10 second sound design technique Asbjoern Andersen


Want to improve your sound design skills? Here, sound designer Barney Oram shares his 10-second technique; a simple but effective approach he's been successfully using for years to hone his skills:
Written by Barney Oram
Please share:
 

The 10 second sound design technique is a method I’ve been using over the last few years as a tool to rapidly improve my sound design skills. It’s a simple principle, and encourages depth and detail your sound design work, without demanding a big time investment to complete. I think this technique is best suited to those starting their sound design journey, or those who are looking to improve their skills in a specific niche of sound design.

Improvement comes from iteration; doing something over and over, learning from each attempt

One of my aims, in all of my work as a sound designer, is to make great sounds. I want to design sounds that tell stories, sounds that inform the audience, sounds that build a world. These aren’t trivial tasks; in fact, it can be very challenging to make sounds that both have depth, and sound cool. I think it can seem daunting, especially when starting out, to compare your work to major films and games, that have seemingly incredible sound design work – and wonder if you’ll ever be as good as that. For me, that was scary, but also a motivator. It made me want to figure out what they were doing – how they were creating their sounds – and how I could do the same thing. What I wanted to do was improve my skills – and improvement comes from iteration; doing something over and over, learning from each attempt, and slowly getting better. It’s as simple as that – you’ve just got to practice.

The key to being able to create great sound design is to practice it

Practice makes perfect. It’s taken some years to realise this for myself, but I think the key to being able to create great sound design is to practice it. As with everything, the more practice you put into something, the better you become. Through practice you develop taste, you develop an understanding for how sound, textures, and frequencies function together, and you become quicker at making the decisions that lead to creating great work. It might seem like an obvious concept – but I think it’s an important one to remember.

But how do you practice sound design effectively? I found that doing small and frequent work is a great way to learn. I’m a big fan of doing sound re-designs – taking a clip of media and re-designing the sound for it. This is a helpful exercise to do, as it allows you to practice your craft, and enables you to develop your perception of how sound functions alongside visuals. I wasn’t interested in doing huge, long clips – or full mixes – I just wanted to focus on really in-depth, complex sound design, and for this to be something I could do on a regular basis – once every few weeks.
 

 

So I started by taking really short clips, and working with them. I think 10 seconds is the perfect length to start with. I’ve been teaching myself cinematic sound design in the last year or so – and I’ve been taking clips of visual media, choosing content that pushed me to explore interesting and challenging sounds – and spending 4-6 hours focusing on this tiny piece. This amount of focus, for a fairly considerable amount of time, has encouraged me to really dig deep into designing complex and original sounds. It’s encouraged me to experiment, to explore sound creation, and has led me to create work that I would’ve never considered myself capable of.

A big part of skill improvement is taking feedback from others

I’ve also found that a big part of skill improvement is taking feedback from others – preferably those who you consider to be better than you. Do a few 10 second re-designs, and send them to people you look up to. Often they’ll be able to suggest improvements and changes, even within such a short piece of work. Taking their advice forward into the next piece of work you do is crucial – this is part of how you improve.

It’s best to select a visual piece that focuses on the elements you want to work on the most

I think it’s best to select a visual piece that focuses on the elements you want to work on the most. For example, I try to avoid clips that contain dialogue – and if they do, I generally don’t address it – because this isn’t really my area of expertise. I try to push myself and pick clips that are challenging and complex, so that I can aim to expand my ability and capability in that area.

How to find material to re-design:

There are several ways to find material to re-design. Get permission from the original author of the video you’re looking to re-design, license stock footage, or seek out Creative Commons material from sites such as these: Vimeo – Creative Commons materialPexelsPond 5

You can also use Youtube’s search filtering option to filter by Creative Commons (Filter/Features/Creative Commons)

Next you have to decide if you want to reference the original sound, or not. If you’re wanting to take a clip and imitate the style of sound design used in it, then working with the original as a close reference is a good thing to do. For me, I’ve always tried to approach a clip with my own fresh perspective; so I think avoiding listening to or analysing the original sound of the clip is a good approach, thus not allowing it to influence your work.

Break the clip down into sections of focus, and try to build a narrative flow

Starting the piece, I like to spot through the clip and decide what the main ‘beats’ are going to be. This essentially means I’ll break the clip down into sections of focus, and try to build a narrative flow to guide my work. This can mean highlighting the particularly visually impressive moments, or perhaps sections with a specific tone or mood, or even aspects that have a clear narrative arc already strongly defined in the visual content. Practically I do this by adding markers to my timeline, and noting down a few ideas for each element.
 

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Spatial Roomtones & Interiors is an immersive collection of audio backgrounds for cinema, VR, videogames and any audiovisual or creative purposes.

    The audios provided in this library are high quality recordings with Zoom H2n recorder in propietary Spatial Audio mode, horizontal-only ambisonic alike mic layout stored in an AmbiX format. W, X, Y channels of AmbiX provide immersive audio through the horizontal plane and they allow to decode the recording into Mono, Stereo, Binaural, Quad, 5.0, 5.1, 7.1 and more layouts with dedicated Ambisonic processors. Z channel is empty.

    The library comes with 5.0 and Stereo version of the AmbiX original recordings.

    Add to cart
  • The following is a 2016 Bell 407 GX Helicopter single license
    sound effects library with Metadata (1.8gb compressed .zip file, 2.5gb Uncompressed).

    All 17 wave files at about 85 minutes long are in 24 Bit, 96 kHz. The Onboard recordings are in 4 separate mono wave files. Drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also ready to use stereo mix versions of the Onboard recordings. External recordings are in mono, stereo, and Ambisonic Format B wave files.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 Front Left
    Channel 2 Front Right
    Channel 3 Rear Left
    Channel 4 Rear Right

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this helicopter, Watson is available for hire to re-record this or similar sounding aircrafts.

    Special thanks to James, his crew, and to Chad Dion (photographer)!

    Definitions
    External = Sounds recorded from outside of the aircraft (flybys, etc)
    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the aircraft

    Add to cart
  • Recording of a 1972 Porsche 911 ST vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.


    The German 1972 Porsche 911 ST sound fx collection includes 468 sound files in 45.46 gigabytes of audio. It features the sound of a vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.

    The bundle gathers 20 synchronized takes from both onboard and exterior perspective. The 18 onboard takes feature microphones positioned in the interior (including an Ambisonic perspective), engine, and at the exhaust while driving with gearshifts, ramps, and steady RPMs. The 7 exterior perspectives showcase departing, arriving, passing by, and reversing at slow, medium, and fast speeds. Also included are idles, performed effects of doors, gearshifts, pedals, and more, and impulse responses of the cabin interior.

    The package downloads with Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, custom mixes of the onboard microphones, professional embedded metadata, and translation import files in 7 languages.

    Add to cart
  • Recording of a 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile with a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine.


    The 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile sound collection gathers 174 clips in 8.47 gigabytes of field recordings. It showcases the sound of a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine in 23 channels of audio.

    The sound pack includes 9 synchronized takes of onboard and exterior driving. The 11 onboard perspectives features recordings from the engine, exhaust, and front shield while the skimobile drives with steady RPMs and ramps. The 5 exterior perspectives arrange microphones at three positions to capture driving at slow and fast speeds on straightaways and around corners. The package also includes custom mixes of the onboard perspectives as wells as performed effects of switches, the throttle, and more.

    Each sound is embedded with with seven languages of Soundminer, iXML, BWAV and Mac OS Finder metadata.

    Add to cart
  • “The Shoe Collection: Soft Hardwood – Men’s Boat Shoe“ by Periscope Post & Audio, provides 22 high quality footsteps on soft hardwood floors with the boat shoe.  The audio files are recorded at 24bit, 192k with mono and stereo recordings.  The Sennheiser MKH-60 was used for the mono files with a slightly more distant mic placement than the stereo files, which were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and the Sennheiser MKH-30 near the shoe.  From different walking speeds, to jogging, sprinting, jumping, hard stops, scuffs, and more!  There are several performances with each file to fit the right action you need.  That’s a whopping 454 footsteps between the mono and stereo files!

    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

 

After this I like to create some ‘source’ for the project, to use in my sound design. This means I’ll take some conceptual ideas from my rough narrative flow and explore those, sonically, and build a mini library of content I can use in the piece. I often find that when faced with the pressure of a complex and challenging visual, coupled with a blank timeline staring back at me, I can become creatively overwhelmed and not produce my best work straight away. I’ve found using the approach of creating source material to use in my sound design is a great way to avoid this.

So if there was an interesting moment in the clip with, for example, a big sci-fi weapon charging up, I’d open a fresh project, and just start making sounds that are vaguely related to this concept of a sci-fi energy gun charge sound. Perhaps I might fire up a synth and build a few new charge-up style patches; perhaps I might search through my library for sounds with an interesting texture or quality that I could mix into a charge sound; or maybe just pick out some pre-designed charge sounds and tweak them a little to suit my project, accentuate elements by layering in other sounds, or process them with some interesting plugins. Once i’ve done all of this, I bounce all of these experiments into a folder – whether ‘good’ or not – and set aside, ready for the main pass.

Leave it for a day or so, and return with fresh ears to work on it again

Once I’ve got my direction and source ready, I begin to design. I generally work in a burst of 2-3 hours, and try to cover most of the main beats before stopping. The first sounds you create don’t have to be the final sounds – they can be, but I personally often find it is helpful to get a appropriate sound in-place, before tweaking and improving it later. When you’ve done this ‘first pass’, I like to leave it for a day or so, and return with fresh ears to work on it again. Often this break will allow me to come back to the piece with new ideas, and i’m able to quickly see the improvements to make to my work. After getting the piece to a good place after the second pass, I like to share it with a few close friends, for immediate feedback. I generally then take that onboard, make any tweaks or changes to the design as needed, and then do a quick mix pass on the whole thing – nothing too complex or time-consuming, just balancing levels, figuring out what elements to accentuate or not, and attempting to align the sounds with that original narrative vision I began with. After this process, I will then send the piece to someone whose feedback I know will really be helpful – usually someone with experience in that specific area of sound design. I take their advice and go back to the piece, changing it and improving it.
 

You may never be completely happy with a piece of work

I eventually decide a piece is done, when I can’t think of any further improvements to make to it. You may never be completely happy with a piece of work – but eventually you reach a point where you’ve learned all you can from that process. I try to take the new skills and approaches I’ve learned from that piece onto the next one – and start the process all over again. I’d really recommend this as a great way to get better at your design work. It can work for many different areas of sound design – take an aspect of sound design you perceive to be the most difficult or challenging – and try this technique. Create, take advice, repeat. And have fun!
 

Big thanks to Barney Oram for sharing this well thought sound design technique!


 

About Barney Oram:

Barney Oram is a video game sound designer, currently working for Cloud Imperium Games on Star Citizen. He’s passionate about designing sounds, and creating audio experiences that are visceral and exciting. Barney is an active member of the game audio scene in the UK and online, and is a co-host of the Soundbytes Podcast, a monthly podcast focused on games and audio. He can be found on Twitter, and on his personal website.

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Horror Giant Pinecones Play Track 500+ sounds included, 44 mins total $79

    • In Giant Pinecones, get a visceral collection of scraped and eviscerated pinecones from the gray pine trees of Northern California. Scrape the razor-sharp hooks of the cone petals and hear guttural scrapes crackling with energy. Hear rolling cones popping and fluttering with rich stuttering tones. Hear fully open cone pedals squeaking with woody vocalizations like supernatural animals and hardy crunches filled with organic grit.
    • This library offers you an extensive collection of sounds from a unique organic sound source. Digger pinecone sounds are incredibly soft and intimate in real life, but when recorded from two inches they morph into a unique wooden sound source brimming with powerful glitchy and stuttering textures.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased to offset my field recording travel for this library.

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Woody vocalizations
    • Rolling, scraping, and stuttering textures
    • Visceral and guttural scrapes
    • Fluttering and popping textures
    • Rich crunches
    • Chalkboard-like squeaks and squeals
    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View larger version or Download CSV
    • A spectrogram is included for each audio file. Double click on the photo to enlarge.
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 40+ testimonials for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files.
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH30 in MS
    • Sound Devices MixPre-6
    Add to cart
  • Sci-Fi Advanced Propulsion Play Track 1191 sounds included $99

    ADVANCED PROPULSION is a next-gen sound design toolkit built for creating dynamic sci-fi vehicle engines and passbys. The designed engine sounds are all seamless loops, making them perfect for use with various plug-ins and interactive applications. All raw source material used to design the engines is included, giving you maximum creative flexibility.

    Add to cart
  • Footsteps Human Stampede Play Track 13 sounds included, 18 mins total $7

    Human Stampede was recorded across multiple marathon races and captures the sound of footsteps of large crowds of runners. The idea was to capture long takes in stereo with minimal or non-existent crowd chatter to get stereo recordings that are useful for scenes of riots, warfare or even a plain old fun run.

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Spatial Roomtones & Interiors is an immersive collection of audio backgrounds for cinema, VR, videogames and any audiovisual or creative purposes.

    The audios provided in this library are high quality recordings with Zoom H2n recorder in propietary Spatial Audio mode, horizontal-only ambisonic alike mic layout stored in an AmbiX format. W, X, Y channels of AmbiX provide immersive audio through the horizontal plane and they allow to decode the recording into Mono, Stereo, Binaural, Quad, 5.0, 5.1, 7.1 and more layouts with dedicated Ambisonic processors. Z channel is empty.

    The library comes with 5.0 and Stereo version of the AmbiX original recordings.

  • The following is a 2016 Bell 407 GX Helicopter single license
    sound effects library with Metadata (1.8gb compressed .zip file, 2.5gb Uncompressed).

    All 17 wave files at about 85 minutes long are in 24 Bit, 96 kHz. The Onboard recordings are in 4 separate mono wave files. Drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also ready to use stereo mix versions of the Onboard recordings. External recordings are in mono, stereo, and Ambisonic Format B wave files.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 Front Left
    Channel 2 Front Right
    Channel 3 Rear Left
    Channel 4 Rear Right

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this helicopter, Watson is available for hire to re-record this or similar sounding aircrafts.

    Special thanks to James, his crew, and to Chad Dion (photographer)!

    Definitions
    External = Sounds recorded from outside of the aircraft (flybys, etc)
    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the aircraft

  • Recording of a 1972 Porsche 911 ST vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.


    The German 1972 Porsche 911 ST sound fx collection includes 468 sound files in 45.46 gigabytes of audio. It features the sound of a vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.

    The bundle gathers 20 synchronized takes from both onboard and exterior perspective. The 18 onboard takes feature microphones positioned in the interior (including an Ambisonic perspective), engine, and at the exhaust while driving with gearshifts, ramps, and steady RPMs. The 7 exterior perspectives showcase departing, arriving, passing by, and reversing at slow, medium, and fast speeds. Also included are idles, performed effects of doors, gearshifts, pedals, and more, and impulse responses of the cabin interior.

    The package downloads with Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, custom mixes of the onboard microphones, professional embedded metadata, and translation import files in 7 languages.

  • Recording of a 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile with a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine.


    The 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile sound collection gathers 174 clips in 8.47 gigabytes of field recordings. It showcases the sound of a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine in 23 channels of audio.

    The sound pack includes 9 synchronized takes of onboard and exterior driving. The 11 onboard perspectives features recordings from the engine, exhaust, and front shield while the skimobile drives with steady RPMs and ramps. The 5 exterior perspectives arrange microphones at three positions to capture driving at slow and fast speeds on straightaways and around corners. The package also includes custom mixes of the onboard perspectives as wells as performed effects of switches, the throttle, and more.

    Each sound is embedded with with seven languages of Soundminer, iXML, BWAV and Mac OS Finder metadata.

  • “The Shoe Collection: Soft Hardwood – Men’s Boat Shoe“ by Periscope Post & Audio, provides 22 high quality footsteps on soft hardwood floors with the boat shoe.  The audio files are recorded at 24bit, 192k with mono and stereo recordings.  The Sennheiser MKH-60 was used for the mono files with a slightly more distant mic placement than the stereo files, which were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and the Sennheiser MKH-30 near the shoe.  From different walking speeds, to jogging, sprinting, jumping, hard stops, scuffs, and more!  There are several performances with each file to fit the right action you need.  That’s a whopping 454 footsteps between the mono and stereo files!

 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

One thought on “10 Second Technique: Tips to Improve Your Sound Design by Barney Oram

  1. I know I’m late to this, but I literally just started stumbling into some of these practices about a week before finding this post and it has been working wonders! I wholeheartedly agree and encourage others to follow the idea of redesigning short clips to learn/improve your craft.

    I was looking for a way to simplify my process and reduce creative overwhelm when starting a project, and you hit the nail on the head with focusing on/creating specific sounds in a separate session before tackling the first pass. Will definitely be implementing that more in the future.

    Thanks a ton for sharing, Barney!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.