The Many Moods of SFX: How You Can Use Sound Effects to Enhance Your Storytelling

When we think of the visual content we consume and we digest more now than ever, we often overlook the importance of sound. It’s not that we don’t appreciate it, but we’ve become accustomed to it. This means that when we hear a good sound production or the use of sound in a way that really works, it’s often taken in by a viewer without them even realizing it. In a way, that’s a sign that the sound is doing its job.

When it’s not done well or used in a fundamental and one-dimensional way, we certainly feel the lack of it. That’s why sound in your film or video production is vitally important and not something you can afford to get complacent with.

The aspect of sound in a production, such as a feature film, will usually comprise a soundtrack, which is either made up of singular tracks (pre-existing or written for the film itself) or a score, and in addition to this, you have the sound recorded on a shoot or added afterwards in the form of sound effects.

There are many ways you can use sound effects, SFX, to help further your production; here are a few examples.


Sometimes a sound effect is used to place your characters in a location they are not physically present in. Maybe you are shooting in an interior that’s set up like a conference room, but you want the hustle and bustle of noise coming in from outside that room. Signs that the office outside is busy, but rather than hiring a bunch of extras to mill around, you’ll want a sound effect to replicate that. In this way, it’s the realism you are trying to achieve.

Another example might be the sound of a person trudging his way through the snow before he enters a ski lodge, which you’ve clearly shot in a studio lot in a location where it’s not snowed in a decade. Here, again, you’ll want a sound effect to replicate what you can’t achieve yourself.


A sound effect can be used as a crucial part of your story. For example, your western-style thriller may see two characters going head to head, and your hero is anxiously crouched behind a salon door, and then we hear in the near vicinity the sound of his adversary stopping to reload his gun, offering our protagonist the chance to make his move.

In this way, the sound isn’t just a sound. It’s also a specific cog in the narrative wheel, and in these moments, having the relevant effect is hugely important.

Sound as a Genre Tool

On occasion, you might look to sound effects as a tool to place your production within a certain genre. Like the violent screeching of brakes in a dramatic car chase, here it might not be a realistic effect you are trying to achieve but more a way of pushing the tension.

In a horror movie, you might use the exaggerated noise of a door creaking open and then slammed shut, again not for the purpose of realism. In a fantasy world, you might use all sorts of sound effects that have no realistic basis but are there to put a viewer in a different world from the one they inhabit.

Sound as Transitional Device

You may look to sound to help split things up between scenes or even to alert your viewers of a forthcoming change of pace or environment. Think of a kettle coming to the boil as you switch from one scene to another; as it violently reaches its crescendo, your viewers are presented with the bumbling water and a lead character in an entirely different scene or action as previously.

Here you can use this approach in a realistic manner or even elect to use a heightened form of realism if you are being stylistic about it. Here the sound is acting in more of an abstract manner and as a tool to drive your narrative and to elicit the proper reaction from your audience.

What to Get Sound Effects for Your Project

Unless you happen to have access to your own library of sound effects files, which isn’t classically the case, then we’d suggest signing up with a royalty-free music provider like Gemtracks as they’ll usually house an extensive selection of effects to choose from.

These would generally be available as part of an overall subscription, and therefore you’d also have access to complete musical tracks to use in the scoring of your project.

The access would be via a large database of sound files that are ordered in an intuitive manner that makes it easier for a producer, director, or editor to find precisely what they need for any specific scene or action.

You’d want a provider that offers thousands of high-quality sound files that make it easier for you to then import and add to your editing process. The good news is that these musical output sources are inexpensive and save you the headache of looking for clearance and licensing for sound effects or songs you might have found elsewhere.

Royalty-free music is a rapidly growing industry and is one that is used by many and is even one that big Hollywood blockbusters turn to; such is the level of quality offered by the most prominent players in the market.

About the author

There’s a lot of music out there - good music. At Essentially Pop our remit is that we cover music that deserves to be heard, with a particular focus on independent artists. That doesn't mean we won't cover your old favourites - rather we hope to give you some new favourites as well.

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