Aurally Enhanced: Life Through The Ears Of A Sound Designer
Updated: May 25
Everybody knows that Sound Professionals tend to develop an enhanced perception of sound and music throughout their career (even if some hearing loss takes place).
We would like to walk you through how a Sound Designer perceives the world around them, and give you an understanding of how this can affect your lifestyle and experiences.
Over time you start to hear more details when working: lower noise floors become more audible, shorter transient clicks perk up your ears and the frequency content of sounds can be split into bands within your brain. This helps you make micro decisions much faster, and saves your clients lots of time. When working in Film/TV specifically, you have to be able to make judgement calls quickly in order to meet deadlines as a Sound Designer, so this developing perception really does make a difference.
The world's soundscape starts to become more apparent, noises feel louder and 'silence' feels more pleasing. The sounds of nature become more soothing, things that you would place in a film in peaceful moments such as birds chirping or water lapping become relaxing and your brain seems to be more in tune with the natural world.
You also find interesting tonality and musicality in everyday sounds. Multiple car horns can form a rhythmic melody, friends telling exciting stories now have a Major tonality, while pain and sadness in speech follows a Minor tonality. Any sounds which are digitally triggered around you, now leave a lasting thought process of how they were created - "was that synthesized or was it a real recording?"
You find inspiration every where you go. Every sound has the potential to be transformed into something that might work on the next project, at times this can be very distracting, but mostly it is a blessing. You appreciate the finesse of the Sound Mix when sitting in a cinema, and know that you may be the only one in the room noticing that moment where the animals moved to the rear speakers ever so slightly.
You experience ASMR on a whole different level. Beautiful and soft voices make your spine tingle and give you the compulsion to want to hear more. Delicate and closely miked sounds make you happy and content.
All of this does have its downsides of course, which leads on to...
The Not So Good...
You tend to also develop the opposite side of ASMR; Misophonia. Since you spend your days correcting objectively 'bad' audio (dialogue or sound effects with too much noise, clicks, pops, thumps or discontinuity etc), you are conditioned to notice these on a micro level. This means that people who lip smack a lot are almost unbearable to listen to, movie trailers with bad location sound ruin your experience and many online content videos feel difficult to watch.
The artistic choices you make also massively condition you and affect your real world perception. Since tonal wind and crows are examples of common sounds in scary film scenes, it is not uncommon to feel a minor fight or flight response when hearing them as you walk down the street.
You become extremely distracted by repetitive sounds, and find it hard to let them blend in to the world around you. Ticking clocks or even wrist watches can be irritable, car window wipers and alarms are a chore to listen to.
Even though your perception of sound can change for the better, working 12-14 hour days can temporarily fatigue your hearing and you may find yourself asking people to repeat their sentences, which is always a sure sign that you need a break!
It means that we have to take more breaks when working - the rule of thumb is that the longer you work per day, the lower the monitoring level should be.
It can mean that the enjoyment of many events can be hindered by bad sound - movies, gigs, live performances etc. can be unbearable.
Being aurally enhanced is a blessing, and one that should be preserved. That's why many Sound Professionals have to take drastic steps to protect and care for their ears. Swapping cotton swobs for olive oil cleansing is common, as is wearing (often expensive) custom moulded earplugs to protect your hearing at gigs, live shows and in some cases the cinema!
The fact that you can use this developed hearing to create art and offer services is wondeful. The progression of your hearing makes it fascinating to experience life while aurally enhanced.
If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design