Sound design is an extremely rewarding career. As a sound designer, you’ll help craft the audio experience of films, television, theatre, games and other media – but what exactly does a sound designer do?
In order to answer this question in more detail, we take a look at the roles, duties and responsibilities of a sound designer in this article. We also share share design examples and explain what to expect from a career in sound design.
What does a sound designer do?
Sound designers are responsible for creating the audio used in film, TV, theatre, games and other productions. From creating real-world-like sound effects, to creating atmospheric soundscapes to enhance the mood of a film production, sound designers are responsible for the production’s entire audio environment.
The exact role of the sound designer will differ across industries, and can also vary across projects. What may be a sound requirement on one production, might not be applicable to another. A romcom film would not require scary sound effects, whereas a horror film would, for example.
Sound designers typically work with a team of other audio professionals, including sound engineers and mixers. They may also collaborate closely with the director and other members of the production team to ensure that all audio element enhance the overall storytelling and create an immersive experience.
Here are the main roles and responsibilities of a sound designer:
- Create new sounds required for the production
- Create atmospheric sounds
- Record sounds using professional studios and equipment
- Source sound effects
- Edit sounds for the desired effect
- Work with directors and creative teams to fulfil the creative art direction
- Create live noises for performances (where the production is live)
- Work with audio engineers and sound technicians to ensure sounds are of high quality and the setup is correct
Creating immersive sounds
The primary body of work for a sound designer includes creating new original audio elements, which are then used as sounds within the production. This includes creating Foley work, sound effects, dialogue and any other sound elements that the project requires.
Creating new sounds is an exciting prospect for any aspiring sound designer. This process is an art, whereby everyday objects are used to replicate the sound of real-life noises. For instance, coconut shells have long been used by sound designers to create the sound of a trotting horse.
Creating atmospheric sounds
Sound designers are also responsible for creating atmospheres and moods using sound, and must have a strong understanding of how audio can be used to create these effects.
The sound designer must have a strong understanding of which kinds of sounds emit which moods. For example, the sound of crickets is often used to portray nighttime scenes in film, and even express a character’s loneliness.
In some cases, the designer may also compose original music for a project. Though in most productions, this will be left to a dedicated composer.
Once new sounds have been created, sound designers are responsible for recording these. Usually, sound design professionals will have strong technical knowledge of recording, such as microphone setups, recording environments, and how to operate complex equipment.
Sounds are recorded in a professional studio. There are several types of studio used by sound designers. For instance, Foley artists use dedicated Foley stages to record sound different effects.
Following recording, sounds are then processed and edited in order to get the desired effect and clean up the recording. For example, sound designers might record the sound of footsteps to be used in a video game.
Editing existing sounds
As well as creating original sounds, sound designers also modify existing audio elements. This involves sourcing existing sounds, and then editing them in a way that fits with the production. For example, a game sound designer may source the sound of character footsteps and incorporate these into the game’s audio engine.
Much of the day to day role can include searching through commercial audio libraries to find relevant sounds and effects that can be used as part of the project's sound design.
What skills do you need to be a sound designer?
If you are thinking of pursuing a career in sound design, you’ll need to have the following skills:
- Familiarity with audio editing and processing software (such as Digital Audio Workstations and multimedia playback software)
- Understanding of microphones and how to record sounds
- An understanding of acoustics and sound equipment setups
- Strong ability to research – much of the role involves experimentation with sound creation techniques, but also research into what has worked previously, and how sound design approaches might need adapting
- Strong teamwork skills – as a sound designer, you are responsible for liaising with directors, producers and other creative media teams
- Networking skills – like in any industry, it helps to get your name out there and find useful contacts in the industry
- Patience – it can take a while to grasp the many elements of sound design
- Musicality – you will need an understanding of how music works, and a familiarity with genres, theory, rhythm, melody,
Sound designer salary guide
Here’s a guide on how much sound designers make in the US and UK:
- Around $45,000 to $90,000 per year in the US
- Around £30,000 to £70,000 per year in the UK
Find out more in our related guide: How Much Does a Sound Designer Make?
What does a sound designer do in film?
A sound designer is responsible for creating and selecting the sounds used in a film. This includes creating original sounds, as well as finding and using existing sounds. Sound designers work closely with the film's director and editor to ensure that the sound design enhances the film's overall aesthetic.
In some cases, a sound designer may also be responsible for creating the sound mix, which is the combination of all the different sounds used in the film. This includes dialogue, Foley, music scores, and sound effects. The sound mix is typically created during the post-production process.
Sound design is an important part of filmmaking as it can help create atmosphere, rhythm, and emotion in a scene. It can be used to create a variety of different effects. For example, sound design can be used to create an immersive environment that allows the viewer to feel as though they are in the same space as the characters on screen.
Additionally, sound design can be used to create suspense or tension, startle the viewer, or provide comic relief. It can also be used to convey information about a character or setting.
For example, a sound designer may use sound effects to suggest that a character is in a particular location, such as a forest or a cave. Take a look at this Harry Potter scene from the Order of the Phoenix for instance. Notice how the sounds echo to reflect the scenes underground, spacious setting:
In short, sound designers create and manipulate audio to create a desired effect. This can be done using various techniques, such as recording new sounds, selecting sounds from a library, or using synthesizers to create new sounds. Sound designers typically have a strong understanding of music and audio engineering, as well as experience with various software programs that are used for sound design.
While sound design is often thought of as being primarily concerned with music and sound effects, it can also encompass other audio elements such as dialogue and narration. In fact, anything that is heard by the viewer during a film can be considered part of the sound design. Therefore, it is important for sound designers to have a clear understanding of the story.
How to become a sound designer
Sound designers typically have a background in music or sound engineering, which provides valuable experience in how audio works, and how it can be manipulated. Many sound designers also have degrees in an area of audio technology or sound design.
Some entry level sound designers also have experience working in other areas of the entertainment industry, such as film or video game production. This experience can be invaluable in understanding how sound can be used to enhance the experience of particular media.
Sound design is a relatively new field, and as such there are no set standards for how to become a sound designer.
However, most designers start out with a basic understanding of audio creation, mixing and sound editing. You'll need a strong understanding of how recording works, and some familiarity with microphones and audio processing equipment.
Knowledge in music theory and composition can also be extremely useful. For the most part, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you can create original sounds using a variety of methods. In some cases, you may also need to demonstrate knowledge of Foley techniques.