With regards to myself, I started making music first before discovering sound design and now find that this is in turn working its way back and influencing my compositions: my choice of timbres, how I compose the piece and particularly the sources I use - in my sound design work I tend to record everything myself (for the moment anyways) and have started incorporating this into my music using it overtly as samples and/or covertly such as in a piece I'm working on at the moment where I cut up a crowd stereo ambience I recorded to get some interesting glitch sound.

Most of my music is Electronica / IDM / Glitch kind of stuff so I think in my case it lends itself easier to the composition process perhaps more than dance styled music and definitely in regards to pop and rock.

So how do you find your Sound Design skills influence your compositions (and production techniques)?

The Arrangement?
Source Choice?
Mixing / Editing?
Frequency range?
Instrument / Timbre selection?
Choice of Effects?

OR do you have different approaches for the two?

Be interesting to hear your thoughts and opinions :)

Please mention what style(s) of music you mainly create in or are referencing in your response as it'll help give an indication of how well it applies to different genres.

There is also a SC group created by 'Lenny' where some SSD members have posted tracks if people would like to join and share their music: http://soundcloud.com/groups/social-sound-design/tracks

3 Answers 3


I will apoligise in advance for going all heavy on you, but I find the question thoroughly fascinating.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. The basic question was, am I a sound designer or a musician? The answer that I've come to is that they're actually the same thing. It's just a question of the metric you're working under. Music is the organization of sound with its nexus at harmony, dissonance, and tonality. Sound design is the organization of sound under the rubric of texture and harmonic structure.

I guess my argument is that there are so many points at which the two overlap - adding EQ and reverb to music, tuning sound design elements to fit with the key the score is written in - that you kind of can't differentiate between the two.

But it also to a degree depends on what kind of music/composition your talking about. I make mainly IDM-ish, aleatoric-ish, heavily sample-based music. So all of the sounds that I use I have made myself, and made to fit a particular part of a particular piece. So, in short, yes. My sound design skillz do influence how I make music.

What I find so interesting about the question is how the two topics are related. If you look at the other side, the more "traditional composers" - I shudder to use the term - take already well established sounds and weave them into hitherto unheard configurations, something that I hate doing (probably because I'm bad at it).

For my own ears, I find myself more and more uninterested in music made with traditional physical instruments. To a great degree they have in my eyes become cliché (or perhaps I'm just a disenfranchised, jaded, sound snob. Who knows?). However, to many people the what-the-hell-is-that-godawful-racket music that I make is, well... a godawful racket. So who knows? It really depends on the scale by which you measure your sounds.

I have come to the conclusion that simple musical composition - i.e. composing music for established sounds: oboe, flute, guitar, drums, piano, &tc. - is really macro sound design. It's kind of like the relationship of chemistry and biology to quantum physics. Chemistry and biology are in effect macro-quantum physics, the study and manipulation of the effects of quantum interactions. By the same token music is the manipulation of quantum-aural interactions. Sound designers manipulate the wobbling strings on the micro level that give shape to the atoms which composers combine into complex musical molecules on the macro level.

However, I don't think that that necessarily implies any kind of value judgement (which I really don't want to be construed as making here). Sound Design is not any more deep, complex, subtle, moving, and intense than Macro-aural music composition, they're just different angles of looking at the same thing.

  • I've definitely had people hear what I've made and think I left a lot of coins in my jeans when the dryer is running. :-) Great answer, Dr. Harry. I think most good musicians can swing both ways: Building compositions around sounds, and building sounds for compositions. I wonder which came first for the Inception theme, for example: That deep bwaaaaaaa or the melodies that flitter around it? Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 15:35
  • 1
    The feeling I get is that they were in the studio working on it, thinking, 'man, this is missing something, but I don't know what.' Then an 18 wheeler drove past blaring its horn and everybody turned to look at each other and went Duuuuuuuuuude!
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 16:10
  • Damn @g.a.harry this is a fantastic answer. I saw a lot of myself in it but you worded it much better than I could have. Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 21:18

Sound design is completely inseparable from my compositions these days. When I sit down to write, my natural output takes the form of abstract sound-scapes. Setting up a complex modulation and processing the results is just too alluring NOT to do!

If I were writing traditional, tonal music then my answer might be different.

  • Ha, so funny seeing you here since I just messaged you an hour ago on Linked-In. I didn't know you posted here now (I've been sick and away from the web for a few weeks though). Welcome aboard! Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 1:42

I find that my music and my sound design are very symbiotic and constantly influence each other heavily. Since I started out making Industrial, Electro, Experimental, Noise and Ambient music it's been like this since the start. Likely because those genres have a strong focus on found sound and experimentation.

I also do sound design in the music realm as a preset designer for companies.

I do have to say that a decent chunk of my music output is quite danceable and features a ton of sound design. You can find my work here: http://soundcloud.com/syndicate-synthetique

I design mostly everything from scratch, whether it's my synth patches, dsp presets, samples, etc. I never use loops and presets are only jump off points at best. That is unless it's a sample playback synth/sampler for an acoustic instrument or something along those lines. I'm obviously not going to be mucking about with a good solid Cello patch in Kontakt if I still want a solid Cello patch. I also might use a one-shot from a sample library for percussion at times if I can't make it myself. For my music as well as much as I possibly can with my post work I prefer/strive for completely personally created/captured original content unless there's some sort of personal or artistic value or maybe financial, technical or unavoidable reason or limitation requiring the use of a source not created by myself or gifted and approved by a friend and/or colleague.

Sure, we all have to hit the library at times. Sometimes more than desired but I try. It makes me happy and feels amazing when it can be done.

Edited by moving my following additional comments to my initial comment/this main post. Sorry if this gets a bit long... It's a good topic that ripped the gag off of me concerning a lot of current issues I've been navigating. I'm sure there are a lot of others out there (and here) that are dealing with similar scenarios as well.

I also intended to comment that I find it strange that Music, Theater and Post all have sound designer positions, yet they think of, regard or classify them in very different ways. In my opinion I find them all, at their very base core to be essentially the same since they all involve creating something out of nothing and you're effectively "designing" sound(s) in the end. So while each sector has it's own quirks, slight differences and add-on's... It's all seemingly a different format or market to me with mostly negligible and some major technical differences. I'm equally at home designing a sample library or preset collection for music as I am making a sound effects library or doing sound design for picture (and even any other audio post task) as well as selecting and triggering sounds and mixing for theater or mixing live sound. Audio Post and Music have my focus, the most experience and strengths, but I'm capable of doing an standard/acceptable and potentially great job with the other fields.

There are post sound designers than can't make music and musicians that can't "design" their own sounds... or even making their own presets. Just like there's musicians and recording engineers that can't record / make their own music. I find that in todays market, I'm extremely lucky I can do both competently considering what little work there is and budgets typically being at 1/4th-1/10th what they used to be pre-9/11 (Yes, there are exceptions). I'm now pushed to market myself and my services in ways I never needed or considered doing and providing services I never wanted to (I hate doing ADR, yet I can do it well and accept the gig if it pays decently). To me, music is very personal and I don't like it being "for sale". With audio post I'm absurdly creative, yet I'm ok with suggestions and changes since I understand that it's not about "my vision". It's about the story and the directors vision. The line is easy for me to draw and navigate in that respect. Thus I've been tapping into music with preset & sample libraries with the odd score/music spot & I'm ok with that.

Since I've opened myself up to music for other projects/people it's given me a new challenge. Sometimes I surprise myself and I totally nail it to a point where it seems that it's almost too easy and I was born to do this. Then there are other times I think I nail it and they now say they want(ed) something totally different (or they changed their minds once they actually heard what they originally described and asked for, which is entirely possible and highly likely imo). I mostly think they changed their mind as opposed to me understanding them incorrectly (but then again we're all biased towards our own work and own decisions). So in the end it seems that either way it ends up being a challenge. I'm now left wondering if long term score composers have to deal with the same thing or if I'm just still too wet behind the ears with this particular type of gig. Music is very subjective to one's self as well as to clients and others, whereas sound design is largely pretty cut and dry with the odd bit of subjectivity when dealing with extremes.

I'll stop running my mouth now though. I'm going on a bit much and need to get back to work now.

Ok, Good Topic!

  • Yeah, my post is heavily edited/shortenex too. We should have a competition some time and see who can go on for longest.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 11:35
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    @g.a.harry - Ha! You're on! In all seriousness... it may be because we have insight coming from both disciplines. Or I just like to run my mouth. Personally, I like to share my knowledge and experience. I'm appreciative of all those who shared with me and I always wished (and still do) that more of them were around, so I'm sort of always returning the water to the well I suppose. I'm leaning towards that it might be the fact I like to run my mouth. :) Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 16:31
  • @g.a.harry and @Syndicate Synthetique It's very nice to see such in depth and thought through feedback guys, it means a lot. Though I'm new on the sound design scene I do like to contribute my knowledge/experiences where I can so am particularly happy that there are those out there with more experience who do like to get involved and 'give back' as it where... or those who just like to run their mouth :P Really appreciate it guys!
    – Alan Pring
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 18:10

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