sound design

The Magic Of Sound

An appreciation of sound is often overlooked in video production. Wrongly viewed as playing second fiddle to the visual, a good quality soundscape can lift your choice of shots  and create a more compelling narrative. A poor soundscape will distract your audience from the story and at worst make them click away.

There are three core elements that make up the full soundtrack to a video.

  • Things people say

  • Sound Effects

  • Music

Let’s look at each of these turn:

Things people say

Your script or questions determine what people will say. You need to have authentic, easy to understand messages that are concise and interesting.  How well your on-screen talent communicates will confer different emotions, feelings of honesty and entertainment value.

To hit all these marks, take time to select the right on screen or voice talent and direct them appropriately on set.  Think of how different people can tell the same joke with different results.

When recording sound you need high quality mics as close as possible to your source to get a clean, high quality audio recording. There are lots of different mics for different situations, learn when and how to use them. Background noise and reverb is your enemy. Wherever possible check out your location beforehand so you know what to expect and have the tools and time to deal with it. Large hall giving you echo, you need sound blankets. Air conditioning unit playing havoc with your interview, turn it off!

Sound Effects

We naturally hear sound effects all the time. Our brain has an innate ability to tune out various background sounds and respond to more immediate ones. Think of the sound of distant traffic vs. a screaming baby in the next room and you get the picture.

Sound effects and background noise can bring realism, context and emotional punch to your video. If you’re opening on a beautiful forest landscape, the sound of birds or trees swaying in the wind will take us deeper into the world.  If a graphic or animated effect pops up you might have a “swoosh” or a “pop” to augment the movement and travel of the element.

There are many useful sites to find good royalty free sounds but it can be a lot of fun to create your own, in the film industry this is known as foley sound.

Music

Arguably one of the hardest things to get right in your soundscape is the music. Good editors spend a lot of time trying to find the right track to fit the narrative, pace and tone of the video. Of course videos don’t have to have a music track but if you omit music this needs to be motivated. For example you might have some awe inspiring spoken word or incredible natural sound effects to drive the narrative and additional music might prove to be a distraction.

Most often though and especially with short online videos music will be needed to help grab your audience’s attention, drive your story and keep your audience engaged.

When selecting music you have two choices - buy a stock music track from a site or have a professional musician compose something for you. The former is cheaper but the latter can if done well literally be a perfect fit for your video.

Note you should always check you have the rights to use the music and it should be labelled as “royalty free” for online use. You should always provide credit to the artist when using their track this is called “attribution” unless specified that this is not applicable. Creative commons has a great explainer on the different licensing types out there for different media.

Choosing the right music track takes time so be careful to avoid well trodden ground and tropes. A lot of music labelled as “corporate” can have a bland quality to the feel of piece with overuse of upbeat “plucky” guitars and ukuleles.  Find an instrument that fits, pay attention to the speed (BPM - Beats per Minute) and length of the track so it fits your narrative.

Sonic idents or “jingles” also form part of your soundscape. This is essentially a jingle or sound effect that introduces a brand logo, designed to remind you of the experience you've had with that brand, which is hopefully a positive one. Think “mmm Danon”, the little whistle from Mcdonalds or “Boing te boing, boom boom…” from Cbeebies and you get the idea. They help make your videos more consistent, memorable and unify video content across different channels.

Next time you’re planning a video, have a think about the three elements of your soundscape and decide on the best use of each element to strengthen your narrative and make your video more memorable.

Your audience will love you for it.