What is Sound Design?

Published August 21, 2022

Sound design is the process of recording, editing, and mixing various sound elements and musical pieces for all types of visual media, including in a feature film, television, advertisements, video games, and live performances, like theater. For sound design to work, a sound designer and sound design team must know a variety of sound techniques and elements and when to use them. Sound design is music, sound effects, or both that are combined and manipulated to create a sound design element. The sound design element plays a significant role in the audio production of a specific scene of a movie, TV show, play, advertisement, or trailer.

Sound Design Elements

There are five different sound design elements. It is important to know what these five sound design elements are, what role they play in visual media, and when to use them.


The ambiance is background noise that matches the scene. An example of ambiance includes crickets chirping in the background in the forest at night.

Foley Sounds

Foley sounds are added audio elements that make scenes more realistic. A foley artist takes what is happening in the scene and adds a louder sound effect to help enhance the scene. An example of foley sounds includes a sword being drawn from a sheath.

While drawing a sword from a sheath creates a natural sound, a foley artist uses a foley sound to make that specific sound louder and stand out in the scene.

Audio Effects

Audio effects are sounds that a sound designer creates to represent a specific action that can’t be naturally heard in real life. An example of an audio effect includes dinosaur sounds or alien creatures.


A sound designer will use a narrator's voice to speak to the audience about what is happening, what the character is thinking, or how the character is feeling. The narrator can be the main character's voice or someone entirely different who is unseen.


Sound technicians and designers use music to set the movie's tone to let the audience know how to feel at various scenes of the movie, TV show, or advertisement.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

A sound designer and a sound design team will meet with directors and producers, create sound effects and music through sound editing and mixing, and help lead the sound design team to perform specific job duties.

Meet with Directors and Producers

When a sound designer and a sound design team are brought in to do the sound design work of a television, film, or advertising production, their first step is to study the script of the production. This will help them understand the different emotions, tones, and feelings that will come from the production to determine what music and audio elements will work best.

The directors and producers may have their own ideas and visions for some of the music and sound effects they want to have included in the production. Because of this, the sound designer and sound design team need to meet with the directors and producers to make sure they include important elements in the music and sound effects of the production that the directors and producers want to have included.

Determine the Budget

Once the sound designer has met with the directors and producers during pre-production, the sound designer will determine the budget for the production. The budget will cover the following expenses:

● Crew members

● Sound recording location

● Recording studio

Music licensing

● Talent

● Voice-over recording production

● Sound production including recording, editing, and mixing

Create Sound Effects

Many techniques go into the sound design process. A sound designer may use pre-existing sounds, original sounds, or a combination of both. Then, the sound designer will edit the sounds and synchronize them to match the visualizations. The sounds will be cut and mixed to get the best results.

Lead the Sound Design Team

A sound designer will be responsible for leading the sound design team. The sound design team will consist of various positions, including Foley artists, audio engineers, dialogue editors, music editors, and various other roles. Each member of the sound design team will have an important part in the overall sound design of a production.

The sound design team will be responsible for setting up the sound playback equipment to ensure it works properly during production. They will also make sure the soundboard operator is properly trained. The last thing the sound design team will want to have happen is the equipment or soundboard operator to fail during recording.

Once production has finished, the sound design team will need to take the audio files and match them to the visuals. The team will need to be familiar with video editing software to ensure the music or voice-over matches the visuals.

How to Design Unique Sounds

The difference between good video production and great video production can lie in the sounds that are used. To create unique sounds, a sound designer will need to know the best pre-existing sound effects to use; otherwise, they will need to make their own. A sound designer can make unique sounds through synthesizers and audio software.

One of the best ways to design unique sounds is through testing, especially if you’re trying to create foley sounds or certain audio effects that can’t be found loudly or even exist at all in real life.

When the film Jurassic Park was produced, the sound designer had to use sounds in real life to determine what a dinosaur should sound like. Sound designers used the sounds of dolphins, geese, and horses to replicate the sound of dinosaurs running and calling out.

Some of the best unique sounds that have been used in iconic movies didn’t come from the animal or object they were representing, but instead, something completely different and unexpected. A great sound designer will know how to use various objects to create the exact sound they’re looking for.

Designing Sounds for Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror

This is typically the most difficult genre for a sound designer to create unique and original pieces for. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror productions often include many scenes and elements that can’t be heard in real life.

Often, many elements have to be put together to create one fluid piece. This means that a sound designer would have to line up all of the sound files to match the visual elements in the production. Background ambiance is often included in horror and Sci-Fi productions to help set the scene. This can include eerie instrumental music or rustling leaves in a dark forest.

The sound design team will need to know when to use music or sound effects and when not to. The team will need to be able to marry soundscapes, music, or sound effects with the visual media so that the scene is natural and fits together.

A horror scene can be set by adding soundscapes at the right time. The soundscapes shouldn’t take anything away from the visual but instead add to it. After all, the overall goal of a sound design team is to help encourage the audience to feel or react a certain way.

When adding soundscapes, sound effects, or music to horror, fantasy, or Sci-Fi production, the audience will get a better direction of how to feel at different times during the movie or TV show.

How to Become a Sound Designer

It takes training and experience to become a sound designer. A degree isn’t required to become a sound designer. Instead, it’s recommended to get training at a theater, film school, or production studio as an intern or work-study.

You will need to put your education and training to work by creating a sound library to showcase your work. You can work as a freelancer or join online sound design communities to find work.

You will likely have to take small jobs before the bigger opportunities come along for creative sound design. We recommend becoming involved in sound design during the post-production phase so that you can focus on placing the right audio in the right places of the production.

Becoming a member of a sound design team or sound design program will help you work your way to the top to becoming a sound designer in music production.

Final Thoughts

What is sound design? Well, sound design requires a skill set of creativity and organization. Often, a sound designer will have to create unique musical pieces or sound effects instead of using pre-existing music. This makes creativity an important qualification to have if you want to go into sound design.

It’s important to remember that you may have to become a member of the sound design team before becoming a sound designer. The sound design team will work in various audio workstations to focus on their specific job for the TV, film, or theater production. Each job that the design team performs is important for the sound design to be successful.

The sound design and audio production in TV, film, or theater can include all five of the sound design elements, so it’s important to understand what the different sound design elements are and how they are used.