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What is Sound Design? Well, it's a common question. And it's my hope to clear that up for you in this less than three minutes. My name is Todd Mack, and I'm a professional sound designer. Sound designers can be found in a variety of mediums, such as: film & television, video games, music, the list goes on. For the purpose of this video, I'm going to focus on sound design for performing arts, theatre in particular.

In short, the sound designer is responsible for everything the audience hears—and how it is delivered to them. So you have sounds, and the sound system—and a whole lot of technical stuff in between.

Creating the sounds commonly involves capturing recordings of “Foley” effects or location sounds, editing recorded audio--such as existing sound effects, music, and dialogue, and so on.

The sound system is designed, with thoughtful placement of speakers, microphones, “live” effects, and whatever else is needed to create the sonic environment in which the story is told.

Some plays use a composer in addition to a sound designer. In these cases the composer focuses on the music. The sound designer facilitates the technical implementation of that music into the show.

Prior to all of this: The director and design team—Scenic, Costumes, Lighting, and Sound. Nowadays, there are sometime video (“projections”) designers too—gather to conceptualize the world their production and work toward designs that complement one another while remaining cohesive to the story and the actors telling it.

Sound design is a discipline. It is creativity in the service of a higher goal, the most perfect realization of a production we can achieve, within the resources we have available.

The sounds and music usually go through some trial and error during the rehearsal process, and evolves as all the technical elements come together on the stage. The sound system is built; the magical radios, phones, TVs, birds is cages and such are engineered to locate sounds effectively on stage. Knobs are turned, buttons pushed, components's a real geek playground.

Your basic straight plays are only half of the sound designers game. When it comes to musical theatre, it's an entirely different skill set put into practice.

The use of microphones for sound reinforcement is an art in and of itself. From rock & roll bands to full on orchestras; actors wearing body mics; a system for everyone to hear what they need through carefully placed audio monitors. And all of this in the hands of a very busy individual who is keeping the balance of every voice and instrument on the stage. He or she is a living breathing part of the experience, a performer in the show.


It is often said that a well executed sound design is one that goes un-noticed by the majority of the audience. This is the highest praise one can give to the one invisible element in a very visual art form.

Much like the play (or musical) itself, you can only truly experience the full impact of a sound design in the theatre watching the show. It is design for that show, in that space, with that production. It does not exist elsewhere and can not be replicated as such. There are no pictures that show the work. There is no demo reel that does the design justice.

So that's it. Perfectly clear, right? In reality this is a hugely oversimplified explanation fo what sound designers do. Every show is different, every difference present new challenges, every challenge leads theatre artists to creating something that didn't exist before. And may never again.

Feel free to ask any questions if you'd like to learn more. You can reach me here through my website. Hope you enjoyed my silly video--Thanks for watching.

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