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10 Common Mistakes To Avoid As A Sound Designer

One thing to emphasise before diving into this article…..

Making mistakes is a good thing.

We learn from our mistakes, it’s what makes us better at what we do. So don’t be afraid to take risks. This list is intended as a blueprint for the kind of mistakes that Sound Designers commonly make, based on what they have told us. You can then make a calculated assessment of whether it’s a mistake you’d like to avoid yourself. After all, making mistakes is fine, but if you can learn from someone else’s mistakes you’re onto a winner!

So, with that in mind. Here are some lessons learnt by professional sound designers…

1. Losing Sight of the Bigger Picture

Tunnel vision is an all too easy trap to fall into. When you feel yourself getting sucked into a rabbit hole, remind yourself of the overall project and goals. Sound Designer, Dave Barthly says:

“Sometimes when focusing on an intricate section of samples it’s easy to lose out on the bigger picture”

“It’s important to take a step back from working, give yourself a break, then listen to the entire work and ask yourself if the amount of content in the piece makes sense for the artistic goal you are aiming for.”

Dave goes on to say that this can be a particular problem when doing Foley work. It’s easy to get lost in a nest of layers, when in actual fact less can often be more.

“You might even get the results you are looking for much faster without getting lost in any more details than what is necessary.”

Charlie Eisenhardt (Sound Designer), expands on this:

“When I started out, if I was trying to make a ‘big’ sound, I would layer sounds to the point where I’d end up with a mess that was neither big nor expressive. Start with one or two elements and then play with adding and then muting tracks. Step away and listen to the muted version and then slowly add the elements back in. Trust your ears. Sometimes the sound with less, conveys more oomph overall!”

2. Ignoring the Client’s Brief

This follows on nicely from the previous point.

“Never ignore a client’s brief, constant communication is key to meeting the brief and ultimately having a happy client.” Alan La Porte (Sound Designer/Composer/Producer)It’s important to always remember this. If you’ve been briefed on a project, keep that in mind. Use your creative freedom to get to the end goal in the way you’d like, but don’t let that creativity skew the target. It’s likely that others have been briefed to meet a similar end goal, so get there together.

3. Thinking too Literally

According to Sound Designer, Marcel Wieffering, “thinking you have to use the exact sound you see in the film,” is a mistake to avoid making. The literal option isn’t always the best option.

Composer and Sound Designer, Alec Shea recommends thinking outside of the box when it comes to finding the right sound for something.

“All Sound Designers do this, but avoid getting in the habit of just searching the name of the sound you need.”

“Take even just a little time to think ‘what should this actually SOUND like?’ then try to break it down into elements (for example by time: attack, body, tail, or by frequency: high, mid, low) and think ‘what things sound like each of those elements?’”

A perfect demonstration of this way of thinking is when Sound Designer, Nikola Nikita Jeremić took the sound of a balloon, a didgeridoo, and a plunger and transformed them into a variable monster sound with the help of Weaponiser and Dehumaniser 2.As you can see, it really pays to think creatively when selecting your samples. Nikita might have been tempted to use the sound of a lion or bear. But by thinking laterally he managed to create something unique.

Karan Thamawong (Sound Designer / Composer) sums this notion up perfectly when he says “do not make only the sound you can see, but follow your imagination”.………

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