Step Five: Perfecting your sounds

After you have found music and sound effects for your sound design, you will want to make sure they are just right. Sometimes a song starts at the wrong place or gets too loud at a certain point. Sometimes you need to loop a sound or add an effect to it.

Although my digital audio workstation of choice is Ableton Live, Garageband is free and comes preloaded on most Macs, so I will be using it for demonstration. It has many features, but I will only cover the ones most necessary for basic sound design. For a more detailed tutorial, check out Udemytutorials or Macworld. Below is the basic Garageband workstation.


You will first want to drag whichever sound file you wish to edit to the track labelled Audio 1. From here, you can control its volume, adjust its length, and add effects.

First, we will adjust the length of a sound effect. I made a sound effect of a scream, followed by a gunshot, and I want to cut out the scream. To do this, I will drag from the top left of the sound file (circled in red) to the beginning of the gunshot so that only the second sound plays.

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Second, we will adjust the volume. I wanted my sound effect of dogs growling to fade out slowly after 5 seconds, so I clicked the fader button (circled in red) and clicked the yellow volume line to create three points (also circled). I then dragged the second two down to created a gradual fade out effect.

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Next, we will loop a sound effect. This can be useful if a sound needs to be playing throughout an entire scene. I am going to loop a sound effect of waves splashing. The sound effect starts with one loud splash that I only want at the beginning, however, so we will need to skip that for subsequent loops. I created a new track, and used my volume sliders to make the audio switch between the two tracks on a loop.

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Finally, we will add an effect. I want my gunshot to sound like it is coming from far away, so I am going to add reverb to it. To do this, I hit the mixer button (circled in red) and adjusted the reverb knob. Perfect!


Feel free to ask questions in the comment section, and make sure to follow Staging Sounds for more information about theatrical sound design!


Step Three: Finding Sounds


(Photo by Ernest Duffoo)

Now that we have developed a sound, we must find music and sound effects that we can use in our sound design. Although small theatrical productions usually fly under the radar of copyright law, and can therefore usually get away with using almost any copyrighted material, it is better practice to use only sounds that you have created yourself, those that have been licensed under creative commons, and those in the public domain.

Creating your own sounds

You should always figure out which sounds you can create yourself first. This can be more difficult than pulling sounds from the Internet, but it will assure that the sounds are not protected by copyright. Additionally, you can record them exactly how you want them.

Microphones can be expensive, but sometimes you can get by without buying fancy equipment. Some schools have microphones that can be rented or borrowed, so it is a good idea to check with your theatre/music/production department. If not, the microphone on your computer or phone can often pick up acceptable sound.

Finding sound effects online

Below is a list of the best free sound effect websites:


Even more high quality sound effects are available for a price across the web, but you will likely be able to find almost any sound effect you need through these websites.

Find music online

Music can be much trickier to find than sound effects. A gunshot is a gunshot, but one poorly chosen song can change the mood of an entire play. This is where the previous step comes in. Below is a list of websites where you can find free music. If you were open a website and pull whichever songs you came across for your sound design, you might have a very disconnected end result. As you listen through the music in these websites, keep your desired “sound” in mind so that you can stay focused. It is okay if your sound changes as you listen to music, but make sure that you maintain cohesion.


Using these websites, you will never need to pay for any music you use in your production. Just make sure to credit the original creator of any sounds you use!

Follow Staging Sound and stay updated to learn how to choose the perfect music for each scene.