What is Sound Design?

Sound Design

The sounds that you hear in a video, is often put in or enhanced by a Sound Designer. This can be everything from a sound effect to the clink of bottles placed on a table or the ambient sounds of nature. Videos and film are the most obvious commercial use of Sound Design, but it is not the only industry that Sound Designers work in. Live productions such as theatre and events may also involve the work of Sound Designers. Do any of these fields interest you? Are you creative but also have a good comprehension of technology? There is a lot to explore within the world of Sound Design. Let this be your comprehensive introductory guide.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

Sound Designers are responsible for the audio portion of a production. They are very active in the animation, video production and film industry but may also work on live productions such as theatre and performances. The main thing to understand is that Sound Designers are not like traditional composers or music producers. They do not produce music but rather all the other sounds that you hear in a production. For example, the sound of a spaceship swooshing by the camera in a sci-fi movie. The process for a Sound Designer to produce a single sound effect can be quite complex depending on what kind of result they are looking to achieve. However, the usual approach to creating a good sound effect is to capture a real-life sound recording and then manipulate that recording in a DAW using various plugins and tools. We'll explain more about that later in this article. In the video below you can watch an excellent Sound Designer in action:

What Is Sound Design: A Breakdown of the Art

Again, it isn't easy to create a brief yet clear picture of everything that Sound Design encompasses. It is easier to understand when broken down into its different components.

What Are the Elements of Sound Design?

In productions, there are 4 main elements of sound design.

  • Audio Effects

Audio effects, also known as SFX, is created by the Sound Designer using various methods. One of the methods was described at the beginning of this article, let's mention another one. If a Sound Designer were to start creating let's say a whoosh sound, he'd probably turn to a digital synthesizer plugin, like Serum for example. From there the Sound Designer would start carving the sound out from scratch by using wavetables and other technical components inside the synth. This requires a lot of creativity and technical skill as well as a great understanding of how sound in general works. These sounds can later be used in a movie or any other type of visual medium. A few examples of SFX you might hear in a movie are:

  • Braaams
  • Dark Atmos
  • Drones
  • Echos
  • Hits
  • Light Atmos
  • Risers
  • Tension
  • Whooshes
  • Bass Drops

ERA ONE is a Cinematic SFX Pack especially created for filmmakers, it contains all sound effects mentioned above. Listen to the video below to get a better idea of what these effects sound like.

Era One SFX Pack
ERA ONE | Essential Cinematic SFX for all production sizes. Sound Design made by: Foxhill Arts
  • Foley Sounds

Foley sounds are also sound effects, but these do exist in nature. They are included in productions to make them feel more realistic. Think of the many sounds that you hear during a scene at a beach or when a person walks on cobble stones. Good Foley is indeed the most vital part of a movie to make it feel realistic.

  • Dialogue or Voice Over

Making what a person says audible to its audience is another big part of Sound Design. In live productions, the Sound Designer ensures that the sound travels well to the audience. In recorded productions, the Sound Designer makes sure the dialogue or voice is captured and then further enhanced.

  • Mixing

Mixing, in Sound Design, means putting together different layers of sound and then if necessary processing these sounds trough various effect plugins to achieve the desired sound. One common plugin that is used by many professional Sound Designers is Decapitator by Soundtoys.

What Are the Responsibilities of the Sound Designer?

The specific responsibilities of a Sound Designer depend on the industry they are working in and its scale. Often, a Sound Designer works with a team of Sound Engineers, recording crew and Sound Editors, so there is some delegation of tasks. This is a general overview of what a Sound Designer does during different stages of production. The specifics will depend on what kind of production it is.

  • Audio Pre-Production

During pre-production, the Sound Designer consults on the vision and how to make it a reality. The Sound Designer tries to find a way to meet the director’s criteria and sets up the necessary logistics such as crew with different Sound Editors, equipment and methods.

  • Audio During Production

During the production stage, the Sound Designer often leads a team. This is one of the more technical phases as it mostly involves capturing high-quality recordings using professional equipment and microphones. This is when the Sound Designer builds sounds, either fully digitally or with real-life recordings.

Post-production is often the bulk of the job. This is where every little pieces comes together and is edited to create an effective whole. Most of the work is done using a DAW and different plugins, so a Sound Designer must be tech-savvy. Each sound has to match the visuals perfectly.

Sound Design in Different Industries

  • What Is Sound Design in Animation?

Sound Designers play a big role in animation. It requires a lot of creativity and precision to create a believable and interesting audio for animated videos. One of the more technical aspects of Sound Design in animation involves syncing the sound effects to movements on the screen. For example, if a ball is being bounced by a person on screen the Sound Designer needs to match the sound of the ball hitting the floor precisely to make it feel realistic. Some productions also involve editing a voice actor’s recording to suit the character’s role or the situation. For example, they may make their voice more sinister for an evil character or apply reverb if the character is in a bigger space. Animation is one of the more difficult industries to work in because there is practically no pre-recorded sound apart from a voice over. Thus, every single thing you hear in an animation was put together by a Sound Designer. Sound Designers are responsible for creating a soundscape with many different elements, including SFX and foley sounds. Without these soundscapes the audience would experience the animation as flat. Here's a good example of Sound Design in animation below:

  • What Is Sound Design in Film?

In film, the Sound Designer is responsible for creating the aural landscape. Every little sound you hear when watching a movie, TV show or video, is added to enhance the viewing experience. What is the first thing that you think of when someone talks about The Mandalorian or Star Wars? Lightsabers and laser blasts of course! Ben Burtt is the man behind the amazing lightsaber sounds. So in conclusion, Sound Designers are involved in movies from pre-production to post-production. They work closely with the Director, a team of Sound Engineers and Film Editors to capture the right atmosphere in each scene.

Star Wars is a great example of Sound Design in film
  • What Is Sound Design in Theater?

Sound is fundamental in a theatre. The goal of a play or musical is to transport the audience elsewhere within the theatre's constraints. Theatre productions often use foley sounds and SFX to enhance the atmosphere further and better bring the audience across the setting. These sound effects are generally pre-recorded. In this industry, Sound Designers are also concerned with how the sound travels in the space. This is quite a precise science and can be rather complicated. They will have to study how the architecture of the building affects how sound travels. Then, they decide on the appropriate tools and equipment and their ideal placement for the best acoustics.

  • What Is Sound Design in Video Games?

As video games become more immersive, the Sound Effects also become increasingly important. Players need coordination to play, but the creation of a video game requires even more coordination. You would think that video game Sound Design offers many freedoms since it is a completely virtual world. However, many game designers strive for a more realistic UX, which means that Sound Designers must be cautious with their sound effects. Timing is everything in a video game, and this is made even more difficult when a video game is interactive. It is very detailed and technical work which requires a lot of time behind a computer screen. When working on Sound Design for video games, Sound Designers may work on foley sounds to make the virtual world feel more real, custom creates the audio effects and advises on the soundtrack. Understanding physics is a vital part and key to a great sound in video games.

Video games like Minecraft contains very playful Sound Design

How to Become a Sound Designer

If this is a career that you are interested in, many paths can lead you. Whether you seek a formal education or want to pursue it as a hobby, there is a program that fits your needs.

Formal Education

Some many universities and institutions offer courses in sound design. They are available at all 3 levels, associate degrees, Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees. Often, Sound Design starts as part of a broader degree, but you can specialize. These are examples of degrees that may teach sound design:

  • Sound and Design
  • Music
  • Music technology
  • Electronic Music Production
  • Drama and Film
  • Sound Design for Theater
  • Production and Sound Engineering

You might follow different courses, such as:

  • Mixing recordings for film and audio
  • Creating soundscapes
  • Live and studio recording
  • Music mastering
  • Sound and music editing
  • Audio engineering
  • Audio post-production and pre-production
  • Sound design for visual arts and performance
  • History of sound design
  • Soundtracking
  • Sound for video games

Working While Studying

Sound design is one of the industries that offer more practical education, as well. You can apply for apprenticeships and on-the-job training, which allows gaining professional experience as you learn. To find these opportunities, you must network and do your research. Perhaps there is a Sound Design association in your area that can guide you in the right direction. Some production houses may also hire apprentices or interns. Another option is searching for government-backed programs or creative clubs and charities.

Switching Careers

Many sound designers actually have a background in another profession. Many have worked as composers, sound engineers or as sound crew on sets and theatres. Since sound designers are involved with sound aspects, having other experience works to your advantage. It gives you a greater understanding of the different component of sound design. This is to say that formal education is not a requirement to become a sound designer. If you can learn the technical aspects and have a natural ability for the creative aspects, you can make the career switch.


These days, you can learn a great variety of skills just from the internet and short courses. This is especially true for more creative work. Creativity is difficult to teach, so if you already have a knack for experimenting with sound, you are one step ahead. You can use this natural creativity to learn how sound design works in a more tactile manner. Find out which institutions offer short (online) courses in sound design. Look for tutorial videos that guide you through the process in a more casual manner. The biggest obstacle when it comes to learning sound design on your own is that you need access to the software and equipment, which can be quite expensive. Look into possibilities of renting sound design gear and read reviews on free software. Sound design is an exciting blend of creativity and technical skill. It forms an integral part of many creative and visual industries, which can lead to thrilling careers. Sound designers play an important role in every part of a production. It requires great attention to detail and coordination to create a successful aural experience. Since it encompasses so many different niches and elements, you have a great opportunity for specialization. Each industry has its own audio demands, which offer a great variety of work.