sound effects techniques

4 Surprise Sound Effect Techniques You Need to Take Advantage Of

Savvy creators know that sound effects add a completely new dimension to their videos and content. 

Consider some examples from favorite movies: the most memorable sound that comes to mind could be the roars of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, courtesy of such real-life sources as mating tortoises and hissing geese. 

It could be a sound effect or unexpected instrumentation used as a score, such as when Alfred Hitchcock memorably used the sounds of various distorted bird cries for the soundtrack to his classic film, The Birds. Or it could be the immediately memorable line of bass that functions as a segue between scenes in Seinfeld, which as not the standard for sitcoms at the time (and it bridged the gap between music and sound effects, functioning as a bit of both).  

Sound effects are great to give extra surprise to sounds that audiences think they know, but which can turn out to be richer and surprising when heard up close. They can also be added completely externally to footage, the way that trailer editors surprise audiences and signal emotional shifts in their work (often with the same bass-bend sound being used over and over against to signify that things are getting serious). Of course, many ideas in sound design start as innovations, then become clichés, partly because they work. 

But sometimes it can be even more rewarding to break out of the expected and think about how to put sound effects to work to add emotion and a sense of the unexpected to film and video projects.

Fortunately, there’s a world of exciting sound effects to choose from, from textural to explosive, for crafty sound designers to explore. Read on for some surprising ways to use them.

1. Crunching Leaves and Knife Wounds: The World of Foley

The aforementioned example of real-world animals providing dinosaur roars in Jurassic Park is an example of the art of foley. 

Foley involves recording objects in the real world to provide the sounds for film or video. 

So the sound of a head being split open onscreen could be in reality an ax-chopping into a watermelon, or a hammer coming down on jello. 

The beauty of foley effects is how different they can sound once divorced from whatever originally produced them. Setting up a proper foley studio, replete with gravel and mallets, can take a while and be expensive. So can walking around recording live sound, and creators may be on deadline.

Fortunately, there are royalty-free foley SFX out there to be licensed, which can add mystique, suspense, and surprise to any project. 

2. Watch Out! How to Use Horror Sounds for Maximum Effect

Scary sound effects always add an element of surprise. Think of the spooky atmosphere that creators can conjure in the dark with a few well-placed sound effects — approaching footsteps, ominous inexplicable sounds in the night, creaking steps on the stairwell, heavy breathing, or the scraping shuffle of approaching zombies.

The whole texture of a scene can change with the right music and horror sound effects. One of the most important points to note here is not just the quality of an effect but the way it’s layered into a scene. Silence can build suspense, leading up to the well-placed positioning of a scream, roar, or something scarier because it’s even more unplaceable. 

Used sparingly, horror sound effects can be even more surprising — particularly when juxtaposed with totally banal sound effects. When the everyday meets the supernatural, it can be especially effective, as in the work of Stephen King. Using sound design to build a sense of reassuring normalcy (chitchat, café sounds, or the texture of a city at night) first, before puncturing that atmosphere with a well-timed shriek is a great way to surprise an audience.

3. Ambient Sound Effects Can Build Video Game Atmosphere

Video games are becoming more and more sophisticated and realistic. In some ways, sound designing video games offers even more possibility for creativity than video or film projects because creators are building a universe from the ground up. That means thinking about how the world of a game actually works and the mood that creators are looking to build. Think of science fiction sound effects like: 

  • Warping sounds
  • Futuristic wind sounds
  • Dramatic vortex percussion
  • Robotic vocal sound effects

These can be layered along with other ambient sound effects to bring your audience into a novel and surprising world. 

But that atmosphere can then be punctured and played with by adding additional sounds, which could be unexpected because they’re highly realistic and commonplace like weather sounds, or else unexpected because they add a feeling of levity (maybe not exactly a cartoonish music clip, but smart creators will know that good results come from experimentation and juxtaposition). 

Reality itself is constantly surprising, so building that feeling of contrast into even alien worlds will give them a texture that hooks players and keeps them absorbed.

4. Adding Additional Impact to Action Scenes

Gun shots, speeding motorcycles, car crashes, rockslides — there are many common scenarios in movies and videos whose original sound is unusable or simply not quite dramatic enough. In that case, it makes sense for the sake of a video’s emotional and visceral impact to augment production sound or else replace it completely with more impactful sound effects. 

Think of scenes that take audiences impossibly close to the action via exaggerated closeups. That gives license to sound designers to really think about what a plane coming apart at the rivets (for example) could sound like, and then work from there to find ways to find the right surprise sound effect and keep audiences engaged.

Surprising Sound Effects: Room to Explore

Those are just four ways to think about surprising sound effects. Of course, there are many others, ranging from the use of crowds’ reactions to signal actual surprise and actual content, like surprise parties, to all kinds of more abstract sound design in the manner of David Lynch, who adds industrial sounds, blips, and whispers to create a sense of unease.

The best rewards always come to sound designers willing to think outside the box. 

For creators looking for the best in royalty-free sound effects, get in touch with Stockmusic.net today. All their effects are royalty-free and curated for maximum impact. Creators will find what they need — with only good surprises.

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