I’m a musician for about 15 years. I’ve recently been delving more into music production and now sound design. I want to pursue sound design as my career. I’m getting my feet wet with a project with a friend. It’s an audio fiction that he wrote and I will design the sound for. He’s already editing a short 5 minute bit with audio as placeholders to show me the timing of when the sound needs to come in. I’ve been searching for a beginners guide so I can know what to start with, but have not found anything of the sort. I’m a bit lost about what to start working on. Organizing tracks, grouping by type, volume, reverb to place sounds in position, etc.
Do you have any advice for me? Thank you!
By the way as an update I have some sounds I wanted to run by the community for feedback by posting them to a new thread, however the ask a new question function is not working so I’ll post the link to my SoundCloud here.
I didn’t have anything specific in mind for these sounds. The goal was to experiment under limitations. I had to only use my iPhone 5c, kitchen items, Reaper, and Reaper’s stock EQ and reverb as well as time stretching and pitch shifting.
Also should I create another Soundcloud using my real name and connect it to my Facebook? This account is just one for fooling around.
Do you guys have any other online sources to recommend for getting critical feedback?
It sounds like you are working in Audio Drama. I’ve been doing it for more than 2 years now. I recommend that you join the Facebook Audio Drama Production Podcast community and also listen to the 100 podcast episodes they have produced. Lots of friendly people with various degrees of experience but a great passion and willingness to help. It’s not all sound design – a mix of producers, composers, sound designers, actors, writers, artists etc. All working on audio dramas.
I wish I had time to organize this better, but unfortunately I don’t. Here is some general advice/workflows, etc., but again – I’m not sure where your experience level is. Also, my apologies if it’s too scatterbrained. 🙂
- Find a mentor. This can be anyone in the sound industry, but ideally someone who is where you want to be; who is a master of their craft and passionate about what they do. A heart and aptitude for teaching are great qualities as well. Stay humble, take every opportunity to watch them work, to work with them, and ask questions, and hear out everything they has to say, even if you think you already know it. You would be amazed at the times that I’ve experienced a huge revelation, while being told something that I thought I already “knew”. A mentor will be an invaluable resource, that you don’t want to be without.
- Always do your best work. Always. Some of the biggest opportunities of my career, were due to the fact that I was “faithful in the little things”, and the right person happened to see the right project and were impressed enough to seek me out. You never know who will see your work, or when/where they will stumble across it.
- I noticed that you are reading Sonnenschein’s book – that is an excellent read! It’s a great book to open your eyes to the world of sound design, it’s importance, and it’s potential.
- “Do it.” This is about the best advice anyone could give. I spent every moment I could working on self projects that stretched me beyond my ability, and gaining invaluable experience. The level to which you implement this advice, will directly determine how quickly you climb.
- Be careful how long you spend working for free. You may not feel like you are “good enough” to charge for your work, but I spent years crippled by self-doubt – working for free or pennies – when I was more than qualified to charge for my work. There are two questions you need to ask yourself: can I do it better than my prospective clients, and do my services bring legitimate value to them. If the answer is yes, then you need to start charging an appropriate rate for your work. But that is a rather large can of worms to dive into here…
- On to workflow. I will give you my philosophy, but hopefully others with more experience will chime in, and we can both learn something. 🙂
- Session organization is super important. It is vital that you develop/adopt a system or workflow asap – don’t worry if it’s not perfect – you can refine and tweak it as you go. This can take a lot of work and thought up front, but will save so much time and headache on the back-end.
- I you’re experienced with mixing music, then you know the general ins-and-outs of signal flow. All of the tracks belonging to any one category cascade/consolidate down to “sub” tracks (a single track, with multiple other tracks routed through it – or “dumping” into it). All of the “subs” then consolidate down to “stems” (a “stem” is the “sub” track for all of the sub tracks), which then eventually consolidate down to the “master bus”, which is a single track that all the tracks eventually “dump into”, one way or another. When I first started, the signal flow in Pro Tools was completely foreign and confusing to me, until I wrapped my head around how a physical mixing desk’s signal flow worked. Gaining a working understanding of analogue, is the best way to learn about and understand digital, IMO…
- Here is a quick example of a simple dlog signal flow. For some “categories” of tracks, this can much more complex – take fx for example. I have a bank of basic “hard fx” that I’ve most likely cut from a library, then a bank of sound design fx (I work in Reaper for some of this), a bank for BG’s, and banks for feet, cloth, props, etc. Now each of those banks consolidates down to a sub track, and in some cases those subs consolidate down to another sub, but eventually they all wind up in my Fx Stem – which dumps into the Master. There’s no wrong way to do all this, as long as everything gets routed to the right places, and solos and mutes at the right times, etc.
- Templates are a lifesaver. Whether you’re getting these from someone, or creating them yourself… Definitely a good call.
- Here is the order in which I approach a project:
- Get the OMF/AAF, pull it into my session, organize all of the clips onto the appropriate tracks, so that the right sounds are all going to the right places.
- Start with Dlog. In the film world, Dlog is king and the #1 priority above all else. If you can’t understand the actors, then nothing else even matters. *there can be room for artistic liberties, but that’s another discussion* First, establish a smooth Dlog edit. Fix the cut-off lines, smooth the auditory transitions/discrepancies in every scene, roughly balance the levels; in short, make it sound as good as you possibly can, without actually doing any processing (EQ, noise reduction, etc.). This will give you a better perspective on where and when to apply the processing. Second, I make a pass where I EQ, run some noise reduction (I use Izotope RX), balance levels a bit more, compress a little. This is not the polishing stage, you’re just trying to beat the raw tracks into shape, so to speak. Once you start to compress and EQ, you will have a much better idea of whether it needs more RX.
- Do your background’s next. You won’t be able to tell how much RX, EQ, etc. needs to be done on your dlog, until you know how much the BG’s will cover up. There’s no need to destroy your dlog, by crunching it through extreme processing, if the bg’s are going to completely mask the problem. Sometimes a little noise in your dlog isn’t a bad thing. A lot of people like to do this step, before they take a second pass through the dlog.
- After this point, I have no real “process” that I strictly follow. It just depends on the project. Typically, I will cut all of the hard fx, then move on to sound design, then move on to foley, and then start polishing everything and begin the mix. I also tend to pseudo-mix as I go.
- Re: Mixing levels – I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer that. I’m sure there are others here who are. I can tell you one thing, though: get your dlog levels sitting in the pocket, and then mix everything else around that. Again, Dlog is King. I think dialnorm is -27dBFS? or -24LKFS, but broadcast standards vary from country to country… Average peaks are not to exceed -10dBFS, and instantaneous peaks not to exceed -6dBFS (peak levels based on specs received from networks). Again, I am no authority on the matter. If you feel up to it, you can wade into Georgia Hilton’s thread over on Gearslutz. That will either raise more questions on the topic than you thought existed, or will answer any you have and then some. Warning: Firehose drinking imminent.
- Re: reverbs. Use mono reverbs for dlog (esp. ADR). It took me way too long to realize this. I actually use mono verbs a lot for things like foley, hard fx, etc, too. Because the room reflections in the dlog are recorded as mono, many times a stereo verb will sound very unnatural when trying to place objects in the same “space” as the dlog. Now, there are any number of exceptions to mono verbs on sfx, and even for dlog. “It depends on the project…” and all that jazz.
- Re: Sfx cutting/editing. Don’t work in stereo so much. Mono sfx will help with localization, and ultimately can create a more expansive stereo field than stereo sfx are capable of. Use mono, and then pan them. Definitely keep your foley mono, and be carefull about going overboard with panning it all over the place.
- When you’re working with your backgrounds, while you need to have stereo elements, also try have a mono track or two to lay under the dlog.
When it comes to a radio theatre-style production, some of the above will change, such as being conservative with panning foley. I have very little experience with that world, though.
I hope this helped, and did not just muddy the water more. 🙂
I recently graduated college and was hired through my internship. Throughout college I was aiming to be a dialogue editor and audio restoration repair specialist. When I started my internship (and a little before) I saw myself veering away from dialogue based on the opportunity at the studio, and my own interest, and more towards designing, foley, and spot sfx editing. I was googling and looking for as much information on sound as possible, not strictly dialogue based. Sites like this, asoundeffect.com, and even subreddits helped me find different ways to learn.
Find what peaks your interest and start googling! I spend most of my free time looking at blogs such as this or just googling. I have gotten more into field recording, and found Paul Virostek site Creativefieldrecording.com and his other sites such as http://www.soundeffectssearch.com/
It can be similar to the wikipedia game, where you start off with one search topic, and then keep going from there. One of my searches I came across this site! Or another random sound searches and I found this site- Guide to make your own sfx
Lot also has to do with projects I’ve worked on and what role I was working on. One really cool project I did for a class in college was design a short clip using only sounds we created from household items. In class we worked on the trailer for the 3rd Transformers film. For our project assignment was the Iron Man trailer. I ended up recording vacuums and my foot dragging across carpet for the sound of a fire extinguisher. Highly recommend this! Gets you thinking how you can use a sound to create something else, use multiple sounds layered together to create something.
As I have worked in a post house, learning from other engineers has played a huge role. Just flat out picking their brains on their thinking for creating something, or a way they work. There are more than one right answer. Always take suggestions and advice! Kinda like you are doing with this right now.
So long story short
Listen to your surroundings! Take a minute and just observe what you are hearing in the space, what you think should be in the space, and what sounds weird to you. Is there a ticking coming from something plugged in the wall? Cars outside? Play around with reverbs and EQs and pitching. See how far you can use a sound to play with what you want to do.
Not to mentioned sound effect websites. I have found that having the tools to create is always key. Yes it can get pricey, but there are constantly free packs to get you started. Your sound kinda dictates where you go from there. If you have the time, like others have said, experiment with your sounds. If you have music plug ins/ virtual instruments- use those. One of my coworkers who is also a sound designer showed me the capabilities of virtual instruments and how they can help in the design.
Learn the tools you have available to you. Stretch those out as far as you can get them. Once you have seek out sound libraries or instruments and see what you can do with those.
Also here is the first part of Mike Thorton’s guide he posted on Pro Tools Expert for Audio Post Production Workflow. Could be a good starting point for you
Pro Tools Expert is also a great source for all things audio, Pro Tools, software, plug ins, etc- and new products coming out.
Hope this helps! Let me know if anything I said needs clarification or isn’t “sound” advice. Ha get it. Sound
Also- use as many puns as possible.
Can’t forget soundworks collection!
Behind the sound and music of big movies
Apart from books and hands-on learning, I’ve found small forum posts to be an invaluable source of information. Forums such as the one you are on now and others. It’s little bits of information here and there which you consume and you occasionally get an ‘Owwww’ type moment.
There are a lot of tools at your disposal that you can use, the problem is that you don’t know how to use them yet, and that’s fine. What you need to do, in my opinion, is severely limit yourself to begin with and then slowly introduce more tools.
For example, is there a mysterious/abstract scene in the project? Why not, to begin with, limit yourself to only EQ and Reverb? Record things such as small tapping sounds, impacts, brushes, whistles, breathing, etc and then run it through a Reverb plugin and see what you get. Not mysterious enough? Add more reverb, add a different kind of reverb. Does it sounds too bassy or is it too piercing? Use the EQ before the Reverb in order to shape the sounds.
As other people have said on here, just do it, but my contribution would be to initially limit yourself and then slowly build on that by adding more elements.
I’m an old sound designer, but haven’t been designing for very long. barneyoram’s advice, “just do it”, is golden. My passion was in the whole process of film making. I say “was” because the whole process fell to me. Friends that had to work for a living was the crux. Go figure. I saw the “elephant” during my independent film work. It was all new to me, but “just do it” propelled me.
I didn’t just get my feet wet in every step of film making, I got soaked. For good or for bad it was an immense learning experience. After five years (+/-) and two small films later, I discovered something; sound design is a ball. I concluded that back in the day if I was trying to hang my hat in Hollywood, it would be as a sound designer. The life that it gives to film can’t be over emphasized. It’s the magician’s slight of hand that goes unnoticed, but creates the illusion.
I hope you have taken the advice from barneyoram’s last sentence and just do it.
Speaking as a relatively new sound designer, my advice would be to just do it. Sure, stock up on some books, watch a few lectures, begin to cultivate a understanding and knowledge of the practice. But thinking and talking about it will only go so far – the best way to learn is to begin designing sounds, make mistakes, experiment, finishing something, send it to someone you trust to critique it (preferably someone who understands sound design – there are a lot of people on this site that i’m sure would be willing to look it over for you) and repeat. You are in an ideal situation too, working without visuals – you may find this even more freeing than working to the strict timings of picture.
From my experience, I learned the most by just starting small, doing a lot of things wrong and learning how to do them right. Good luck! 🙂
First of all, you’ve definitely come to the right place for learning and community support. Make a conscious effort to constantly be recording, editing and learning. Personally, I like to set goals for myself weekly.
I’d definitely recommend Ric Viers book The Sound Effects Bible if you’re looking for some reading material. Tonebenders is a great podcast if you want something to listen to. If you don’t have one yet, setup a twitter and pay attention to things that get tagged in relation to sound design.
I was more or less in your situation (although I had done some audio work for indie games) and I went to Uni to study sound design. It’s by far the best move I could make for my career at that point and I’m so glad I did it.
You can also look into taking online courses or tutorials if you’re disciplined enough. Excellent resources here on Designing Sound and elsewhere: