Starters Guide to Cinematic Sound Design


When I started working with sound libraries in a more intense way, I always assumed that I had to have the best. That the libraries that came with a D.A.W. was just a placeholder to make more money off of the product.

Well it turns out that even smaller libraries can be extremely useful. In fact for some things I actually prefer them.

Now I hear what you may be saying but the truth is when it comes to cinematic music a lot of the times the most realistic sounding thing isn’t always the best.

I want you to repeat after me; “My goal is to make a good sounding song not to use the most expensive gear”.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there are several things you can do to spruce up an otherwise bland clean sound to make it more “cinematic”.

The first thing you can do to get a song sounding more interesting is actually in your busses. A buss is just a fancy term for effects that you route using aux tracks into your effects. Aux track means Auxiliary Track. This track holds no audio or midi and can’t be recorded. But it is a placeholder for effects processors.

I want you to set up 3 aux tracks in your D.A.W.

The first 2 are the usual, Reverb and Delay.

With the Reverb I want you to set up a large hall sounding verb. One of my favorites is Logic’s Space Designer. I personally use an IR sample taken from a large prison facility. This combined with a long decay time and a large room setting, gives the reverb a very large sound mixed with a bit of a cold metallic sheen.

This is just a personal preference of course the big part is that you use a large hall sound.

The delay should be done to taste so varying things could happen there for the song.

The very next thing I want you to do is add a distortion plug in.

Yes on the aux track! This will be used to give your sounds a nice bite. Also using this plug in on a buss will actually allow you to adjust your distortion levels a bit better. You don’t want too much and just turn it into static. (unless that’s you’re goal).

Another thing to consider is effects on individual sounds such as adding a chorus or flanger effect.

I remember this one time; I was working on this song for what seemed like months. It was earlier on in my career, and I really didn’t know much about studio effects. I was using a bass guitar recording. This bass that I recorded was pretty awful. It had a full set of dead strings and some of the worst pick-ups I had ever seen. I was recording it directly into my interface, using an amp modeling software. I threw the usual slight distortion reverb and delay but something just wasn’t working. I decided to throw a flanger effect on in the back end. I had already composed the song with a clean signal so I just had to play around with the amp modeler. Once I did that it turns out that it gave the bass line an interesting swirling effect, but since it was in the background it was a more subtle effect.

But in a job where all the little things add up to something amazing, that’s exactly what it did.

Normally I would never put a flanger on a bass guitar if I were in a band. But that’s the thing, as composers and producer’s we aren’t just instrumentalists. We are the people who decide what the song is going to be.

That being said; it shows we are at a huge advantage over someone who just plays a single instrument. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an instrumentalist.

On the contrary if I could have done that I would have. But as most composers know we don’t just hear the guitar part when we play it. We hear the rest.

In order to get that final sound we need to do things that you wouldn’t normally do during a band situation. That means that we will be utilizing everything in our creative arsenal to create the sounds in our head. This means using the best sounds and the cheaper sounds, the high dollar effects and the stock effects.

There is a huge thing with producers complaining about people using presets. I have the solution for that. If the preset gets you the sound that’s in your head use it. If it doesn’t, then use your own combination. We’re not competing with anyone but ourselves. If you want to make your own career, you have to use your own creativity.

I am also sending link to a file I wrote with just basic sounds. The track sounds fairly professional because of the different effects I have used. Remember it’s all in your creativity! The song was started and finished in a matter of 3 hours so it’s a rather short song, but I feel it explains my point nicely.

Once again I hope that you all do the best you can possibly do.

Everyone have a great day!

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