By Zach Striefel, www.symphonyofspecters.com
Creating your own sound effects or hiring someone to do so is extremely beneficial to your end product. Mixing and matching from stock libraries is fine, but it really does make the experience more unique for the audience when the sound is crafted specifically for the environments and actions displayed in your game, film, radio, or television production.
The beauty of sound design is that there really aren’t any set rules. I’ve created machine guns sounds using samples from drum kits, and I’ve crafted cute bird chirps with a dog’s squeaky toy.
What does a Sound Designer do?
Sound designers create effects for movies, games and shows. Sound design is typically described as simply editing or manipulating sound to give the desired effect. This can be accomplished through many different techniques to create sounds that accompany an action, draw attention to a specific moment, or to give the audience a sense of the environment they are observing.
Record or Synthesize? Why not both!
What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to create an epic alien spaceship whizzing by? It’s all about layering and editing the sound to work for you, the way you want it to. If I were to create an alien spaceship whizzing by, I might record a train, car, or plane passing by to get a sense of movement and mass. Afterwards, I would open the samples in my Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) and see how I could make the recordings sound a little less organic, and more out of this world! This can be accomplished by processing the sounds with a vocoder or even maybe slowing it way down to get more depth.
Don’t be afraid to play around! Ask yourself “How would this sound if I did this?”. Adjusting the speed of the samples, pitching them up or down, or even reversing them all will create unique textures that may be the missing element to make your sound really pop.
Recording your own samples
Recording your own samples is great, but there are also alternatives for those who don’t quite have the means just yet. You can purchase royalty free sample libraries online, such as from the royalty free Sound Ideas libraries as the base to create your own unique sounds.
If you do use these sounds, don’t just pull samples from the library as is and pretend they are your own. Most of these libraries and samples have gotten around, and can and likely will be recognized. Don’t get lazy! Get creative!
If you can record your own samples, I’d recommend that you create a list of sounds or textures that you need, or might possibly need in the future. You’re not going to always be able to rely on sound libraries when you need something specific. Setting aside time to go out and record sounds or even doing some foley at home will be extremely beneficial. A good list to start with would be impact sounds for textures such as wood, glass, metal, rocks/dirt/bricks, plastic etc. or maybe some miscellaneous ambiance.
Invest in a good external hard drive (or more) and store these sounds. Be meticulous about labeling and organizing these samples. You don’t want to be searching for a sound for an hour because you lazily labeled the file “dsklfjdsf.wav.”
Does this sound right?
As a sound designer your goal is to create a sound that is going to either cue the audience to pay attention to something specific, to give the environment a voice, or to simply accompany an action. While it’s always good to be creative, don’t get so crazy that the sound loses its purpose. You are trying to say something with each sound, whether it’s a gun reloading, or a mystical forest ambiance. If you want to be sure that the sound is accurately conveying your original vision, reach out and get feedback from others.
Embrace suggestions and criticism
You may have a different vision than the rest of your team. And sometimes you’ll need to defend that vision and try to get your point across. However, more often than not, you need to swallow your pride and take everyone’s input into consideration. You may actually realize that the revised delivery actually improves the quality of the overall experience. Keep in mind that everyone on your team is trying to achieve the same goal, which is to produce the best experience possible for your audience. Don’t lose sight of that!
I hope you have found this article to be helpful as an introduction to the field I love! I’ll be writing future articles that dive deeper into how to approach sound design along with detailed examples of how you can create some pretty amazing sound effects.
Lead Sound Designer
Symphony of Specters
Audio Catch Profile