How To Create The Most Common TV Show Sound Effect

TV Sound EffectIf you’ve watched TV in the last few years, you’ve heard it. There is a sound effect, usually in cop dramas (though I heard it in an episode of Dr. Who recently!), that always comes in just after a character says something dramatic, almost always at the end of a scene. I think I first noticed it on the CSI shows. Then I started hearing it everywhere! It seems like every TV show producer feels they need to have this effect in their show about 10 times per episode nowadays. It sounds like this:

It’s a really easy sound effect to create using any recording software. I used Reaper. Here is how I did it.

Record a Single Piano Chord

Reaper MIDI InputI started out with a single track in Reaper. I used a virtual instrument – a piano – using MIDI. To do that, simply choose “Input: MIDI” from the Input drop-down menu on the track control panel (see the illustration on the right). You can use any VSTi piano plug-in. I used the one in The Garritan Personal Orchestra. Of course, you can also do this by actually recording a REAL piano:).

Anyway, just record a single hit of any chord. A minor chord works best since they always use this sound effect to increase suspense and drama. Let the sound of the piano die away naturally. If you use MIDI to do this, like I did, you’ll want to render the track, so you have an actual audio file rather than a MIDI file. Then import that back into your Reaper session on a second track. Next, you’ll want to mute the MIDI track so that you are only working withe the audio track from here on in.

Reverse the audio

Now you’ll need to reverse the audio. The reason it sounds so cool and works so well as a suspenseful sound is that the audio is backwards. That allows it to rapidly build from a quiet sound into a loud crescendo, and then just stop suddenly. To reverse an audio track in Reaper, right-mouse-click on the audio item (the blob in the track), and select Item Properties. Then put a check mark in the “Reverse” box at the bottom left of the Item Properties menu and click OK.

That will create your backwards audio. Then all you have to do is drag the left edge (left-mouse-click and hold) of the audio item to shorten it to the desired length. This effect usually only takes about 3-5 seconds.

Reverse Piano FadeFinally, all you have to do is create a long fade-in. Just hover your mouse over the top left corner of the audio item until the cursor changes into the “fade” icon. Then just click and drag to the right to make the fade end just before the last bit of audio.

And that’s it! I did this in Reaper, but the same steps will work in any audio software. All together, it took me about 5 minutes to do. Now you know how to create a cool sound effect for your videos if you have something suspenseful to say:). Or maybe a video producer will ask you if you know where to get this sound effect. Then you could start a whole new sound-design business with your audio recording chops. Stranger things have happened.



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