3 Ways Sound Effects Can Take Your Audio or Video Project to the Next Level

By in Audio Post, Pro Mixing, Video Editing

For those of us in the world of post-production, audio and video alike, sound design can be a lot like a toxic relationship. When we use sound effects well, we feel like the next Spielberg or Zimmer. Sometimes, however, we get tripped up, and it seems like we can’t get out of our own way. When done correctly, leveraging sound effects added in post can bring our projects the added life and realism that they need to stand out. Luckily, there are several factors in our control. Sound effects are far more accessible today than ever before. Choosing the right sound effects library license has become a crucial step in this process.

Here are three ways that sound effects can add meaningful impact to your projects, and how you can start adding effects wisely!

Sound Effects bring your work to life

Simply put: sound occupies a finite amount of our ears’ attention, and one of the worst things we can do for our listener’s ears is crowd space. You’ve heard it before, that band’s mixtape that has guitar solos cascading over lead vocals. Background effects that drown out dialogue – it’s chaos, and it’s just plain tough on the ears. Indie, projects, feature films and corporate videos can all suffer from poor audio editing, causing confusion and frequent rewinding for users. Our goal in producing content, whether audio or video, is to get a message across. If our message isn’t clear, how could it be successful?

So, how do we then make our message clear? Tasteful sound effects, placed properly can really bring a work to life. It’s key to understand why you need the sounds that you do. Sometimes you are telling a brand new story, unveiling it to the world for the first time. For other projects, it’s up to you to preserve the legacy of the brand and narrative that existed before you came on board. How do you want that first impression to be? Is it chaotic? Serene? Are you baiting the audience into a sense of comfort, only to take a hard turn? Once you have outlined the scene(s) at hand, you can begin to build a lexicon of emotions that you wish to invoke, and match those feelings with the appropriate sound design.

Sound Effects help big moments “pop”

One of the scariest phrases to hear from a producer/PM/client if you are in the creative arts is “make it pop.” The phrase isn’t exactly scientific, but it’s an effective way to describe the connection that content creators must make with audiences.

It may be obvious, but correctly timing your effects placement is a major key to a polished final product. People will notice that car crash noise out of sync with the video. People can tell when you miss moments of impact in post-production. We have to remember that when we’re designing sound for video, we want to remove any barriers to entry or cognitive processing for our viewers. A scene where a happy client talks about using your product should look and feel like a conversation, not a production. If your audience easily notices your production efforts, you may have missed the mark. The process of nailing timing/placement of effects is not limited to avoiding mistakes. Enriching content and adding authenticity to scenes create opportunities for your work to stand out – in a positive light. Look at ‘The Salesman,’ for example. The sound team of Mohammad Reza Delpak and Reza Narimizadeh discuss how they analyzed the film in silence, and then used sounds from elements both on and off screen to achieve the emotional purpose the director wanted. Even if you’ve never used sound effects in your content, there are tons of great tutorials out there that can get you up and running quickly.

Sound Effects save time and money

For some, “after effects,” “overdubs” and similar techniques can be viewed in a negative light. People who create original content sometimes strive to ensure that all content in the project is originally sourced. Spoiler alert: creating all of the original assets needed to bring our projects to life costs serious time and money. Those producers of original content pride themselves on their ability to create raw media from talent and experience. It’s almost always more expensive to get sound effects that have been professionally recorded, hosted and are readily available via a quality library.

The amount of time it takes to capture effects from the field can be prohibitive at best, and can even kill projects where they stand. Field recordings can even interfere with the primary messaging. Extras could have nonsensical conversations that are picked up, and we leave a lot out of our control when we try and capture these things live. Extensive libraries allow us to place our primary messaging up front and coordinate ambient and natural sounds to complement our most relevant content. Like many of the products in our day-to-day lives, sound effects libraries also come with very flexible pricing models. Whether you’re working solo buying one sound at a time, or teaming with groups across several business units with high volume; it’s readily available and fast to implement.

Next Steps – How do I get this done?

Evaluating all of the ways that sound effects improve your projects can be daunting, but it’s quick and easy to start taking advantage of these best practices. Want to make your message clear? Think not only about what sounds you need, but why you need them. Need to take better advantage of big moments in your audio? Rally the team (or yourself) and watch your video in silence. Think about the visual story, the environment, and the expectations of the typical end users. As for sound effects libraries, there are quite a few options available, but all sound effects libraries are not created equal. Quality, ease of use, adaptability/compatibility, royalty agreements, and pricing should all influence your decision.

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Matt is a Boston-based digital marketer, audio engineer, and editor for the Pro Sound Effects Blog.