Organizing Sound Effects
Once you have decided on the overall theme or soundscape for the scene, it’s a good idea to organize the sounds by audio priority. In other words, it’s time for more planning. The sound elements of a scene can be organized into several categories, including reality, ambience, establishing, and mood. There are many different terms that can be used to describe sound effects and how they are used, but they still boil down to these general categories.
In the next series of exercises, you’ll search for sound effects appropriate for this scene and place them in the Bin tab for easy access when you’re ready to build the soundtrack. Choosing sound files and placing them in the Bin tab is like shopping for groceries before you cook a big meal. First you gather the ingredients, and then you start cooking. Otherwise, you’re constantly running back and forth to the store. Or in Soundtrack Pro, you’re constantly going back and forth to the Search tab to hunt for more files.
- Press F1 to return to the Standard layout.
- Click the Search tab to make it active.
- Drag the Bin tab to the right edge of the Media and Effects Manager.
- Click the Timeline to make it active.
The Timeline covers most of the Bin window.
- Click the left edge of the Bin window that is visible over the Media and Effects tab.
Nice customized layout. Why not take a moment and save it in case you decide to presort files to the Bin tab in a future project?
- Choose Windows > Save Layout, and name the layout Separate Bin.
- Click the Bin window if it is not already active and in front of the Timeline window.
Your Separate Bin layout is ready for files. Let’s start with the reality sound effects needed for the scene.
Searching for Reality Sound Effects
Reality sound effects—a door opening, a glass breaking, a gun shooting—are used to make an action look realistic onscreen. However, in sound design, bigger is usually better and reel does not mean real. The sounds you choose for the scene must meet the expectations of the viewer rather than mimicking the sounds that would occur in the real world. For example, gunshots in the movies are loud and startling: Each shot explodes and resonates larger-thanlife. People are so conditioned to movie gunshots that they would not believe the real, unaltered sound of gunshots if you chose to use that in your video instead. You’ll often see witnesses on the news describing a shooting as “popping firecrackers” because they didn’t recognize the sound of real gunshots.
The scene you are working on in this lesson needs at least two reality sound effects—a sound for the doorknob turning and a sound for the door opening. But the door can’t just open silently—that would be real world, not reel world. In a suspenseful, dark, vampire-at-the-door scene, the viewer expects the door to squeak when it opens. Give in to audio clichés: Doors in scary places always squeak, horror films always have full moons and wolves howling in the distance, tires on getaway cars always squeal, and dogs always bark at bad people, to name a few. Sure, you could make it a well-oiled, perfectly maintained silent door if you like, but you’d be compromising the illusion of “reality” in the make-believe world of the scene.
Now that we’ve established the need for a squeaky door in your project, let’s go find its voice.
- Click the Column View button on the Search tab, if it is not already set to Column view, and choose Sound Effects from the Keywords pop-up menu, if that’s not the current category.
- Click the Work/Home Keyword in the left column, then type door squeak in the search text field to narrow the search.
- Preview each of the Door Squeak sound effects. Which sounds more eerie?
My vote is for Door Squeak 2.
- Drag Door Squeak 2 from the Search results list to the Bin window and release it.
The filename will appear gray until you add the file to the Timeline. For now, the bin will be your audio shopping cart, containing just the files you might use in the multitrack project. You can always remove unused files from the bin once you’ve finished the soundtrack.
- Click the Reset button (x) in the Search text field, and type knob to search for door knob sound effects.
Soundtrack Pro includes three different Door Knob sound effects. Since you’re just shopping around, why not take them all! You can decide which to use later.
- Drag each Door Knob sound effect one at a time from the Search results list to the Bin window.
- Reset the Search text field and save your project.
Your hunt for reality sound effects was a success. Now it’s on to the next category—ambience.
Choosing Ambience to Add Presence
Ambience brings a room or location to life and can include anything from the beeping horns and rumbling motors of traffic on a busy street to the low rumble of a waterfall and chirping birds of a secluded forest. Ambient sound adds another layer of reality to a scene and fills the void of silence between dialog and action. It may be subtle, but if it’s missing, the illusion of reality is broken and the scene comes across like a play performed on a make-believe set. True, many narrative scenes are filmed on a make-believe set, but it’s your job as sound designer to color the scene with acoustic wallpaper.
The illusion of reality in this scene is that it is nighttime in a rural area, most likely somewhere near Transylvania. No problem, just add crickets and you have instant rural nighttime. If the scene is in the city, then you can exchange the crickets for light traffic with the occasional street cleaner and sirens.
- Click the Ambience Keyword to focus the search to ambient sound effects.
Soundtrack Pro includes over 100 ambient effects.
- Scroll down through the list to find the Country Day, Country Night, and Crickets files, and preview each effect.
The first two both evoke that feeling of country, so what’s the difference between day and night? Crickets! There’s also a lovely babbling brook and birds chirping throughout the Country Day file. At night, the birds are replaced by an Owl hoot, and the babbling brook has been muted to make room for crickets. Do natural water sources cease to make noise at night in the real world? Of course not, but this isn’t real. You have to set audio priorities. Crickets trump just about any other nighttime sound.
For this exercise, the Country Night ambience is a little too busy and might distract from the rest of the scene. Let’s just go with straight crickets.
- Drag the Crickets FX 01 and Crickets FX 02 files to the Bin window, and reset the Search text field to prepare for the next search.
Next, you’ll find an establishing sound effect.
Establishing a Story with Sound
Establishing sounds can be used to set the tone for a location or era, such as dinosaurs roaring during the Jurassic period or horse-drawn wagons and saloon music in Dodge City circa the early 1900s. Establishing sounds can also be used as part of the storytelling process to establish something that is not present in front of the camera but is still important to the character or story. In fact, it’s quite easy to audibly establish rumbling thunder, exploding bombs, and crying babies without ever seeing them.
Your goal in this exercise is to find an establishing sound that will communicate that someone or something might be outside the character’s bedroom window. When the scene opens, the woman is already awake. She doesn’t seem alarmed, just awake. Why? Did she hear something? Perhaps a barking dog. Barking dogs don’t always mean danger—maybe the dog wants to go inside, maybe a cat is walking along the fence, or maybe there’s a vampire sneaking around the corner. The audience needs you to establish why the character is awake.
- Click the Animals Keyword on the Search tab, and type dog in the Search text field.
There are lots of barking dog sounds to choose from, including small dogs, large dogs, and medium dogs. All are fine for different situations, but for this exercise you’ll focus on the medium dogs.
- Preview all three of the Dog Bark Medium files.
Listen for one that sounds like the dog is outside and is a combined bark and growl sound. Dog Bark Medium 1 will work perfectly.
- Drag it to the Bin window.
- Reset the Search text field and save your progress.
Setting the Mood of the Scene
The final sound effect category that you’ll be working with in this lesson is Mood. Sound effects and music can also be added to enhance the mood of a scene. Is the scene eerie, funny, happy, lonely, action-packed, or painfully boring? Sound can be a powerful tool for enhancing the overall mood of a scene. If the suspense scene that you’re working on included funny cartoon sound effects, children laughing outside, birds chirping, and a happy ukulele tune, it would have an entirely different mood.
For this exercise, you’ll be locating the sound effect for the vampire himself. Not the sound of him speaking, just the theme music that appears whenever he’s around. A low sci-fi–type drone would add an ominous presence to the vampire scene.
- Click the Sci-Fi Keyword on the Search tab, and type drone in the Search text field.
- Preview all three drone sounds.
The Drone Machine will add a nice touch of mood to the scene without becoming distracting.
- Drag the Drone Machine file to the Bin window and reset the Search text field.
What other sound effects might help set the mood? How about wolves howling in the distance? That would help establish the story line and enhance the eerie mood at the same time. So go to the Animals Keyword on the search tab. Find both of the Wolves Howling files and add them to the Bin window. The project could also use some wind ambience to go with the billowing fog outside. Find the Wind 2 sound effect and add it to the bin as well.
Once you’re finished adding files to the bin, change the interface to the Standard window layout and save your progress. Now that you’ve completed your initial sound effects search, you can mark where to place them in the Timeline.