It has been 2 years since the last answer/comment on this thread. Time to restart the conversation and get some more answers to this VALID ON-TOPIC question…

Although this thread has touched upon the topic, I would like to explore it further.

Everybody and their brother credits themselves as a Sound Designer. But what have they done to actually earn the title?

It is undisputed that the likes of Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom (among others) are the fathers of sound design for the world of modern cinema, creating some of the most iconic sounds in the history of film. But what is it that they've accomplished that makes them more than a sound editor, sound effects editor, or supervising sound editor? Is it the alien language they created? The horrifying roar of an unknown creature? A subtle interweaving of atmospheres and ambiences that tell the story of an entire generation?

What about the simple sound of a door creaking and closing, and yet telling a part of the film's story that may otherwise go unnoticed? What about a gentle wind through conifer trees, or gentle waves upon a deserted island beach that ominously transform into ferocious reef breakers that will not be crossed?

Have you ever created sounds like that? And does that make YOU a sound designer?

Let the discussion commence.


Lately I've noticed more and more people crediting themselves as sound designers, to the point where my ears barely perk up anymore. I'd like to hear more from the forum regarding this title and whether perhaps it needs to be amended / abandoned / etc. How about Sound Director? Or just Sound?

  • Interesting question! I shall have to ponder this one a bit. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 7:58
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    Same here, but there are a lot of questions in there Jay :) Is the question about earning a title (a title which is something we could discuss about for some time)? Or is it perhaps about what makes a sound person a designer of the audio track of the story? Maybe the conclusion could be that there is no such thing as a stereo typical sound designer.... Just pondering out loud :) Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 10:04
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    Here's Randy Thom's take on the term "Sound Designer": groups.yahoo.com/group/sound-article-list/message/4577
    – Justin P
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 17:38
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    As far as film work goes, I've always liked the oldy-goody "Sound Montage". I've also always taken issue with the term 'Designer'. It carries too many connotations for me to be comfortable using it to refer to myself. Lately I've been going with "noise maker."
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 19:41
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    I am an ammeter when it comes to sound. Therefore, I would not call myself a sound designer, sound editor, etc. I simply say that I like and enjoy sound. A lot of other people that are in the same position as me of beginners call themselves sound designers and throw around that term very loosely which I don't think it is right. As far as my thinking goes now, I don't think I will ever call myself a sound designer because it seems like a very big title to have and live up to since, when you start talking about sound designers you think of the fathers of sound design like what you said. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 14:40

20 Answers 20


Jay, Jay, Jay ...

Remember when we were all "sound editors" and proud of it?

Remember when that meant knowing how to cut sound FX, cut dialogue, cue and cut foley, cue and cut ADR, conform pre-dubs & stems? It meant knowing how to do it all. I now know fx editors/designers who have never cut dialogue (and don't know how), dialogue editors who can't do FX, foley editors who only know foley. ADR editors were always a little different and have been specialized for a long time.

We all know the Sound Designer jokes - "A sound designer is someone who has never cut on film", "Sound design is sub-rumble and rubbery sync", "Sound design is something that can be moved a foot in either direction and still work", "Sound Editors became Sound Designers around the same time Foley Walkers became Foley Artists" ...

Way back when it was microphones, razor blades and tape. Next most places had one or two guys who had a Synclav or the like and could actually manipulate sound. The rest of us became friends with the transfer guy and with a little sweet talk we could get them to transfer something backwards, slowed down, cel side down (for underwater or distant sounds) or physically put their hand on the reels on the transfer machine to create drag. We could also ask the Synthesizer guy to create specific things then spin them off to 35mm which we would then cut on film.

None of us "just pulled from the library to cover the sounds". I've always hated that narrow minded view that always seems to come from people who never really did what we did. We would search for the right sound, combine sounds to get what we wanted. It was much more difficult as you could only hear one sound and have to imagine what things would sound like together. You could play multiple sounds on your synchronizer using your hand to turn the wheel and approximate the correct speed. For a while I had an "over-under" moviola where you could actually hear two sounds at once (WOO-HOO!)

I work on a crew that for a long time never credited a "sound designer". The reason being was that it would artificially elevate one of us above the others. Most read the credit "sound designer" and think that this is the person whose vision we followed to create the whole audio worldview of the film. The person we went to for ideas and approval. You and I know that this is rarely true.

Once we went digital we all started manipulating sounds more and more. I think it was WaveFrame first although at times I have also used Fostex, Fairlight and finally the new industry standard ProTools.

On our crew it is always a team effort. We spot the film together and everybody's ideas are encouraged. "Gladiator", "Braveheart", "The Bourne Ultimatum ", "Seabiscuit", "Hannibal", none of them have a "sound designer" credited. We all did sound design. I remember "The Devil's Advocate" where the music editor complained that with my weird otherworldly FX we were crossing into music's territory. Taylor Hackford loved and defended our stuff (it was his film) and my sound lived. Listen to it. It IS sound design although no sound designer is credited.

It seems that this new generation of digital sound editors all wanted the designation "sound designer". We all thought and said, "pretentious assholes".

As the credit "sound designer" became more common film-makers would come to us and ask, "Who is your sound designer?" Our supervisor (Per Hallberg that blonde guy at the Oscars) would always answer honestly, "All my people are sound designers."

They wanted to see that credit so we gave in. The people responsible for the big ticket sequences, the strange sequences, flashbacks, transitions, monsters aliens & creatures, weapons, big chase scenes, vehicles (flying & earthbound, old, new & from the future) would now be credited as "sound designers". People who cut the more real life everyday sounds would still be "sound editors" even though they put as much care, thought and creativity into what they did. The next time you hear someone refer to sound editors as someone who "Just pulls from the library to cover stuff" tell them that they are full of crap and speaking from inexperience. The arrogance of that thinking has no place in the films I work on or the crews I work with. Nobody talks like that. Everybody knows.

"Sound Designer" can mean everything and it can mean nothing. I worked on a "walk and talk" film where the supervisor's regular sound editor was credited as "sound designer" because that was the deal they had worked out. There was no sound design (in the way that the title implies) in that film.

These days with digital editing and all the sound manipulation tools readily available we do a LOT more than we used to do. I don't know a single "editor" that does not use these tools. Some more than others.

I am a "sound designer" and have been for a long time although not credited as such until the last few years. What makes me a sound designer?

In "Gladiator" listen to the fireballs coming in where I used fire, jets, human voices and outboard gear to create those sounds. Was it "sound design"? I think yes but my credit was "sound editor" and I was happy with it. I was one with my fellow editors like Dino DiMuro who did all that wonderful slo-mo fight stuff. All those "Bourne" car chases where I used different cars, recordings and gear to create a "new" car. Sound design? You decide. Those weird-ass futuristic military vehicles in that first "G.I. Joe"? Maybe. The many flashback and dream sequences I have cut are probably most identifiable as "sound design" because of the strange sounds involved. People hear a whoosh and think "Sound Design". Listen to the new "Blade Runner" mix where I had to recreate the "spinners" so that we could bring them in from the surrounds, listen to the new guns, punches etc. Listen to the new 5.1 all enveloping atmospheres that Dan Hegeman created. "Sound design"? Our credit - sound editors.

The sound world has changed. It has become more sophisticated and so have we. The first time I sweetened a carby with an animal roar or a jet fighter and I took a sound not associated with the real-world to create drama, excitement or tension, that was sound design even though it was physically cut on film without any outboard gear. When Dan slows down and treats a fetal heartbeat and bakes it into the backgrounds to create a sense of unease or anxiety that is sound design. When one of our dialogue editors takes alternate takes to create new line readings or change the emotion of a line is that sound design? Perhaps. Maybe that's the next new credit we will see "Dialogue Sound Designer". It's valid and kinda makes sense. When our foley guy manipulates objects and signal on the Foley stage to create something brand new is that sound design? It kind of is and in it's purest form. "Foley Sound Designer", I like the sound of that.

Whenever some new fresh-faced, bright-eyed and shiny new person right out of school comes aboard and proudly proclaims "I am a sound designer" we all just roll our eyes and leave unsaid, "pay your dues, embrace humility and team play". Just because you know what buttons to push and have the latest gear it does not make you a sound designer. There's talent, creativity and the ability to know what to cut and what NOT to cut, the ability to see how what you are creating fits with dialogue and story. Some of these things cannot be taught. Some of these things are just part of who you are. I've seen "designers" with all the coolest and newest gear who create big ambitious sound that does not glue to the picture and kind of floats above it waving it's arms shouting "I'm Sound Design! Look how cool I am!"

I think you are going to see the credit "sound editor" slowly disappear and be replaced by "sound designer". All you new "sound designers" should remember where it all started and how difficult it was to do with just a microphone, a razor blade and tape.

The next time you think you are better or more creative than a sound editor because you are a "sound designer" remember this - I will be waiting for you at the bike racks with a broken rewind shaft in one hand and swinging a Finley-Hill by its cord in the other hand ready to talk sense to you.

My new favorite credit is "Supervising First Assistant Sound Editor". Who made that one up? I'm sure it does wonders for self-esteem.

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    @Chris, what can I say? Words fail me. Fantastic essay, from the heart, and I couldn't agree more. We must go out for cocktails sometime. Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 6:35
  • We WILL do it. I'll be at a mix at Warner Brothers Burbank this summer (waiting for a studio decision that will determine the date). Also have one coming up at either Universal or Lantana. Our paths will cross. Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 18:34

Very good question!

For me, it's the way I work. I put most of my energy to building something I'm convinced will inflict some kind of feeling in the audience, with a heavy focus on details. The whole is king, but the life is in the details. There are different kinds generally accepted as sound designers (which I'm pretty sure you already know, but for the sake of argument), ranging from making just making individual sound effects, to complete soundscapes and mixes. Me, I work primarily as an full-mix sound designer, meaning I often "compose" the soundscape for entire movies.

A door and a door is not necessarily the same thing. My primary weapon of choice is first and foremost ambiance and small details, in pretty much that order, and everything I do I have a specific purpose with. Take a door, i made this one for a slasher-movie. In the beginning of the movie it was pretty smooth, it did have squeaks, but they where pretty friendly squeaks added more for consistency with the later parts than actual feeling. Later in the movie the killer enters. Here, I use mostly the same door (it was a composit from about 8 different sources for me to be able to change character seamlessly), but this time I replaces the friendly squeaks with coarse and corroded creaks from an old and near well rusted shut shelter-door, as well as changed the balance between the layers a little. The result wasn't night and day, actually the director didn't even notice at first (which was my hope), but he did feel something was very very different, and the killer just got a whole lot more gruesome.

That's why I call myself sound designer.

  • I actually often use foley in my designs too! I also work doing specific tasks, like for example ADR (been pretty much of that), dialogue editing, and single sound effects, but few things beats the feeling of making a complete scene work imho :-) Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 10:34
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    I just wonder why not all artists consider themselves "designers", eventhough everyone in arts (and elsewhere) work with intention and with attention to detail. Neither do musicians or any kind of person working with audio name themselves sound "designers". "Sound design" may be used to describe a sound creation process and in that case it can be descriptive and thus useful, but "sound designers" are more rare. The thing is, what really is the difference between a "designer" and an artist, or some other pro/practitioner in the arts? Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 14:28
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    I'd say it's very much in the application imho. Take for example a sound editor. A good sound editor has a good judgment, but for them it's a matter of placing a car door where there is called for a car door, and city amb where there are city. But for a designer, in my opinion, it's a matter of what that car door is supposed to tell about the driver. Of course not all car doors have any significance whatsoever in the movie, but sometimes. Ambiance is another even better example. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:50
  • In my opinion, pure sound edit is when there are either no need for descriptive sound, or no budget/time. Design when there is. For example comedies rarely needs it that much, but especially horror and dystopian fiction is very dependent on it. Art is made for being beautiful and/or expressive, whereas designs is mostly made with a specific purpuse in mind, though with the intention of being aesthetically expressive as well. One is not better than the other, just different. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:57
  • I still think that definition of a designer binds pretty much every single audio artist classifiable as a sound designer, thus rendering the title rather meaningless umbrella term that applies to everyone that uses sound in a meaningful way (=pretty much everyone). Sound design is quite simply not particular for visual media, but it's applied across the audio field by everyone. No-one's primarily interested in the process, everyone's interested in the product. Thus, does a "sound designer" really stand any particular meaning today when almost everyone can be classified as designers. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 18:23

I think this term is overused; particularly by folks who don't really know much about sound post. I'm not usually comfortable crediting myself as "Sound Designer" and will often go with "Sound Editor" for rush jobs, and jobs where i haven't had a chance to really get inside the film and build it up with sound.

It comes back to the question: "What is sound design?". I think sound design is the careful consideration of every aural element of your film; from a door creak, to the sound of a car's engine - even room tone. IMHO, "sound design" is achievable through any means, whether it be using only an FX library, or going the whole hog with synths and samplers and FX recording and whatnot. I believe it's the thought process that's key.

So i aspire to be able to call myself a Sound Designer on every job - not for the title, but because to be truly effective, a film's soundscape needs to be thoroughly designed.

PS: It always irks me when i hear people who know how to cut in a door slam say "oh, i'm a sound designer".

  • That sums up my opinion very well I must say! The design part is about the thought-process behind it! Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 5:20

Imagine a "what makes you think you're a set designer" kind of question.

designer |dɪˈzʌɪnə| (noun) a person who plans the form, look, or workings of something before its being made or built, typically by drawing it in detail

and only then, and not necessarily: "made by or having the expensive sophistication of a famous and prestigious fashion designer" or "upscale and fashionable"

Great of the dictionary to reference the fashion industry. I'd agree they could be at the bottom of this.

I go with "sound editor", unless the person across thinks an "editor" is just another guy. Whoever knows editing appreciates another editor. Everyone else, I'd rather they heard a ringing title.

The only place where a "sound designer" really means something to me is in "designed" effects, where just combining existing sounds won't get you too far, or at least past the cliché. Even then, the ability to break down a sound into requirements and potential sources is one of our core skills. I think for the storytelling aspect, a "sound editor" is more than enough, and maybe a sound director one day said "too many directors will confuse the audience".

Is it 2 cents too many?


Nice Q! I wrote a big huge response and it ended up as a blog post. Umm, so there's that. :)


basic premise was that titles both imply skills and imply both what you can and can't do. I don't think the term "sound designer" carries much caché anymore, but it does serve a basic utility as a kind of shorthand to differentiate us from other audio guys like composers, location recordists, mixers, etc.


I think the term requires context: a game audio sound designer is very different to a film sound designer is very different to a synth/sample library sound designer

I personally use the term as I aspire to pursue the role as originally created for film by Walter Murch etc...

Of course anyone can use the term, but the meaning of it is about context eg if a game audio sound designer pitches to be sound designer on a film, then a director and producer will look at their credits etc and know the truth..

  • @tim I think the distinction that you make here is really important - although there is crossover between these different disciplines, they are quit different. Here in the UK the term is also used by those working in "Theatre" which again can be very different to the other areas you mention.
    – Bit Depth
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 9:25

A sound edit (not "a sound design" here) is not a single sound, it's a composition of sounds.

As there's no organization to control the profession definitions and the use of titles, everyone can call themselves whatever they want (try to do that with "engineer" or "scientist" for example). It's the same why there are so many "composers" (or "audio engineers"), while I think that "a composer" is primarily a person who writes music for musicians or orchestra, in the classical sense, and "an audio engineer" is simply a very old term from the days when a studio guy may have had worked in electronic/electrical engineering related tasks. In terms of composers, I don't consider modern purely computer-assisted media composers without grounding and practice in writing "real music" as composers, to me they are simply computer musicians or artists just like anyone else writing music using (just) a computer.

I think that the "sound designer" title in visual media context is mainly a (perhaps stupid) merit, which others apply to you when they recognize your work as something distinctive that they appreciate. Or the term is more pure in the sense of developing a sonic product for example (a sample library, a sound installation etc.), for which there might be a more fitting term. "Sound designer" is and has probably become the stupidest general term in visual media, because in visual media it's a close analogy to a video editor or a VFX artist, for which there is the term "sound editor" or sound (or sound effects) artist. What's wrong with those?

The appropriate use of titles goes for many other titles/professions that need to have some professional backing (e.g. a degree, research or practical work) or you're and should be classified just as a wannabe. There's barely any social limitations in what you can call yourself in the arts and in professional practice (that's for profit) I find the title to be mainly a selling term ("We need a sound designer/graphics artist/whatever, lets find and hire one"). But then again, I barely see the point of sound DESIGNER, as opposed to sound editor or sound (or sound effects) artist here. Unless it's for leveraging one's excellence and comparing oneself to someone like Ben Burtt.

  • Hi Mviljamaa, Nice answer. One small addition, the difference between a sound editor and sound designer is mostly hierarchical, to my understanding. A sound editor is in charge of editing sounds where the designer is in charge of the overall sound and of the editor. This is ofcourse only of any use in large post-production teams. I've mostly worked side by side with the designer or editor. In the first case i did a lot of editing ánd designing. In the last I was in charge of the conceptual approach and the sound of the project, editing was a little less. But that's in 3 person teams.. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 10:35
  • Modified my post a bit for added thoughts. For me "sound effects artist" is a more appropriate term (as opposed to "sound designer") and works equally well in the hierachical sense when working as a specialist within a sound team. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 10:48
  • There are also "sound supervisor" and "supervising sound editor" terms for the individuals with the overall creative control when working in teams. Or these individuals could even be "audio directors". As opposed to "sound designer". Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 10:59
  • @Arnoud - A supervising sound editor's job is not to make the actual soundwork, but to lead the work as a creative voice and director. Though many supervising editors do make designs as well. There are different kinds of designers, but mostly our work is to make something unique for the very project, be it single effects or entire soundscapes, whereas a sound editor mostly work with library effects. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:17

simply put, i consider myself a sound designer because of my complete fascination with sound in all it's wonder. recording, capturing, manipulating, layering, composing music organic or electronic, or any combination there of makes me a sound designer. making a living by doing these things makes me a professional sound designer.

if anyone else at any point in there personal path of sonic exploration wants to also term themselves as a sound designer then i welcome them as colleagues.

i feel that sound designers like interior, product, graphic and other designers design form, function and aesthetic using sound.

here's a wonderful little interview from famous product designer Dieter Rams that I think has great points relevant to all designers, sound or otherwise: http://vimeo.com/7917568

  • Thanks for the link, it's a nice film. Amazing that if you insert the word "sound" in before "design" for the 10 rules, then they all still work. Come to think of it, I think there's potential for a really amazing book adapting other design strategies to sound. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 18:00
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    i agree, Mark. great idea. if we are truly designers, then we should be studying the practice of design principles in other forms.
    – Brad Dale
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 18:45
  • Wow, one of the things Dieter Rams said really struck me: "...the unspectacular things are the important things." Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:15

I carry a portable recorder wherever I go, always ready to capture sounds that inspire me or intrigue me. In my mind, that makes me a sound designer :)

whether I've got the skills to translate what's in my head through a pair of speakers is up to the listener. But I know I have the passion in my heart to put the ear before all other senses.


I think anybody should be able to call themselves a sound designer, in the same way that all musicians can call themselves artists. And that we shouldn't judge anybody who wishes to call themselves that, just for the sake of them people who use the term as some sort of "brownie points" credit.


Its my personal belief that a sound designer is an artist who paints with sound, you can't class it because like the other arts its subjective from person to person. I believe I should be able to use the term sound designer when I do something that pushes somebody emotionally... be it scaring somebody with subtle 'pokes' before hitting them with the scare that matches the screen. Or making that grass sway oh so smooth in the background of an romance movie. Also a sound designer, in my opinion should constantly be pushing themselves to create this emotional entertainment otherwise what's the point of having 'design' in your title when you don't design something but are rather just a content creator.

  • I don't see a difference between "a content creator" and a "designer". Those two can mean, and practically mean the exact same thing, depending on who says it. Besides, I'd personally rather apply the term "sound designer" to multitude musicians e.g. in the experimental or electronic genres than for someone working with deadline- and business-driven visual media. But I think "sound design" is considered such a fundamental thing in certain music genres that "sound designer" doesn't bear much meaning and isn't even interesting (compared to say an artist name). This is not to judge different... Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 21:13
  • ...art forms, but just the case that "sound design" is applied across the sonic arts and thus the term "sound designer" is a bit vague and thrown around in multiple occasions and contexts. Then again, it's also up to anyone to call themselves whatever they want to. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 21:13

We humans primarily use our eyes to identify and understand what we observe — sound can reinforce that identity, of course, but it isn't the way we navigate the world. Sound designers take full advantage of this: we have the unique ability to recontextualize the material we gather or create and use it to fool you into a false reality.

I am a sound designer because I have chosen to adopt sound as my secondary 'language' of interpretation. When I hear a sound, I listen with the intent to mentally form my own visual tie. After a few years of this, I naturally think of a soundscape when I focus on the visual. Whether I am inspired by research for a project or simply by the project itself, sound design is such an uninhibited thought process: literally any sound is up for grabs, as long as it works for me and the director.

The Star Wars trilogy is a perfect example of our willingness to accept sounds from the most random of sources when they are contextualized within a story. To me, this creation of a sonic language is the very backbone of sound design, and it is deeply tied to the personality of the sound designer.

If I'm right, hopefully we'll never have to worry about robots taking our job :).


  • Is a writer a text designer? Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 7:53

Great question, Jay.

I had this argument just the other day with a video editor I frequently work with.

I was explaining to him that from my job, I need to be consulted with and influence the script so that I can carve out room within the storytelling of the film to really allow sound to take it's part in forwarding the message of the piece. I had recently been given a documentary to design and mix way too late in the chain from him and I was not happy about it. I don't enjoy getting things to design and mix that have already been edited with no regard to sound design or sound transitions, ambiences, etc.

That right there plays a big part in the distinguishing between a sound editor and a sound designer. The sound designer takes full responsibility for the soundtrack as a whole, and allows no barriers between him and the storytelling at hand.

We all know the definition of Sound.

The first definition of Design is this:

"a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made"


"the art or action of conceiving of and producing such a plan"

I'd like to work more towards that in my projects - where I am able to plan and coordinate with the director on scenes and really create masterful opportunities for sound to really shine to forward the story, and do this while the script is being written and camera angles are being chosen, etc. I specifically look for areas in the script where sound can communicate concepts and story points better than visually, and have better impact.

The sound designer for "No Country for Old Men" earned his title when he created the idea of the villain having a beeping tracking device, thereby allowing the camera to never show him at the hotel where he caught up with Josh Brolin's character, but rather you only HEAR him walking up to the hotel room. It's in my opinion one of the most nerve-racking scenes ever filmed, and mostly due to the clever use of sound.

You're creating a 360 degree environment for the audience to get lost in for 2 hours, and sound plays a huge role in that. When it's done right, it's priceless and really puts it there for the audience to enjoy and get lost in. Done wrong, well, it just doesn't do that and people's attention gravitate towards it.

That's all I've got for now (I'm short on time). I'll update my answer with more later.

Good to see you again, Jay.

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    Thanks for the reply. In regards to you're not wanting to get "things to design and mix that have already been edited with no regard to sound design or sound transitions, ambiences, etc", I suggest you get used to that - it's how 99% of the sound crews in Hollywood work and interface with directors and picture editors. Unfortunately, it's rare to be involved with a project where the filmmaker has a strong vision of how sound will contribute to the story and elevate the film. Rarer still is the director that plans ahead, thinking about sound during scripting, shooting, etc. It does happen, tho! Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 7:47

I call myself a sound designer by working actually as a sound designer, making sound design for advertising, feature films, short films, multimedia, videogames, etc. All this by creating everything from scratch, using multiple tools/software/techniques, from foleys to synths to audio libraries, and whatever freestyle stuff you are able to use (legal/licensed), etc.

my 2 cents

greetz from mexico :)


I happened to stumble upon the titles "audiographer" and "director of audiography", which I have not come across before (am I the only one?). Wikipedia proposes the titles "audio director" and "director of sound" as alternatives for DoA and the "audiographer" title is applied to everyone in the sound team.

From Wikipedia:

alt text

To me the role of DoA seems very much what Murch's original definition of a "sound designer" proposed: "an individual ultimately responsible for all aspects of a film's audio track, from the dialogue and sound effects recording to the re-recording (mix) of the final track". Murch didn't mention music, but it should definitely be there, because Murch speaks of "all aspects of a film's audio track". So the person who Murch describes should be a creative lead for the use of sound in films (or as well in all visual entertainment and media), much like a director, but for sound. Such creative lead is not a person who creates "designed" sound elements, which "sound designer" nowadays means and has long meant. The problem is that I think "sound designer" in visual and especially in electronic arts is occasionally falsely linked with creative direction (i.e. planning, direction and "creation" of the whole) and the original description also proposed it falsely, while the title "sound designer" should be used just for that very specific role of "sound special effects". And even some of the more experienced guys might use the term "sound designer" wrongly when they take some role in directing the use of sound, but then generally go with the title "sound designer", which might be explained by them having multiple roles in a particular production or in productions in general. But then again, "sound designer" as the director of sound was what Murch's original definition proposed, so anyone could be mistaken. The sound designer title is also falsely used for example in theatre sound where "sound designer" might be, and probably usually is used to describe the director of the use of all sound.

The generalization and mixing of titles can also very easily happen in very small sound teams where you might only have one person ("the audio guy", who might falsely use the title "sound designer" when working on the whole) or two persons (a sound designer and a composer/musician. But who is the director of sound then?). Everyone should agree that a "sound designer" doesn't make up the whole soundtrack/all audio. In the latter team the director of sound is either both or just one of them, but the director of sound is NOT called "sound designer" and the guy who creates "everything non-musical" isn't a sound designer either, because that leads to generalization (over foley artists, VO editors, field recordists, sound editors etc. and most importantly the director of sound), especially if there's no designated "sound lead". Then again, there should be, because directing the soundtrack as a whole is important. The director of sound should be a separate or a particularly designated person. So in a team of two the other artist (or both artists) would take and would be credited at least another role as the sound lead for example with the title "director of sound" or "audio director" for consistency across the media field. If you're the sole sound guy or gal in a project, you could either go with the title "audiographer" or a (small) combination of different subtitles that cover the roles you took, to avoid the needless use and generalization of the title "director" when the sound team consists of only one person.

The overuse of the term "sound designer" could be because of the beforementioned application of the term falsely to describe an audio director, not a person who takes/took solely the role of "sound special effects". Thus a person working in visual media whose professional title (outside of any projects) reads "sound designer" isn't necessary. The title should be used only as a part of a project or as a permanent professional title if you're employed as a sound designer i.e. "the sound special effects guy" and that's your permanent role. Otherwise you could be an audiographer (with specializations, if you wish), which, according to the Wikipedia explanation, can be applied to any individual working on audio in visual productions without a particular further designation, apart from musicians. Thus "an audiographer" is a true generalist/all-around term for a sound artist/professional that works with sound in visual arts.

Outside of visual arts and media, the sound designer title would be and is employed by people who design sound elements i.e. sound/sample library developers, apart from purely "sampled musical instrument" libraries. As a part of other than media productions the use of the sound designer title hasn't even seen much use, other than maybe in installation and some live work(?), where I would maybe rather see the title "sound artist" (if it's one person and it's not a particular individual of a larger group with a designated "sound special effects" role).

"Sound design" purely means the process of creating sound (to a definition or an idea, often "from scratch") and it's practiced by most artists across the sonic arts. Sound design is not the application of "unconventional" practices or effects. And unless sound design is tied to the role of "sound special effects" in a project team in media productions or sound library development, there's no need for a particular "sound designer" designation as a professional title.

When talking about the use of sound in soundtracks (as a whole), the word "audio direction" could maybe be used (when there hopefully is a designated sound director of some sort!) instead of "sound design", when addressing the use of sound. Or then simply "the use of sound" (regardless of the type of sound).

Surely when you put it this way, there are too many (full-time) "sound special effects" guys...


It's a great question, we have discussed it on numerous occaisional here at work. Audio director would be a nice title, but not really a truthful title... The audio direcotor is actually the director! It is his/her vision of the film we are supposed to convey. Our abilities and knowledge will enable us to do this in different ways but it always has to be according to the directors wishes. And the title audio director implies that the person is actually the one in charge of the soundtrack, and the lead of sound just isn't, the director is.

Sound supervisor is a good name for the person that have been designated to carry out the directors vision and forward those concepts and ideas to the sound team. Unfortunately theres no good Swedish translation to it.

To me the/a sound designer is a person employed to help or take part in the development of the soundtrack conceptually together with the sound supervisor. Since the sound supervisor might be just that, a supervisor, or it might be the lead dialog editor. The sound supervisor is responsible for the sound teams resources and planning, often even financially, but he is still the main person in touch with the director. But by personality type I think most sound designers makes the worst sound supervisors and that generally a good experienced dialog editor will likely become a good sound supervisor. Any sound editor will spend some of his time designing sounds/sequences or recording new sounds to use. Does that make him a sound designer?

Perhaps we should all just let someone decide what it means and stick to that...


Great question and some great replies! Very interesting analyses here.

If someone personally handles every aspect of a piece of media's sound (concept, recording, editing, mixing, implementation) and each of his or her decisions throughout that process is guided by the desire to evoke a particular emotional response in the audience (both scene-by-scene and as a whole), I would consider that person a sound designer in the broad sense of the term -- they're not just dropping library effects in for coverage; they're achieving an artistic goal. If the results are utterly brilliant due to exceptional innovation achieved in that process, I'd consider that person a sound designer in the sense that venerable geniuses like Murch, Burtt, and the masters who have followed them have worn the title.

Since I grew up hearing "sound designer" applied almost solely to the latter, wizards-of-sound sort, I still hesitate to use that term to describe anyone whose work I'm not highly impressed by. My own title is "technical sound designer" or "audio lead" because I do all of the above (in games) plus toolset/feature design, but I'm still uncomfortable with the "sound designer" bit sometimes because it feels pretentious to me. Yes, I work on sound design professionally; no, I'm not redefining the art daily like they have.

I like Rene's doctor analogy because it's a great example of what makes "sound designer" confusing: you can't assume a certain background, skillset, or talent level simply because someone's known as a sound designer. To paraphrase a previous post on here, the title has more weight when it's granted by other professionals rather than self-applied. That said, I think that anyone who fits the "sound auteur" definition described above is justified in calling himself or herself a sound designer, while everyone else is justified in using their judgment of that person's work to decide whether or not the person is any good at it.

  • I don't know anybody "just dropping library effects in for coverage". I hate that mindset. Every sound editor or designer I work with puts a lot more thought and creativity into it than that ... a lot. I know a few that would want to drag you into an alley and "talk" after reading that. I've got a feeling Mr. Murch who I have worked with would agree. Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 5:11
  • @Chris I'm sure that, being a quality-oriented professional who works with quality-oriented professionals, you don't know anyone using library effects verbatim. I don't, either; nevertheless, there are people out there who do this, and some probably call themselves "sound designers." The point of that mention was to praise creative sound artists and decry lazy ones, not to imply that you or anyone you know happens to be in the latter camp. Any alley-dragging in this case is unwarranted. :)
    – Tyler
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 6:36

For me, a sound designer is able to change any sound in emotion (see for example Wall-E, it's incredible to tell a story without words...), and add what's missing to bring something on a film or video game.

That's what I try to do every day at my job :p


I would say I am a sound mixer. I have been mixing television shows for the last 8 years for a fairly large production company. While I do add my own elements into each show, the majority of it is put together by the offline editor. Then it comes to me. I clean up the narration, dialogue, add nats or sfx, mix the music to correct levels, and most importantly make sure the show follows the networks specs and get them all the stems they need. I work under tight deadlines, so sadly, I often have to spend less time on things that others would would need a full day on. I have 8 hours to mix a 22 minute show and 16 for a 45. While I enjoy playing around and coming up with new sfx for shows, I wouldn't call myself a sound designer. I have much to learn still, and many sounds to create before I earn that title. Until then, I'm a good old audio engineer who mixes sound for television :)


Industry is interesting. Because I'm a sound designer, but I work in theatre. This involves SFX creation for playback, with all the usual recording/mixing skills.

However, in theatre, part of my job is to design the system, plan the FOH rig, on stage foldbacks, the signal flow to the desk etc. Am I a sound designer, yes. Have I worked in film or TV? No.


Nice topic, i dont known exacly what qualifies anyone to tell if is a sound designer or not

i think a sound designer might be anyone with the hability to shape sound in a way that fits the purpose or description requested.

anyone who is given a task and finds the best sound to fill it... it might be an ambience for a scene, the right accoustic´s, incluiding also to adapt to the moment

  • How about just anyone working on sound? Ta-da. Everyone is a sound oh-so-creative designer. Commented May 6, 2013 at 10:14

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