Cheap and Cheerful Sound Design for Beginners


Sound design and music can be expensive hobbies.  I propose a gradual approach and some inexpensive alternatives.  It’s a strategy for growing into a deeper system.


feed yourself

Go back to games and films you like …and also those you don’t like. Make a point of noticing what the sound is doing.  Close your eyes and just listen.  How does the sound relate to the story and the action?  What does it tell you and how does it make you feel?  This is how you establish your taste and style.


collect sounds

Get sounds from anywhere you can., free music archive, freeware synths, etc.

Get your hands on recording gear, throw on some neutral sounding headphones, and record as much as you can.  Recording various ambiences is a great way to start.  Media clubs and co-ops are great places to rent microphones and recorders.  Experiment with mic setups.  Mono, stereo, mid-side, shotgun, binaural (gasp).  Any time spent doing this is golden.


get props

Props are fun to record! Start by recording everyday stuff from your house.  Close your eyes and see how many sounds you can get out of them.  Imagine what other objects you could use them for.  When you need more props, visit thrift stores!  Used items seem to have more character than new ones. Also, people don’t stare as much when you pick stuff up and whack it squeeze it and shake it.  You’re leaning how stuff makes sound, which will feed all your audio work.


the editor

Get all your sounds together and start editing them.  Get a copy of Audacity and follow this method.

Apply DC offset, noise reduction. Balance the volume, cut out the parts you want and delete the rest! Cut on zero crossings to avoid clicks, make loops and perfect them!


go to the library

Organize your sounds into folders.  Come up with a naming convention and stick to it.  Look at reputable commercial sound libraries to see how they do it.  Name all your sound files, store them in separate folders by category, then enter the info in a spreadsheet program that allows export to .csv format.  This “future-proofs” your database. The best sound library software will let you import your files with the .csv and you won’t have to re-do everything!


the process

Now the design.  Import your sounds into a DAW and get busy.  Layering, panning, mixing.  Audio processing is a deep subject so dive in, have fun, you can’t break anything!



By now you may have a whole new approach to recording!  Keep it up! Great sound events are often made from many small unexciting sounds.


what’s he building in there?

Learning sound design is a lifelong gig!  Learning how to learn is essential.  Listen to what others say.  There’s usually something useful there.  Also, ignore everybody!  You need to decide what’s important to you and develop your own style.  Time is not cheap.  Acquire skills.  Develop your inner sound world.


Finally, the best piece of advice I got was to stop, close my eyes and listen for 3 minutes whenever, wherever you are.  Ask what sounds, what volume, what relationship.



be interested in more than sound.


quick start:

Find tools that will grow with you.

Audacity, Protools First, Ableton Lite, Apple Logic Pro, Melda Productions, Zoom recorder with built in stereo mics, Sony MDR prfessional headphones, studio monitors, Maudio audio interface, midi controllers, Rode mics, Kontakt, Voxengo Span,

specs – 24/28 Bwav or highter,VST/AU/AAX

Commercial software companies:  Avid, Ableton, Native Instruments, Waves, iZotope, McDSP, soundminer, Melodyne, Arutria, Cycling 74, Sound toys, IK Multimedia, FMOD, Wwise, Fabic, Soundmorph

Libraries;  Blastwave, Sound Ideas, Hollywood Edge


getting serious

Audio pre-amps for recording, at least one great mic, studio monitors, great sound rooms, kickass computer, great sampler, sound library with library software, learn one DAW and become a ninja on it. Go!