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Filmmaking Guide: The Importance of Sound Effects

To the casual viewer, sound effects may not seem of the utmost importance and in a way that tells its own story. You’ll know if you are playing the sound effects game the right way when they are so seamless that they aren’t even noticed.

Good sound design can often be overlooked as a crucial part of the filmmaking process, but conversely, a viewer will notice if it’s not there. A viewer, especially a well-seasoned one, can tell if something isn’t quite right. They can also tell if the sound effects are being used in an overly cliched manner.

The art of sound effects and using them effectively comes very much in the way they are used. Ideally, they’d be applied subtly and for the right reasons and never laid on too thick and too deliberate.

Sound effects are the ideal tool for immersing the viewer in your production. Sound always plays a key part in the storytelling process, and if a film’s soundtrack is considered the paint that completes a picture, then the sound effects are the outline of the entire picture.

Ambient Sounds

Sound effects are, of course, there for realism. But they are also used to give the viewer the sense of being present in a very real sense. They are the footsteps on the ground, the gush of wind at your back and, if relevant, the sound of a bullet being fired from a gun.

It’s more than a case of realistically portraying each sound; it’s the selection of which sounds to exacerbate, and which are understated. Sound is there to tell its own story, and sometimes you are looking to tell a specific tale.

Building Up The Tension

As much as sound effects are the art of signposting events to a viewer, they can also be used to drive the tension and bring the viewer into sharp focus. It may be the complete absence of sound in a horror movie, bar the sharp intakes of breaths of a potential bloody victim. It might be the constant drone of a car speeding into action in a chase sequence.

Putting together an effective spectrum to your sound effects is about knowing how to let these drive your narrative. It’s about knowing what you are trying to get across to your audience. If used effectively, the sound effects, even without images, can create an authentic sense of spectacle.

Pushing the Right Emotional Buttons

Tension is one emotion you could well engender with the right use of sound effects, but just about every emotional response can be triggered by a good soundscape. It will take a bit of training and experience, but you’ll get to know what’s needed to elicit the right reaction.

These sound effects can be quite literal, i.e., actually relevant to the action that’s taking place and perhaps heightened to make the connection for the viewer. Or you could be more abstract with the way you express these emotions via the medium of sound.

any aspect of the filmmaking process, you will find experience is key.

Secure a Large Special Effects Library

Any given scene can have countless layers from a sound and storytelling perspective, and it’s key to have a large amount of source material to draw from. The idea of compiling your own sound effects has long since passed, and now most film producers will secure access to a large special effect’s library.

An excellent place to look for such a service comes in the form of royalty-free music providers. These guys offer a superb service both for special effects and soundtrack music and are far more affordable than securing a relevant license from a production house.

These platforms are great ways to get amazing SFX for your films and are very intuitive and cost-effective.

The top royalty-free music providers offer near-limitless databases of great effects that are well categorized, making it easier for you to easily scroll through the thousands of samples. You can rest assured that finding the perfect thunderstorm will not require you to sort through all effects in their library.

Everything is separated by genre and type, and frankly, you’ll get lost, but in a good way, in among the myriad of high-quality sound effects offered.


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