Sound effects are an important part of video and film production.
As a general rule, sound effects should be set at a volume level of between -12dB and -18dB in most video editing software. Although the volume level of sound effects will vary, they should never impede on your main narration or exceed 0dB.
What Should My Audio Levels Be?
Setting audio levels in your videos and mixing the right audio levels for sound effects can be tricky. This is a learned skill that you do get better at with practice.
As a general rule, your overall mix level should be between -10dB & -20dB, with main dialogue in the -6dB to -12dB region, background music in the -18dB to -20dB region and sound effects in the -12dB to the -18dB region.
|Audio Type||Guide Audio Level|
|Overall Audio Mix Level||-10dB to -20dB|
|Dialouge Level||-6dB to -12dB|
|Background Music Levels||-18dB to -20dB|
|Sound Effect Levels||-12dB to -18dB|
Sound effects, in particular, can be tricky as every sound effect is different, for example, a loud “explosive sound” must be handled differently from a quiet door knock.
When mixing sound effects as part of a larger soundtrack, it is often best to treat each sound effect independently, or of the quality of sound effects are very large, to lump similar sound effects or ones with a similar dB level together.
To learn more about setting audio levels for background music, including examples, this article covers this area in greater depth.
What Do Negative Numbers On The Decibel Scale Mean?
If you work with video editors and mixing audio, you will notice that on such systems we deal with audio in the negative decibel region.
The golden rule when mixing audio for video, including sound effects, is to ensure that the audio levels never exceed 0dB. If the audio levels go above 0dBs when recording or producing we will get distortion.
Yet, if we talk about environmental sounds that we hear in our daily lives, for example, a jet engine, this has a decibel level of around 150dB.
Therefore, decibels and the unit measurement of volume can get really confusing!
To understand decibels it is important to point out that the decibel is not an absolute measurement of sound but is a comparison with a reference value.
A good comparison is the Celsius temperature scale where we can have hot and cold temperatures, with 0 Celsius representing the freezing point.
With the decibel (dB) system, 0dB is the lowest sound the human ear can hear.
But, when we change the context of the decibel to working with audio technology, 0dBs is the loudest value before distortion begins. When mixing audio in the video, we must never go above zero.
Therefore, whether decibels is negative or not depends on context, and in the context of audio technology and audio mixing, 0dBs is a ceiling, above which distortion happens.
What Is The Ideal Audio Level For YouTube Videos?
Mixing audio levels for YouTube can be a little thicker than first expected once you start digging and reading all the different recording advice online.
As a general rule, YouTube normalises its audio output at -14LUFS, as a result, ensuring your audio is between -11LUFS and -13LUFS is a good range for video production volume levels for YouTube.
I have explored this area of audio levels for YouTube in much greater depth in this article:
Setting Audio levels For Video Recording
When recording audio levels for video recording it is essential to keep an eye on your recording levels to ensure that the audio recorded, be it dialogue or sound effects, are loud enough to be heard well but not so loud as to clip.
The following is an excellent explainer video for setting the audio levels for videos:
How Are Sound Effects Created?
Sound effects can be recorded on location or in a studio.
As a general rule, sound effects are created by recording the sound on a variety of high-quality microphones, namely a high-quality stereo microphone and a high definition sound recorder.
When sound effects are being recorded, multiple recordings are done to ensure many variations and the best sound is recorded.
These recordings are then taken to a studio where they are catalogued and listened to, to chose which sounds will be used and which sounds cab be deleted.
Sound Processing of Sound Effects
As a general rule, sound effect recording engineers will aim to record a sound effect as true as possible and apply as little post-processing as possible.
This reduces the amount of time working on the sound and gives the best and most accurate representation of the sound.
However, for many outdoor recorded sound effects, it may be necessary to apply sound processing to remove environmental noise such as wind and traffic.
The typical post-processing applied to such sound effects would be EQ (equalisation) to remove the noise and compression to increase the volume.
Is Recording Sound Effects Difficult?
Recording sound effects is a skill and art form with some foley sound artists dedicating their entire career to the recording of sound effects.
For Hollywood and high-end sound effect recording artists, one of the biggest challenges is finding a believable sound to record and ensure it is true to what is required.
For example, if you want a sound effect of a jet engine, you need to record a jet engine to get the best effect and have the necessary high-end microphones to do so.
In addition, trying to record on location can pose a lot of challenges as often the environment is not quiet with lots of background environmental noise such as traffic.
Where Can I Download High-Quality Sound Effects?
Personally, I recommend Envato Elements as a leading provider of high-quality, royalty-free sound effects. With over half a million royalty-free sound effects on file, it is very easy to find something that will suit your work project.