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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Threadgold

Everything you need to know about sound design and composing

Everything you need to know about sound design and composing.

If you don’t know the difference between sound design and composing, then you’ve come to the right place. Traditionally, the roles of Composer and Sound Designer were completely separate, but the boundaries have become blurred and confusing as we experiment more with sound for moving image. Here is our guide with everything you need to know about sound design and composing.

The Composer

When it comes to the composer of a film, names like Hildur Guðnadóttir, Wendy Carlos and Pinar Toprak probably jump to mind and although with modern composing we are combining elements of sound and instruments, typically it follows a few rules.

Music in film is usually presented in the form of a score, something that an orchestra or group of musicians can follow and can be used to showcase a composer's musical ideas to a director.

The way it syncs to the picture is very different to sound effects, dialogue, etc. as the music tends to be motivated by the emotion being portrayed in a scene (or through an action).

Generally, it is seen as organised sound in a musical form which can be orchestral (or at least contains some instrumental tone) but we have changed the game over the years to add electronic sound, samples and effects!

The Sound Designer

The main branch to separate the two was unsurprisingly due to the Sci-fi and Horror genres (this is where I come in) where there is a need for organised sound outside of the expected genres and styles such as mythical creatures/machines/phenomena that don't exist and are beyond musical form.

A Sound Designer creates the naturalistic and abstract worlds for the story, as well as aids the audience’s emotional and dramatic connection with the performance. This can be achieved through manipulating frequencies, designing sounds, or even creating completely new soundscapes.

You have to make the scene believable but maintain the drama. The human ear is exceptionally good at noticing sounds. And even though an audience may not be able to tell you WHAT is wrong, they know something is.

You will generally see the work of a Sound Designer as a cue list. This is a list that will lay out your journey of sound through the story. -It helps you and the director stay on the same page.

A mixture of the two?

The modern ‘in the box’ process has changed the game. With more creatives working in the box, and the independent film working expanding, using both skills in your creative process is very common. There are Sound Designers who think their work is music and composers who think their work is sound design.

Why are they still separate in the world of film or why might it be best to separate the two?

There are many reasons why these are separate, even if you are on a tight budget or in a small team.

Timelines and schedules are tight, so having them separate allows your creatives to focus on their specific part of the sound. Ultimately, both the composer and the sound designer are working towards a common goal of portraying emotion through their sound: shaping or controlling their sonic aspects to work together to enhance the visuals.

The traditional definitions are no longer as rigid and continue to blur as we experiment more with audio.

Top tips on expanding your skills

  • Always communicate with each other. It's key to creating the best sound for the project you are working on.

  • Work on the same page and communicate with your team! Create a shared dialogue about the sound so that you can work on mixing it and bringing your unique takes to the table - This opens up so many creative possibilities in music composition and Sound Design.

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with sound! No boundaries? Great! You don't have to follow any rules, so if you can think of it, you can create it - keep working at it.

Are you a Sound Designer or a Composer? What Top Tips and Tricks do you have?


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