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The Importance of Sound Effects

By Adam Benson

Sound Effects are present in almost every media that you see and hear on a daily basis. From television, movies, and shorts to web sites, and digital music sound effects help tie the pieces together for your brain to understand. Their importance can easily be measured by their absence, when our minds quickly pick out the inconsistency.

Our brains rarely just think on one sense. Most often several of our senses make up the contents of every moment in our perceived time. We see a gun, we watch it fire, but if we don't hear the gunshot we feel that the experience is somehow broken, fake, or just doesn't make any sense.

This is why good quality sound effects can come in very handy. Having the exact right sound for your images can be crucial in getting your audience to become completely engulfed in the experience. Sometimes the sounds can be isolated or symbolic, like the ceiling fan in the beginning of "Apocalypse Now". Much of the other sound effects are removed to focus on the ceiling fan, which is a combination of blades moving quickly past the microphone, and the blades of a helicopter. The symbolism here is that the whirling blades of the fan are reminding Capt. Willard of the call of the jungle.

Sometimes the sounds are a little more collaborative and are mixed together to make a scene sound realistic. Sounds of leather coat, mixed with the jingle of change in the pockets, laid over the sound of a busy airport can create the unconsciously expected realism that your brain is expecting.

But you'll never get lucky enough to find a prefabricated sound byte that has everything you need laid into it at exactly the right time. That's why clean, individual sounds are vitally necessary to create the feel that you'll need. In this way you can mix and match a multitude of various sounds together to create completely new sounds, or a series of orchestrated sounds that complete a collage.

Montage theory (at least one of its aspects) employs juxtaposition of images in order to create new meaning. For example: Show a black and white picture of a sad looking old man, and then show a picture of an empty bowl. Most often our brains put the images together and tell us "this old man is starving". When in reality the two images have nothing to do with one another. The same thing holds true for sounds, especially when they are blended with images. An obviously imaginary bolt of magic blasts out of a character's fingertips, we hear some burning lightening magic sound, and suddenly we are immersed in pure fantasy; believing that this person is really able to shoot magic from their fingertips. The icing on the cake, the thing that sells it, is the sound.

The importance of sound in your production is paramount. Cheap sounds pull your audience out of the realism of the experience. This is why high quality sounds should be collected at any price. Good well made sound effects will pay for themselves, though they'll never make their financial contribution known. It all comes down to the final product. Does it immerse your audience? If not then maybe some tweaking and enhancement of your sound is exactly what's missing.

Adam Benson is an television editor, musician, and sound effects artist. He has worked in music and sound for the last 17 years. Find out what sound can do for you at []


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