The Sound Effects Bible” author Ric Viers believes that sound design in film is an art form. It can be taught, he says, but it calls for a great deal of creativity for it to be effective.

Sound Design” author David Sonnenschein offers some great tips for film sound. When you’ve got both music and sound effects in a scene, you’ve got to watch for one eating up the other. For example, if you need an effect of tinkling glass, make sure the accompanying music score occurs on a different frequency, using cellos, perhaps, instead of a higher pitched instrument.

Build a solid working relationship with your director to ensure you have some time to record room tone. You’ll need room tone (ambient sound) in post production when you’re adding a cut-to shot and want the same background sound in that shot. If you’re shooting a person walking up to a door, you then want to insert a closeup of his hand turning the doorknob. That closeup shot needs the same background sound as established in the shot of the person approaching the door.

Sonnenschein says you need to pay attention to background sound in historically based films. Some films with an office scene, for example, will need background of manual typewriters, others electric typewriters, and yet others keyboard sounds.

Viers encourages sound engineers to record and collect their own audio effects. Sound libraries are fine, but a fresh sound is always better.



How do I get good audio? Aha, great question! Everyone in the film industry agrees, you can fudge on the occasional poor visual, but you will lose your audience immediately if your sound is bad.

Use an external microphone (mic) whenever possible. If you have a prosumer-level digital camera with professional (XLR) mic inputs, definitely use an external condenser mic and XLR cable. One popular choice is the Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone.

Most of you may be using a consumer digital camcorder, which will not take XLR mic inputs. You can get an external mic with a mini plug that will fit your camera. Try Amazon, or one of the large electronic stores for this kind of mic. It’s not the best, but it’s still better than the built-in camera mic.

Why? An external mic allows you to get closer to the speaking actor without moving the camera in her face.

Needless to say, you don’t want the mic in the shot, unless you’re doing an interview. With a bit of imagination, you can hide the mic or keep it out of the shot. You can improvise by taping the mic to a broom stick with blue painter’s tape. Keep the mic pointed down toward the ground. Otherwise, you’ll get too much extraneous noise.

And face your mic away from any background noises such as traffic or crowds. You’ll have a better chance of getting your actor’s voice without all the underlying sound.


Plug a pair of headphones into the digital camera when you’re taping. Ask one of your crew to monitor the audio as you tape. This frees the camera operator up from worrying about sound levels.

The audio person should listen for strong, clear dialogue. Anything less will show up in the edit and force you to re-tape. Fuzzy or low dialogue is a no-no in your movie.

On the same topic, encourage your actors to speak strongly and clearly. Tell them not to  assume the mic will do all the work.



Build your own digital sound effects library. Carry your digital camcorder if only to pick up audio. If you have the budget, try an audio recorder.

In late spring, head for a pond or creek at twilight to pick up the sound of frogs. Walk the edge of a beach or lake to get the sounds of birds, the surf, the lapping waves of a freshwater lake.

Capture the rush and roar of traffic on a busy street. Tape the clink of glasses and silverware in a kitchen or restaurant.

The next time you visit family or friends, record crying babies, laughing kids, even the murmur of background conversations.

On a breezy fall day, watch for a couple of large fallen leaves scuttling down the street on the wind. Record the dry scratch across the asphalt surface.

Of course, software programs such as GarageBand have hundreds of sound effects.

Adding ambient sound to your film will go a long way to making your work both professional and effective.