Sound Design: 7 Ways to Create Your Perfect Sound

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Sound Design: 7 Ways to Create Your Perfect Sound

Sound design is how you create the timbre of the basic building blocks in your tracks.

The term “sound design” may seem technical, but the truth is that every producer is a sound designer.

Even so, sound design has a few meanings depending on the context and situation.

In this article I’ll go through the basics of sound design and give you an idea of the tools and techniques sound designers use in their creations.

What is sound design?

Sound design is a broad discipline that includes everything from creative recording and mixing techniques to sampling, editing synth presets and tweaking effects chains. It also includes techniques in film scoring and soundtrack work like foley and special effects.

Sound design for film and television

Sound design is an important part of film and television production.

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Professional sound designers working in this field create the diverse sonic elements that bring onscreen images to life.

That means a film sound designer’s role could include responsibilities as diverse as dialogue capture, editing, mixing, foley and music.

But sound film and TV sound design often requires creating new sounds.

Think of the iconic swoosh of a Star Wars lightsaber. Elements of sound design can be as essential to the identity of a film as any character.

Sound design in music

sound design graphic

The term “sound design” probably originated with film sound work, but today sound design refers to any situation where you manipulate the texture of your sounds.

The term “sound design” probably originated with film sound work, but today sound design refers to any situation where you manipulate the texture of your sounds.

The sonic elements in your songs can come from so many different places.

Whether your raw sonic material originates from sample packs, VST synths, microphones or somewhere else, the basic character of the sounds you work with is created through sound design.

How do you shape the envelopes on your synth plugins? How do you order the effects in your vocal chain? Where do you put your room mics? What samples do you choose for your kick drum?

These are all basic sound design questions.

Sound design tools

Sound design is so open-ended that almost any process in music production can be used for it. In fact, there’s no easy way to say how to get started with sound design.

The best way is to simply dive in, find the methods and tools that work best for you and follow your intuition.

Here’s a list of the different types of tools you can use in your sound design workflow.

1. Effects

Manipulating sound with audio effects is a powerful sound design technique. Effects can take a boring sound into outer space and back.

There’s no rules when it comes to effects for sound design. Combining effects, changing their order, and routing them in creative ways are all great techniques.

There’s no rules when it comes to effects for sound design.

If your goal is to change a sound rather than enhance it or make it sit in the mix, you don’t have to worry about preserving the original texture either. Feel free to go wild.

2. Experimental recording techniques

There are plenty of ways to get creative during the recording process itself. Sound design starts at the source.

Experiment with mic choices and positioning, signal chains or any other off-the-wall techniques you can think of.

Use the studio like an instrument!

3. Your DAW

Some of the original sound design effects came from basic operations that could be performed with analog tape.

You can still use a lot of the same techniques in your DAW. Changing the speed or playback direction of an audio clip has a massive impact.

Even simply reversing the playback direction of audio on the timeline can sound alien.

Backwards audio will never not be trippy!

4. Sampling

Sampling and samplers are also great sound design resources. There’s an almost infinite number of samples out there to choose from.

Even something as simple as choosing which samples to use could be considered sound design.

Samplers almost always contain built-in synthesis tools like filters and envelope generators.

What do your sample packs sound like when you manipulate the attack, decay, sustain and release?

Or how about creating your own samples?

Resample your sounds after tweaking them with effects to form completely new textures.

Or pick a sound and spread it across the keyboard. How does it sound at different pitches? Better, worse or just different? It’s up to you!

5. Synthesis

Synthesis is one of the most fundamental sound design methods. You’re literally creating a sound from nothing!

Synthesis is one of the most fundamental sound design methods.

With a synth you get to control every single aspect of the sound you create. That means that each parameter decision is a sound design choice.

Take the time to learn and understand the influence that oscillators, filters, LFOs and envelope generators have on your signal

If you’re new to synthesis try brushing up on your synthesizer terms or the basics of subtractive synthesis.


MIDI is another digital tool that can be used for sound design.

Controlling various features of musical performance is what MIDI does best.

Experimenting with note patterns, CC messages and MIDI effects like arpeggiation are all valid sound design techniques.

Don’t underestimate MIDI in your sound design workflow.

7. Field recording

Field recording is capturing sound from environments outside your studio to bring into your compositions.

It’s a fantastic method to use to get your sound design workflow out of the DAW.

Artists who create field recordings often use dedicated portable recorders, but basic field recording can be accomplished with something as simple as a mobile phone.

Experiment by recording anything and everything—you never know what could come in handy where!

Design inspiration

Sound design is an important part of every producer’s workflow. The individual sounds in your compositions can be sources of inspiration themselves.

Whether your weapon of choice is synthesis, sampling, effects or otherwise, everyone can benefit from taking a hands-on approach to sound design.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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