3.6. Sound and score


The edit is often the first time that problems with sound are noticed and they vary from simple adjustments to unusable sound which can ruin your film. The editing software has a number of tools to adjust the sound of your film but if it requires a lot of work that is often done in another software package specifically for working with sound. A good free software package is Audacity.

Sound, like video, works on a timeline. It is most often visually represented by waveforms, however. When the wave goes up the volume is up and when it dips the volume is going down.

 Sound and score

Sound represented as waveforms in the free Audacity software

It is usual for different clips to have different sound levels and different background noise. It is usually a simple matter to adjust the sound level of each clip so that a consistent volume throughout the film is obtained. Television stations normally request that audio levels peak at -12 or -14db. I usually try to have them peaking at  -6db, however, if the film is to be played on devices such as computers or mobile phones. Any more than this and you are in danger of having the audio distorted.

Transitions and filters

As with video, there are transitions and filters available for sound. Very much as the ‘cross dissolve’ filter for video sees one clip blend softly into the other, ‘cross fade’ is an audio equivalent. If a scene is changing completely into a new scene a ‘jump’ in audio might be appropriate but within a scene ‘cross fade’ helps to make it sound like one continuous recording. The ‘white noise’ that you recorded on set can also be used here to help cover any gaps or jumps in audio.

A range of filters are also available in most editing software and certainly within audio specific software. They include such things as ‘hum removers’ – used to try and eliminate unwanted noise from such things as electronic devices or air conditioning units – and ‘de-essers’ – used to minimize the hissing sound often captured in speech when the letter ‘s’ is spoken. Again, play with these filters to see their effects.

Sound effects

Sound effects can be used to enhance the audio of your film. Many editing software packages have sound effect libraries and there are some online which can be used for free. Some editors carry a digital recorder with them and make a hobby out of recording sounds to create their own original library. Typically, sound effect libraries will include such things as crowds, traffic, nature sounds, cars stopping, driving and stopping, doors opening and closing, screams, gunshots etc.


The score is the original musical soundtrack of your film. Here, however, we use it to describe both original music and pre recorded music. The effect of music on helping to create mood and emotion in a film cannot be understated. Try watching a dramatic scene with the volume turned down and see how much is lost. Again, many editing software packages come with a library of musical loops which are free to use. However, everyone with the same software has access to the same loops so, if you use them, you are likely to see them pop up in other films. You can create quasi-original music with software packages which let you use short musical instrument loops to compose your own piece.

If you do not want to use library music and you are not inclined to create your own you must turn to someone else’s original music. Ideally, you’ll find a great composer who loves the idea of your film and is willing to write an original score for it. This is, unfortunately, unlikely. This leaves you looking at music which is already out there. Here you are in danger of getting into deep water. Music comes weighed down with copyright. When you hear a song playing on the radio you’ll often find that there are three people or organisations who have copyright on what you’re listening too. Firstly, there are the publishing rights. They are held by whoever owns the actual song. This can be the person who wrote it but not necessarily. Quite often the songwriter will have sold the publishing rights to a publishing company. The second rights that come into play are the performance rights. These are owned by whoever is performing the version of the song you are listening too. Somebody doing a ‘cover’ of a Beatles song, for example, will not own the publishing rights but they will own the performance rights of them singing the song. Lastly there are the recording rights. They belong to whoever recorded the song being performed. When you consider that there may be three rights holders for the song you want to use in your film and that they are likely to want money for letting you use the song – if you can find them first – you’ll see that using established music is a tough option. What I tend to do is collect music from young bands who are starting out and who are anxious to get publicity for their music. They will most often own the publishing, performance and recording rights to their work so a simple contract from them granting you the rights to use their work will see you with original music in your film.

If you do use somebodies original music you must have written proof that you have permission to do so. There are simple artist permission contracts that you can use for this. If you neglect to get this paperwork you will not be able to show your film anywhere. There is nothing more frustrating than creating a masterpiece and finding that it can’t be shown because it is in breach of copyright law.

Practical and Written Assignment

Create a sound edit for your film with transitions, filters, music and sound effects if and where appropriate.

Insure you have artist release forms for any original music you use.