Putting together a film or video, of any style, genre, budget or type can prove to be a Herculean task.
Anyone with lengthy experience in the field will freely tell you that sometimes you’ll end up holding your arms aloft in a wishful prayer, hoping for the stars to align and that your project is a successful realization of your creative vision.
Using sound effects can be one way to really step up your video production quality.
Even if you rely on royalty free sound effects from various websites, create your own sound effects or even go out and record them yourself, you can end up with a superior quality product.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the audio elements of your film or video need to complement what your audience sees on the screen.
Don’t just randomly grab the first handful of free sound effects you can find and through them on the timeline.
This can, in itself, prove quite a task.
Any good feature will have to have a soundtrack, or score, that’s made up of either an original musical score or songs for specific scenes, more than likely it will be a combination of both these.
Coupled with this you should look to use SFX (Sound Effects) to act as the glue that brings the entire piece together.
Sound effects, as a term, covers a multitude of possibilities, some of these are ambient in nature and others can be clever additions you make that advance the narrative.
Securing sound effects, in the sense of getting the relevant clearance or license, can be more of a trying exercise than the act of using them effectively in your piece.
This process can be made easier, and more cost-effective, with the use of royalty-free sound effects, and we’ll discuss this, and the legality concerns you should consider, later in this informative guide.
There are many ways to use sound effects to add realism to your film or video, or perhaps in the case of a social media project, such as a podcast, these could be used for your intro or as something of a gimmick to reel a viewer in.
Ways to Use Royalty Free Sound Effects In Your Film or Video Project
Sound effects are the type of thing you won’t necessarily notice unless they are not there as our trained ears, who have watched hours upon hours of video content, have become attuned to them.
If they are not there, or poorly produced and executed, your audience WILL know….
Here are some uses you can derive from SFX.
Add Depth to Your Story
A film with just recorded sound, especially if that’s in the form of an indoor scene where a boom mic is just catching your actors or presenters, will sound very one-noted.
That flat feeling is because you haven’t given the overall piece a three-dimensional soundscape, and that’s where sound effects come in.
These can be stylistic in nature or to replicate actions you wish to convey in your story or show.
Correct Sound Issues
Sometimes your sound team may not effectively, or correctly, pick up a good level of ambient noise. They may pick up too much of it, therefore drowning out your main focus. Sound effects can be used to patch up the sound recorded on shoot or set.
Transition shots, from a visual perspective, are a good way to jump from scene to scene and they can be given an additional boost by an immediate injection of a good sound effect or two.
This is kind of your way of neatly moving your viewer from place to place, in either as subtle, or direct, a manner as you desire.
If you want your viewer to believe your lead character is on the edge of a skyscraper, you’re going to need the sound of a gust of wind. Perhaps you want your audience to believe there’s a storm of biblical proportions just outside your villain’s sprawling mansion, so you will need some top quality sound effects building that bridge of realism.
To Advance the Narrative
Sometimes using sound effects is not about realism but is in fact an abstract tool to use to put your audience in a state of deliberate confusion or unease.
SFX are not just there to make a scene, or story, as real as possible.
A talented user of sound effects can use what they have at their disposal to create a soundscape that is about advancing your narrative and not necessarily merely illustrating the visuals.
To Ramp Up the Tension
No horror movie would be complete without a creaking door. An explosion won’t be as gut-wrenching if it isn’t coupled with an almighty bang.
Your car chase simply has to have a screeching brake or two. In this way the visceral nature of your tale can be expanded by the sound effects used to accompany the scene playing out on screen or device.
Royalty Free Sound Effects and Licensing
Musical licensing can be a veritable minefield if you are not entirely aware of the potential of accidental misuse of copyright material.
This is doubly true for those who post content on social media channels that have the very latest software that can detect sound files that haven’t been cleared for use, literally within seconds.
If you wish to use mainstream music for your project then you should be aware that the costs are fairly high and the process for securing the clearance of copyright can be lengthy.
It’s also important to note that even if you have the money to get the relevant license, it’s common that the artists in question, or the rights holder, won’t allow you to do so.
There is a small amount of music that is available without the need to spend large sums, these come in the form of music that is without a license or that is within the ‘public domain’.
Both these avenues offer a sparse amount of musical content and usually only for music that was created 75 years ago, or more.
Commonly this music is available because the copyright has expired or because the owner of the rights has allowed it to be used without a license, although not necessarily for commercial use.
Royalty Free Sound Effects by Types of Film
There are many reasons you’d want to put together a project that would require the backing of a great soundscape. These can be intimate and short in length or epic and beyond comprehension.
A lengthy storytelling mechanism and more than likely not your first foray in the world of filmmaking. These run from 90 mins and above and clearly your budget might run from that which is akin to a student production you might put together at college all the way up to a feature film backed by a studio system.
At this juncture it’s worth noting that, much like the use of stock footage, the use of royalty-free music and SFX have been known to be used by Hollywood productions, both for reasons of cost and time.
TV Shows and Short-Form Video Content
Perhaps your project isn’t that of a long-form movie and is instead shorter in both time and budgetary scale. Maybe it’s a web series or a pilot for a show you are shooting yourself with a view to getting it noticed by the big players. Arguably it is in these formats where good SFX can help give your piece the illusion of magnitude.
Social Media Projects
Your needs may be exclusively for social media usage, and that’s a very wide gambit at present. Perhaps you are putting together a series of on camera podcasts or maybe you want to illustrate your facebook post with a nice jingle.
If your YouTube show needs background music that will help your show pop or you have created a new dance craze for your TikTok followers, and you want a great catchy tune to help lure in the viewer to help encourage virality.
Gone are the days of stealing the latest smash hit, as that will lead to grave punishment, instead you can search through thousands of tracks to find one that will do the trick.
What Is Royalty Free Music and How Can I Use It?
Previously in this piece we’ve outlined how music licensing can be something of a headache and how difficult and costly it can be to clear mainstream music.
Royalty-free music, sometimes referred to as copyright-free music, is very much the solution to that headache.
Royalty-free music is music that is available for an inexpensive one-off fee, in other words once you’ve paid for it you are free to use the music file as you wish.
This also covers the SFX options that royalty-free music providers invariably offer as part of their subscription service.
This music is hosted by the provider site and is created by musicians, artists and bands that have aligned themselves to the brand. In doing so they get to receive financial recompense as well as exposure.
In the current climate, where coronavirus restrictions are only now starting to be relaxed, this can prove vital for those in the industry that had previously banked on money they can earn from live concerts.
Given that the music industry as a whole is now very much predicated on the need for earning money from this route, with sales of physical music being very low due to the online availability of musical output, this relatively new area of income can be hugely beneficial.
It’s also very beneficial to those looking to secure great music for their film, video and social media content, especially as access comes via a subscription service that opens us a world of almost infinite possibilities for film directors, editors and producers.
What to Look for In Your Royalty-Free Music Service of Choice
The size of the royalty-free music market has grown exponentially in recent years, to keep up with the demand placed on it by the ever-increasing size and methods of content production and distribution.
In other words, we as an audience consume a hell of a lot more visual content than we used to do.
Previously we may have had a few TV stations to watch and over time this increased to a massive number of cable stations and the internet merely increased the scope and delivery of content.
Streaming services and the move to watching content, of all types, on a device such as an iPad or iPhone, has further expanded the amount of possibilities.
Then you add in the advancement of social media and the concept of each of us being able to be mini-television studios of our own, as influencers or merely individuals documenting our own lives, and you have a recipe that has created a smorgaboard of epic scale.
Most of us now watch far more content than we used to and on many more platforms than we would have previously considered possible.
Therefore the number of providers of royalty-free music has grown to support the need and as such you’ll need to be aware of the crucial factors you’ll need covered by your provider of choice.
Quality of Sound
This should be a given, but it’s not always the case. Your provider needs to offer high quality sound files covering a number of file types, both for the purpose of integration to your technical systems as well as to your overall production.
In other words, what good is your superbly crafted visual project if it’s peppered with amateurish sound?
Variety, and Scale, of Musical Output
A big bonus to using the best royalty-free services is the sheer wealth of options to select from, this goes for the selection of songs, tracks and samples as well as picking out the best SFX for your scene.
You need a vast library to properly cope with your demands, especially if you’ve decided to sign up for a long-term subscription and are a repeat user.
Ease of Interface Use
Some royalty-free music providers may offer literally tens of thousands of sound files but this is useless if the interface you are using to search them isn’t fit for purpose.
The interface should be child’s play. The best services will categorize all elements in such a way that makes surfing their database a joy in itself.
Most productions operate on a budget below what we’d hope, therefore cost is a factor that can’t be ignored. Your provider needs to have a competitive price point and one that fits it’s quality of service.
In other words, if you choose to spend extra money on a premium version that’s offered by a royalty-free provider then it better deliver above and beyond what you could have hoped for.
Over to you
I thought I’d wrap up this article with a challenge for you.
Go ahead and re-create an older video you created, but this time really put in the effort on sound design.
I bet you will be surprised by the difference between the old version and the new one.
Cristian Stanciu is a freelance video editor, owner, and post-production coordinator of Veedyou Media – a company offering video editing services to videographers, marketing agencies, video production studios, or brands all over the globe.