Designer Sound: Get it at the library

"With over a decade of experience and hundreds of projects completed as a sound designer for online, radio and TV, I can tell you that sound design is not easy! Both from a technical as well as creative aspect. Then, there are the tight deadlines, and client briefs to meet.

What makes good sound design is that the sound engages the audience, supports or reinforces the message; makes music sound better and helps the visual have more impact. When working with a visual, such as video, TV or film; or even for YouTube and other online platforms; those visual cues really help convey the message. You can adjust the sound design accordingly; as the visual will usually carry whatever message is intended; and the sound will (or rather should) support that.

Radio on the other hand is unique. In radio Sound Design is critical, as all you have is sound to completely convey the correct message to the listener. Those sound effects (and voice) need to be absolutely precise; and in a 30’ commercial, there is usually only space for a 1 second or 2 second sound effect that needs to pack a Hollywood Blockbuster film’s worth of info in.

There are in fact 5 key areas a sound designer needs to be aware of:

Dialogue, foley, sound effects, background, and music

Dialogue.

With dialogue, you want the vocal crisp and clear, upfront, and typically centred in the mix. Using your gain, volume and a compressor will help you manage the dynamics, and clarity of the vocal. Use an EQ to clean up the unnecessary low-end frequency and to help cut through a particularly dense mix. Be careful when using Noise Reduction tools. Make sure that you’ve invested in really high-quality plugins; I really like the Acon Digital Noise Reduction suite. The price won’t break your cash stash; and the results are great! As with any plugin, but particularly Noise Reduction plugins, if you push them too hard, you will really hear them working and unnecessary artefacts creep in that can spoil and otherwise good take.

So, practice! Get to know the tools and you’ll hear where the ‘sweet spot’ is and where it just isn’t working.

The secret to a great Voice Over is right from the source. The voice itself, the artists delivery, and your recording. After that, there should just be tweaks, and not corrective use of plugins. Get the VO sound right, at the very source.

Foley

This is where your technical and creative skill need to match.

Every sound designer should have a decent portable recorder, nice set of microphones and good headphones nearby, to always be ready to capture those unusual sounds. Yes, I know editing them and cataloguing them takes forever, but hey, we all know it is worth it in the end!

Foley is always useful. You can have a library with 100 door handle open sounds, and it just doesn’t work for the project you’re working on. With visual, it can be a little trickier to find the right effect to match the visual. You can’t really use the sound of a metal hit if the object being struck is wood for example. So, sometimes, you just must record your own stuff. And that is way cool! Just seriously time consuming. For projects where there is just sound, then you can be seriously creative and ‘cheat’ a bit on the foley, a metal clang might be exactly what that ‘wooden’ object needed!

Background

Make sure you listen to the environment first if possible and find where the best position is for recording. Do your recon. Check when traffic comes in at what time its busy. This is especially true if you are looking to do park or nature recordings.

An important tip for continuity. Try record at least 40-60seconds of room tone for each of the sound stage areas in your production. This will really help your final mix engineer to tone match the different environments. You can always feed the samples into a convolution reverb plugin and take it from there.

Have as many different types of ambiences for different backgrounds as you can. I usually like to label mine as light, medium and dark, depending on how dense or ‘busy’ the background is.

Music

In film and radio productions the music bed is usually buried quite far back in the mix to make room for the dialogue. Use your ears, watch your meters; listen on various playback systems; and talk to your team. You’ll get the mix that works for you. I typically prefer my music and sound design to be a little louder than the average; so that it blends into the VO, rather than the VO feel like it is ‘over’ the music and effects. But this is personal preference, and your creative director will let you know what they are looking for.

Oh, and at times, silence really is your friend!

Sound Libraries

When you are booked for multiple sessions and projects; and each are allocated a 1-hour production time schedule; you simply just won’t have the time available to dedicate to create your own samples and sound effects. And This is why Sound Libraries matter.

This is why I have various cinematic and sample library packs; and specialized sound fx packs on hand for my projects. I often record my own effects and build up songs and music beds when I have extra time. But, often, with very tight deadlines, I need something that is ready to go out of the box that sounds AWESOME and fits the projects.

I have my favourites, but there are so many amazing companies out there, and labels that offer specific solutions, so I suggest you check these places out as a starting point:

r-loops.com; functionloops.com, producerloops.com and loopmasters.com.

I suggest that you really do invest in high quality sound effects samples/ libraries and make sure that you purchase a well-constructed sound effects library for your sound design. If you have something available that sounds great from the beginning, it will help make your session flow easier; and you can then adapt the material to suit and achieve fantastic results quickly.

Here's a video on using material from a sample library for a sound design project: enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSJ1_c2P8Mw