Seeing with your ears: The importance of sound in videos

"Sound Speed"

Two simple words, with endless opportunity for cinematic enchantment.

Musical composition, dialogue and sound effects are all auditory layers in a video project that heighten and solidify the viewer’s experience. Did you know that the brain processes sound before visuals? Once a soundwave reaches your ear, the brain can process it in a mere 0.05 seconds. That works out to be ten times faster than the blink of an eye. So naturally, strong sound design in any video should never be taken for granted. It actively shapes how we interpret images on a screen. Sound, itself, is a storyteller with the ability to hijack a story's narrative and tell it from its perspective.

Now, let’s explore the usage of musical compositions and sound effects as they relate to film.

Musical composition is any original music and it’s accompanying lyrics composed by an artist. It is typically defined as a succession of pitches and rhythms, usually in some definite pattern.

Consider the theme song to one of the most iconic musical compositions from a film; Jaws.


How does this track make you feel? Its longer pacing and slightly jarring rhythm elicit a sort of discomfort. Its low frequency feels like a sort of grumble. Like a predator stalking its prey? Then suddenly the track switches gears and picks up in pace. The frequency builds, putting us on the edge of our seats. The heightened rhythm suggests something is coming. The predator is about to attack its prey. This musical composition is chalk-full with emotional intent and mood. It grasps us with its deep, slow beat and then abruptly tightens its pacing and rhythm to suggest a build-up with impending release. Something wicked looms. Dun dun dunnnnn.

You see, the use of sound in videos is a secret-emotional messenger. That is, it subtly influences our emotional reaction to a scene in a film with or without the use of character dialogue, often prompting us on how to feel without directly telling us. It is that powerful.  As Evan Puschak of Nerdwriter explains,"Visuals are simply the face of the operation while the audio is actually the puppet master, the one that really holds the power."

Sound effects are used to mimic the noises in the script of a dramatic production that ultimately enhance the production's illusion of reality. They enhance the narrative of what's happening on screen. Ensuring fidelity between the sound effect and the action or item it accompanies will ensure high production quality and greater viewer payoff. A lack of fidelity will leave your audience members scratching their heads, totally removed from the scene.

So how exactly are sound effects produced? Well, with a little (a lot) of help from a Foley Artist, sound effects are born. But what is foley and what exactly does a Foley Artist do, you ask? Foley is the act of recreating sounds from movies using everyday items. Most people would assume that the sounds in a movie are all recorded on the day of shooting, but that's rarely the case. More so, sound effects are recorded in post-production, when the whole video has already been filmed and is in the editing process. A Foley Artist will, for example, often use materials like celery, carrots and even uncooked macaroni to simulate the sound of breaking bones.  It is used to reproduce sounds that accompany things like a slamming door, crumpling paper, footsteps and more. Sounds pretty neat, doesn't it? It is nonetheless a very meticulous job that requires gruelling attention to detail, a well-tuned ear and plenty of creativity. Take a peak into the short film, The Secret World of Foley, to see two foley artists at work, creating sounds that breathe life into the tale of a fisherman's morning.

To wrap things up, do yourself a favour and check out a Cineflair favourite for its incredible sound design.

Cooking Up A Storm from Bruton Stroube Studios on Vimeo.

And if these videos haven't left you enlightened, inspired and/or hungry, check out a previous post of ours, 5 Inspiring Videos That Will Smash Your Creative Roadblock. After watching one of the five videos, comment below which one you feel had the best sound design and likely used foley artists to create killer sound effects!