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How (And Why) to Add Sound FX to Your Film and Video

Great sound effects don’t really stand out, because they’re chosen and edited to fit naturally with the action. We might take it for granted, but getting your sound effects right is a real skill. And thanks to sites like Mixkit, it's now easy to find high-quality free sound effects to download and use.

Let’s look at how and why you should add sound effects to your video.

Why Use Sound Effects (FX)

To Add Realism

When you’re shooting a scene, there’s likely all sorts of ambient noise going on that you aren’t paying attention to, but will flag up when you watch the scene back and it’s not there. Say you’re filming someone making a cup of coffee in a café. As well as the noises of the action, there’ll be a low hum of chatter in the background, cups clinking, chairs scraping… that sort of thing. It’s not always possible to capture all your sound while you’re shooting.

To Stop a Scene Being Flat

Subliminally, we can realise something’s missing from footage without knowing what it is, your brain registers something isn’t right and you can feel it without knowing what; often that’s sound. If you consider all the sounds you hear daily, without consciously processing them, it’s no surprise that when you hear something a little off, you might think the scene sounds ‘flat’ or, wrong.

To Help Record Dialogue

If you’re shooting actors speaking dialogue, you’ll want that to be as clear as possible, so often that means shooting directional audio and deliberately blocking out the ambient sound. Later, that can sound really flat and like they’re in a studio – not the result you want at all. Adding the ambience in afterwards can help you keep the dialogue prominent and clear.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on UnsplashPhoto by Jacek Dylag on UnsplashPhoto by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash
More Control, and Recording Something That Doesn’t Exist  

Back to our café example: you might want the coffee noises to be louder, the music on the radio to be heard, or different, and so on. Recording sound to add in yourself gives you much more control, whether it’s when that sound makes an appearance or how loud it is in the mix.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to get real, live sound as the action happens. If you’re filming a battle scene where the protagonists are fighting with swords, chances are (unless you have really excellent insurance) they won’t be real. The clanking of plastic or rubber swords will not set your audience aflame, so you might try and replicate the real sound by recording metal on metal, later.

Sometimes a sound might not exist at all. Reproducing everyday sounds or creating new ones to add to your video is known as Foley.

Take the light-sabres in Star Wars – sorry folks, they’re not real – how do you even begin to know what you want from that effect? Look away if you don’t want the magic ruining, but a light-sabre noise is the combination of a movie projector motor and static interference from a TV set. Genius!

How to Use Sound Effects

In covering the ‘why’ we’ve covered a lot of the ‘how,’ when it comes to adding and recording sounds to your film. You can record the ambient noise of somewhere you’re representing in your film, and you can record extra, specific noises to layer on to that and add greater control to sound overall.

You can also experiment with creating sounds from different things, like in the sword or light-sabre examples earlier.

Here are a few of our tips for recording your sfx:

  • Get your sound as clean and isolated as possible
  • Capture room ambience while you’re filming in case you want to use or replicate it later.
  • Leave your recorder rolling for a while, more is better
  • If there’s something unique to your location, pay attention and try to capture it more than once, just in case you can’t copy it later.
  • Look for noise pollutants that you might subconsciously ignore – do you need to unplug a fridge, or turn off boiler?

Use an Audio Library

There are some fantastic audio libraries and resources to use, and it can be much easier to find what you need by browsing these by keyword than it can to go out and record your own. Envato Elements now includes a huge library of sound effects, so you can pay one monthly subscription, but have access to as many of their library of thousands as you like!

More Sound Advice

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