A Look Inside the World of Sound Design

Mike Hissong / 11.17.2020

Have you ever wondered how they make those cool sound effects in movies? Maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at making your own? Or perhaps you’ve downloaded the free set of sounds we’re giving away this month as part of the SNEAKY BIG Loot Box … and now are wondering what to do with them? We sat down with SNEAKY BIG’s Audio Engineer Mike Hissong, who gave us the scoop on movie sound magic, picking out fake noises on TV and how to get started making your own sound effects.

Q: When you’re watching a movie or TV show, how much of the noises you’re hearing are actually real?

A: First off, when I say “fake” noises, I mean those that were not recorded along with the video and were instead added after the fact. If you’re watching a movie, generally none of the noises you’re hearing are real. With TV, and especially with commercials, it’s usually a mixture of real and fake sound. But I’d estimate that about 90 percent of it is fake.

Q: Can you pick out fake noises from real ones when you’re watching something?

A: A lot of the time, the fake noises are obvious. But other times, you can usually guess from the context if they’re real. Say you have a scene at a construction site where people are talking on screen. If that dialogue is crisp and clean, you know that the construction sounds in the background are fake.

Q: Let’s say we’re making a dinosaur movie and we want to make a dramatic “rawwwwwr” sound for a T-rex. How would you go about making that sound?

A: I would first imagine what the dinosaur would sound like and go from there. I’d start with an existing sound, like a lion’s roar, and use a program like Meladyne to lower the pitch (thus making it seem like a bigger animal). After I got the pitch where I wanted it, I would then experiment with adding some synthesized sounds underneath it to get the effect I wanted.

Q: How easy it is to create a new sound?

A: There is definitely a lot of hit and miss. You can often take a series of pre-recorded sounds – like the one I created for this month’s SNEAKY BIG Loot Box offering – and then manipulate them to achieve the desired effect. But keep in mind that there will often be times where you will play with it for hours, realize that it isn’t working and then start over. That’s the fun (and frustration) of sound design.

Q: How easy it is to create a new sound?

A: There is definitely a lot of hit and miss. You can often take a series of pre-recorded sounds – like the one I created for this month’s SNEAKY BIG Loot Box offering – and then manipulate them to achieve the desired effect. But keep in mind that there will often be times where you will play with it for hours, realize that it isn’t working and then start over. That’s the fun (and frustration) of sound design.

Q: There are a lot of pre-recorded sounds out there. How often do audio engineers create new ones versus using pre-made ones?

A: There aren’t a lot of clients that want to give you eight hours to make a sound, so you will often hear the exact same sounds in commercials. For example, truck commercials basically all have the exact same sounds. As an editor, you know it’s good and has already worked in the past. But personally, if I have the time to make a new noise, I avoid using the pre-recorded stuff. It’s more interesting and fun to create it yourself.

Q: What is the most common mistake you hear in sound design?

A: Excessive low-end sound, like bass. When you’re recording, you have to keep in mind that you only have a certain amount of volume to work with. You have to balance the clip you’re working with low-end sound and high-end sound. People really like low-end sound because it rumbles, and you sort of feel it as much as you hear it. But low-end takes up a lot more energy, making what you’re watching sound really soft in comparison to, say, the commercials that come up later.

Q: Why is SNEAKY BIG offering sounds in this month’s Loot Box offering? What can people do with them?

A: I will be offering just the sounds themselves, but I will stem out all of the different layers of the sound. This will serve two purposes. First, it will help people who are newer to the craft hear how a sound is assembled. Second, it will give newbies and veterans all of the layers, which they can then manipulate and make into something new and useful for their projects.

Q. Last question – What is your advice for someone who is new to sound design and is nervous about giving it a try?

A: It’s just like any craft – you just gotta do it more often. People get really nervous and scared of making a mistake. I’m guilty of that, and I’ve been doing it forever. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

Ready to try your hand at sound design? Download your free sounds from the SNEAKY BIG Loot Box here: https://sneakybig.com/about/loot-box/

Contact Us