How do *you* go about making sounds?

edited in Audio
Hello All, in an attempt to breathe life back into this audio community I thought it would be interesting, educational, as well as fun to see what kind of people we have around the game community on the audio side (not exclusively mind you all are welcome to give their process). Also letting people know about your process might inadvertently help , provide insight or ease their process.

With that being said, my process generally goes wake up around late afternoon from a nap, wander into various locations around the house, and settle down in a comfortable space where i proceed to take in the scenery. This usually entails staring at a ceiling and or wall for a few minutes (sometimes i stare at the floor if i'm feeling particularly serene), after which i begin considering what kind of sound i'm after for whatever project or exercise i'm busy with. This usually means assembling some references that i can draw from later. From this point i begin scribbling ideas in Ableton, but also in a very general manner where i ignore the actual cohesiveness of the sounds and work on getting whatever idea i have down. Ive also been making it a habit to isolate and emulate specific characteristics of music styles (jazz drums, or electronic sweeps). This is usually the point where i abandon a project or give it a breather as it frustrates me that i cant find exactly what i'm looking for from a piece of music. Abandoning usually means i probably missed what i was going for initially and so i feel the best course of action is to try again tomorrow and start over in a better mental space (revisit or completely re imagine the song). Taking anything past this point usually has favorable results, but if it doesn't i store it away in a vault to keep for myself as future reference, and consideration about what it is that i messed up on. If anything occupies this vault i also make a small write up documenting the pros and cons for that project.

Really i'm just trying to open up dialogue, so please even if you are a vocal artist, sound engineer, performance artist, composer, sound designer if you don't mind take us through your process!!
Thanked by 1Tim_Harbour


  • When I was making games as a hobbyist, when I didn't have access to people who do this professionally, I used to use my own recordings for making sounds. I drew a lot of inspiration from @Nandrew, who wrote about this ages ago:

    I rarely do audio these days, but when I do I'm usually generating sounds on my iPad, or using sfxer/bfxer or chiptone. I don't get great results, admittedly, but sometimes all I want is a bit of audio feedback for a prototype.
  • @Elyaradine That article was great =']. Ive thought for the longest time that it was a convoluted idea to even try using your mouth for making sound effects, but going through was an interesting perspective on how this could be useful. I also tend to mess around with various instruments like Analog in ableton but that more than often requires more tinkering, knowledge and understanding than the other handy, user friendly programs like ChipTone and that sfxer/bfxer.
  • What I've done, usually for jams:

    Used macbook + Audacity to record my own voice
    Used BFXR to make little electronic-y sounds
    Used Figure (iOS app) to make a tune. It's almost idiot proof.
    Used Garage Band (iOS version) to make a tune. Much harder than imagined if you want some control.
    Googled and found music generators online... There are a couple, and it's very hit and miss. This one is fun, it generates whole albums complete with track titles and album names, lol :P
    Asked Tim Harbour :P

    I've always wanted to make music. Composing is really hard without musical knowledge, I've been waiting for the ability to play instruments by voice command. is a thing but it's not done yet. Hope it'll be great.
  • edited
    @Tuism Its funny you should mention that because ive always thought that music theory is not necessarily hard but the way in which the information is presented is often the most difficult thing to get through. Even things such as practicing an instrument, can come down to misinformation or lack of clarity on how you go about practicing, what elements go into playing your instrument, the mental spaces you need to position yourself in, ect.

    That album generator program is dope, in a this-might-be-the-end-of-my-career-type-way =']. I actually like it more than im letting on, cause it gives me a chance to measure whats missing from my own compositions and what stops people from going to that site instead of asking me. In essence, i hope more people hear about that because it will undoubtedly breed a new race of composers =]. Furthermore im also going to be telling more people about Imitone, because i had no idea such a feat was even possible, and just think of the possibilities. I like how it also accounts for filtering out incorrect key tones for us less professional singers, and a host of other features to be as accurate as possible for song creation.

    On another note, there are various other programs that ive heard of like Landr that helps people get a more professional mix of their songs. If i had the money i'd definitely try and deconstruct what it excels at and what its limitations are, but yea...From looking at their website it sounds like the program works well, but i cant say for sure.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    There's one more program that I know of called Meludia that im currently busy with and its like a blessing from up above when it comes to learning the about the perception of music (like teaching you the ability to define a chord from others [this is a major, this is a minor, this is a C chord, this is a D minor 7, this is a F#13add6 chord, and so on]). Its pretty helpful if you want to learn more about how constructing melodies, hearing drum patterns, differentiating pitch or tonal qualities, basic theory and also explained better than how most people go about teaching music orally. They also have this different teaching model for Music theory they call S.E.M.A. which entails learning music through Sensation Emotion Memory and then Analysis (according to them the usual approach is analysis and then Memory). Without droning on further i will say that i have tried many oral training exercises that rely purely on arbitrary or basic repetition which usually results in barely anything being learned a year later, that being said Meludia is still quite new to me, but i am enjoying it more than the other things ive done.

    Many thanks @Tuism. You might also want to try this site i found a while back. Really helped me get a stable footing on musical theory and composition rules. Tim is definitely a cool dude.
  • Im from soweto and I use Fl studio 12 for composition and Garage Band (iOS version) for vocal and Folly recording.
    Thanked by 1Sigh_Leeeee
  • @SimsGotBeats what does Folly recording entail exactly?
  • Also procedural audio is a wonderful thing that is worth experimenting with. So ill just leave this cool video here. This guy basically made it possible to house an analogue synthesizer in Unity that can evolve according to the parameters a dev might set up. I have been wondering about how procedural audio would work in a game for a while, and it seems like this is one really cool way to interpret it.
  • Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects e.g plates bein smashed or a toilet reproduce these sounds u dont hv to use real plates or a real toilets u can use other things that can reproduce the same sound as these objects. I once tried to reproduce the sound of a rain forest, I used a full jug of water and I poured it on a hot concrete stoep, once u pour it on the concrete the water is boiled by the hot concrete nd the tiny wholes in the concrete try to pass air which creates some rain forest like sounds....Be sure to layer the recordin for a more powerfull sound...
  • edited
    Hi @Sigh_Leeeee! (Had to count how many "e"s there are in your name when typing it out)

    To share some light on the process of Sound Creation and hopefully give you some food for thought:

    Every Sound Guy has his own recipe and yours definitely doesn't sound like a bad strategy at all, it might just be a motivational thing that is blocking you..

    It is obviously useful to know how your craft - if Sound is something that you are wanting to create more often it is handy to know about Frequencies, Post Processing, Musical Genres, Types of Musical Instruments and what they sound like, Recording Foley and Creative Mixing techniques.

    I think most of my stylistic choices are still very random (Dada-esque) which can sometimes result in a weird sound that works but I mean sheesh, there are tons and tons of sounds that don't work at all..

    For Music this is a bit trickier to do and it definitely helps locking down a style that you are composing in. I have tried many times to just compose what comes to mind aka scribbling down ideas...but you need to say that you are going to make this or that kind of a song otherwise your Palette is waaaaaayyy to big and you will get demotivated quickly. Also just sticking with the characteristic elements of that style at first to lay down a basic structure is a very good first step to take - if you have a cyberpunk soundtracky piece for example you could start by making a cool dark bass line and add some gritty electronic drums underneath...then add your sweeps and jazz brushes if you feel like it adds to the track. :)

    Finding the right sound is extremely difficult - if you are a perfectionist. There are a couple of cool GDC vault videos like this one of Akash Thakkar - where he explains that he went through numerous iterations of a laser sword sound because it just wasnt feeling right and that is just one sound effect. Plus he is an expert at what he is doing - so you can tell that Sound Design involves a lot of experimenting but also a lot of patience. If you are building a sound from the ground up it is important to know a few things - duration, frequency focus, hard attack/smooth sound, reverb/no reverb, compressor/no compressor. And having something to work towards really speeds up the process, for me at least.

    But what if I dont have anything in mind or dont know what I am working towards? PLAY games!

    The best way to get ideas is to just listen to (good) audio of existing games and build a taste/sense for what works and what doesn't. Obviously every composer/sound designer/musician is out to prove his/her own style but if you are going to be making audio for games, there are 30+ years worth of lessons to be learned from Pacman to Genital Jousting.

    Which brings me to another point - come to the meetups!

    I gave a talk on my process of Foley at the cape town meet up a few months ago and we had a lot of fun doing a Foley session inside Audacity. You can also chat with some of the local sound dudes a la SoundFoundry, Adam Linder, Tim Harbour, Jason Sutherland, Deon van Heerden, Sash etc. about their experiences doing sound for games.

    We are all very willing to share, some of us just don't like typing long walls of texts :P

    Oh and another cool thing is implementing the sound effect straight into the game - for me this is the most exciting part and also the biggest MOTIVATION to make more sounds because you can see how your sound fits into the soundscape of the experience - and when a sound/music piece works really well you will be excited and motivated to continue with the other 99 sounds that need to be made :D

    !edit Sash added to the list of Sound gurus ;)
  • Joonas Turner posted this on Facebook recently. It's a goodie.
    Heh I wrote a odd piece of text in a very tired mindset on my return flight from Japan back to Finland, it's kinda amusing how aggressive it is in a sense and how I drift around the point but hey, fuck it, here it is all unedited, my tired stream of mind with little to no sleep under it! I thought Facebook would be good to just get this out of my system and no one reads my posts so that's even better, OK, here we go:
    As I am flying back to Finland after a interesting and inspiring trip in Japan due to the awarding of Downwell for PlayStation,
    I though to write about sound design from another perspective other than the basics or the usual technical approach.
    During the trip I got to chat with people from different circles be it game design or visual art or music and I was shown
    around Japan by Ojiro Fumoto (the creator of Downwell) and accompanied by Eirik Suhrke (great composer and game designer).

    While having all these chats about design and ways of creating and meaning of things it struck a chord of realisation in me,
    usually when I read about sound design it's about the technical or very specific audio mumbling that atleast to me, is very boring and uninspiring if not even verging of being outdated every few years?

    I realised that I would like to read about sound design in a very personal manner, about the meanings and ideas, thoughts
    behind the scenes. So I thought I would start briefly with writing down my routines and random thought processes behind my designs and see where that leads us.

    The start of a project, to me the most important part of jumping into a game. This is where we get to talk about the game, what's the world like, what's in the game, how does it work, what's the core idea? Important step with bouncing around ideas and jamming on possibilities, realising what everyone wants and how to achieve it.

    Usually when I start on a game I take a good solid chunk of time, maybe a few weeks or a month or so just figuring out what we want based on our initial chats and I start writing down my "world-guide" in which I write down all of these questions. As a example with Nuclear Throne, a game by Vlambeer in which I was the sound designer in, I started by writing down the feel I wanted: A C-Grade Sci-Fi movie sound from the 70/80/90's with a hot overdriven feel, unclean and mean, punchy and organic.

    As always, with the games I work on I want the world to feel consistent and believable, to me just making single sound effects and chugging them into a game without thought of how they work together coherently is just not interesting and rarely very original. So with Nuclear Throne as I wondered about how to make all the inhabitants feel believable and make them all tie into a believable mutant world I decided to take some extra time designing the world and I came up with a all original written and spoken language for them with some forms of dialect to separate friendly characters from mean characters. I didn't stop there, I also decided during these phases to separate different vocal qualities from the player characters and enemies by using different microphones, pre-amplifiers and settings. This was a fun way to get to know the characters, to get a proper feel of who they are and what the world is like to both them and for the player.

    I feel like, if you get that chance to get so familiar with the details like that it's easy to build the sound scape around it and just know what belongs where and why. If you get this far with the planning phases alone, you're most probably in for a good time.

    Another game I worked on called Bleed 2 by Ian Campbell (Bootdisk Rev), I wanted the world to feel oddly two sided with two forms of physicality. First form of physics was "real life"-like with more organic materials for stuff like the players (a human character) actions, cars, ceiling crumbling and earth shattering and what have you, to give the player a sense of familiarity of the world. Second form was for the enemies, being robotic invaders and other beings, for these I made sounds out of musical instruments such as electric guitars, synthesisers and resampled sounds to make them feel different and un-familiar, a bit provoking and intimidating at times. Like this the game already started feeling like its own unique entity and giving me a palette that I could work out of quite freely.

    I made myself a rule set where I decided that each enemy, each boss, each weapon and animation would have its own sounds just to make everything sound as detailed as the delicate animation was. Like this the simplest of attack already oozed of "oh it's this fellas laser!!!"-like familiarity which I personally think is pretty interesting and makes discoveries feel fresh.

    On the BADLAND game series by Frogmind Games the idea was to have a freely breathing full blown physics based organic
    realistic world where the small feel small and the huge feel huge. This game I approached by planning what objects to
    record and how to make single objects work as multiple sound sources just by pitch shifting them or using various parts of sounds in a more 'inside the game' layer based thinking. So I would record a bunch of sewing machines, fans, doors, electric toothbrushes and what not that could be placed and layered together by me and the level designers inside the games level editor to make the world alive with its physics systems.

    As you can probably see, all these games were kind of different in terms of how they were approached both artistically and by straight up work. These weren't "just make these sounds effects" instead these were their own unique pieces which brings me to another topic.

    As a sound designer who works on mid sized games mostly, I have noticed the start of a project to be very important in another aspect that I think affects our "artistic-status" in the industry, that aspect being budget. A lot of studios seem to seek a person to do sounds just so that there is sound to make the game feel somewhat complete. This is the very basics of the deal, sure, but a lot of companies seem to be oblivious to the fact that this is one crucial step of making the game feel original, unique, better than just ok, this is a step that can make that "just ok" into a award winning masterpiece. I feel like this is also a byproduct of something that people seem to be afraid of, asking for money, and that hinders us in many ways, especially in artistic ways.

    This is a topic I would like to be a part of in a larger panel or a interview but I don't think this is the right one for that, instead, I'll just write down a few thoughts over the matter:

    Our salary does not come from "the effect costs two euros in a catalog, here's two euros, just edit that", our salary comes from our professional guarantee to see the games sounds from planning the sound scape into a finished sonic world, or to as long as our deal is set. We all also work differently, just like visual artists or game designers I feel like we should be considered in a similar manner. Some of us go out and record, there's wear and tear on equipment, some of us use libraries there's licensing and purchasing costs, these are the nuts and bolts of ours, tools to make our artistic visions come true, this is why there should be budget, then count your daily/weekly/monthly rates on top however you value your time and effort. Don't feel ashamed of it, I wouldn't clean apartments for free either.

    Having a decent budget laid out gives you more ease to create your best instead of worrying about costs and cutting corners. Now this is where I feel like the chats at the start of the project come into play, I never price myself before I know what the game is, what does it require sound-wise both artistically and by sheer amount of work. Having a chat and some planning, a list of the currently known needed sounds and so on help on coming up with a realistic and reasonable price that should look and feel fair to all.

    Mid project working, now to me this is mostly execution of the already laid out plans. This is when you know what to paint and it's a matter of choosing colours and getting single elements done. This is also where I have noticed that it's not always the best idea to dwell on effects for too long, instead of immediately iterating I leave sounds in until everything is done to see whether they actually need iterating or not.

    I prefer to work in chunks and then send a good amount of sounds to immediately get a feel of the game as a whole. I see no real point in putting in a sound or two and then calling a meeting to see how they feel and analyse them, they aren't necessarily meant to sound like anything alone, they need the surrounding elements to place them in the designed world.

    Sound is hard for most people to explain, it is something you can not take a picture of and say "that's what I want!" you rely on expressing feelings of past experiences that might differ from person to person. This all said I usually start with the player characters sounds first as I feel like the extension of the player is the most important aspect be it controls or sounds or visuals and it acts as a good base to sort the rest out of.

    Then I would progress into what the player is interacting with as in enemies?, a football?, roadside fences?. From there I progress to what the player and X interact with, where are they placed? and so on until the world and game feels alive.

    There is something to be said with getting a sound designer, or any designer, if their first few iterations and designs aren't the ones working for you, well, maybe they are wrong for this particular project? I have worked on games for which I have been the wrong choice clearly either by the studio telling me they want me to work with them and then it turns out they want me to do something totally different than planned or by the game just changing into something I do not want to be a part of. There is nothing wrong of both deciding "ok, maybe we aren't the right match" and changing plans. That doesn't mean either one is bad or unprofessional, I think it's quite the reverse. Knowing when something doesn't work it's good to then analyse why it doesn't work and discuss on how to proceed. That is professional and sane.

    Communicating through out the project is very important to me, that is, to also know your client and how they prefer to interact with co-workers. Make sure what you are about to make is the right direction from the get go, knowing what the current plans are and if that feature is even going to be in anymore?

    Some of the traps I have experienced is that a client has ordered a sound from me and then during making the sound it has been cut out and when I've finished it I receive a "oh, we didn't need that, surely we ain't paying that!" which sure enough is breaching a settled contract but it's not always as simple as that. It's a weird situation and something that should be in most cases preventable, also things like that happening affect my artistic output a lot, what if other stuff is being cut while I'm pouring my creative soul into it? Just something to keep in mind I guess.

    Nearing the end of a project, this is where I go through everything and play the game a bunch and write down notes of my current feelings. My notes might be "this sound is too loud" "this sound could be raised up" "tone down the reload sound" "birds sound just right but the badger is too loud!" and so on, I prefer to play the game from start to finish just like the players would, instead of getting stuck on perfecting something. Then I would play the game again and write down new notes and compare the runs I have done to see if I felt the same and then I would collect the notes and send them onwards for fixing unless it's something that I can fix myself.

    It is not always about sounding perfect and sterile, sometimes you need some feel-guides, just rely on your gut feeling is what I tell myself and having something interesting is just, interesting. Figuring out what is important to tell the player the necessary things and accentuating them is key to having a game serve it's purpose, which I guess to me is, to have fun.
    I hope my odd little thought piece was of any use to anyone, long flights tend to bring out random thoughts so yeah,
    hope I kept on track enough to give out a text piece that might help or interest you!

    -Joonas Turner
    A video game sound designer and voice actor
    now doubling as a game designer with his own commercial game, Tormentor X Punisher.
    Thanked by 1Sigh_Leeeee
  • edited
    Firstly, @MexicanOpiumdog, that video you posted by Akash Thakkar was wonderfully inspiring. I find it quite interesting to see how Akash ended up making his own equipment for recording sound (that stethoscope field recorder) as well as addressing how its just a matter of trial and error in some cases and you just need to keep pushing yourself to move onwards from every sound that doesn't sound quite right. Further more the idea of a style guide, to create this established understanding of what two people might have on what they understand an emotion to signify is simple and elegant. For the very little work ive done working with other people i find there's a point where both people need to address what they understand as "sad", "happy" or whatever else the aim of the sound, art, or narrative is like. I ten out of ten recommend people check that video out to get some understanding on how the sound designer to creative director back forth might play out. As well as how to work best with each other ='].

    What was also very interesting was the idea of making that stylised sound for your game based off a reflective nostalgia rather than restorative. Watching another video on hyper light drifter, this really mean creating a false imitation rather than a perfect recreation of media that elicits nostalgia, and through that we have pieces of work that are made in a modern context but delivered in a way that seems old. The writer in the video explains it better and in greater detail but i thought that was an interesting idea worth speaking about in a condensed form.

    Thanks again for all the advice, on how to go about sound design. The dreaded wall of text is still a necessary evil if you ask me, but i do understand why people hate writing it as well as looking at it. On that note though, what do you think of making highlight reels versus trying to implement your audio in some one's game or your own? I was thinking of presenting one in the next meet cause i'm not working with anyone at the moment (The DIZ meet that is). This question is really open to anyone actually.
  • You see @Elyardine I appreciate this post... a lot... cause i had no idea this guy exists and now ill follow him around on the internet and hope he does more meandering thought pieces like this. What really caught my attention is how he began to discuss the professionalism aspect of working with other people. If anything i feel being polite and respectful is a given but also being able to talk truthfully is important and with that in mind being able to just say i dont think this is working out is quite ballsy (i think offering some other people you know of might be able to help them realise their project would be an extra courtesy). Also from what im getting it sounds like some people are paid or not paid per sound or song piece of music rather than any work that they produce in a given time frame (if i am explaining that correctly).

    I too enjoyed the parts of designing from a space where you meticulously plan out everything to get as close a feel for the final piece of your game or sound as possible. The only drawback for me being that i have a tendency to get stuck with analysis paralysis. On a larger scale though, i find that the cohesion of the elements can make or break a piece of work for me, even if that means removing beauteous sounds that spark a revolution in sound and other aspects of life the world over.

    Lastly, thank you for the post.
Sign In or Register to comment.