Sound design is a system for the development of sound solutions that are applied in different fields, using special audio production methods. This is actively used in the film industry, on TV, creators of computer games, theaters and other fields of art. Typically, sound designers are concerned with creating and modifying melodies and effects that have already been recorded, but they can also create compositions from scratch on synthesizers. In this article, we will take a closer look at the nuances of this profession and consider what it takes to become a specialist in this area.
What a sound designer does
Most sound engineers are self-employed and may provide services in several companies at once. Directors and producers are always looking for the best sound designers.
The sound design process has three main stages:
- Live recording and design. At this initial stage, sound engineers can record sounds, use sound libraries, or create an original sound;
- Mixing, editing and implementation. The technicians then edit and sync their sounds to the video. They cut and mix to make them more efficient and then use sound engines to implement them;
- Mix of sound effects. This step adds sound effects to the main sound mixes.
Sound design history
Sound began to be used to evoke an emotional response from viewers in ancient times. It reflects the mood of the work, emphasizes certain actions in theatrical performances, and much more. The use of music and sound effects continued in medieval plays. Then they began to be applied in theaters around the world, creating the right mood with live instruments backstage. In addition, the creators began to specifically write words to the actors, given that they will be accompanied by musical effects that will work in the specified time intervals.
Already at the beginning of the 20th century, the Italian Luigi Russolo invented a special technical device that added futuristic moods to the then plays and music concerts. His invention made it possible to simulate various sounds of nature and industry, such as trains or the whistle of bombs. Later, the composer’s achievements began to be actively used in traditional theaters, creating a believable soundtrack for their creations.
Perhaps the first recorded sound was used on a theatrical stage using a phonograph. It was a recording of a child crying in 1890 in London. After 16 years, the recordings were again used in the play “Nero” all in the same London.
At the same time, in those days no one used the term “sound design”, and the first specialists who took steps in this direction were called “masters of special effects”. They created and executed sound design behind the scenes, while taking advantage of technological innovations of those years, such as gramophones, various mechanical and electrical devices. At the same time, they paid close attention to the construction of these abstract or realistic effects and their execution.
In the last century, recorded sounds began to dramatically replace live sound effects, although it was often difficult to find new interesting solutions to replace them.
The emergence of digital technologies
At the turn of the 80s and 90s, with the development of MIDI technology and the emergence of “digital”, the sound industry began to change dramatically. To work on sound, it started to use digital audio stations (DAW) and new algorithms for processing sounds, which made it possible to start working on more complex solutions and effects.
In addition, interest in film sound has grown significantly, which has improved digital instruments and made them more accessible to people who do not have programming skills.
Also, the development of interactive applications has allowed to appear a new methods of producing “dynamic sound” that can be adjusted during program execution. This expanded the possibilities for creating sounds, so, for example, sound designers were able to faithfully simulate steps to match what was happening on the screen.
With the development of the Internet, sound design has gained even more possibilities, since it has become easier and cheaper to obtain sources for effects. Today, a sound designer can explore and download the best sounds online, avoiding wasting time and money searching for the unknown. In addition, the Internet has given the opportunity for sound engineers to have more freedom. They can now work in their home studio, using a computer, instead of paying rent or buying expensive equipment, or a place in the studio to edit and mix tracks.
Where sound design is applied
Sound design has many uses. Let’s consider the most popular and demanded ones.
In filmmaking, a sound designer is one of the members of the production team who works on the entire soundtrack of a film, or just a specific portion of it.
The first way designers enhance films is to create an off-screen feel. Cinema visuals show viewers what you want them to see, but sound can give viewers a better idea of what’s happening off screen. This adds to the fullness of the world of filmmaking.
This feeling of a complete world and rich landscape is difficult to match with the visuals. In fact, it is only through sound that you can create off-screen space. The sound design and speaker system will help create a sense of the fullness of the landscape, especially if the film is shown in a movie theater.
The second technique used in films is the use of the sound bridging technique. An audio bridge is a kind of transition that takes sound from the next scene in a sequence and uses it in the previous one. So you hear the next scene before you see it.
The third way to improve a project is through music. Music is the most effective way to make the audience feel, pull the strings of their hearts, raise tension or set the tone. Music often doesn’t have to be complex or intricate to be effective.
Plus, sound design and mixing can convey emotion in your film. If you think that a certain scene is not working as it should, and perhaps something is missing, then most likely it is sound or music. It is important to remember that the greatest function of this art is to make the audience feel.
Designers also indicate the location with the help of sound. As discussed in relation to the idea of off-screen space, the sound in a movie can be very grounding and help locate a particular scene. Background and atmospheric noise tell viewers where the action is taking place. Although these sounds are usually quiet, they are important to the stage because they appeal to the audience on a subconscious level. Without them, the scene will seem unnatural to the audience.
If the scene takes place on a busy street, the background noise should be the same as on a busy street. There should be sounds of people talking, car horns and light sounds of engine operation. If the scene is in a forest, the background noise will be the blowing wind, rustling leaves and a lot of animal sounds. It will contain everything that tells the audience about where the action is taking place.
Sound design, as a separate field, is considered one of the youngest technologies in the performing arts, with the exception of the use of projections and multimedia displays, despite the fact that some methods of sound engineering have been used almost from the very beginning of theatrical performances.
However, thanks to modern audio technology, theater sound engineers have been able to do more complex work, it has become cheaper and easier to use for live performances. It is worth noting that the film and television industry has had a greater influence on modern drama, which has led to the fact that scenes in plays are often made shorter. However, it is not always possible to embody this with the help of scenery alone, but you can effectively use sound.
Sound design has evolved tremendously in cinema, setting a high standard, and then successfully spread to the theater scene.
Often when working on musicals, the main task of the sound engineer is to work on the amplification of the sound so that it meets all the needs of the project. If the sound is already set on stage, then the master must adjust it so that it ideally performs certain tasks at different points in the performance. During this setup, certain methods are used, such as:
- volume control;
- installing speakers and microphones in the right places;
- work with additional equipment, if necessary.
In addition, the designer can determine where the microphones for the troupe and musicians will be installed, in agreement with the project management.
Also, the sound specialist must be 100% sure that during the musical the audience will be able to hear and understand everything that happens on the stage, regardless of its size and the amount of equipment. You should also make sure that the actors hear what they need to hear as they work.
Often the main goal of sound design during musicals is to maintain a decent sound reinforcement level, however, remember that most musicals also need sound scores.
When working with pieces, the designer focuses on the choice of soundtracks and different sounds, having previously conducted a study of the plot. In addition, you need to install and configure your sound system. At the same time, it is necessary to work closely with the director of the production to determine the emotional component of the play, which the audience should feel. Based on collaboration with the director and composer, the designer must decide which sounds will be played for this purpose.
It often happens that a sound engineer is hired to write music. He can also work with the director to identify certain points in the play that need to be accentuated with sound.
In some shows, music can only be used when changing scenes, but in others it can apply full sound effects. At the same time, different accents can be placed with the help of sound and somewhere in the middle of all this.
Those sound engineers who also have composer experience often write the musical parts for the pieces and design the sounds themselves. Much of this work during performances also needs significant sound reinforcement.
Most genres of music these days, such as rock, ambient, electronic music and others, play a significant role for the sound designer and producer, who hone the sound landscape of the entire recording. At the same time, the main task is to get the best result from the musicians of the project and make various technical decisions, which include setting up instrument timbres and arranging.
Also, producers who are into electronic music often turn to sound designers for help in creating a certain atmosphere of tracks and adding effects, as they tend to have a better understanding of synthesizers and compositions in this genre than others.
During fashion shows, the artistic directors often work closely with the sound engineers to ensure that the music matches the chosen theme of the event, the style of the collection, and more.
The use of sounds is widespread in computer applications and video games. At the same time, they must meet certain requirements, for example, do not load memory and processor, be used repeatedly, be interactive, and so on. Note that while applications are running, the main resources are concentrated on graphics, so sound and voice should be well optimized and compressed so as not to interfere with these processes.
When working with sounds, the computer must use special systems that can reproduce interactive sounds. To do this, the designer should work with special software that can change sounds or process data entered by the user while interacting with the application. Often times, when it comes to interactive application development, the designer must collaborate with audio programmers.
Basic elements of sound design
The following several elements of sound design are commonly used in production.
Often during production, you forget to add important things like sound effects. Fortunately, the art of foley can improve the sound quality. Foley is a reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to movies and videos in post-production to help create ambience.
Another important part of sound design is ambient noise. This is perhaps the most subtle but very important element if done correctly. Ambient noise acts as a cradle for all other sounds in the soundscape. Without it, the rest of the sound design would be unfounded and unmotivated.
Music and score
Music is another important component of sound design. Not every project requires an elaborate score, but the history of film music has shown that it has a powerful ability to evoke feelings in viewers.
Think about your favorite moments in the film. Often the music fills in at certain points in the story. And it is because of the music that it is so impressive.
These are sounds created because they don’t exist in the real world. Example: alien invasion.
It is the voice of the narrator, who is either a character or an invisible author leading the story forward.
Finally, perhaps the most important component is the mix. Sound design and mixing are important because they include all of the elements above and ensure they all work together.
Mixing ensures that all levels of design are correct. The mixer makes sure that the music is not so loud and does not drown out the dialogue, and that the background noise is not too low to be heard.
An important component of any good sound design is hardware – microphones and recording devices. Firstly, these are omnidirectional microphones. These microphones pick up sounds in all directions. Their pickup form, in which the microphone picks up sounds, is a circle that makes them clearer.
Secondly, there are cardioid microphones. These microphones only pick up sounds from the front and sides of the microphone. They have a wide, heart-shaped radiation pattern.
Finally, there are unidirectional microphones, also commonly referred to as “shotgun microphones.” These microphones only pick up sound wherever the microphone body is pointed.
In addition, the sound engineer must have and know how to use dedicated software such as Amped Studio, Pro Tools, Logic, GarageBand, and QLab, as well as various sound plug-ins.
The work should be carried out in a room with sound equipment – microphones, mixing consoles, amplifiers, compressors, equalizers and monitors.
Sound production process
The sound engineer is a vital part of any film or television production. His work starts from pre-production and continues through to post-production.
In preparation for filming, the sound design manager examines the script with the director to prioritize sounds and music. Some directors have clear expectations of how their projects will sound, while others are more open to collaboration. A designer can attend rehearsals to help them develop a suitable soundtrack.
The sound design team is given a budget and allocated to the following goals:
- Sound engineer team;
- Sound recording studios and other film sets;
- Licensing of music;
- Voiceover recording;
- Editing and mixing of sound;
During production, the sound design team is responsible for:
- Setting up equipment for sound reproduction;
- If necessary, train the deck operator.
During post-production, a team of sound engineers finalizes the sound and ensures it sounds the best it can be. To do this, apply:
- Working with audio files corresponding to visual effects;
- Placing dialogues and music on the timeline of video editing software;
- Audio design;
- Adding dialogue, music and voice-overs to the sound design;
- Ensuring correct synchronization of audio with visual effects.
How to become a sound designer
A combination of education and on-the-job training helps sound engineers succeed. Let’s consider them in more detail:
- Formal institutional learning. Sound engineers don’t need to learn. However, formal instruction in theater or film school can be beneficial. Schools often have strong relationships with organizations that employ sound engineers, so they can help students establish valuable professional contacts;
- Internship, on-the-job training and on-the-job training. Internships, on-the-job training and on-the-job training programs at small theater and film companies provide aspiring sound engineers with hands-on experience;
- Develop your vision. Developing your vision and knowing what you want to achieve will help you achieve your goals.
After completing your education and preparation, use the following strategies to start your career:
- Join online communities for sound design;
- Ask family and friends if they know anyone who needs sound design work;
- Create a sound library to grab the attention of potential customers;
- Listen to a variety of music recordings, sound design and music for films;
- Do small projects to write your resume;
- Work as a freelancer on various projects to diversify your skills;
- Be patient and understand that realizing your dream projects takes time and experience.
As you can see, the work of a sound designer is very important and in demand these days. People in this area work in several areas at once, such as cinema, music, theater, game industry and others. At the same time, specialists in this profession must have certain skills, understand the production of music and have the appropriate equipment. It’s not easy to become a true sound designer, but if you follow a clear plan, you can succeed and enter a demanded and constantly evolving market.