Sound effects are an integral part of filmmaking and video production. Everything, from 10-second YouTube ads to three-hour cinematic masterpieces, has sound effects in them.
In this article, we explain the main reasons why SFX are so important that you absolutely must use them in your work, all the while we share simple but effective sound effects usage tips to make the best out of your video’s audio.
What Are Sound Effects
In the audio world, sound effect refers to an artificially created or enhanced sound, that is recorded in isolation and later edited into an audiovisual –or audio-only– production to accompany and emphasize visual content.
A sound effect can be one that either is or is designed to sound like a specific sound from real life (for example the chirping of birds or a car engine revving), as well as an abstract or synthetic sound –think of the sound of lightsabers in the Star Wars cinematic universe, for example. All those are sound effects – or SFX for short.
What Are Stock Sound Effects
Stock sound effects are SFX files that are already recorded, and are available for license and download on online marketplaces (usually, stock media sites). The most popular stock audio effects are under Royalty Free license, as they are very affordable and have lots of possible uses, including those for commercial purposes, without infringing artists’ or sound designers’ copyright.
By using a sound effects library you can access all the sound elements your project needs –often including music–, in a matter of minutes and without breaking the bank. It’s a hugely convenient resource for video makers.
5 Reasons to Use Sound Effects in Your Productions
If you’re new to video making, or you simply wonder why the sound effect is so important when creating a video production, read on, as we present you with the 5 main reasons everyone should use SFX in their work (you’ll learn cool pro tips, as well!).
Reason #1: Add Realism
Sound effects can really elevate visual content in one crucial way: they turn it into a realistic, authentic, and immersive experience.
In real life, we experience background noise, as well as multiple apparently non-transcendental sounds that have a lot of meaning. Incorporating these sounds into footage makes it come alive and really reaches the audience.
The low murmur of people talking in a busy store, footsteps that match the steps of people walking, the sound of water being poured into a glass as someone does precisely that on screen, all those small noises and sounds create an authentic audiovisual experience.
Reason #2: Enforce Storytelling
Sound is also a powerful narrative resource, in more than one way. In film production, auditory transitions are very common; it consists in combining visual transitions with sound effects to take the audience from one scene to the next without losing their attention.
Beyond old-school tricks, adding sound effects can really modify and highlight the visual narration in the same way that visual effects do. A sudden dog bark in the middle of the night tells spectators a lot about what is happening and what might happen in the story ahead; an echo effect for a voice we just heard gives the idea of a large but enclosed space; abstract sounds that evoke movement –think of those “swoosh” effects– accompanying a fast-moving camera scene will enforce the notion of speed, rush, or urgency.
Reason #3: Emphasize Content
Using specific sounds, you can highlight moments or elements in your video that you want to make sure viewers pay attention to.
In presentations, pitches, ads, or other corporate or marketing videos, you can bring bullet points to life by using attention-grabbing sounds, particularly those with an electronic effect such as buzzers for negative or wrong information, or perky “clink!” noises for positive or correct data.
Another good trick is to use sounds in connection with visuals you want people to remember. For example, an audio effect that accompanies key information on the screen.
The idea is that when people hear these auditive cues, they are immediately aware that what they’re seeing is relevant.
Reason #4: Set Up an Emotional Tone
Music and sound effects both have the power to set and shift a video’s emotional tone. You can create suspense, build a comedic atmosphere, lay down a veil of dramatism, and more, depending on the style, type, and volume of sound effects tracks you use.
Let’s say you see an actor knocking on a door on screen. If the knocking sounds loud and hard, you will perceive it as aggressive or urgent; if you heard a gentle and uneventful knock will just imply that there is a meeting or a change of scenery about to happen; whereas a playful or musical knock can set a humorous and lighthearted tone for the scene. It’s all in the sound.
Reason #5: Create a Memorable Effect
You can tap on the sense of hearing to fixate and trigger a memory, using SFX as an audio signal that connects to a name, an image, an idea, or a concept in the viewer’s mind.
It’s an old trick, extensively used across marketing and advertising, as well as TV productions. For example, the news broadcaster NBC has a signature three-note sound that accompanies its logo, and the Law & Order TV franchise is well-known for its “chung-chung”, gong-like transitions sound effect, that accompanies a black screen with descriptive text. In both cases, it’s almost impossible for a regular viewer to hear the sound and not associate it with the channel and the series they belong to.
In a stock audio library, you can find lots of sounds with different tones and effects, to use this way.
Best Sites to Download Sound Effects
Now you know the secrets and reasons to use sound effects in your productions, let us recommend you a few sites to download high-quality SFX at the most convenient prices.
Shutterstock Music is the music and sound effects division of the leading stock media agency Shutterstock. Right now, this service has thousands upon thousands of royalty-free stock music tracks and SFX files, in a wide frequency range, all ready to download and edit into your project.
You can buy SFX on-demand for $5 a track, or get a subscription with unlimited downloads starting at just $19/mo. Additionally, you can opt for a “mix and match” Flex subscription with which you can download SFX and music, a picture, or a video clip, all with the same plan.
More info? Shutterstock review
Discounts? Shutterstock Coupon Code
The discount applies to subscriptions and download packs for stock footage, stock images and stock music, all with Standard license. Plus, it also applies to PremiumBeat standard license tracks!
Runs from now until November 14, 2022. So don't let it pass you by!
PremiumBeat is a premium and exclusive stock music and sound effects library, owned by Shutterstock. The sound effects segment has been recently introduced into their offer, and already has tens of thousands of high-quality tracks, that are not only strongly curated but also all Metaverse-ready as they are all available in Ambisonics format.
SFX files are available on-demand only, for the time being, and you can buy them at $5 per track with a Standard license, or $20 per download with a Premium license (that enables extended uses such as TV & radio, film, apps, games and more).
More info? PremiumBeat review
Discounts? PremiumBeat coupon code
This is your chance to download first-quality, royalty-free music and sound effects at a cut price!
Artlist is a stock audio service developed with the creative filmmaker’s needs in mind. It includes both sound effects and music, and its libraries are highly curated and diverse. You can search and find all kinds of genres and effects imaginable. And it’s all royalty-free with commercial use enabled.
They have different subscription options depending on your usage needs, starting at $9.99/mo, and they all come with unlimited downloads.
More info? Artgrid + Artlist review
Envato Elements is a multimedia subscription service that lets you access and download content from Envato’s stock media ecosystem with 10 million+ files, which includes sound effects. Their rich collection has sounds in all kinds of frequencies and styles that you can play with when editing your videos to get the perfect effect.
This is a subscription-only offer, with plans that start at $16.50/mo and include unlimited downloads of all libraries (not just SFX).
But our exclusive Envato Elements coupon will save you 75% off the first month of your subscription!
For more details, check our Envato Elements full review.
Sound Effects: Frequently Asked Questions
Before we go, let’s quickly address the most common questions about SFX and its uses.
What are examples of sound effects?
Any recording of an isolated sound can be a sound effect. A door squeaking, footsteps on gravel, wind swooshing, the ding of a bell, even abstract or electronic sounds like beeps and bops.
Can you use sound effects without copyright?
There are sound effects that have been put under the public domain or made available to use without paying, but in most cases, you cannot use sound effects from the web in your work, without crediting the author and paying for the right to use them.
However, you can license sound effect files from stock audio sites for very low prices, and get an authorized license from the copyright owner, to use the content in your production safely and legally.
Why do filmmakers use sound effects?
Filmmakers, advertisers, and creative producers use sound effects to add character and enhance the impact of their projects. Sound effects help tell a story, add context to scenes, communicate ideas, and meet the audience’s expectations of realism in audiovisual production.
Are you ready to really embrace the power of SFX in your videos? Then off you go!