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Elements of sound design

Elements of Sound Design: Bringing Graphics and Sound Into Harmony

Table of Contents

An additional sound that accompanies films, theatre, or games improves the audience’s overall experience.  It’s as important as the imagery as it helps them get into the main story by absorbing the mood through a combination of sounds.

When we watch a heavy rainstorm scene in a movie, we may hear the wind blow and thunderclap. Another sound may then appear to add nuance, such as car alarms blaring at the same time. Finally, we can tell how heavy the rainstorm is by the mixture of noises.

The art of creating sound mixtures that enhance the nuances is later known as sound design. The sound designers must understand the characteristics of multiple noises to produce a final output that aligns with the pre-existing images or audio; elements of sound design.

Beginning your career in this field, of course, requires you to understand what sound design is. For this reason, we will review it further through this article. So keep on reading!

What is Sound Design?

Sound design is the process of creating sounds that resemble everyday objects. It can also include making noises to add nuances to a movie, theatre, or game plot.

It will be the responsibility of sound designers to do the job. Typically, they will work in a team to plan out the audio elements to add to the audiovisual content. 

Depending on the requirements, sound design may result in dominant or subservient audio. Dominant sound effects are commonly used to awe the audience. Subtle sounds, on the other hand, are ideal for getting the audience into the mood and focusing on the story.

What is Sound Design for?

Sound design serves several purposes–it builds mood, emphasises storytelling, and entices the audience who watches or listens to the final results.

We’ll go over how sound design works for several different outcomes below:

Film

Filmmakers often use sound design to accentuate the atmosphere, mood, and dialogue built in the plot. Commonly, a movie requires several sound design works, including:

  • Sound effects
  • Foley sound
  • Dialogue enhancement
  • Music score
  • Mixing

All of the above elements must be taken seriously because, in essence, films must represent and dramatise everyday life with the help of supporting sounds. Without professional sound design, the movie will be bland and lifeless for the audience to watch.

Theatre

Theatre is the live performance of individuals narrating stories on stage. In contrast to sound design for films, which involves audio post-production, sound design for theatres entails extensive planning of supporting audios throughout the production stage.

Since there is no post-production stage, the sound designer team must nail it during production. However, theatrical productions involve rehearsals, in which the actors and crews test all the show elements before finally performing them.

This is where sound designers can make adjustments to the sound effects, voice-over, or music to better match the intended results. Hence, the audience can enjoy the theatre play with the right audio elements.

Game

Most game developers prioritise graphics over sound, leaving sound as merely decorative. Hence, sound remains to be a commonly underused artistic element in many games.

Sound has a significant role in the game environment. Players can understand cues and directions in the game world and play more effectively by using voice.

Aside from that, audio elements help players experience a variety of emotions. Some games are meant to be soothing, while others induce an adrenaline rush. That’s why the developers must consider suitable sound designs to keep players engaged with the game.

Podcast

Although podcast productions only produce audio without any visuals, sound design is still very important in improving podcast quality. The quality will be tacky if you only record the raw audio and then release it.

Podcasts are typically narratives packaged as monologues or dialogues between two or more people.

Since the main focus of podcasts is storytelling, they require elements of sound designs that immerse the audience in the ambience , mood, and atmosphere of the story and allow them to absorb it.

That’s why you may hear sound effects and music accompanying a podcast. Comedy podcasts, for example, will use wacky effects to enhance the humour and punchline. Meanwhile, music is a common thing to open and close podcasts–giving the podcast a unique branding.

A Brief History of Sound Design

After learning what sound design is and its use in various audiovisual and visual content, you may be wondering how this artistic work was invented before it became popular.

Sound design has existed for as long as people have been aware of radio, as well as theatrical and musical performances. In 1890, the London Theatre used a phonograph to play a baby’s voice.

Then, in 1913, an Italian composer named Luigi Russolo created the intonarumori, a sound-producing device. Intonarumori can then generate both natural and synthetic sounds for use in theatrical and musical performances.

Although sound design dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was not recognised until 1959. Prue Williams and David Collison were the first to receive a credit for sound design after their contributions at London’s Lyric Theatre Hammersmith.

The term “sound designer” was coined in 1961 when Jack Mann received the title on Broadway for his work on Show Girl. While for the US regional, Dan Dugan was the first person referred to as a sound designer for his work at the America Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California, the USA, in 1968.

As technology advances, the use of sound design is becoming popular. Almost all film, video advertisement, game, and podcast productions employ appropriate sound design elements. In fact, even at the beginner level, novice producers also use amateur sound effects.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

A sound designer typically spends their work days in a recording studio. They strive to develop sound effects that represent and accentuate everyday noises while also aligning the audio elements with the requirements of the producers.

Since there are numerous elements of sound design, we can classify the work of the designers into several stages, as described below:

Live Recording

Every sound designer must begin by recording the voices they intend to use as sound effects. This step is also known as foley design, where they recreate noises that fit the scene they want to add sound effects.

During this step, sound designers typically make any type of movement with any object and place microphones to record the voices produced by the motions. They will do a live recording while watching the clip to match the actions and the audio they create.

Mixing and Editing

The previously recorded audio tracks must go through the mixing and editing stages. Mixing and editing audio entails balancing sound elements and serving blended elements in a single track. 

Sound designers will typically divide the audio tracks based on the instruments, such as vocals, bass, brass, and so on. They can balance the audio after separating the instruments, resulting in tuned up or down audio at desired volumes.

Aside from that, they can also add sound effects to the audio tracks. This will result in more colourful tracks with the addition of reverb, modulation, or distortion.

Finally, during this stage, sound designers can correct errors that occurred during the track recording process. It’s common for recorded tracks to have minor flaws that autotune or filters can fix.

Implementing Final Tracks

After sound designers have completed the mixing and editing process, they will have audio tracks that are ready to be attached to video or audio-based content. 

Typically, they will combine the pieces of the track into a single file to make the process of implementing audio on raw content easier.

Sound designers will almost certainly collaborate with video editors during this stage. They do this to ensure that the final result aligns with the audio tracks they initially designed.

5 Elements of Sound Design

We’ve already talked about how sound designers create noises by conducting live recordings. We also mentioned that the recorded audio is made up of object motions that reflect everyday noises, resulting in realistic sound.

However, did you know that sound design includes elements other than the sound of moving objects, also known as foley design? 

We’ll go over five elements of sound design that you should also understand.

Ambience

Ambience sound effects are additional sounds that can represent the background of a particular place. Sound designers must consider the setting of a scene and estimate the appropriate ambience sound effects.

For example, a scene from an action film depicting a fight between two actors in the middle of a traffic jam must have a background sound of car horns and raucous screams from many people. Hence, the audience will feel as if they are part of the fight scene.

Sound designers can obtain ambience sound effects by purchasing a license from one of several audio providers. However, if they think the audio options are not representative or the film producers require more realistic ones, they can record the audio themselves.

Foley Sounds

Foley sound is one of the elements of sound design that has recently gained popularity. The process may come up as surprising since the artists do not always do the same thing as displayed on the scene.

Foley artists, for example, may toss their hands into a bucket of water to create the sound for a sea battle scene. That way, they won’t have to perform a potentially impossible scene.

Dialogue

Although the actors have said their lines while playing a movie or becoming podcast hosts, the recorded raw audio frequently has flaws. This makes sound design an important part of the process because it allows for dialogue enhancements, resulting in better sounding output.

Audio Effects (SFX)

Audio effects are artificial noises created by sound designers for use in movies, video games, and theatres. The process of creating audio effects is similar to that of foley design, in which designers record live object movements.

However, at this stage, the recorded audio will go through the editing process. It aims for the audio effects to sound unique, allowing the audience to have the best audible experience while watching movies, watching theatre performances, and playing games.

The following are some examples of Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that sound designers widely use to create audio effects:

  • Adobe Audition
  • Audacity
  • Logic Pro X
  • Fl Studio

Voice Over

Voice-over is common use in documentary films or another type of content that lacks dialogue but requires explanations to help the audience understand the plot. Typically, the voice-over talent will record the lines and hand over the recorded audio to the sound designers.

It will be the sound designers’ responsibility to process the voice-over. They might, for instance, mix it with other audio elements such as sound effects, foley sound, and ambiance. Most importantly, they must ensure that the voice-over matches the content.

How to Learn Sound Designs

The main provision for learning sound design is your strong desire to learn this field. After you are sure that you have a strong desire to become an audio professional, now is the time for you to take your next steps.

Enrol in Music Courses

If you want to be a sound designer but lack the necessary skills and experience, enrolling in music classes may be the best option. One of the ideal classes is a Diploma in Electronic Music Production and Sound Design, which focuses on the field of sound design.

Enrolling in this course will provide you with the opportunity to learn from practitioners who are already experts in the field of sound design. Besides, you will also gain a network of people who share your interests, making it easier for you to pursue your dream career.

Internship

If you want to apply your sound design skills, the next step is to look for internships. By doing an internship, you will get to experience real work situations that will show you what it’s like to work in this field.

You will be given real problems to solve, so you will have to use your problem-solving skills. Not only that, but the internship will also teach you how to work well with your coworkers, which is an important soft skill you need to learn.

Most importantly, an internship will strengthen your portfolio. You can put future projects from your internship in your portfolio, making it easier to find full-time or freelance work.

Career Opportunities for Sound Designers

The opportunities for sound designers grow in tandem with the number of companies involved in the creative field. Nowadays, sound designers can pursue a career in a variety of industries–starting with movies, gaming, podcasts, theatre, and so on.

Furthermore, pursuing a career as a sound designer does not necessitate relying on large corporations. There are many small businesses and even individuals who require sound design services these days–don’t be afraid to pursue a career in this field.

Sound Designer Salary Range

After discussing the various career opportunities available as a sound designer as a result of the growth of the creative industry, it is now time to discuss the salary range for this position.

According to Salary Expert, the average salary of sound designers in Singapore is 60,018 SGD per year, equivalent to around 5000 SGD per month. However, the stated figure excludes bonuses, which can total an average of 1,080 SGD per year.

The level of experience also affects the salary that sound designers in Singapore receive. An entry-level sound designer earns approximately 44,068 SGD per year. Senior sound designers, on the other hand, can earn an annual salary of 73,733 SGD on average.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article will help you grasp what sound design entails. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of what you need to do, whether you’re looking to improve the audibility of your content or become a sound designer yourself.

Make use of your audible abilities and become the sound designer of your dreams. Request information about the Diploma in Electronic Music Production and Sound Design programme today!

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music production courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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