I am just curious as to what others are doing when it comes to backgrounds inside a house/apartment. I always have trouble trying to design and layer a bg for an interior where no visual evidence of the outside world really exist for the scene.

Just trying to get some ideas or a direction to head, the scene is a girl putting on makeup at an antique makeup table, at some point she moves and goes into a walk in closet to put on a dress.
For a percentage of the scene she is on her cell phone with it on speakerphone.

I have to have multiple directions/ bg paths because it is a "choose your own adventure" game where the wrong choices inevitably lead to her death by way of vampire. The game is in live action cinematic segments.

Ive got some general "air" right now and am playing around with broken/ beat up appliances adding in some tension at times or something along that line, but none of it is ever visually supported and just not really working.
Just wondering/ looking for inspiration as I go through my library of recordings.

7 Answers 7


Here's a few' garden variety' ideas, depending upon the context:

**-Interior**: clock tick, fridge hum, offstage tv show in the other room, angry apartment neighbors fighting muffled, baby cries muffled, gentle deep wind movement/presence, buzzing of an old light

**-Exterior**: birds chirp, spotted bird chirps (lark, dove, blackbird, etc), cicadas (depending upon scene/location context), traffic drone, traffic bys deep, specific car procedures (e.g starts and aways /w doors), motorcycle rev bys, slow truck bys, offstage kids play, offstage siren blips/by, train horn/by distant, bicycle by w/ bell, occasional footstep walk bys, heli by (like a Bell 206 for 407), distant 747 by, dog barks (yippy and happy, or deep and angry), offstage basketball game distant, ice cream truck slow by, garbage truck procedure (good for morning scenes), scooter rev by, distant contruction (e.g. piledriver, bulldozers, jackhammers, etc), various low-level scattered horn honks, car alarm and chirps off, church bell tolls, lawnmower, weedwhacker, leaf blower, sprinklers, occasional ship/fog horns (if location is near body of water)

There are endless possibilities

I wouldn't necessarily use them all, nor all at the same time, but these are some BG elements that instinctually come to mind for such a scene as a jumping-off point - most it depends upon the location, time of day, and context of the scene.

  • @Stavrosound Thanks for all the great ideas. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little more on gentle deep wind movement/presence. That is something I was kind of looking for but am not sure how to really achieve it with regards to an interior setting. Any films I could reference on this? Sep 2, 2011 at 18:29
  • It's kind of hard to explain, the best explanation I can give is a calm air that has subtle modulations. Try "Wind Against Window Whistling And Whining Through Gaps, With Heavier Gusts Rattling Window" from FEX01_07, pitched down about about 75% and cutting out the window rattles (20 sec to 35 sec is the best section). This would be something that plays at about the same level as your roomtone. Basically gives the presence of air moving. Horror/thriller films are usually a good example, though their choices are usually harsher and pushed more in the mix for dramatic purposes. Sep 5, 2011 at 22:03
  • To add to this, I came across a set of tracks I use a lot that may fit this interior presence question even better. Look up "shack winds" in Soundstorm. Those are $$$ tracks. Sep 10, 2011 at 7:51

I very much agree with @Stavrosound.

To add a little to it:

It all depends on what mood you're trying to set and what scene you're trying to sell. If the girl is in a bad neighborhood, you might want to use some sounds that you'd hear in a bad place - maybe a slow car by with a sub rattle, a Harley pulling away in the distance, the hum of sodium vapor lamps, a distant dog barking, if it's during the day, maybe a distant basketball. All mentioned in Stavro's post.

If you are in a nice neighborhood, you might want to add distant lawn mower, sprinkler, happy dog barking, maybe a pool party (obviously depends on season - if it was winter with snow on the ground, all you'd hear is an occasional car by, maybe a snow plow, wind,etc...)

As for the mix of it - obviously all of the sounds would have a quite attenuated high end in the final mix. Also, you can play with the levels and amount of high frequency cut-off. If you're in a really nice house, you will have thick, insulated walls, and you'll have a fairly extreme high end roll-off, as well as lower overall levels. A cheap apartment or very old house would have thin walls with little insulation, so you'd have to adjust accordingly.

Last note about the mix. You're goal is to make the environment "breathe". You want to bring sounds in and out, and maybe back in again - it gives the environment a realistic dynamic. So instead of a solid room tone, you have a room tone that has some traffic drone, et al that moves in and out of the scene, etc...


one off sounds are the most interesting part of BGFX in my opinion.

Check out this article by peter albrechtsen for some cool examples.

reference dead poet's society and good will hunting as well.

don't worry if things aren't entirely visually supported, and don't be afraid to do things in a way that will be heard and interpreted.

We've actually recorded a bunch of bgfx sweeteners in the booth that can be verbed out to taste for dealing with interior ambiances. things like chair creaks, plastic creaks, duffle bag moves, coughing, fidgeting, etc. All miked from 6 feet away and recorded dry. Those things just add a certain amount of life to an environment and can be played up in a mix as opposed to down.

general wood moving textures are fun. even abstract stuff. feels like building settling and can give a sense of age to an interior locale.

steady constants can be used to ground one to reality and then taken away to signify a change in state. things like clocks ticking, faucets dripping, etc.

animals are fun. dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, whatever. just verb it out and roll off some top end.

IMO appliances tend to just sound like noise and don't do much different than the air track, so they're not as useful.

TVs and radios are tricky because they tend to have human voices on them, which compete with dialogue even at low levels. they're useful if nothing is being said though.

traffic, sirens and car horns (even on interiors) can give the sound of being in a city. see every episode of law and order. also airplane bys.

  • Great article. I didn't know they'd written a script in se7en for what was happening off camera. Sep 2, 2011 at 15:46
  • That article was the reason I started focusing more on the BGs of my designs. Will reference those movies, both great movies that I do not think I have seen since getting into sound and sound design. Sep 2, 2011 at 18:34

Many excellent points so far from everyone. One thing that I thought of that hasn't been mentioned yet is using the background going on at the other end of the phone to set up contrast. Obviously it depends on the context of the storyline, but since you brought it up I'd imagine it's pertinent. Focusing on where that person is on the other end of the call can give you a nice dichotomy of spaces.

For example, if your central character is in a dark, scary house all by herself while the caller is at a club surrounded by a throng of party-goers.

  • Yeah definitely, the other end of the phone was something that has been rolling through the brain. Sep 2, 2011 at 18:37

Well, one time I used a recording of the roar of a airliner as roomtone for an office...during the boss's scenes mainly.


I'd go with placing her in context of the neighbourhood and surround environment. Even with the window closed you can still hear traffic / people sounds in the background ... well at least in real life you can.

  • I agree, and I would like to add that, I think that is important to recognize that this IS all smoke and mirrors and we ARE fabricating a world for the audience
    – ChrisSound
    Sep 2, 2011 at 2:36
  • That is the plan, I have to have a neutral BG, then happy and danger elements to supplement it, because of each of the different choices in the game, I want the background to reflect the eventual outcome. Sep 2, 2011 at 18:31

I agree with all the above. But occasionally it does become harder. In a "posh" expensive house in the middle of nowhere (secluded) it gets harder to layer in a lot of those mentioned exterior sounds. Your pretty much left with possible offscree radio and general airs and hums. In scenes like this I tend to get stuck sometimes. Working hard to try to reinvent the wheel. Try not to. Just let it breathe, make sure extra time is spent on great foley, characters breathing and that appropriate verbs are used that will sell it way better than any subtle designed air, IMHO. And if that offscreen radio is used try serious radio talk or classical muzak.

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