What is Sound Design?

What is Sound Design

One of the most misunderstood areas in the audio world is the alchemy of sound design, and one of the most common questions about is

How can you design something that is ultimately abstract and intangible?

Yes it’s true that sound design is one of the few domains where you can be working with tools you can see on a product that is invisible.

Let’s start with a broad definition of sound design courtesy of Wikipedia

Sound design is the process of specifying, acquiring, manipulating or generating audio elements … Sound design most commonly involves the manipulation of previously composed or recorded audio, such as sound effects and dialogue. In some instances it may also involve the composition or manipulation of audio to create a desired effect or mood.

The end of this definition highlights what is often the key role of sound design — to create a unique sonic world for your podcast to exist in.


Sound design was highlighted in a recent issue of the excellent Hot Pod newsletter in which two prominent producers discussed the role of sound design in podcasts.

To paraphrase Mira Burt-Wintonick, producer of CBC’s popular Love Me podcast,

“[Sound design] is responsible for creating the sonic world of a piece, the space the story inhabits…If you’re not thinking about sound design, why isn’t the story just a print piece?”

Brendan Baker, director of sound design and senior producer of Radiotopia’s fantastic Love+Radio is quoted as saying that,

“If I can replace the words with sound, it usually makes the overall piece feel more streamlined and poetic.”

This is especially prevalent in fiction and, in particular, horror podcasts where sound design is often a driving force in the storytelling narrative. As Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Jeffrey Cranor says

“Horror is less about the monster you see, and more about the monster you think might be there.”

This highlights the great effect that sound design has in podcasts. Far from relying on dialogue to tell a narrative, sound design can play the role of storyteller, scene setter, and world builder all without a single world.