An introduction to sound design

Sound design. Nice word, but what is it?

Wikipedia defines sound design as follows:
“Sound design is the art and practice of creating sound tracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring or creating auditory elements using audio production techniques and tools.”

Great definition. But what exactly does the sound designer do to create all those ‘auditory elements’? And what exactly are they?

As an example, picture a scene from a science fiction movie in which gigantic (hostile) robots walk through the city and threaten the main characters. Apart from the dialogue of the actors, this scene will probably contain exciting music. But such a non-existent giant robot will also make sounds, for example when walking. And if he also carries any futuristic weapons, they will also make sound when shooting, of course.

But what kind of sound does a non-existent giant robot with futuristic weaponry make?
That is up to the sound designer!

But not only gigantic robots in movies have to have the right sound. Cars driving through the city also make sound of course. Or footsteps. Or the murmur in a restaurant. All work for the sound designer. Because almost all the background sounds you hear in a movie are not the original sounds. They were added later. The reason for this? To have more control over them in the mix, to make sure they have more impact or to make sure they are not too distracting.

Let’s say a movie has a romantic scene that takes place in the middle of the city, at some point you may only hear romantic music and the conversation between the actors. All the noises of the city suddenly can’t be heard for a moment….