7 Useful Sound Design Tips Every Filmmaker Should Know

By Kevin Graham

Sound design is possibly the most underrated part of editing a good video. You can have the best visuals in the world, but if the audio is lacking, your video can still feel cheap.

The addition of professional-grade sound design can not only make a mediocre edit good, it can turn a good edit into a great edit.

In this video, we’ll share 7 useful sound design tips that every filmmaker should know.

1.) Stay Organized

This one is simple: keep your sounds organized and grouped neatly on your tracks.

sound design timeline

For example, keep your dialogue on track 1, music on track 2, all foley on track 3, ambiences on tracks 4 & 5, and any additional effects (such as whooshes, hits, etc.) on tracks 6 & 7.

This will allow you to isolate certain groups of sounds and navigate your timeline quickly. In addition, keeping similar sounds on the same tracks will speed things up if you’re batch-applying effects to multiple sounds.

And if you’re exporting your timeline as an OMF to be mixed by someone else, they’ll appreciate this type of organization.

2.) Use Reverb

Sometimes, it can be hard to get your sounds to sit right in the mix.

Enter, reverb.

timeline video editing

Reverb is an extremely versatile tool when sound designing your edit. You can use a small amount on ambiences, effects, and even foley to add depth and help the sounds fit better with music and dialogue. Or, you can use more dramatic reverb settings for effect, such as to convey a sense of space or to create dreamlike flashbacks. 

And best of all, almost every piece of editing software has plenty of built-in reverb options.

3.) Add Low-End For Dramatic Moments

When you need that “extra something” to really drive home a crucial moment or transition, a low, “sub-style” boom can really pull it all together.

sound design

These types of sounds should almost be felt rather than heard, and they can be placed anywhere in your edit that needs some added power (usually a dramatic cut). This could be at the very first frame, during the end credits, or anywhere in between.

And if there’s music, it helps to place these low hits musically, on a downbeat or resolution of a song.

4.) Don’t Be Afraid To Layer

One key hallmark of great sounding videos and films is that they use a lot of layers in their sound design. In fact, many feature films will have hundreds of layers of sounds being heard in any given scene.

You obviously don’t need to go that far, but don’t be afraid to layer multiple sounds together.

sound design

You can mix two or more ambiences together to create an immersive sonic environment. Multiple types of foley happening simultaneously can add realism to a scene. And for those high-intensity, fast-paced edits, you can layer lots of cinematic sounds together for added emphasis.

And if you’re looking for a quick way to use complex, layered sound design in your videos, check out SONICA, our exclusive collection of pre-built Sound Effects Tracks.

5.) Salvage Camera Audio

Scratch audio recorded by your camera’s built-in mic, (or even a mounted shotgun mic) is often only used for reference, or just discarded outright. But occasionally, these sounds can be very valuable in your edit.

camera audio

Often referred to as “nat sound”, short for natural sound, the use of camera audio that perfectly matches your footage can speed up your sound design process immensely.

Anything from a shot of children playing on a playground to a panoramic view of the beach can have useful, baked-in camera audio with it.

The biggest reason why many filmmakers avoid using their scratch audio in the final product is because camera mics and preamps are often lower-quality, but there are several tricks to overcome this. You can bury these sounds low in the mix, add reverb (as mentioned above), and add denoise effects to remove any unwanted hiss.

6.) Anything Can Be A Sound Effect

When it comes to sound design, don’t be afraid to get creative! You can almost always find clever ways to mimic several hard-to-source sounds.

sound design

For example, adding distortion to a box fan can make for a really convincing airplane engine. Or adding some extra pitch processing to a recording of crinkling plastic can sound like a frozen lake cracking and breaking. Even small clips of scratch audio can be sped up for a glitch effect.

There are no wrong answers when it comes to creating sounds.

7.) Use Silence As An Effect

Sometimes, no sound is the most powerful sound of all. This is known as an “audio black hole”.

sound design

The unexpected dissonance created when complete silence accompanies impactful visuals can have a powerful effect on your video, and make the sounds you do use that much more potent.

This effect can also be achieved with a very minimal sound in a big moment, rather than complete silence.

location audio

Hopefully, one or more of these tips will stick with you, and help you up your sound design game for the next big video.

Kevin is the Music Director and Lead Composer at Filmpac.

FILMPAC Filmpac is a premium stock footage + music membership library.