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
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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.
 

[tweet_box]10 Second Technique: Tips to Improve Your Sound Design by Barney Oram[/tweet_box]  

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.
 


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Trending right now:

  • A complete collection of sonic exploration by Slava Pogorelsky.
    Grow your sound arsenal with an ever evolving collection of high-end cinematic and fresh sound effects!
    Here’s what to expect:

    RESONATING METAL FORCE offers a fresh sound palette of reverberant aggressive metal rampage, totaling 680 sound effects. Featuring creeping evolving metal pressure and resonating rattle, massive rumble, explosive impacts and nerve-racking squeaks.
    HORROR SERIES VOL.1: EVIL STRINGS TORTURED WIRES offers a unique toolset for nightmarish designs, totaling 564 sound effects. Featuring creeping dread of bowed metal wires, strings and double bass, providing exciting opportunities for unique layering.
    CINEMATIC MAGICAL ICE is offering a unique toolset for ice-cold freezing designs, totaling 267 sound effects. Great for fantasy genre with ice based magic, motion graphics, time lapse and flow motion freeze sequences.
    CINEMATIC WATER WHOOSHES AND TEXTURES is offering a unique toolset for water and underwater designs, totaling 285 sounds. Great for hyper realistic designs, water based magic, surreal underwater movement or motion graphics with liquid elements.
    CINEMATIC WOOD SYMPHONY is offering a variety of wood based recordings that were morphed into a unique audio experience that bends the boundaries between recognisable source and unusual wooden textures, totaling 611 sound effects.
    SCI – FI ELEMENTS VOL.1 is offering a variety of carefully crafted futuristic sound effects that vary from pleasant and musical to unpredicted and glitchy, totaling 364 sound effects.
    CINEMATIC METAL WHOOSHES is offering a unique collection of aggressive roaring metal whooshes and transitions with cinematic feel and mind bending characteristics, totaling 120 sound effects.

    WHAT SOUND PROFESSIONALS SAY:

    Victor Mercader – AAA Sound Designer (Apex Legends)
    “I find myself continuously using Slava’s SFX libraries to blend it’s pristine and detailed sound designs into my own sounds. They always add that cutting edge I am missing and make my sound designs more unique and pristine. The Sci-fi Elements sound library is the perfect library to use and blend into my UI designs in Apex Legends.”

    Enos Desjardins – Sound Designer/Sound Effects Editor (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Black Mirror)
    “Slava has been creating some really cool libraries which I find myself using time and again. Really high quality recordings to start with but then the cool processing he has used for example in his cinematic whoosh libraries really stand out. They are not just your standard generic whoosh sounds but are loaded with character and have a unique feel to them that is really fresh and cuts through in the nicest of ways.”

    Bjørn Jacobsen – AAA Sound Designer (CyberPunk 2077, HITMAN, DARQ)
    “Slava has for several years made high quality sound effects for me to play with. I use his sound libraries across multiple projects as lego blocks of my creations.”

    Stefan Kovatchev – Audio Director (MultiVersus)
    “Slava has put together an impressive collection of high quality source assets, recorded cleanly, and at high sample rates. It’s always refreshing to find a new purveyor of good source material. I particularly enjoyed Resonating Metal Force, which is comprised of very useable, unique tonal textures and impacts.”

    Samuel Gagnon-Thibodeau – Sound Designer/Sound Effects Editor (Dream Scenario, The Watchers, Hunting Daze)
    “Slava’s Cinematic Wood Symphony detailed textures and movements blend so well in what I’m usually looking for in terms of sound design. It really brings proximity and sensitivity to the action while feeling real and natural. The creative blend of the wooden sounds with whooshes and impacts also makes them very unique. I’m finding myself coming back to them more and more as they fit in many situations.”
     
    Yarron Katz – AAA Composer and Sound Designer
    “Slava makes some wonderful libraries. He’s relatively new on the scene and his libraries have come to critical acclaim. He takes some general ideas, like whooshes and he injects some extremely revolutionary and innovative ideas to them, so you’re not getting another whoosh library – you’re getting something very unique, very fresh. He brings some wonderful ideas to the table.”

    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “‘Evil Strings Tortured Wires’ is an all-scary affair with plenty of really good, nightmarish, imaginative sounds from authentic materials, like double bass, dulcimer strings and metal wires. Sound-wise, this sample pack is clean and carefully recorded. The editing and processing of sounds is top notch, with sound design techniques applied very professionally. Overall, very gritty and not for the faint of heart.”
     
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    “As far as the sound goes ‘Cinematic Magical Ice’ is both beautiful and mystical. I happen to like the icy textures that are oozing with coldness. Overall, this sound library boasts a good variety of effect samples ready to drop in various cinematic projects.”
     
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    “The spotlight of ‘Cinematic Wood Symphony’ is the wide range of complex sounds that can be dropped in your sound design projects. I love the Wood Movement and Tonal sounds, and I’m sure thriller and horror music composers will be delighted with the Friction and Impact sounds. If your cinematic projects are lacking texture and impact sounds ‘Cinematic Wood Symphony’ is a library to be considered – especially if you’re looking beyond common wood sounds.”
     
    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
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    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “Slava is back with another aggressive and energetic sample library called Resonating Metal Force – a 680 strong collection of modern metal effects captured using various tools and high-end studio equipment. The source material was edited and processed professionally for instant use. These sounds are primed for experimentation – whether you add your unique processing, layer several WAV samples or slice and dice to your heart’s content, the sky’s the limit. This sound pack is another winner.”

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    This pack also includes a variety of 160 bonus sounds effects from our full library Pro Sound Collection. ALL sounds from Footstep & Foley Sounds are included in Pro Sound Collection so if you need more sounds be sure to check it out before purchase.

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    This library was recorded during a professional wrestling event, making it an ideal choice for productions featuring exhilarating sports scenes filled with heightened excitement. Experience the resonant thuds of body slams, the distinct chime of bell dings, and the vibrant chorus of crowd chants.

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    Combine these sounds with our Football SFX Bundle Vol. 1  & Vol. 2 to build a myriad of enthusiastic fanfares.

    All sounds are delivered in 24Bit 96kHz format allowing further sonic manipulation, and have been meticulously edited and tagged with extensive UCS compliant metadata for ease of use.


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    The sounds of a dark tomorrow… are here!

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    Future Dystopia – our World Building Sound-Set is made up of 626 sounds across 151 WAV audio files. There are 54 atmospheres, 67 Elements, 7 foundation sounds, 12 speech sets and 11 vehicle builds… Our sound-files are 24bit/96k stereo (that can be folded to mono if desired.)
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    Order now and receive our 19 page e-guide that explains how to get the most out of this sound-set absolutely FREE.

    SPECIAL NOTE: To celebrate the release of this brand new sound-set, we are offering a 25% OFF for a limited time!
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    Quick note about the download:

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    The sounds from “The Animal Symphony – Donkey” are available under a royalty-free license, allowing them to be used in multiple projects at no additional costs. You can use these sound effects in your games, trailers, Kickstarter campaigns, and more, as many times as you like.

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  • A complete collection of sonic exploration by Slava Pogorelsky.
    Grow your sound arsenal with an ever evolving collection of high-end cinematic and fresh sound effects!
    Here’s what to expect:

    RESONATING METAL FORCE offers a fresh sound palette of reverberant aggressive metal rampage, totaling 680 sound effects. Featuring creeping evolving metal pressure and resonating rattle, massive rumble, explosive impacts and nerve-racking squeaks.
    HORROR SERIES VOL.1: EVIL STRINGS TORTURED WIRES offers a unique toolset for nightmarish designs, totaling 564 sound effects. Featuring creeping dread of bowed metal wires, strings and double bass, providing exciting opportunities for unique layering.
    CINEMATIC MAGICAL ICE is offering a unique toolset for ice-cold freezing designs, totaling 267 sound effects. Great for fantasy genre with ice based magic, motion graphics, time lapse and flow motion freeze sequences.
    CINEMATIC WATER WHOOSHES AND TEXTURES is offering a unique toolset for water and underwater designs, totaling 285 sounds. Great for hyper realistic designs, water based magic, surreal underwater movement or motion graphics with liquid elements.
    CINEMATIC WOOD SYMPHONY is offering a variety of wood based recordings that were morphed into a unique audio experience that bends the boundaries between recognisable source and unusual wooden textures, totaling 611 sound effects.
    SCI – FI ELEMENTS VOL.1 is offering a variety of carefully crafted futuristic sound effects that vary from pleasant and musical to unpredicted and glitchy, totaling 364 sound effects.
    CINEMATIC METAL WHOOSHES is offering a unique collection of aggressive roaring metal whooshes and transitions with cinematic feel and mind bending characteristics, totaling 120 sound effects.

    WHAT SOUND PROFESSIONALS SAY:

    Victor Mercader – AAA Sound Designer (Apex Legends)
    “I find myself continuously using Slava’s SFX libraries to blend it’s pristine and detailed sound designs into my own sounds. They always add that cutting edge I am missing and make my sound designs more unique and pristine. The Sci-fi Elements sound library is the perfect library to use and blend into my UI designs in Apex Legends.”

    Enos Desjardins – Sound Designer/Sound Effects Editor (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Black Mirror)
    “Slava has been creating some really cool libraries which I find myself using time and again. Really high quality recordings to start with but then the cool processing he has used for example in his cinematic whoosh libraries really stand out. They are not just your standard generic whoosh sounds but are loaded with character and have a unique feel to them that is really fresh and cuts through in the nicest of ways.”

    Bjørn Jacobsen – AAA Sound Designer (CyberPunk 2077, HITMAN, DARQ)
    “Slava has for several years made high quality sound effects for me to play with. I use his sound libraries across multiple projects as lego blocks of my creations.”

    Stefan Kovatchev – Audio Director (MultiVersus)
    “Slava has put together an impressive collection of high quality source assets, recorded cleanly, and at high sample rates. It’s always refreshing to find a new purveyor of good source material. I particularly enjoyed Resonating Metal Force, which is comprised of very useable, unique tonal textures and impacts.”

    Samuel Gagnon-Thibodeau – Sound Designer/Sound Effects Editor (Dream Scenario, The Watchers, Hunting Daze)
    “Slava’s Cinematic Wood Symphony detailed textures and movements blend so well in what I’m usually looking for in terms of sound design. It really brings proximity and sensitivity to the action while feeling real and natural. The creative blend of the wooden sounds with whooshes and impacts also makes them very unique. I’m finding myself coming back to them more and more as they fit in many situations.”
     
    Yarron Katz – AAA Composer and Sound Designer
    “Slava makes some wonderful libraries. He’s relatively new on the scene and his libraries have come to critical acclaim. He takes some general ideas, like whooshes and he injects some extremely revolutionary and innovative ideas to them, so you’re not getting another whoosh library – you’re getting something very unique, very fresh. He brings some wonderful ideas to the table.”

    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “‘Evil Strings Tortured Wires’ is an all-scary affair with plenty of really good, nightmarish, imaginative sounds from authentic materials, like double bass, dulcimer strings and metal wires. Sound-wise, this sample pack is clean and carefully recorded. The editing and processing of sounds is top notch, with sound design techniques applied very professionally. Overall, very gritty and not for the faint of heart.”
     
    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “As far as the sound goes ‘Cinematic Magical Ice’ is both beautiful and mystical. I happen to like the icy textures that are oozing with coldness. Overall, this sound library boasts a good variety of effect samples ready to drop in various cinematic projects.”
     
    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “The spotlight of ‘Cinematic Wood Symphony’ is the wide range of complex sounds that can be dropped in your sound design projects. I love the Wood Movement and Tonal sounds, and I’m sure thriller and horror music composers will be delighted with the Friction and Impact sounds. If your cinematic projects are lacking texture and impact sounds ‘Cinematic Wood Symphony’ is a library to be considered – especially if you’re looking beyond common wood sounds.”
     
    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “Cinematic Water Whooshes and Textures is great for anything. You won’t be hearing recordings of calm rivers or relaxing streams, but cinematic whooshes and textures for soundtrack works and media projects. Whether you’re into this type of sounds, this pack was recorded quite well, professionally edited and processed with Slava’s own flair.”

    Ginno Legaspi – SoundBytes Music Magazine‎
    “Slava is back with another aggressive and energetic sample library called Resonating Metal Force – a 680 strong collection of modern metal effects captured using various tools and high-end studio equipment. The source material was edited and processed professionally for instant use. These sounds are primed for experimentation – whether you add your unique processing, layer several WAV samples or slice and dice to your heart’s content, the sky’s the limit. This sound pack is another winner.”

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1719266399
  • The whole 9 yards.
    Comprised of seven heavy hitting libraries, this bundle includes INTERACTIVE, SCI FI, GEARBOX, SORCERY, HERO, BROKEN, and MELEE. Save by bundling all SEVEN in a single library.

    GEARBOX:
    Boutique analog mechanical contraptions, steampunk gadgetry, gizmos and machines big and small.


    SORCERY
    Spells, deflects, casts, blocks, beams, and more. Unrivaled wizardry at your fingertips.


    BROKEN:
    Car crashes, explosions, crumbling buildings, earthquakes, ripping earth and metal, to debris, and more.


    HERO:
    HERO – Sword fights, stabbing, guillotines, impaling, battle cries, shields, drawbridges, armor, foley and more.


    MELEE:
    Punches, kicks, blocks, bodyfalls, grabs, slaps, bone breaks, blood splatters, and more.


    SCI Fi:
    Spaceships, machines, mechanicals, weapons and more. Technologies exceeding your boldest visions of the future.


    Interactive:
    The ultimate Game UI SFX library including clicks, pops, whooshes, musical and tonal elements, and ready to use designs for every UI action and game style.


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.

 

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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!

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