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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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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  • 8-Bit Retro sound library is a collection of retro-sounding beeps, bleeps, loops, and jingles, that all sound like they came straight out of those legendary arcade video games and the time when Nintendo, C64 and Atari ruled The Earth!

    Perfect for games, cartoons, movies, and other projects involving retro game themes, you can use these 8-bit sound effects as they are, or explore vast new sound possibilities by playing around with them, combining, looping, and layering them. If you need a fresh and versatile collection of retro-sounding 8-bit sound effects for your production that will instantly throw your audience back to the 80’s era and the time of classic arcade games and consoles, 8-Bit Retro sound library is a must-have!

    8-Bit Retro sound library contains 672 sound effects (116MB) in 16 Bit / 44.1 kHz Stereo WAV format, embedded with metadata to speed up your workflow, and separated into three categories: 1.Loops 2.Jingles 3.Various

  • Destruction & Impact Smooth Play Track 140 sounds included $39 $25

    SMOOTH is a collection of 140 24-bit/48khz wave sound effects.

    I’ts delicate, soft, deep, eerie, cinematic. Its sounds are crafted for slow motion shots, abstract film sequences, motion design shots and mysterious, not aggressive, evocative and ethereal projects.
    All sounds are organized into 8 categories:

    • Organic Deepness
    • Subtle Impacts
    • Ethereal Whooshes Swells and Risers
    • Droplets and Splashes
    • Atmospheres and Drones
    • Shine and Bright
    • Tonal

    They are total wet and 100% reverbered, designed with a “light touch”, definitely the opposite of big distorted and punchy sounds.

    36 %
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    Ends 1586728799
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    Synthetic Drones is the beginning of a new, affordable series aimed at delivering high quality cinematic soundscapes, with variety and flexibility in mind to induce dread and discomfort onto your audiovisual ventures.

    Synthetic Drones was achieved by running a multitude of analog synthesizers through complex effects chains, resulting in resonant, cold, mechanical ambiences where its source remains abstract and mysterious.

    Each audio file contains several variations of the same synthesizer and effects chain, ranging from simple resonant notes, abstract rhythmic clanging and organic soundscapes, rounded up with a futuristic approach, perfect for gloomy science-fiction projects. The takes are long and evolving, giving you creative freedom to use them however deemed necessary.

  • Animals & Creatures Wolves Play Track 500+ sounds included, 78 mins total $55

    DESCRIPTION:

    This library provides the highest quality vocal sounds of the members of a wolves pack in their social interaction: Howls solo and in groups from 2 to 9, fierce growls, extremely bassy grumblings, barks, snorts, whines, yapping. All the raw material was collected using the method of passive week-long observation with minimal intrusion, nothing was staged or provoked. A large part of the library is made of unintentional recordings of the accidental territorial quarrel between a polar wolf SEVER and an alpha male HORT: very aggressive growls, teeth clacking and other fight sounds. Luckily, despite the terrifying sonic impression, no one was injured. About 60 hours of raw recordings were edited into 1 hour 18 minutes, 151 files with 500+ individual sounds. Wolves are very emotional, expressive and surprisingly musical. So, these sounds can be equally useful for films and games representing wolves, as well as for creature and monster sound design. Some of the recordings sound very humanlike.

    10% of this library revenue goes to the shelter for wolves.

  • Mechanical Just Whoosh 4 | Whoosh Sweeteners Play Track 532 - 1614 sounds included From: $55 From: $30.80

    JUST WHOOSH 4 sends forth an armada of highly trained and bloodthirsty Whoosh Sweeteners, ready to take over and beef up any feeble Whooshes, spineless Pass-Bys and wimpy Transition sound effects in no time.
    So they finally do what they should: intensifying the sense of motion and velocity of anything that moves on screen.
    From short, fast pass-bys, through magical fireballs to massive, droning, portly passing spaceships – This Whoosh Sweetener Toolkit does the job.

    To strike with even more precision and efficiency, the fleet splits up into three squadrons:

    JUST WHOOSH 4
    1st STRIKE

    Categories:
    Noise & Interference
    Rattle & Mechanics
    Spacecrafts & SciFi
    537  Sounds | 1,84 GB
    JUST WHOOSH 4
    2nd STRIKE

    Categories:
    Abstract & Fantasy
    Engines & Motors
    Projectiles & Ballistics
    545 Sounds | 1,82 GB
     
    JUST WHOOSH 4
    3rd STRIKE

    Categories:
    Friction & Organic
    Metallic & Dystopian
    Synthetic & Artificial
    Water & Bubbles
    532 Sounds | 1,58 GB

     

    44 %
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    Ends 1587419999
 
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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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