Sound design

 A stage play is much more than just a story and some actors bringing life to it. It’s also the lighting and sound design. Let’s talk about the latter.
Sound design is the art of creating sounds and music to decorate different forms of art, from films, theater and TV shows to commercials, podcasts and music itself.
Sound design may define the way a play is perceived by its audience, so it’s crucial to be perfect. There should be both sound effects and musical scores to complement the narration. However, these shouldn’t be too loud or too many, as they may distract the audience.
Let’s understand how the sound design works in a stage play and how it can affect it thoroughly.

Definition of sound design

Sound design is every single sound the audience hears, including music, sound effects, voice overs and each noise produced by a prop.
As a sound designer, you should work with the director after you have read the script. You should, also, watch at least one rehearsal, along with the director and the crew. Then you should make a plan about where you want to put each sound and music and why and then discuss it with the director.
Each stage play and each production is unique, so you need to make a unique sound design. You may have to create music scores or record and remix them and you may have to create foley sounds that are suitable for a scene if you can’t find the suitable sound online.
Remember! The sound should be clear and effective, as this will affect the whole experience for the audience.
Lastly, the direction of each sound, aka the directionality is very important. If a sound seems to originate from the right of the stage, for example, the sound should be heard from that direction, so it seems real. You can achieve that by using directional loudspeakers to focus the sound to a specific space and not spread it across the venue.

Sound system design

If you combine sound design and the devices that produce sound, what you get is sound system design.
Remember that you need to choose wisely the devices you will use to each production, according to its needs. You, as a sound designer, will decide which microphone or speaker to use, its direction and position. You are, also, responsible for its fine tuning.
Keep in mind that whereas every component of sound design is unique, they have to be compatible with one another and work as a whole. This will guarantee that you will get a high quality sound.

The main parts of a sound system

Let’s divide the sound system into smaller parts, so that it can be easier understood and analyzed.


When we talk about the input, we refer to devices like microphones, audio players and even musical instruments.
The sound system is responsible for processing and amplifying the electrical signals.
If you’re using a microphone, these electrical signals are converted by the microphone itself, after the sound has been transmitted through the air.
If you’re using an audio player that uses a CD, let’s say, as a recording medium, the electrical signals will be converted by the audio player.
Let’s talk now about the microphones and how they work.
There are five types of microphones you can use at a stage play: Dynamic, condenser, carbon, ribbon and crystal microphones.
These microphones use a different method for converting sound into electrical signals.
The way a microphone works is similar to the way our ear works. A membrane in the microphone, called diaphragm, moves according to the movement of air particles around it, just like what happens with the human ear.
The most common types of microphones used in theater productions are the dynamic and condenser microphones.

Dynamic microphones

Dynamic microphones are durable, they reproduce reduced noise because they respond well to high sound pressure levels (SPL), they can handle a louder input, since they have low sensitivity and they are great at directionality.

Condenser microphones

Condenser microphones use a low-mass diaphragm, making the microphones excellent in capturing the quick changes in sound pressure and in capturing variations in the air that cycle quickly.
They can be found in very small sizes and can be hidden under wigs and clothes.

Signal routing and processing

After the signals have turned into electrical ones, they enter the mixer. Some sound systems use both a processor and a mixer. The mixer is responsible for adjusting the volume and combining the different outputs, while the processor adds the effects.
Let’s take a look at the different mixers.

Digital mixers

Digital mixers turn the analog sound into voltage waves. They copy and recall settings, while you can switch between different projects. You can, also, control these settings from your mobile phone or any other advice connected to the WiFi.
Digital mixers can accept many input channels, while all the process can be done onboard, without the need of outboard gears.

Analog mixers

Analog mixers produce analog sound and is simple to understand how they work. However, they have less capabilities than digital mixers as they are not very flexible and they lack onboard signal processing, which means you will need outboard equipment.

Powered mixers

Powered mixers are units that combine an amplifier and a mixer at one, which means they are portable and easy to carry while travelling.

Line mixers

The advantage of using line mixers is that you can combine all the sound sources you may have into an output and use the remaining channels for other devices.
What you have to do is check your needs and decide which is the best mixer for you!


Amplifiers are responsible for increasing the volume of the processed audio. They turn the low voltage signals into a signal with enough volume, so it can be used to power the speakers.
They do not improve the quality of the produced sound, they just increase the audio signal levels.
When selecting an amplifier, always take into consideration how much power it outputs.
Speakers are categorized by how much power they need to produce a high quality sound.
If you want to have more headroom, meaning the available “space” to use audio peaks without destroying the system or having sound distortion, it is recommended that you choose an amplifier with a slightly higher power rating than the speakers.


Last, but not least, comes the output, meaning the speakers. The speakers consist of cones and voice coils. The amplifier sends the electrical currents to the voice coil, which is forced to move, forcing, in turn, the cone to move. As the cone moves, it absorbs and repels the surrounding air, creating pressure waves, which are called sound.
So, the speakers are responsible for producing an acoustic sound, suitable for your needs.
There are various speaker system types you can choose from, when you are a sound designer for a theater production, such as line array, point source or horn loaded.
We have already discussed about the importance of the sound design in a stage play, so let’s now discuss the different ways in which it affects it.


 The plot of a stage play is simply a narration without the actors bringing the words to life. However, it would be flat and boring if the audience only heard the words the actors pronounce without some music filling the pauses or without extra sounds completing the narrative.
The sound does not necessarily follow the physical sounds produced by the actors or props on stage; it may be heard outside of a scene and cannot be heard by the characters. If the characters hear the sound or music, for that matter, the sound is called diegetic. If the characters seems not to hear the produced sound or music, then the sound is called non-diegetic and it’s made for the audience’s entertainment.
Underscoring, however, can exist either inside a scene or outside of it. In musicals, for instance, underscoring happens inside the scene, as the actors sing along.

Physical space

The sound can convert a play into an immersive experience as it is linked to the physical space of the stage. If, for instance, the audience is watching a scene that takes place in a busy and noisy street, there should be noises coming from the cars and pedestrians to make the scene more realistic and convincing. However, balance is very important, as these noises and sounds should not be too loud, since it would be distracting and the audience will not be able to listen to the voices of the actors.
Over the years, sound designers have developed their own sources of sound, using everyday items to produce the needed sound and change the way the audience perceives a play.


Scientists have concluded that there are some “things” that can trigger one’s memories and emotions. Among those “things”, apart from tast and smell, is sound itself, whether talking about a simple sound or a musical score. Music can produce positive emotions if evoking a memory.
Effective sound design can trick the audience to believe that what’s going on on stage is real, while it can also extend the physical space of the stage.


When talking about musicality, we don’t necessarily speak about musical scores, we may refer to the musicality sounds have of their own. Sounds can create rhythms that evoke all kinds of emotions. In other words, as a sound designer, you may make the audience feel and react as you wish.
You may, also, use musicality to increase or decrease the pace of a scene, warn the audience that there is a danger nearby, or evoke their memories of previous scenes.
In terms of music, major chords tend to produce happy emotions, whereas minor chords produce sad ones.

Sound design for films

Sound design for films includes all these sounds that mimic everyday life. That means that if, for instance, a scene takes place at an airport, there should be sounds that are similar to a plane taking off, employees and passengers talking, computers clicking etc.

If these sounds don’t exist, the scene will be unrealistic and the viewers won’t be able to relate to the film.

Sound design for Television

Sound design in films and television does not differ that much. The job you have to do as a sound designer in a TV show is pretty much the same you would do for a film. The only different part is that in a TV show, some scenes take place in the same location, so the sounds should have consistency, so that the viewers don’t get confused. So, what you have to do is create a core template for the scenes that are shot in one location.

Sound design for Advertising

Just like in films and TV, the various sounds in commercials must depict the sounds we would hear in real life if we were in these locations. However, these sounds should be just a palette, in a low volume, so that they do not distract the audience and viewers.

Sound design for Music

Although it may sound peculiar, sound design exists even in music itself. Great composers use sound design to their music, combining special effects and musical instruments.

Sound design for Podcasts

In most podcasts, like news podcasts and chat shows, sound design may not be necessary and it may not be used, instead there is just theme music. However, since podcasts is a medium for telling stories, in narrative podcasts, sound designers can create sounds that will transfer the listeners to a different world.

Sound design for Live theatre

Theatre sound design may include voiceovers, music, sound effects and, generally, each everyday sound. In your responsibilities, as a sound designer, is sound mixing, especially if you work in a musical show.