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What are Sound Effects in Audio Production?

It would be hard to find a single professionally produced song in today’s modern music industry that didn’t come with some form of sound effect. Even the most acoustic albums, touted as being completely unplugged, still may have some reverb and filters to sweeten the voices. Also, autotune is more common than ever to correct those notes that are just a fraction off pitch. The bottom line is if you want to make it in today’s music industry, you’ll need an intimate understanding of the sound effects found in almost every genre of music.

What are Sound Effects in Music?

A sound or audio effect is defined as a sound that has been enhanced or entirely created through artificial means. The first use of the term dates back to the first-ever radio productions. Obviously, those were full of the most primitive sound effects, when people went to incredibly painstaking lengths to captures the sounds that can now be generated with the mere push of a button.

Why are Sound Effects Important in Music?

One of the main uses of sound effects is what most people think of from film and television, but the applications go much further. Effects are critical tools in any audio production setting, whether you’re producing a rock ballad or a hip-hop beat.

Create a Unique Style

Mixing your tracks with the perfect combination of effects is a great way to get a sound unlike anyone else’s. Since there is such a vast number of possibilities to pick from, you can always find some combination of sounds and filters that has never been done before. It might take many hours of experimentation in the studio, but this kind of button-pushing pays off when people actually recognize your work, all because you made it stand out with a unique sound effect.

Express Creativity

Creativity ought to be central for any audio producer. For you to maintain your sense of inspiration and musical freshness throughout your entire career, the spark and desire to be creative in every way imaginable always has to be there. With music, there are always going to be infinite elements to experiment with, allowing you to get creative. Sound effects open up tools that will drive your creative work even further.

Novelty

Sometimes, effects can be used with the intention of having them stick out and grab the listener’s ear. Depending on the audio production style, it might be fitting to have police sirens, crowd chatter, or cash register effects to emphasize the lyrical content of the song. In other cases, a sound might be appropriate even if it doesn’t literally match what’s happening in the music.

The main objective of any effect is to have the overall sound elicit a certain feeling in the listener. There are certain noises that are fraught with association, be them positive or negative, when heard by different people. While some sounds maintain the same associations over the decades, others might change entirely and thus the intended meaning would be lost on an audience listening many years from now.

Particularly in the cases where the effects are used to add novelty to a song, this novelty can gradually wear off and become a bit perplexing to later generations without the right cultural context to fill in the gaps.

Musical or Emotional Emphasis

Music is an emotional art, and audio production is meant to be a way of driving that art to new heights. When an audio producer wants to increase the emotion in the climactic end of a chorus or through a driving bridge, effects provide a dynamic range of possibilities without the need to record any new parts.

Mixing and mastering a record means sitting and listening to the completed work from start to finish, finding the highs and lows, and exploring the track’s overall journey. This holistic view of the work is what makes the audio production phase of making music the ideal time to find these perfect placements of emotion.

What are the Different Sound Effects in Music?

With the advancing technology that supports the generation of these song-enhancing sounds, the complete list of musical sound effects in audio production is constantly growing and developing. Below are some of the most common ones that any audio producer should be familiar with. To have the ear for audio production, one has to know not just which effects to use but how much or how little, and maybe most importantly, when to avoid using a certain effect entirely.

Reverb

Reverberations occur in nature when sound waves collide with a hard surface, causing sound to bounce back. These ricocheted vibrations are multitudinous, and each one is bounced back to the original source at different rates as well as varying amplitudes. Reverb is actually a more complex form of an echo, in which one set of vibrations repeats at the same rate. When these reverberations are layered in such a complex way, it communicates information about the space where the voice, instrument, or noise is being played, even without the listener being consciously aware of it.

Filters

When electronic instruments get to a certain level of complexity, there are likely to be features and components present in the signal that you may not actually want there. Filters are a common way around this problem, being a device process that filters out these unwanted sounds to make your instrument sound exactly the way you hear them in your head. This is a class of signal processing that is extremely customizable to get you whatever unique sound you’re after.

Distortion

Another form of signal processing that is particularly useful in heavier or grittier genres of music is distortion. Distortion is the way that many famous musicians and audio producers make the growling, fuzzy, gritty tones that put impressive solo runs right in your face and gives driving rhythms an extra kick. Distortion is used to alter any electric instrument’s sound, achieved by maxing out the gain on an amplifier. Fittingly, this is also known as overdrive.

Modulation

It’s important not to confuse modulation in sound effects and modulation in music theory. While music theory covers a version of modulation that involves changing the key signature of an entire song or just specific parts like the melody, effects modulation is a modification of the sound itself. This is achieved through a process of sound time-delay and then adding variation to the value of that delay over time. The end result is a sound wave, common ones being sine, square, sawtooth, ramp, pulse, and triangle.

What Software and Hardware Can Help with Sound Effects?

When it comes to sound effects, many software programs and hardware come to mind. The most common include digital audio workstations (DAW), synthesizers, and autotune.

DAW

No audio producer can get far without a digital audio workstation. These powerful and dynamic programs can take the place of a bulky, expensive mixing board so there’s no reason to scoff at the prices of this type of quality software. Industry-standard programs like Pro Tools open up the world of production to a whole new population of people who might have never had the ability to start their own studio.

Synthesizer

Some composers and audio producers like to take a hands-on approach to creating their music; that is, they like to physically experiment with their musical ideas. In that case, some form of synthesizer or keyboard can help in crafting the melodies and chord progressions that are true to you. Your instrument doesn’t have to be expensive or full size with every effect capability known to man, but just something that can allow you to express your music, without having to jump through a program’s inspiration-killing hoops, can help keep your day-to-day workflow fresh and true to the music that you feel.

Autotune

Although to some traditional musicians and audio producers this might sound like a bad word, the truth is that autotune can be any music maker’s best friend. This effect is often heard lathered all too indulgently on pop singers’ voices who maybe don’t have the capacity to sing the notes that have been written for them. But when used artistically, autotune can create a sound that’s somewhere between human and digital that complements many genres quite nicely.

Final Thoughts

The right sound effects can be the icing on top of any song that helps fully immerse you into a musical world. The wrong sound effects, on the other hand, can be distracting and sound completely out of place. In most cases, like many other elements of audio production, you only notice the audio producer’s work when something goes wrong; if the audio producer’s choices are sufficiently subtle and fitting, then the listener won’t even think twice about the sound because they’ll automatically accept it as part of the reality they’re buying into. So, start transforming your music with the help of sound effects and create a unique song that will wow your fans.

Audio Production Program

Ready to get into audio production and start creating sound effects? The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.