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What Does a Sound Designer Do?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A sound designer is a theater or media professional who specializes in creating a final soundtrack to accompany a performance or film. Depending on the size and type of production, a sound designer may have many different jobs on a day-to-day basis, including communicating with the creative team, recording or finding sound effects, creating a soundtrack, or looking for new projects. In film, sound designers tend to work during post-production, whereas live theater designers may work throughout the pre-production period and during the production schedule.

One of the most important jobs of a sound designer is to communicate with directors or producers about the soundtrack. In theater, this process may begin with the designer watching rehearsals and reading the script, and deciding which sounds should be created with effects. In film, TV, or commercial production, the designer may come on after shooting is completed in order to determine where and when sound effects are needed, based on the on-set recordings and the director's vision. Working with the creative team allows the designer to create a finished product that fits the atmosphere of the production and helps the film or performance communicate intentions through sound.

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After an initial period of meetings, the designer may begin to hunt for the right effects for each sound cue. This may involve looking through sound libraries for appropriate cues, or even recording effects to match a particular sound. Depending on the size of the project, the sound designer may have sole responsibility for this task, or may have assistants and technicians that can manage some of the work.

Once cues are created and organized, the sound designer may be responsible for creating the final sound mix for the finished product. For film, video games, or TV productions, this may mean using advanced computer software to create a blended soundtrack that incorporates dialogue, effects, and music. In this capacity, the designer serves almost as an orchestra conductor, ensuring that the mix of sound is balanced and nuanced correctly. On large productions, the process of creating the final mix may actually be the work of several sound professionals, including mixers, editors, and supervisors, rather than a sole sound designer. In live performance, the final mix is typically a sequence of cues that can be manually played in the correct order, since performance timing may shift from night to night.

Most sound designers are freelance professionals, which means that a large part of their day-to-day work may involve searching for new projects. Freelance designers need to have basic advertising skills, as well as strong social abilities, in order to attract new clients and find new jobs. Many designers also spend some time learning to manage their work as a small business, since they may need to be licensed and taxed accordingly. Though designers are creative people at heart, a good sense of business can help ensure regular work.

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