Whether you are a filmmaker, cinephile, or anything in between, you can appreciate the value of great sound design.
I mean, what is Star Wars without Ben Burtt’s sound effects? Is The Lord of the Rings as impactful without Howard Shore’s soundtrack? Would Jurassic Park have become such a hit without the magic of its sound design?
Sound design brings imaginary worlds to life. It takes us — as viewers — out of our normal lives and immerses us in whatever we’re watching. SciFi films become believable dramas, travel videos become windows to remote corners of the world… You get the picture.
Great videos are about more than just the visuals, and top content creators know the value of background music and sound effects. So if you want to build a successful YouTube channel, you can start by taking a page from successful content creators and double down on sound design.
Why Sound Design Matters For Content Creators
Before diving into a shortlist of things you can work on, let’s look at the impact sound design has. And to do that, we’ll have to look at some research on how sound influences people.
Studies done by Scientific American established that sound has a huge impact on how we think and feel. Sound specifically impacts five different regions of the brain, including our emotional response center (which is why a powerful soundtrack will give us the feels, even if it plays during a boring scene).
In fact, sound can trigger our brains to produce dopamine in the same way that it would after exercise, sex, or drug use. And that physiological reaction makes it pretty clear that sound design is a tool filmmakers use to blur the line between fact and fiction.
Boosting Your YouTube Channel’s Sound Design
Now, knowing that sound design matters is great and all. But if you don’t know where to start, how are you supposed to make any meaningful changes to your content?
First things first: No matter which part you want to work on, the most important takeaway is to include sound design as part of your pre-production process — think about how sound can play a role in the stories your videos tell or the experiences you want to deliver.
The easiest way to break it down is to think of sound design as three component parts: music, effects, and quality.
When we think of music for YouTube, we’ll think about the song or clip you include with your intros and outros. And that’s a pretty important part of establishing a brand — a consistent sound gives us an opportunity to associate laughter or wonder with your channel, and that’s how you build a community.
But “music” also includes background music. In some ways, the songs that play behind the scenes are the things that carry most of the weight in your videos, even if all your work is on recording and editing the visual component.
YouTube is a unique channel. Most of us watch videos with the sound off and subtitles on…but YouTube combines news, entertainment, humor, and every other topic imaginable. And that means each viewer will approach a video with a different need.
Some people want a good story. Others want to laugh. Maybe some people want to learn something new. Background music gives you a way to set expectations and control the experience, adding upbeat or sad music to steer the viewer’s emotions over the course of a video.
Sound effects are where the “magic” of sound really comes into play. They are like the wizard behind the curtain, pulling the strings and plugging holes before the audience ever has a chance to realize that the make-believe story on screen is just actors, lighting, green screen, etc.
When one of our senses takes in some information (like our eyes watching a film), our brain uses the other senses to try and confirm or reject that data. And regardless of what content you share on YouTube, you are asking viewers to step out of their lives and experience something new. Sound design can help their brains make that jump.
Whether it is adding sounds to smooth out transitions, ambient noise to provide texture, or dropping in humor, you can use sound design to add depth and production value. And that is on top of making everything more believable.
Here’s the no-brainer point on this list. The fact that you’re reading this article means you’ve created content for YouTube. And that means you know that sound quality matters.
Nothing will turn off viewers faster than bad mic quality, according to a study by USC and the Australian National University. And that goes for your music and sound effects too.
You may want to download songs or effects from free sites, but you get what you pay for. And if what you’re getting is subpar, low-quality stuff, then it’s going to drag down the overall quality of your channel.
In other words, if you’re putting in the effort to improve sound design and strengthen the content on your channel, don’t cut yourself short. Hold yourself to a particular quality standard, and apply that to every part of the videos you make.
How To Actually Use This Information On Your Channel
You want to grow your YouTube channel. (Because let’s be honest, what kind of content creator isn’t always pushing themselves?) To do that, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to love your content and want to keep coming back for more.
That’s why you brainstorm ideas, teach yourself new editing techniques, and study your competition. You know that YouTube is a tough place to succeed, and you’re willing to put in the work to make that happen.
Well, if you’re serious about growing your channel, sound design is an easy place to start. And all you really need to do is study the “masters” of content creation and see how they use background music and sound effects to tell stories.
Filmmakers and YouTubers prioritize sound design during pre-production and post-production. So while you might not have Peter McKinnon’s audience or the budget of an MCU film, you can still deliver the same engaging, immersive experiences that sound design helps create.
Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a company that makes royalty free music and sound effects to help content creators produce better videos.