An Open-Source and Comprehensive Solution for the Categorizing and Organization of Sound Effects

The Universal Category System (UCS) was a pandemic project with roots that stretched back many years. Understanding that a lack of any formal and widely used system existed for categorizing sound effects, I built my own. The first version of this category list was made over seven years ago, after teaching a class in Hamburg, Germany. Students told me that they struggled to organize their sound libraries. I came home and tackled what would be the very rudimentary beginnings of UCS. That list wasn’t widely advertised; it was hosted on Soundminer’s website and included in versions of Soundminer. Years later, I was surprised that many people had adopted it. When Covid descended upon us, and I found myself with time, it was worth exploring the list again.

I pushed ahead with the help of many others, including Justin Drury and Kai Paquin. We gathered a dozen or so people we called The Brain Trust and spent several months crafting a new system called The Universal Category System. The initial public release was v8.0; two additional updates have brought the list to v8.2, its final release.

At its core, the list is a spreadsheet containing 82 top-level Categories and 753 SubCategories. It includes explanations and synonyms for each list item. The synonyms are utilized in various tools to help search the list and find matches. Additionally, the list has also been translated into 20 languages.

But the core idea behind UCS is using a CatID, a short form of the Category/SubCategory information. Using this CatID at the beginning of a filename transfers that information to the filename itself.

And in addition to the list, UCS has become a system of tools, including an optional structured file naming system and a series of ways to interact with the list. UCS has deep integration into Soundminer but has also been adopted by all major database software, including Soundly and Basehead. There are additional tools for Reaper, Windows, and others. Several tools exist to help users interact with the list, such as Audio Category Clipper and a new Workflow for the Mac application Alfred.

If you are new to UCS, the best overview video introduction to the system is my lecture for the Soundgirls Virtual Conference in 2021. I have made this 35-minute introduction available on YouTube. It introduces the list, the problem it aims to solve, and shows some of the various tools available to interact with the system:

There are also additional videos on our YouTube Channel, linked at the bottom of this page.

UCS has a homepage, www.universalcategorysystem.com, which will direct you to the DropBox and/or Google Drive folder where all the various apps, tools, and lists for UCS are stored. There is also a Slack Group, a Facebook Channel, and a YouTube Channel. The links are below if you want to join us and learn more.

At the request of some users, I created a single large-scale PDF overview poster of the entire system. You can click below to see the original. Some users set this as their desktop when learning or using the system:

Special Thanks to the following people for helping to bring this system to life: Justin Drury, Kai Paquin, Andrew Quinn, Andy Martin, Arnoud Traa, Cédric Chatty, Chris Battaglia, Jeff Davis, Justin M. Davey, Michal Fojcik, Mikkel Nielsen, Paul Poduska, Roy Waldspurger, Théo Terror, Tim Farrell, and Tristan Horton, Steve Paquin, Aaron Cendan, Michael Pierluissi, Mark Winter, Oscar Rydelious, Gray Haugholt, Are Teashkin, Vitali Zavadskyy, Alvaro de Iscar, Andrii Voloschuk, Gustav Landerholm, Danijel Djuric, Colin Walder, Mikkel Nielsen, Michal Fojcik, Barbara Kapica, Arseny Tishkin, Mehmet Aksoy, Derrick Espino, Giel van Geloven, Arnoud Traa, Frank Kruse, Bo Li, Jamie Lee, Deb Dourneau, Alan Zili, Sami Kiosk, Katrine Amsler, Simone Micheli, Aline Brujins, Muyan Pei, JingDong Yue, Yang Ding, Suty Shen, Eddy Liu, Xingyu Liu, Vatalli Stepchenko, Sultan Almasoud and Prashant Mishra.

If you want to stay updated with news about UCS, please join the Sonofex Mailing List. Any updates regarding the system will be sent via the new unified mailing list.

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