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.
 

 

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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    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
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    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

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    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
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    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
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    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
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    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

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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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  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

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Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Foley CashMoney Play Track 105 sounds included $24 $14.40

    CashMoney is a detailed collection of 105 sounds created by recording stacks of fresh paper banknotes and metal coins.

    CashMoney includes a wide variety of money based activities, from counting and shuffling paper banknotes, to handling, counting and spinning various metal coins, on surfaces, in hands and in boxes. There is also a section of designed sounds, representing a fast bank note counting machine.

    This collection is divided into 3 folders, according to the type of cash:

    • Coins: 68
    • Banknotes: 23
    • Designed Note Counter: 14

    All sounds were recorded or designed, and edited at 24 Bit / 96 kHz, with embedded meta data and accompanying spreadsheets.

    40 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576796399
  • Destruction & Impact Hardwork Play Track 237 sounds included, 26 mins total $28.99 $23.99

    Who doesn’t recognize the sounds of construction work and the toughest duties ever known to humankind. Drilling, hammering, building and constructing. (Swearing not included). Packed with 237 different sounds to immerse you audience in the true hardwork day to day

    Recorded with

    Sound Devices 633
    Rode NTG3
    Rode NT4
    Seymour Duncan SCR-1

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576796399
  • Weapons Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds Play Track 800+ sounds included $80

    Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds is a sfx library recorded for police / military related film or video games. Recorded at 24/96,(real guns and soft/air guns) with 3 microphones (omni, cardioid and shotgun), you can use one sound or mix the 3 layers together for more impact!

    Key Features:

    Library ships in 96kHz, 24bit
    408 files, more than 800 sounds
    Effective workflow: well-grounded Soundminer Metadata
  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576709999
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Electro-Mechanics Toolkit 2 Play Track 860+ sounds included $67 $53.60

    The “Electro-Mechanics ToolKit 2” Sound Effects Library features a wide range of versatile electro-mechanic motors, engines, tools and toys.
    All waiting to be cut up, layered, edited and mangled with FX to become spaceship engines, robot movements, sci fi doors, weapon mechanics.
    This library is not meant to be a comprehensive tools library but rather a composite toolkit to bring futuristic electro-mechanic machines, devices, weapons, vehicles, … sonically to life.
    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

    Air Compressor • Angle Grinder • Band Saw • Belt Sander • Bowling Alley Machinery • Buffing Machine • Turning Lathe • Buzz Saw • Chop Saw • Doors & Shutters • Electric Drill • Electric Screwdriver • Electric Wood Plane • Evacuator • Film Projector • Fine Blanking Tool • Fretsaw • Grinding Lathe • Hand Blender & Mixer • Hoist Industrial • Industrial Vacuum Cleaner • Jigsaw • Mechanic Toys • Metal Saw • Milling Machine • Stationary Drill • Strimmer • Toy Helicopter

    20 %
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    Ends 1576623599
 
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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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