound effects files and associated metadata files on The Well’s Resources page.
IMPORTANT: there is no tech support of any kind, and normally I won’t have time to communicate with you about the app, although any feedback or feature requests are welcome. Bug reports are especially useful, but please don’t expect a fix, especially on any timetable useful to you personally.
Remember: you are allowed to freely copy, give away, and modify The Well. The scripts contained within the Filemaker Pro file are authored by me and are published under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA), meaning you are free to share the application as much as you like, provided you give credit to me for the portions I authored and share the resulting derivative works in the same way. The BaseElements plugin and helper apps / command line utilities are each licensed under their own terms, but appear generally to be free to use. Credits appear in the app’s Main Menu page.
Why no support?
I am not a software developer. While I think The Well is useful and want to share it with the community, I’m not willing to support it technically for the public. If this feels uncomfortable in your situation, there are many commercially available apps that do much the same, do it faster and maybe better, and with tech support. Now you have options!
Some suggested alternatives, in alphabetical order (I have not used these – at least not yet):
- AudioFinder (geared towards music loops and samples)
- Library Monkey
- Sound Miner (industry workhorse / heavy iron)
- Soundly (cloud and local effects libraries in one)
Soundly looks particularly interesting and comes as a free download.
Why re-invent the wheel?
I developed my first sound library database purely for my own use in 2001, at that time using Microsoft Access. When I went Mac-only a few years later, I ported it to Filemaker. Meanwhile, industry players were charging $1,000 for similar software that had more functions than I would ever need. So I kept refining the sailboat I had rather than investing in an aircraft carrier.
When my career shifted from assistant editing to editing, I wanted my assistants to be able to use my library, but it was wonky, geeky, unwieldy, and hard to add to (OK, maybe it still is?). So I decided once and for all to “harden” the app for more general use by non-Filemaker users. While I admit it may have been a crazy thing to do in a world in which there are now very reasonably-priced alternatives, hopefully the effort will benefit the wider community. Maybe. Somehow.
Use it in good health!