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The Basics of Sound Design: 5 Things to Know

Are you trying to dive into the world of sound design but don’t know where to start?

Look no further because we’ve listed five crucial things you need to know when starting your sound design journey.

1: Learn the Basics of Synths and Sounds

Sound design is a creative work that involves tech-heavy production, and with that comes the need to learn a lot of “pro terms.” 

The more you know about sound design, the easier music production will be for you moving forward.

Let’s start with a term you’ve probably heard thrown around a lot. What is a synth?

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates different sounds depending on its setup.

Synths can be physical, like a piano keyboard plugged into a computer or monitor. 

They can also be purely digital on your computer as a part of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) like Garageband, Logic Pro, or Ableton.

When you play anything on a synth, unique sounds will be made. Let’s understand what makes up a sound.

The four basics of the makeup of sound can be abbreviated into ADSR.

  • Attack – How long a sound takes to reach full volume
  • Decay – How long a sound takes to lower to its second volume
  • Sustain – How loud a sound is when it gets to the second volume
  • Release – How long a sound takes to fade out completely

All four parts of a sound can be altered in synth software using filters, layers, and effects.

REMEMBER: People learn differently. You might want to watch YouTube videos on sound design that are easier to follow.

2: Get Good Equipment

Now that you know the basics of sound, how do you begin? First, you need to get the necessary equipment.

You’ll need:

  • A computer
  • A quiet room
  • A digital audio workstation software (For example, Apple Logic Pro)
  • A wavetable synthesizer software plugin (For instance, Xfer Serum)
  • Studio monitors
audio monitors
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First up, the basics. Having a computer and being in a quiet room would be best. It doesn’t have to be soundproof, just quiet enough that you can hear the sound properly.

When you’re set up, look for a wavetable synthesizer plugin. An excellent choice for beginners is Xfer’s Serum plugin. This is what you’ll be using to create your unique sounds.

Next, you’ll need a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Apple’s Logic Pro or Ableton Live. This is where you’ll plug in the wavetable synth. This will allow you to save the sound and organize it linearly.

Finally, it would be best to have accurate studio monitors (speakers). Getting a cheap, $10 speaker won’t cut it. 

You need studio monitors to hear all the frequencies in your sound and make proper adjustments. You may want to look at the popular studio monitors out today.

WARNING: Before buying any software, ensure it’s compatible with your computer. For example, Logic Pro only works with Apple computers.

3: Have a Target Sound in Mind

Now that you’re finally set up, you need to think about what kind of sound you want to create. 

The worst mistake most beginners make is jumping in and playing around with the sounds without thinking about what they’re doing.

It’s best to start with the end in mind. For example, you can start by trying to make a good bass drum sound more electronic and distorted.

You won’t get lost because you’re already looking for a specific sound. Try to imagine that sound, and you’ll know when what you’re creating is close enough.

KEEP IN MIND: If you feel lost and don’t know where to start, try listening to music from genres you love. All artists get inspiration from somewhere. Just make sure you don’t exactly copy the sound. 

4: Always Read the Manual of Your Software

Another mistake that budding sound designers make is diving in without knowing what all the knobs and buttons do. 

Think about it. If you have a sound in your head that you want to create and hear yourself, how will you get it? 

If you start overwhelmed with complicated rows of buttons with labels you don’t understand, you won’t be able to get that sound.

Read the manual of the software you’re using thoroughly before playing around. Most DAWs and synth plugins have free downloadable manuals.

PRO TIP: Keep the manual open in another window while you work. The manual is only a swipe away if you get lost or don’t know how to operate something.

5: If Something Sounds Off, Backtrack a Bit

While you edit your sound, there will be many times when something sounds wrong. 

Instead of nuking the whole program and starting from scratch, try removing some filters or effects. Even easier is to control/command + Z to undo.

You might find that you’ve added too many contrasting effects or filters to your sound and that removing them makes it sound fuller.

This will save you a lot of time instead of starting over. Crucially, you’ll also learn through experience which effects, filters, and layers work well and which don’t.

Once things start to sound right, you can continue editing your sound.

TAKE NOTE: Try to keep note of the effects and filters that don’t work with a specific sound you’re going for. Keep it in a readily accessible document so you can save time on doing it via trial and error next time.


The hardest part about getting into sound design is the steep initial learning curve. 

There are many confusing terms and professional jargon that your head may start to spin sometimes.

Remember that music production, later on, will be so much easier to understand if you know all about sound design.

The most crucial thing is that you take your time, don’t rush in, and keep these five things in mind when starting your journey.

Featured Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash