Seems like it's all been done before…

What do you do to create your own style/voice/signature? How do you avoid (or embrace) the clichéd and the tried-but-true approaches to give the impression of something new and original?

Do you find technology working for or against you in this pursuit?

8 Answers 8


This will be a good one to see answers on..! :-)

I've found the following to be true through every creative field I've tried.

Style/signature: I've never sought a style or signature. (Hmm, hard to make that not sound self-aggrandizing!) I want every piece to reflect its emotional core and narrative. For a project to be interesting, I prefer to really vary the approach every time, a combination of Zen "beginner's mind" and drawing a subset of techniques from a superset of knowledge and experiences, which come from many disparate influences. But who knows, maybe it's that approach that's my "signature," as opposed to the final output..?

Avoiding cliché: Oh man, that's a hard one. In my experience it's through 90% hard work (75% of which is frustration) and 10% epiphanies (or happy accidents). It's largely about reframing the problem: Turn it upside-down, play it backwards, re-examine the goal or the moment...find some way to step away from the subjective art of it and gain some objectivity, even if that means taking some time to step away, even under massive deadline, to gain perspective. This usually points the way.

Technology, For/Against: Both. It enables so much and yet creates effects that sound alike, or forces certain workflows. I fall into the trap of something sounding cool but not always pushing it to its proper conclusion. Technology provides a shortcut, but sometimes can cut the journey short.

Not sure if any of that is helpful...

  • 1
    Here's an extremely brief and insightful post that really underscores the issue of the effort and frustration of being original: artlebedev.com/mandership/162 ... good advice, methinks. Mar 31, 2010 at 21:05
  • Nice points, Nathan!! Jul 14, 2010 at 22:18

Ideally you are working to fully realise the film, not your "style/signature"

In my opinion you should ask how you can realise the voice of the film - to base the question about establishing or imprinting your style/signature on a project makes me think there are ego issues to be dealt with...

Cliches exist for a reason - they work and/or have worked in the past & I think its like rules - if you learn them, know them and are aware of them, then you also know how to willfully break them, and why. Most films have schedules that allow you to explore the obvious solutions and then evolve past them to create work that uniquely suits the film. And who knows, sometimes the 'cliche' is what is actually required. It isn't always up to you - its the directors film, not yours... I've had to put cliched sounds into films at a directors insistence that I never would myself (eg the wilhelm, the desert hawk etc)

Seems like it's all been done before…

I couldn't disagree more with this statement - sound and music in the context of film is so incredibly deep - the more you do, the deeper you realise it goes. You only have to look at the incredibly rich & vast range of films being made in the world to see how diverse and deep the contribution that sound and music have to make. Every film is a unique new world that requires unique new work from every person working on it....

But the bottom line is: what best serves the story?

re technology: you own it, not vice versa - it exists to serve your sentient acts

  • Tim, I appreciate most of your answer but find your "ego issues" comment offending and incorrect. Of course each film requires its own voice, but I hear unique styles and voices in the work of many sound designers. Mar 30, 2010 at 21:39
  • There is no need to take offence if it doesn't apply... I was specualting and if I speculate wrongly then there is no issue - can you explain your motive for wanting to "create your own style/voice/signature" please? And give examples of sound designers who style is so apparent? I definitely notice that people like Randy Thom, Ben Burt etc consistently produce excellent, unique work that is beautifully suited to the projects on which they work, but I am intrigued as to who you are referring to?
    – user49
    Mar 31, 2010 at 18:56
  • I think every artist has the desire to establish a style or "voice" in everything they do, whether a musician, painter, sculptor, sound recordist or sound designer. It's what sets you apart from everybody else. It's what makes you more desirable in a very competitive market. I believe clients recognize and seek it out. Examples? Both Randy and Ben have styles that I have come to recognize, as do other talented artists like Richard King and Harry Cohen. It's hard to quantify what their voices "sound" like (forgive the pun), but they all have a signature they can call their own. Apr 12, 2010 at 5:44
  • @tim prebble and @birdhousesound To be brutally honest, I watched Munich and had no idea that Ben Burtt had done the sound design. He didn't put a "style" into it that I easily recognized because he didn't have light sabers and laser blasts to create which he is equally as good at doing as a straightforward suspense film like Munich, but I found it hard to recognize it as Ben Burt doing the effects. I did however recognize certain elements in Wall-E as coming from Ben. Mainly the laser blasts...
    – Utopia
    Jul 14, 2010 at 21:48
  • Absolutely brilliant answer Tim. I was questioning the question before opening the thread, because to me sound design when it's done to someone else's production is about giving in the personal style/taste and more about focusing on thinking sound in the way that the production asks for it and the solution (the sound) can be original or unoriginal, but what matters is the vision that led to it + the final production. I really question "originality" most of the time, when it's about audio, especially when it's about music, because distinguishing original sound/style nowadays is very difficult. Apr 21, 2012 at 20:28

I try to avoid believing the 'experts'.

And break all rules. If it sounds right, it is right.

There's really no right and wrong. If you know the rules of dynamics, loud and soft, high and low, you can do anything.


My basic premise is this:

"Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing the ordinary extraordinarily well." - Angelique Arnauld

The folks you mention, such as Burt and Thom all do this and it's part of their unique "voice".

Pardoxically, I found once I gave up TRYING to find my own voice, I found it. It's kind of a Zen thing I know, but once I just started DOING, my own "sound" came out. I don't hear it, but I've been told I do have one. Perhaps it's a matter of perspective...

As far as technology goes, my belief has always been that you need three things for good sound design - two ears and a brain. Having said that, I really wouldn't WANT to give up my toys :)


I'd like to preface my answer by saying that I believe I have yet to create something truly "original." Every edit I make, fader I move, or plug-in I tweak is still an offering of thanks for the knowledge that has been passed on to me by teachers I know and an homage to those I have never met, but have certainly heard.

Maybe I haven't been doing this long enough (only 11 years), but I think I actively fight finding my voice.

After working with me on a number of projects a co-worker of mine said, "I can always tell you sound designed a show, it's always.." and then went on to describe what he thought was my style. The very next project I deliberately abandoned every method and characteristic that he described and did everything I could to start with new ears. The same co-worker came to me with a smile after the playthrough, "was it something I said?"

I think that my biggest fear in finding my voice/style/signature is stagnation. To me, stagnation in creativity is death. I have since begun to re-incorporate aspects from that original "style" but it is a conscious effort, used at appropriate moments, rather than an unnoticed flow.

That being said, I do find merit in the argument that by having a recognized style you'll have a tendency to be highly marketable to the clientele that your style fits well with. But styles can be trendy, and I hope to do this for a lot longer than a trend's cycle.

This may just be my relative inexperience and ignorance, (after all, I do keep a busy calendar but am hardly in demand) but I'd rather have a reputation for being a dedicated worker, a creative thinker, or a talented professional that can get the work done regardless of style. That's something that I actively work on every day that I still haven't gotten on top of.

As far as technology goes, it's all wheels, hammers, and levers. That is to say, technology is just a tool. How I think about the tool and it's relation to the problem is usually what determines my success or failure in using it.


I often remind myself that it hasn't all been done before, as every recording/listening situation is unique. No matter how banal or typical something may appear there is always an infinite number of variations that can be done. Its only your own view that can prevent you from seeing (hearing) this. If you ever doubt this, challenge yourself to find to two pairs of ears on this planet that look or even hear the same way.

Technology is just another tool. If you feel constrained by it, change it.

What I find the most difficult to change are the ingrained perceptions, beliefs and expectations of audiences. Remember, it took years for people to even accept that sound should be added to film.

Patience is work too.


avoiding a clichè is kinda hard, the director who knows the clichès more than anyone, doesn't think them as bad but rather normal, and you just don't fight the one who hired you :) Though I try and give anyone an alternative. Though they decide in the end.


To create is to originate. Sound can´t exist in a vacuum, so sound and music recordings or ideas inevitably exist in and connect within a myriad of complex contexts and systems. Of course there is no absolute right or wrong, but there are questions of quality of sensation in listener and in creator.

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