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What are ambient sound effects?

 

As filmmakers, we spend a lot of time shooting video and often even longer editing it. The edit is truly where the magic unravels itself. Where many films often fall short however, is in the attention to detail put into the sound. This is especially true for ambient sound. So what exactly are ambient sound effects and where can one find them?

In short, ambient sound is the background noise that is present in a particular scene or location. For example, the sound of rain, the ocean, a crowd, an office, traffic or even a silent room. You can think of this as the base layer over which every other sound is added. Typically, sound design elements like drones, risers, whooshes, hits and foley will accompany this to create the overall soundscape of a video.

Is sound as important as video?

 

Sound should be thought of as almost equally important as video as it plays such an important role in supporting the visuals. The purpose of video is to re-/create a world.  As a filmmaker, your goal is to tell a story by letting the viewer experience this world as if they were there themselves; and video is only half of the puzzle. When you add the audio dimension, it takes the viewer further into that world.

So the simple answer to that question is yes. It’s important because it creates more depth in a video and makes it that much more immersive. This allows you to really establish the mood of the scene.

Ambient sound has another great advantage in that it provides continuity between shots.

When we cut from one scene to the next, it can be jarring on the viewer (in the sense that we are more aware of the cut). But when we make a cut and the ambience carries over, it feels like we’re still in the same place, only we’re seeing it from a different perspective. Alternatively, sound can also be used to lead us into a new scene. By hearing the audio before the visuals, we subconsciously know what to expect, making the story flow better and the cut much less noticeable.

Should I record my own ambient sound effects?

 

Recording your own sounds whilst in the field is a good idea if those sounds are very specific and cannot be recreated or found elsewhere. If you’re filming a traditional Tibetin ceremony for instance, there’s a good chance you might not be able to recreate it in post production.

But all the other times where sounds are generic, they can be re-added in post and no one would know the difference. The advantage to this is that you can focus your efforts on filming or directing and not have to worry about capturing perfect audio too. There’s a reason why audio / field recording is it’s own job role. It takes a lot of expertise and equipment to achieve professionally.

Where to find ambient sounds online?

 

Luckily for us filmmakers, we have access to the internet and are able to find the sounds we need. There are people who record foley and ambience for a living and make it possible for us to find the right sounds that we may need. This has two fundamental benefits.

More often than not, it’s just way more convenient to find a sound rather than going out and recording it yourself. Let alone having the equipment to do so. This is especially the case for more specific sounds. Say you need the sounds of squawks from a puffin, unless you’ve got access to these birds, you’re not going to be able to go out and record them yourself.

ambient sound effects and fielf recording visual tone

Besides convenience however, most of us just don’t own professional sound recording equipment. This can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Field recordists use a variety of different microphones to be able to capture these sounds.

Our good friend Marcel from Free To Use Sounds is doing exactly that. He travels the world capturing field recordings so that we don’t have to. These guys offer a massive variety of sounds from all around the world and it’s been our go to resource here at Visual Tone. Having a go-to library for your ambience sound effects needs is a very useful resource to have as a filmmaker.

All in all, as filmmakers, we ought to be putting in a lot of effort into the sound design of our videos. Having a good grasp of how to use it properly will elevate your video significantly. If you’d like to learn more about how to achieve good sound design, we’ve covered that too.

Side note: If you’d like to learn more about the field recording space, we had the pleasure of chatting with Marcel and Libby from Free To Use Sounds in our very own podcast.

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