Perhaps a bit broad question, but definitely one of the things that probably everyone is consciously either intuitively defining or trying to define, or has already found some solution / definition to this question.

So, what do you think is an effective measurement for the impact or effectiveness of sound? Your own judgement? A colleague's judgement? A test audience's feedback? A director's feedback? An employer's feedback?

What is the thing that gives you the certainty that what you've done is appropriate and will have the desired impact? Or that an approach B or a soundtrack B is "more effective" than approach A / soundtrack A. If you compare your work to others' work, what kind of criteria do you use in the assessment? What defines "effectiveness" and "appropriateness" in sound? Do some criteria for measuring them even exist?

What would/do terms like "cutting edge", "state of the art" or "advanced" mean in sound?

4 Answers 4


I don't think hard measuring criteria exist. Also I don't think measuring is necessary. You can "measure" with your own stick, it pays off to be critical, and push yourself on the next project. Then nothing skews your measurements except yourself. "Effective" maybe refers to how your sound collage conveys emotion in telling the story, while still remaining "appropriate" for the style of the production, i.e. not too out of touch with the style and the intention. That said, those lines are so blurry and subjective nowadays, theorising can do more harm than good. In fact, I'm seeing people left and right elaborate on things I then find have very little impact according to my taste. So again, it's subjective.

I like it when a soundtrack is simple, but achieves the same a vast and complex one would. In addition to that seeming too good to be true, it also carries the danger that eventually everything will get too stripped down, too "effective".

Don't trust the audience when it comes to measurement. They never criticise, or do so in a constructive way. You can measure the impact long term, judging by their actions, but behind their intentions may be other things, not just the soundtrack. With employers it's very simple. If they give you the next job, the sound and process worked for them (not necessarily for you). If they don't, regardless of what they say, it didn't work, but, it being subjective, you can't tell what didn't work. Maybe the sound was great but not greater than the cost.

I like if a soundtrack stands a test of time. If you can bear looking at the thing and hearing the sounds again in two years then that's a start..

I consider cutting edge, state of the art, and advanced, to be all relative. You can add "according to who?" to each of them.


In many ways, the most important opinion is that of the actual audience, but it's important to be able to predict what that reaction will be and tailor your sound design to the desired reaction. Honestly, for me the only true "measurement" of my sound design's effectiveness is trusting my own instincts. If you don't have the right instincts, that's something you need to work on as it's an important part of the craft/art of sound design, and is in many ways more important than the technical know-how.

But there are definitely moments when you might need a sanity check or a second opinion, in which case I might ask a friend, a fellow sound designer, etc. to act as a test audience. In the end though, it's still your own instincts and artistic vision that should prevail when handing off your sound design.

  • That's how I think it ought to be. But there's this talk about "effectiveness" or "impact" as if one could approach or assess the use of sound with some sort of quantitative or, say, psychological criteria. That one can "know" that something is "correct" or better than something one's comparing to. It's a popular thesis topic as well to study "effective sound design", "how a is better than b" or something. They can't be using these words, if what they'd be describing would be just how THEY feel, especially when the audience that is really assessing the work is always some other, larger group. Apr 1, 2013 at 17:40
  • I imagine that you could conduct a scientific/psychological study to judge the effectiveness of a single piece of sound design. However, the approach you take with sound design really depends on the visuals, so one effective approach might not always be the best. What works best is situation-dependent, which is why (as Tim says) it is your instincts, aesthetics, taste, etc that must guide you (even if it is the director's opinion that matters most). Apr 2, 2013 at 17:03
  • @Bryce Well, the question is basically about whether one's making sound for the audience, someone else or for oneself and whether there's point in comparing different approaches (the supposed different levels of impact and effectiveness or appropriateness so to say). Closely related is that who is one targeting with all the decisions and how could one know/predict how they are perceived, i.e. what the decisions really mean. I know this is a lot more theoretical than what it's in practice and I'm digging into the semantics of effective/impact/appropriate. It's more of a stimulating question. Apr 5, 2013 at 22:49

It is your own instincts, aesthetics, taste, & experience (in life and in work) that makes you create/edits sound design the way you do, but I think it is the directors intent & direction that matters most. For better or worse, the elements & the final mix are their decision - moment by moment & overall, it is their concepts and execution. But prior to that it is all also a constantly evolving group decision: every person on the team is using their sensibilities to present what they think is appropriate, which is then shaped by the sensibilities of the re-recording mixers.... But again all of this is formed to follow or support the directors intent, and their purpose is to tell a story and engage the audience.

I agree with georgi re 'cutting edge' etc - its a dreadful term imho, take Transformers for example, I would consider those films (& their sound design) some of the worst film making in film history - overt, crassly manipulative, juvenile, with about as much emotional nutrition as candy floss. But plenty of people consider(ed) them 'cutting edge'

Beauty is in the eye (& ear) of the beholder


I'm not so agree with some comments, because they are mainly based on the uniqueness of the work of the sound designer. And it's not true, even if we would like to.

Sound design is not different from graphic design or UX design or others branches of modern works, so there are always some techniques which can be used to measure effectiveness and also efficiency of your production.

When you create something (a sound, a logo, etc.), you create that something for a group of people (the target) with a precise goal (in the case of sound: to convey an emotion).

Surely the first stage is the "instincts, aesthetics, taste & experience" of the sound professional himself/herself, who builds a solid ground. But a second step is optimising, that's to say moving to the goal direction, thanks to the feedback of someone else, who must be external and give judges on what he/she is listening and the feeling. He/she could be a director, a coworker, a skateholder, a tester, a listener chosen carefully among the ones in the group of targets people.

I know that this is not so common in the sound field, but I guess that many from UX design and Product design techniques should be derived and applied here. In some cases they are called usability tests or focus groups, but the goal is the same: to have feedback by targeted people in order to figure out the right direction of a product.

Professionals working in the Audio Branding field are experimenting with this now and I guess this is a very important direction. Did you ever read something fromt he work of Charles Spence? You should google it.

As you can understand, I' very interested in this topic because just in these days I'm studying and planning an experiment to measure effectiveness with music.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.