Manipulating Sound

Written for the COFFEESHOP Music blog.

There are sound effects. Then there’s sound design.

At COFFEESHOP we try to curate professionally recorded sound samples into genre or mood specific packages that suit your project. We stand by our ethos of wanting to enable filmmakers to tell great stories with impact and meaning by providing ready to use, appropriate sound effects that we believe will make your movies brighter and bolder.

However, the real pro’s of video editing go even further than just using pro sound effects – they manipulate sound to get the feel they envisaged.

Say you’ve got a scene where a skateboarder lands a big heelflip down a set of stairs. You go into your COFFEESHOP music library and search ‘skateboard’, then throw in an ollie sound, syncing the timing with your skateboarder slamming their board onto the concrete before rolling out of shot. It sounds pretty good. The skateboard ollie sound effect is a sample of a real skateboard, so it sounds fine. Job done. But you remember when you filmed the trick, it not only looked sick, it sounded sick! The wheels hitting the concrete, followed a fraction of a second later by the full force of your skateboard dude slamming all their weight through the plywood deck. You remember it being more epic.

And it probably was. When we witness real life events, our brains do a pretty good job of picking up on the environmental circumstances and all the subtle nuances that were also present. 

The footage was filmed in a concrete alley surrounded by tall buildings, so there was likely to be some echo as the board smashed down. That aluminium recycling bin off to the right would have added a little metallic reverb to the action, providing some extra boom. Plus, our brains always love to add a bit of artistic licence to our memories. At the time you definitely remember a heavy wooden thud just after the wheels touched down.

So, get a little creative with your samples. Find a metal clank sound, like a prison door being slammed shut. Layer that on top of your skateboard sample but drop the volume and add on a high-pass filter to just dial in that metallic clank. Now grab a gut-thumping wooden thwack. Cut the highs on its EQ and drop it behind the skateboard and metal door sounds. Now we’re really thickening out this landing. A sprinkling of delay and reverb should season your scene just enough to make it sound like you remembered. Sure, it’s artificial, but cameras and microphones do a shoddy job of capturing reality. That’s why we edit the colours in photographs. Because we want the photo to represent what our eyes saw, or at least what our minds witnessed.

Don’t stop there. Try reversing samples or slowing them down/speeding them up. If you can’t find the actual sound in your library, go off-piste and see what you can fashion out of a totally different organic sound. Maybe you have a slow-motion under-water scene, but all your water samples are too bright and aren’t fitting the mood. Perhaps that fighter jet sound, slowed right down with all the highs cut, might strangely work?

The point here is, don’t settle for what you have in your sound effects library. COFFEESHOP sound effects are royalty-free and can be manipulated to your heart’s content! If you can make one sample do five sounds, or five samples do one sound, then you’re venturing into professional territory.

Read more from the COFFEESHOP Music blog

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