Asbjoern Andersen


Sound designer Charles Maynes has worked on blockbusters like the Spider-Man series, Total Recall, After Earth and a myriad of others. He’s also a noted sound effects recordist for film and video games such as Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, BLACK and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series.

Today, I’m delighted to present this guest post from him here on A Sound Effect, where he shares the 10 notions he finds essential to great sound design.

 

Asbjoern asked me to contribute a musing about the concept of ‘Sound Design’ and what I thought were important considerations for the A Sound Effect visitors.

After reflecting on what I might think was valuable – and what my heroes think about the idea – I came up with the following notions or suggestions for all of us in the world of the sonic arts.

It was good fun, and I hope it is of some interest.

I have to thank so sincerely all of those folks who have provided me both mentoring and inspiration.

Specifically, these would be Randy Thom, Stephen Hunter Flick, Ron Bochar, Jon Johnson, Skip Lievsey, Jay Wilkinson, Bill Jacobs, Charles Deenen, Ann Kroeber, Gary Rydstrom and David Yewdall. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being both great artists, and inspirations.

Below, I present my chosen notions – with explanations on why I think they’re so important to the work we do as sound designers.
 

But first: What IS a Sound Designer anyway?

A quick preamble which addresses a continuing Pandora’s box in our community:

There has been much talk about “what” a “Sound Designer” is.

I could write pages on the discussion, but I largely feel that it comes down to two basic distinctions which I label the “upper” and “lower” case description of the job.

In the “upper” case “Sound Designer” variant, I would say this has been best described by Randy Thom (who definitely fits in this realm) as something akin to a “Sound Director”. Ie. someone who is really defining the true aesthetic of the project.

Classic examples would be the work of Walter Murch, especially in films such as “Apocalypse Now”, “The Conversation” and “American Grafitti”.

The Sound Designer will be using ALL of the sound groups to accomplish this task

With this, it is important to say that the Sound Designer will be using ALL of the sound groups to accomplish this task; Dialog, Music, Sound Effects, Foley, and special sound design.

The sound designer will usually have a significant role in the mixing of the elements to achieve the vision of the director, and will be participating in the decision making at the level of the Picture Editor and Cinematographer.

The second, what I call the “lower-case” “sound designer”, is what might better be described as a sound effects designer- ie. someone who creates sound effects for a certain action or space, but doesn’t have that larger imprint on how (or if) it will be used.

At one point, there was more of a division with this and sound effects editing, but I believe that distinction has largely disappeared for the most part, as we sound editors are almost constantly having to create effects where existing material might be not available.

So, with that being said.. off we go!
 

1: “No matter how much experience you have, you do good art by making lots of mistakes and learning from them. That’s the way it happens early in your career, and it changes very little even after several decades.” – Randy Thom

Randy is just an amazing, amazing man. What he says in this comment is the mark of his humility, and in that comment we do confront the classical business issue of “Fast/Cheap/Good” which is omnipresent in our western society.

The problem with that paradigm is that “Art” doesn’t mind timetables well, and if we are hoping to create “Art” which is new, and original, it sometimes takes some time to formulate those ideas. That is why most commercials and short turnaround work usually sounds like other things you have heard before.

When we look at films like “The Matrix” or “Gravity”, we see daring choices that were dangerous and thought-provoking. These choices though were ultimately agreed upon and approved by people other than the “Sound Designer”. We are hired to serve our collaborators in our work, so their viewpoint will indeed dictate the degree of freedom and latitude we have in our work.

An attachment to this would be to realize that is that the brilliant ideas we come up with might be discarded like the pristinely perfect parsley that comes with a fine meal. This is not an indictment on the quality of our contribution though.
 

2: ‘Never use the “right” sound for an action’ 
-A concept from Treg Brown, legendary sound designer for the original Warner Brothers cartoons

Treg Brown is probably one of the most important figures in sound design history. His work redefined animated sounds, and his work is truly foundational to modern sound design.

And when we read about Gary Rydstrom using the sound of dog food being sucked out of a can for the sound of the Terminator going through prison bars, we can trace the thinking in that exploration back to Mr. Brown’s sweeping influence on our art form.

I have always considered this to be a literary parallel to sound: When we metaphorically approach the sound we are envisioning. So thinking in the terms of metaphor and simile can be terrifically useful in creating an emotionally compelling aural experience.
 

3: “Should” is a dangerous word.
Wow, that’s an ambiguous statement – but it addresses the notion of “Formulaic outcome”, which can often simply be the process of attaching cliché to art.

“Should” is a pretty useful word usually. To really address this sub-topic, we need to ask of if we are working in “high” and “low” art – but we have a difficult condition where “art” isn’t demanded, or even desired, but “craft” is.

Not every project presents itself with the need for creative or abstract sound

Not every project presents itself with the need for creative or abstract sound. In those cases sometimes the dialog is so key that it doesn’t require more, or in other cases, music might be key to the drama.

One example that I think of in this case was the film “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” which had a great score, which drove the emotional tenor of the film. The sound design was actually brilliant, but it was largely overshadowed by the amazing score.
 

4: Your director is the first most important person to want to please. There are others who can see that you are replaced at a whim though.

Our director is the one person who has a singular vision for all the parts that make up his experience. Usually though, he or she will not have absolute control over the end product.

Producers will also have a say in the matter, and will hopefully be communicating those ideas in advance to the Director and Editors involved ahead of us.

We are in the service business, and we serve our work like other businesses make food, or other goods.

Though in many ways, as “sound designers” we are in the same sort of boat as musicians trying to make a living with their work. There are many, many qualified people who do creative work as a simply matter of fact. Sometimes the work we do ends up getting recognition, which might elevate our visibility – and sometimes we do amazing work that is largely unrecognized.
 


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

 

Latest releases:  
  • Vehicles Skate on Board Play Track 112 sounds included, 22 mins total $49.99

    Skate on Board is an SFX library with the purpose of bringing alive the hidden sounds of skateboarding. This library has 65 stereo recordings with the best sound quality of actions such as jumps, pass by, and grinds over different surfaces like concrete banquets, and rail tubes. Furthermore, this library contains 47 mono audios of P.O.V perspectives which were reordered with different microphones attached to the skateboard to capture the full maneuvers and details of skateboarding.

    Add to cart
  • The west is still wild.  A collection of clean and loopable natural ambient atmosphere elements – each 3 minutes long. This collection represents my best content and works great in multitrack layers.

    The core of this collection are natural sounds captured in the wilds of Oregon, USA – Western North America. The wildlife in the forests, streams, lakes, coast, and deserts of Oregon are a good substitute for most US and Canadian states west of the Rocky Mountains, including Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, British Colombia, Alberta, Alaska, and Wyoming.

    These recordings are from a pristine environment that avoid any human caused sounds.

    22 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
    Add to cart
  • Animals & Creatures Broken Robot Play Track 87 sounds included $12.99 $6.99

    This library is a small “utility” collection of sounds great for use as Robot/Machines but also great for UI and Weapon design elements.  Servos, various metal objects and analog synths were recorded as source material to create this library.  The library includes raw servo recordings and meticulously performed or designed robotic/machine-like sounds.

    Bonus – Forge Sound Design Tool Sample Map

    If you own the Forge Sound Design Toolkit this library also comes with a specially curated sample map.  The sample map can be loaded into the sampler for randomization and the creation of more complex sounds.

    46 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
    Add to cart
  • Electricity Electric Arcs and Energy Play Track 266 sounds included $39.99 $19.99

    Electric Arcs and Energy is essentially two separate collections of sounds.  The first, Electrical Arcs are more raw.  These arc sounds can be manipulated and mangled to be used as design elements in your project.  They are highly flexible and can easily be pitch-shifted -48 semitones or more.  They remain remarkably useful and clean giving each sound multiple “dimensions”.

    The Electrical Energy collection is a series of more specified design elements that I created – Impacts and Powerups.  Meant to be used in Weapon or UI design they should be flexible enough to be used as stand-alone effects or layers in more complex sounds.

    Recording and Editing

    This library was designed from scratch by recording highly unconventional metal sources with a cello bow and processing them (see one example in video). Great care was taken during the recording and editing process to ensure maximum flexibility of these sounds.  The recording was done at 24/192kHz using the Sennheiser MKH 2050 mic which captures frequencies up to 50kHz.  All processing and design was then performed at 192kHz.

    Bonus – Forge Sound Design Tool Sample Map

    If you own the Forge Sound Design Toolkit this library also comes with a specially curated sample map.  The sample map can be loaded into the sampler for randomization and the creation of more complex sounds.

     

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
    Add to cart
  • Whooshes liftFX Play Track 275+ sounds included $89 $71.20

    AWE YOUR AUDIENCE WITH RISERS, BUILD-UPS, DROPS AND MORE.
    Risers, build-ups, drops, breaks, downlifters, swells, sweeps, falls – it has never been so easy to hype your audience. Forget samples, just turn the knob or let liftFX even do that for you, automatically, in beat sync at the length you need it to be.

    KEY FEATURES:

    • Playable in real-time with instant auditive and visual feedback
    • Any length, tempo, pitch range and root note possible
    • Tempo sync or time (s) duration
    • Control key parameters independently or automatically (+ reversed)
    • Automation and modwheel (cc1) support for each parameter
    • 275 nifty presets included
    • Optional time lock and control lock to try different presets with current setting
    • High cut and low cut filters, reverb and delay
    • Lightweight plug-in, as it relies on synthesis
    USE CASES:

    • Build captivating uplifters, downlifters, drops, rhythmic, percussive builds and more effects out of the box
    • Any electronic genre such as EDM, Trap, Dubstep, Pop, Hip Hop, Drum’n’Bass, House, Techno, and more
    • Cinematic and experimental sound design
    • Beef up your synthesizers with tonal layers or harmonic overtones to achieve a fat, rich sound
    • liftFX requires a free iLok account (click to learn more)
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1567116000
    Add to cart

Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

5: There are many ways to Mecca, and many are highly compelling.

A quote from General George S. Patton. Actually, he said this:

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

This is a concept which is sort of covered in the others, but it is important to iterate: If we are allowed to be creative, ideally we will not be micro-managed in doing so. Sometimes that’s not the case though – but we can hope for the best.
 

6: Should sound be really cool, or invisible as a component?

Another sort of multi-faceted comment: Will sound make a bad film or whatever be good? Will “bad” sound wreck an otherwise great film or media experience?

What is “good” sound?

Back when I was younger, the phrase “Turd polishing” was sort of popular. On a creative level, doing that is always unsatisfying, because bad stories are generally not going morph into good stories through elaborate adornments.

The obvious thing here though is that we are for-hire labor, so we really don’t always have much of a say as to the quality of our projects when not working is the alternative. So I suppose this should really give us an appreciation of our place in an imperfect world.

When we however look at “good” films, strangely, sound seems less important.

Try to find as much joy in the project as is possible, and to attach as much of yourself to its success as well

Sure, with films like “The Matrix”, “Saving Private Ryan” or “Jurassic Park” sound plays a huge role in the experience, but largely, the experience would be nearly as visceral silent. That is the mark of exquisite film making.

One tool I find very important though is to try to find as much joy in the project as is possible, and to attach as much of yourself to its success as well.

When it misfires at the starting line we may be disappointed, but we will have the satisfaction of knowing the best possible work we could have provided WAS provided.
 

7: Go out and sound explore. Hearing sound in the first person and actively listening is a very important experience.

There is not a lot to add here: Being involved in the real world is a great thing.
 

8: Verbalizing effects is often useful, and sometimes, those effects are actually what’s used in the end.

Perhaps not an obvious thing, but it’s terrifically useful. Especially if you can’t quite get the sound you are looking for via editorial. Many of the biggest names in sound design do this, and though we can sometimes be a little too self-critical, it usually is very useful to do.
 

9: ‘Sound Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing are all about Editorial. It is the process of purifying the sonic moment. And often means reducing things, not adding more.’ – Randy Thom

Randy is always very eloquent, and I would be reluctant to add much to his comment on this. I will say that it is difficult to be too critical with our own work though.
 

10: A second quote from General George S. Patton, and one I hold quite dearly: ‘Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.’

Again things that have been mentioned speak to this. But in the end, it speaks to education. We can learn tons by reading and listening to those who went before us. As Shakespeare said, “there are no new ideas under the sun”. We can take those previous approaches and mix them up to suit the needs of the project.

A bonus suggestion: Take everything you hear from your peers and colleagues with a pound of salt.
 

– Charles Maynes
Sound Designer, field recordist and hopeful activist.

 


 
A big thanks to Charles Maynes for his insights!

 

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:
 
 
  • City Life Collected Ambiences Play Track 33-380 sounds included From: $30 From: $15

    Each SFX library in the “Collected Ambiences” series features 33 Stereo Ambiences from many different locations.
    The series includes ambiences such as Public Spaces, Roomtones, Drones, Forests, City, Train, Bus ride, Rain and many (many!) more.

    Collected Ambiences highlights:

    Vol 1: Airplane Landing/Take Off, Backyards, City, Car Wash, Residential Area, Construction Site, Birds, Fireworks, Crowd, Train, Roomtone and more. 33 files, 3.85 GB, 111 minutes

    Vol 2: Car Wash, Chop Shop, Backyard, City, Residential Area, Fireworks, Construction Site, Supermarket, Train, Roomtone and more. 33 files, 3.58 GB, 103 minutes

    Vol 3: City, Birds, Crows, Pedestrian Area, Residential Area, Bus, Roomtone, Village Fair, Weekly Market, Roomtone and more. 33 files, 3.45 GB, 100 minutes

    Vol 4: City, Traffic, Birds, Funfair, Pedestrian Area, Residential Area, Bus, Roomtone, Shopping Mall, Train, Roomtone, Drone and more. 33 files, 4,69 GB, 136 minutes

    Vol 5: City, Park, Train Station, Plaza, Birds, Crows, Pedestrian Area, Residential Area, Bus, Roomtone, Village Fair, Weekly Market, Roomtone and more. 33 files, 4.66 GB, 135 minutes

    Vol 6: Public Spaces, Roomtones, Forests, City, Small Towns, Country Side, Rain and more. 33 files, 4.65 GB, 134 minutes

    Vol 7: City, countryside, creek, forest, park, open-air bath, small town, water park and more. 33 files, 4.9 GB, 147 minutes

    Vol 8: Public Spaces, Roomtones, Public Bath, City, Busride, Farm and more. 33 files, 5.14 GB, 148 minutes

    Vol 9: Public Spaces, Industrial, Animal Shelter, Factory, Mall Food Courts, City, Park, Schoolyard and more. 33 files, 4.62 GB, 129 minutes

    Vol 10: Public Spaces, Gym, Train Interiors, Fireworks, Public Bath, , City, Train, Busride, Rain and Wind, Wind and many more. 50 files, 8.94 GB, 248 minutes

    Vol 11: Beach, Public Space, City, Rain, Wind, Weekly Market, Bistro and many more. 33 Files, 4.93 GB, 122 minutes

    All recorded with Sound Devices 744T, Sennheiser MKh8040 ORTF, Beyerdynamic MC930 ORTF, RODE NT4 or Sony PCM-D100. All files were cleaned, edited and most of the files loop seamlessly.

    Please check the Content Lists below for each library to see what the full list of ambiences in each library – and if you get all 10 Collections together, you land some great savings compared to the individual collection prices.

    60 %
    OFF
  • Sci-Fi Sci-Fi Interface Data Processing Sounds Play Track 170 sounds included, 11 mins total $22

    With DATA sound library Sound Response brings you high quality collection of meticulously designed data processing and readout sci-fi sound effects!

    If you’re looking for those futuristic-sounding, hi-tech processing interface sound effects, and the sounds of sci-fi computer readouts, calculations, sensors and scanning sound effects, this soundpack will provide you with diverse arsenal of various high tech data processing sound effects to suit your needs. With DATA sound library at your disposal you’ll have the right audio tool to create that sophisticated, futuristic, sci-fi sound for your game, movie, trailer, video, or any other project that you’re working on!

    DATA soundpack contains 403MB (170 sound effects) of high definition 24bit/96khz Stereo WAV files, embedded with metadata to speed up your workflow.

    Add to cart
  • Environments Autumn Forest Vol. 01 – Ambiences Play Track 209 sounds included, 499 mins total $86

    This library contains more than 200 natural ambience clips with embedded metadata. They´re mixed and cut into: loops, transitions and variations to be ready to use inside your project.

    The metadata precisely points out any bird species, the specific environment and acoustic properties, the current day-cycle, weather conditions and any foreground or background events that are audible in the clip. To enhance the ease of use, I decided to structure the library as a modular toolbox for ambience sound design.

    It has been recorded in some of the oldest, quietest and most pristine forests all over Germany and offers a large collection of active and quiet nature ambiences featuring a variety of different natural environments and wildlife.

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Vehicles Skate on Board Play Track 112 sounds included, 22 mins total $49.99

    Skate on Board is an SFX library with the purpose of bringing alive the hidden sounds of skateboarding. This library has 65 stereo recordings with the best sound quality of actions such as jumps, pass by, and grinds over different surfaces like concrete banquets, and rail tubes. Furthermore, this library contains 47 mono audios of P.O.V perspectives which were reordered with different microphones attached to the skateboard to capture the full maneuvers and details of skateboarding.

  • The west is still wild.  A collection of clean and loopable natural ambient atmosphere elements – each 3 minutes long. This collection represents my best content and works great in multitrack layers.

    The core of this collection are natural sounds captured in the wilds of Oregon, USA – Western North America. The wildlife in the forests, streams, lakes, coast, and deserts of Oregon are a good substitute for most US and Canadian states west of the Rocky Mountains, including Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, British Colombia, Alberta, Alaska, and Wyoming.

    These recordings are from a pristine environment that avoid any human caused sounds.

    22 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
  • Animals & Creatures Broken Robot Play Track 87 sounds included $12.99 $6.99

    This library is a small “utility” collection of sounds great for use as Robot/Machines but also great for UI and Weapon design elements.  Servos, various metal objects and analog synths were recorded as source material to create this library.  The library includes raw servo recordings and meticulously performed or designed robotic/machine-like sounds.

    Bonus – Forge Sound Design Tool Sample Map

    If you own the Forge Sound Design Toolkit this library also comes with a specially curated sample map.  The sample map can be loaded into the sampler for randomization and the creation of more complex sounds.

    46 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
  • Electricity Electric Arcs and Energy Play Track 266 sounds included $39.99 $19.99

    Electric Arcs and Energy is essentially two separate collections of sounds.  The first, Electrical Arcs are more raw.  These arc sounds can be manipulated and mangled to be used as design elements in your project.  They are highly flexible and can easily be pitch-shifted -48 semitones or more.  They remain remarkably useful and clean giving each sound multiple “dimensions”.

    The Electrical Energy collection is a series of more specified design elements that I created – Impacts and Powerups.  Meant to be used in Weapon or UI design they should be flexible enough to be used as stand-alone effects or layers in more complex sounds.

    Recording and Editing

    This library was designed from scratch by recording highly unconventional metal sources with a cello bow and processing them (see one example in video). Great care was taken during the recording and editing process to ensure maximum flexibility of these sounds.  The recording was done at 24/192kHz using the Sennheiser MKH 2050 mic which captures frequencies up to 50kHz.  All processing and design was then performed at 192kHz.

    Bonus – Forge Sound Design Tool Sample Map

    If you own the Forge Sound Design Toolkit this library also comes with a specially curated sample map.  The sample map can be loaded into the sampler for randomization and the creation of more complex sounds.

     

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1566943200
  • Whooshes liftFX Play Track 275+ sounds included $89 $71.20

    AWE YOUR AUDIENCE WITH RISERS, BUILD-UPS, DROPS AND MORE.
    Risers, build-ups, drops, breaks, downlifters, swells, sweeps, falls – it has never been so easy to hype your audience. Forget samples, just turn the knob or let liftFX even do that for you, automatically, in beat sync at the length you need it to be.

    KEY FEATURES:

    • Playable in real-time with instant auditive and visual feedback
    • Any length, tempo, pitch range and root note possible
    • Tempo sync or time (s) duration
    • Control key parameters independently or automatically (+ reversed)
    • Automation and modwheel (cc1) support for each parameter
    • 275 nifty presets included
    • Optional time lock and control lock to try different presets with current setting
    • High cut and low cut filters, reverb and delay
    • Lightweight plug-in, as it relies on synthesis
    USE CASES:

    • Build captivating uplifters, downlifters, drops, rhythmic, percussive builds and more effects out of the box
    • Any electronic genre such as EDM, Trap, Dubstep, Pop, Hip Hop, Drum’n’Bass, House, Techno, and more
    • Cinematic and experimental sound design
    • Beef up your synthesizers with tonal layers or harmonic overtones to achieve a fat, rich sound
    • liftFX requires a free iLok account (click to learn more)
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1567116000
 
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

Leave a Reply

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

HTML tags are not allowed.