Although a film’s primary focus is the visual elements, it falls short if the sound design is off. Sound design involves adding effects that make the film sound natural and make the story flow.

They draw the viewer into the world of the film. The sounds can also evoke emotions such as tension, anticipation, and excitement. They help the audience understand the characters better, such as what they are feeling and why they react the way they do.

Elements Of Sound Design

Let’s look at five elements of sound design that are crucial in making a film a success.

sound design

1. Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the most important aspects of a film. It gives specific details about the plot of the story.

Dialogue also helps to develop the characters and show their depth. It shows the personalities and emotions of each and how different characters relate to each other.

All these details can be picked from the character’s tone, what they say, and how they say it. But telling the story right requires more than the character’s efforts in displaying the right verbal and non-verbal cues and showing emotions.

Using Sound Effects

You need to apply the right sound effects to emphasize the emotions and atmosphere in the scene. A good example is the reverb effect.

This is created when reflected sound waves interact with multiple surfaces, causing numerous reflections that build up and decay. Reverb creates depth in the dialogue by giving texture to the character’s emotional state. It also creates intrigue and immerses the audience in the conversation.

Elements of Sound Design

Shooting The Dialogue

There are two ways to record dialogue. You can record it raw during the filming of the scene. In this case, you will need high-tech audio recording equipment, such as a boom under and overhead, lapel microphones on the characters, or an audio recorder hidden between the characters.

You could also shoot the scene, and later re-record the dialogue separately in a controlled environment. This approach gets rid of all external noises.

2. Layer The Sound

Layering is a sound design technique that gives sound effects a more vibrant tone by placing the same kinds of sounds on top of each other. It creates a more pro-sounding track than what you would get using one sound in isolation.

Think of a choir. The individual voices, – sopranos, alto, bass, are used together to create a powerful sound. You can use the same approach to improve your sound.

You need to layer the sounds in the order of their frequency. Start with low-frequency sounds that are bass-like. Next is the mid-frequency sounds that are clear and comfortable, and finally, there are the high-frequency sounds that are sharp and squeaky.


Ensure that each sound you use contributes to the overall picture to avoid frequency clashing. Every sound should pair well with the rest. Get rid of any layer that is not working, no matter how good it sounds in isolation.

sound design

3. Using Impact Sounds

Impact sounds result when an item impacts on another. The structural vibration causes a sound transmission in the adjacent surface.  A great example is the sound of footsteps in a house above the one holding the characters.

Impact sounds depend on the force applied and the surface impacted. For instance, you will need impact sounds in a fight scene to show the intensity of the punches and kicks. You can combine multiple hit sounds using sound layering to make the impact appear heavier to the audience.

You will need lighter impact sounds to enhance actions such as placing a metallic item on a surface or a bartender preparing drinks in the background. If such sound elements are missing, no matter how minor, the viewer will notice the unnaturalness.

Try to enhance impact sounds by adding extra sound details for the movement prior to the impact. For instance, a whoosh-sound as a stone flies through the air will make the impact sound of the stone hitting the surface to be more dramatic. You can also leave a little silence right before the rock hits the surface hard.

sound design

4. Synchronous Sounds

These are the sound effects that match the actions of the characters. For instance, the rustling of clothes and footsteps as the character moves, or the sound of a door opening are synchronous sounds. These sounds are meant to immerse the viewer into the story by providing a form of realism.

Synchronous sounds are also known as foley and constitute a significant part of sound design. The foley artist will create these synchronous sounds by recording them live. They are then added to the film during the editing in post-production by timing every single effect with the corresponding action perfectly.

You can use the foley effects alongside the sound recorded during the filming on the set, and in some cases, foley can replace the set recordings entirely.


How Do Synchronous Sounds Improve Sound Design?

Foley effects will make the scene more believable. Field recordings may capture dialogues perfectly but fail to get the ambient noises that enhance an action. Foley artists recreate these sounds and make them louder. They ensure that the sounds are so natural that the viewer cannot notice that they were added to the scene.

Synchronous sounds also prevent you from having parts that are too quiet. When no one is talking in the scene, the background noises fill up the void, such as the sound of car engines on the street.

sound design

5. Asynchronous Sounds

Asynchronous sounds are soundtracks that do not synchronize with any action in the set, but they enhance it. For instance, a woman may be screaming, and the sound of a train can be heard. The train sound is an asynchronous sound that tells the viewer why the woman is screaming, although they cannot see the train. It also shows where the scene is taking place.

These sounds can be used to create tension and anticipation as the listener hears the sound but cannot see its source. For instance, in a horror movie, you can hear loud footsteps of something enormous outside. But without seeing the source, the viewer cannot know what to expect.

Asynchronous sounds add a layer of realism to a scene. The sound of machine guns acts as proof of the chaos going on in a battle scene.

Unlike foley, which depicts everyday sounds, asynchronous sounds are not easily created using artists. There are ready SFX and sound effects you can source from third party productions and add to the film. Any sound effect you need from crashes, explosions, bangs, and guns to the sound of animals are available for download. And you can add them post-production.

Elements Of Sound Design – In Conclusion

Sound affects how your audience will see the visuals in your film. No matter how good the plot is, if you fail in the sound design, the entire film will be a mess. Layer your synchronous and asynchronous sound effects effectively, and ensure your dialogues and impact sounds are on point.

We hope you’ve found this post on the elements of sound design helpful. What has been your experience with sound design? Let us know in the comments below.