This article will discuss the best books for sound design in 2022 for Songs, Films, Games, Live Performance, and more.
Sound design has become a topic of great interest due to the wide application of music and audio in video games, films, and other interactive mediums. In addition, with the coming-of-age technology of virtual reality, 3-D gaming, and metaverse, the application of Sound is finding itself in a great space.
Films are incomplete without Sound. Good Sound can make or break a narrative and drama. Some applications include foley, sound effects, music, dubbing, etc. For all purposes, there are plenty of tools and materials available. However, so much information and content around these topics could get overwhelming.
So we have filtered the best descriptive content around sound design study and made a collection of fourteen books for different purposes and uses. No two books in the list are replaceable by each other. So let’s dive right in and explore the world of sound design.
Top 14 Sound Design Books UPDATE 2022 (Music, Film & Game Design)
1. Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema (1st Edition)
Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema is a good design guide for film sound by Sound Designer/Director David Sonnenschein.
It has a rating of 4.5/5 by 250+ users on Amazon and is 250 page long step-by-step guide on auditory concepts, storytelling, and tips-tricks on doing Sound design for films, television, and any visual medium. You can apply the same principles to your workflow as a sound designer, music producer, filmmaker, and storyteller.
David Sonnenschein has had credits on six different Hollywood films in the sound department, some of which are Dreams Awake, Holding Trevor, and Jack Pierce. In addition, he’s studied neurobiology and has been an instrumentalist since he was eight. That built the foundation of his core knowledge, which he used to combine music, Sound, physiology, psychology, and dreams.
- Specialized for films
The book takes you on a great journey of audio creation for a visual medium, from tips on what to listen to, how to work with the director, consulting before/after the shoot, the relationship between sound and narration and sound and image, studying scenes, analyzing the final editing, creating dramatic transitions, and more.
- Goes Deeper
The book explores the physical nature of sound and its perception of the human ear but also goes a step deeper in understanding sensations, listening mode, space, time, tone, entertainment, feelings, silence, contrast, and other interesting topics.
You will learn everything from physics to the perceived nature to the properties of sound. Plus, it explores musical concepts like rhythm, harmonies, and melody.
- Great Examples
The book takes examples from legendary sound designers like Ben Burtt & Gary Rydstrom to explain the concepts and theories. It gives lots of “try this,” “try that,” and various rules of thumb.
The book is right for anyone who needs to know which book or material to pick up for learning film sound design. However, it’s more theoretical than practical and is practical only in the concluding chapters. However, it gives a great perspective on the art and science of sound design and goes in-depth into the entire process.
So whether you’re a filmmaker looking for a book to understand the basic audio terminology or a sound designer/music producer looking to get into films, this is the right book for you. However, there are better books for learning sound recording, sound editing, mixing, etc., as it has more of a philosophical and conceptual approach than a technical one.
2. Electronic Music and Sound Design – Theory and Practice with Max 8 – Volume 1 (Fourth Edition)
Electronic music and sound design – Theory and Practice with Max 8 is a 592-page book by Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri on an overview of Max/MSP for sound design and musical compositions.
Max/MSP/Jitter is a programming language for music, sound design, and other multimedia, developed in C/C++/JUICE by Cycling’74 and has been in the works since the 1980s but had a stable release about a year ago. The book has a whopping 4.7/5 rating on Amazon and has overall great reviews.
- Experienced Authors
The co-author of the book Maurizio Giri is an instrumentalist, film composer, professor, and an expert in Multimedia sound & computer-assisted music creation. He’s had various books on sound design and Max/MSP. The other c0-author, Alessandro Cipriani, is an Italian film composer and electronic musician.
The book deals with modern-day solutions to sound design, and the tools it teaches are futuristic and advanced. The book will help you with basic sound design concepts and how you can apply them to the software.
- Comprehensive Content
The content in the book includes everything from sampling music to understanding synthesis techniques and managing your workflow with the software. It starts with the basics, like understanding frequency, amplitude, waveform, etc., and gets into advanced concepts like additive synthesis, vector synthesis, noise generators, and other types.
The book is great for anyone looking to get started in Max 8/MSP and wanting to learn Digital Signal Processing. It will help you learn and apply DSP concepts in Max 8 and take you through a comprehensive guide. It’s not a book for learning the fundamentals of sound design, nor a book for film or game sound. It simply deals with various facets of electronic music.
3. The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects
The Sound Effects Bible by Ric Viers guides creating and designing sound effects for films, but you can use it for any visual media.
SFX can be created using samples, synthesizers, or recorded on a foley table or in the field, after which they can be processed to be used and cut into films. Creating these SFX is an art as much as it is science, as it takes up the creative part of your brain and the analytical part, which lets you choose the microphone, room, plugins, etc. The book goes into that entire process in-depth.
- Covers basics
The book starts with a simple question of what a sound effect is and explains its different types like foley, background, electronic, etc., along with the basic science and fundamentals of Sound, and discusses basic concepts like waveform, phase, SPL, acoustics, etc. So it only jumps into sound effects after ensuring the foundations are covered.
- Deep microphone exploration
Then it goes beyond exploring microphones, their types, accessories, and different types of recorders. Further, it discusses the “ten commandments” for recording, which is a great guide. Then it also discusses the location(s), time of day to record, traffic conditions, and other factors that help with effective sound gathering.
- Comprehensive Guide
The book explores foley deeply and gets into digital audio, studio equipment, studio design & workflow, sound editing, etc. The great part about it is that, in its eighteenth chapter, it explores the sound design of ambiance sounds (airport, restaurants, etc.), animal sounds, cartoon effects, crash sounds, and various types of sound effects in detail.
The Sound Effects Bible is for anyone wanting to learn about the a-z of recording and editing sound effects and includes topics like microphone selection, field recordings, digital audio signal processing, foley workflow, and more. It’s great for practical, technical, and theoretical knowledge but doesn’t explore any particular software in detail.
4. Creating Sounds from Scratch: A Practical Guide to Music Synthesis for Producers and Composers (1st Edition)
Creating Sounds from scratch is a detailed book about sound synthesis and its various types.
It discusses everything from analog modeling, FM synthesis, subtractive synthesis, samples-based, and granular synthesis. Hence, it’s one of the best guides for working with synthesizers. You can build sounds using the book, starting with oscillators. Concepts like oscillators, modulators, filters, etc., are discussed in detail.
- Structured Learning
The book starts with the reason it was written and then jumps into hearing and perception to understand sound from a human point of view, not just a physical point of view. Then there are sections like Subtractive Synthesis, Frequency Modulation synthesis, Additive Synthesis, Samples based synthesis, Physical Modeling, and Wavetable and Granular Synthesis.
- Wide Application
With the knowledge, you get from Creating Sounds from Scratch, you can work with anything from a wavetable virtual synth like Massive or Serum to a complex software synthesizer with multiple synth engines like Omnisphere to a physical SYSTEM-8 controller and synth. The principles taught in the book can be applied to creating anything from wobble sounds, bass sounds, synth guitars, drums, percussions, and any sound with any timbre, transient quality, and tonality. You can use it to design sound for films, video games, and electronic music genres like House, Dubstep, modern Funk, modern Pop, etc.
It’s great for electronic music producers, sound designers, film composers, etc., who want to learn how the basics of synthesis work. After reading the book, you can have the theoretical knowledge to understand and work with any synthesizer, regardless of its workflow.
It’s great for virtual/software synthesizers, drum machines, and hardware synthesizers, both analog and digital. However, the book requires basic audio knowledge.
5. Designing Sound (The MIT Press)
Designing Sound is a comprehensive and detailed guide on sound design suited for both novices and experts.
Andy Farnell, the book’s author, is a computer scientist, electronic engineer, and sound designer; hence, the book also has a very mathematical and technical approach to sound design. However, it starts with simple topics and then goes into more complicated stuff, so you need not have a technical background to understand the book.
- Wide Range of content
It’s an elaborate book that starts with elementary physics, then moves to discuss waveforms and their properties, along with oscillators, acoustics, etc. Further, it goes into how sound reacts with different environments, psychoacoustics (perception-based study of sound), sound cognition, discussing listening strategies, and more.
- Pure Data
The book discusses the visual programming tool Pure Data and guides learning the language. It gives you various exercises on different steps and discusses all concepts related to audio in the language in detail.
- Sound Design
The book’s third section gets into sound design techniques and strategies. It discusses various approaches, content, methods, and analysis for sound design. Finally, the book covers advanced mathematical concepts and practicals/exercises in its last section.
The book is great for audio engineers, sound designers, Pure Data learners, and anyone who wants to do a technical and practical study of sound design. The book doesn’t have a philosophical take but can grant you priceless technical knowledge on the topics it addresses. However, the text needs a musical approach toward things.
6. Principles of Game Audio and Sound Design (1st Edition)
Principles of Game Audio and Sound Design is a 300-page book about game sound and other interactive media.
The book covers everything from linear and interactive sound design to procedural audio and raises creative and technical discussions around games, their sound design, spatial audio, scripting, implementation, and mixing. It’s one of the few good books focused on the game sound niche.
The book starts with understanding the role of audio in interactive and immersive virtual environments and then takes the discussion to the game engine, audio engine, and spatial audio. Then it talks about how to communicate with sound effectively, gets into practical sound design, coding for game audio, environmental modeling, and procedural audio.
- Creative + Technical Approach
Principles of Game Audio and Sound Design has a great balance between philosophical and technical approaches, which is quite hard to strike, but the book manages to do so. It gives you practical guidelines, tips & tricks from the author’s experience and a perspective with which you can build your workflow or get inspired.
- In-depth knowledge
The books discuss everything from effects like saturation, compression, delays, etc., to the three-dimensional gaming engine, spatial audio information, syntax, logic, data types, algorithms, etc., of C#. So you can be someone other than an expert musician/sound designer/engineer or a coding expert and still understand the book’s content.
The book is great for you if you’re an aspiring sound designer. It has great applications in games and futuristic Virtual reality, metaverse, social media, and other interactive technologies. One can also apply the same principles in film sound and music, especially in animated films/videos’ sound.
7. Small Signal Audio Design
Small Signal Audio Design is a guide for designing circuitry for preamplifiers, mixing consoles, and other signal processing devices.
The book goes in-depth into analog circuits and boards and guides you on creating state-of-the-art and high-quality audio and effects devices. The book has a thorough explanation with less mathematics. You learn how to create amplifiers, accurate volume controllers, preamps, and other devices with low distortion and minimum noise.
The book starts by explaining amplifiers, their different types, and concepts like noise, dynamic range, etc. Then it discusses components like conductors, resistors, capacitors, etc. Further, there are concepts like discrete transistor circuitry, opamps, filters, moving magnets theory, coil, line inputs, and more.
- Comprehensive Guide
It’s almost an 800-page book with detailed explanations, including principles, design, signal flow, etc. To best utilize the book, you need to know circuit diagrams, audio & electronics terminology, etc., as it’s detailed yet well-written.
- Ultimate technician’s guide
Small Signal Audio Design by Douglas Self has received positive reviews and a 4.5+/5 rating on Amazon, with reviews full of praise. It’s resourceful, well-written, and one of the best books written in the field.
The book requires an engineering background or heavy technical knowledge to understand. It would help if you had a decent or at least beginner-level knowledge of electronics and sound digital signal processing. It’s great for sound engineers, DSP engineers, audio electronics enthusiasts, etc.
8. Electronic Music and Sound Design – Theory and Practice with Max 8 – Volume 2 (Third Edition)
Electronic Music and Sound Design Volume 2 is the second installment of the comprehensive Max 8 sound design guide by the same authors with the same name.
It’s a 700-page book structured primarily for formal courses and provides detailed information about Max/MSP. It takes things up a notch by introducing concepts of digital audio and sampled sounds, polyphony, time-based effects, dynamic processors (gate, compressors, etc.), organizing sounds, and managing presets on the software.
- Study of Computer Music
The book features advanced and updated knowledge about computer music with the finest electroacoustic curriculum that touches upon the artistic use of sampling, including polyphony, block techniques, slicing, timing, scrubbing, and decimation, and algorithms and applications around delays, envelope followers, gates, and more such effects.
- Interactive Content
Electronic Music and Sound Design Volume 2 features images, graphics, and real-life examples to help explain complex concepts of synthesis, digital signal processing, algorithmic composition, and interactive performance as simply as possible. Everything is explained in the finest detail with great visual information and cues.
- Comprehensive Max/MSP tutorials
The book is great for learning the programming language Max 8/MSP, a programming language for musicians, artists, designers, etc. The graphical language uses objects as small blocks to connect, like patches or modular sound systems. It’s also integrated with Abelton Live. The book goes deep into teaching max and offers a great guide.
Electronic Music and Sound Design Volume 2 is a book for anyone interested in the intersection of machine and music and who wants to get into generative or computer-based audio. Max/MSP is a great way to start with that, as it’s easy, interactive, and has plenty of applications.
9. Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design (The MIT Press)
Game Sound is a book about game audio from music composition and sound design perspectives.
It’s one of the few books that also takes musicality into account and does not just cover the technical aspect of the practice. Instead, the book comes from understanding games as a unique and interactive medium and emphasizes using different approaches and practices from films.
- Foundational Philosophy
The book starts with understanding games, giving perspective and context around them, and building a good foundation in the readers’ minds. Then it gets into the history of gaming, why it needs sound, and its importance.
Further, the book covers content like Home consoles, MIDI & iMUSE, Amiga, and the technology, aesthetic, and process of game audio in today’s day and age. Further, it gets into the audio production process, post-production stage, dynamic game music, a compositional approach, nonlinearity, and more.
- Covers multiple genres
The book, especially from the seventh chapter, explores different types and genres of games and gets into realism and immersion in games. It also discusses roles, jobs, and the skills/team required to develop game sound.
The book is for music composers/producers, sound designers, video game developers, voice talent, and audio programmers who want to learn the art and science of creating audio for games. The knowledge also applies to the metaverse, virtual reality, augmented reality, social media, phone apps, and other virtual mediums.
10. Sound Design for the Stage (Crowood Theatre Companions)
Sound Design for the Stage is a practical guide for sound design and creation for live performances.
The stage is an engaging and emotional experience for which performers need sound support to deliver the ultimate show. The book takes you on a journey to creating that experience, and it not just looks at the technical aspects of speakers, microphones, acoustics, etc., but also focuses on the psychology and art behind it, along with tips on networking, finding work, etc.
- Unconventional structure
The book covers script analysis, meeting with the director, conceiving and executing ideas, creative approaches, and content creation. The book’s first chapter is about becoming a sound designer. Later, it also goes into system design, sound reinforcement, and other technical ideas, but overall has a philosophical approach.
Live music/shows and theatrical performances are held in pubs, theatres, Olympic Games, Broadway, and various locations. Sound Design for the Stage offers a guide for all different types of stages, discussing rehearsals, sound checks, show time, and other important theatrical events.
The book is great for directors and sound professionals in theatres. It’s also good for live sound engineers who want to switch to the theatre or are trying to find work/job at one. The book doesn’t have a technical approach, but it is still practical and one of the best guides on theatre sound design.
11. Studying Sound: A Theory and Practice of Sound Design
Sound Design: A Theory & Practice of Sound Design explains sound design concepts, principles, and practical exercises.
The book by Karen Collins covers a wide range of concepts and gives you theoretical audio knowledge, combined with 175 exercises to put the theory into practice. It’s easy to understand and doesn’t require its reader to have a hardcore engineering or musical background.
- Starts with Fundamentals
The book starts with the chapter “Hearing and Listening,” which goes deep into how humans perceive sound and talks about the physiological nature of ears and brain. Further, it goes into the physical nature of sound in the second chapter and discusses concepts like frequency, amplitude, timbre, etc.
- Comprehensive Content
Next, it discusses sound in space and concepts like the doppler effect, reverberation, absorption, diffusion, phasing, flanging, etc. Further, it discusses effects like tremolo, vibrato, EQ, filtering, and different modulations. Next, it goes into mixing, discusses the three-dimensional space, surround sound, and more.
- Auditory Storytelling
The book further explores sound for the story and script and wraps up with how you can apply all the sound principles to create sound effects in films, games, songs, etc.
The book is great for a beginner looking to understand sound design from the ground up. The book focuses greatly on simple and fundamental principles and concepts that apply to sound design in all areas. It is good for musicians, sound designers, producers, engineers, and filmmakers.
12. Sound Design for Film by Tim Harrison
Sound Design for film by Tim Harrison is a guide on contemporary audio design and storytelling via sound.
Tim Harrison is an experienced sound designer, mixer, and editor, with credits in films/TV shows/documentaries like Black Mirror, BBC Comedy Feeds, Elton John: Tiny Dancer, One Last Dance, etc. The author has put all his experience and knowledge guide to cover audio’s creative and technical aspects in films.
The book explores psychology and acting with sound, ambient settings, and space and discusses symbols, metaphors, etc., for sound design. It explores concepts like time and its abstract nature, space, aesthetics, and collaborations.
- Technical detailing
The book covers sound shapes (maps, contrast, and motifs), voice production, post-editing, image spots, and sound-image relationship. It discusses how you can capture sounds and then manipulate them to transform them into something interesting and useful.
- Practical Guide
It discusses practical concepts of roles and jobs in the sound department in the film industry and gives an inside look into how professionals collaborate to create cutting-edge sound design work.
The book is good for anyone who wants to get into film, television, radio, or even YouTube sound design, regardless of whether you’re a novice or an expert, a musician or an engineer, etc.
13. Sound Design For Beginners: How to Make Jaw-Dropping Sounds for Your Song by Discovering the Essential Basics of Synthesis & Sound Engineering
Sound Design for beginners is focused on creating high-quality sounds for EDM songs.
It discusses the ABC of synthesis and the sound design process to create sounds of various timbres, tones, shapes, envelopes, etc. It discusses how a synthesizer works and goes in-depth into understanding oscillators, filters, modulators, and effects. It will help you go beyond presets and build a smart workflow around the sound synthesis.
You can use the book to study sound design principles that you can apply in software and hardware synthesizers of various types, including wavetable, subtractive, additive, granular, physical modeling, etc. You can use the knowledge to create plucks, arpeggios, bass, leads, chords, etc.
- In-depth study
The book’s approach is beginner-friendly, with chapters about “how-to’s” around the uses of the basic building blocks of a synthesizer, like filters, oscillators, LFOs, and envelopes. It also discusses the importance of sample selection.
The book is a 182-page, easy-to-understand guide on the foundational concepts of sound synthesis, design, and production. It’s short and precise yet detailed and focused.
The book is great for music production or sound design beginners who want to learn sound design. Of course, the book is not for you if you’re already well-versed in the basic concepts of LFOs, Envelopes, oscillators, etc. But if you’re someone who finds themselves confused or overwhelmed by the controllers, knobs, and sliders on a synthesizer, the book will help you.
14. Sound Design Theory and Practice: Working with Sound 1st Edition
Sound Design Theory and Practice give you a theoretical language towards sound applications in films, television, and other media.
Leo Murray, the book’s author, has had credits in films like Broken, Soul Bunker, and many short films and documentaries. The text offers a unique perspective and is an interesting take on sound design text, as it doesn’t follow the conventional technical path for explaining sound design concepts and principles.
- Real-life examples
The book includes illustrations from films like No Country for Old Men, FIFA 18, Call of Duty, The Conversation, The Might Conquerer, and other renowned works. There are illustrations from films, documentaries, video games, etc., to help you better understand the world of sound.
Sound Design Theory and Practice start with theories of sounds and then go into audiovisual theories. It uses topics like sound as a sign and analysis with semiotics. It has chapters from King Kong and No Country for Old Men. Lastly, it dives into sound, non-fiction, and video games.
The book is a great guide for students and professional sound designers and offers unique content in a compact 200-page text. It’s an interesting read, with great guidelines from the author. It’s not a book for beginners, as it’s more focused on practicing professionals and sound designers.
We have discussed books and descriptive material on almost every niche of Sound design, whether for films, video games, songs, generative music, or circuit development. Now we will conclude with a final guide on picking the right guide for yourself.
Suppose you’re a music producer wanting to learn sound design and synthesis for electronic music. In that case, Creating Sound From Scratch by Andrea Pejrolo and Scott Metcalfe and Sound Design for Beginners by Screen House is the right books for you.
On the other hand, if you’re into film and TV sound designing, go for Sound Design by David Sonnenschein, Sound Effects Bible by Ric Viers, or Sound Design for film by Tim Harrison. For game audio enthusiasts, Game Sound (The MIT Press) and Principles of Game Audio and Sound Design by Jean-Luc Sinclair are the right picks.
Small Signal AudioD design is for circuit and electronics designing, and Electronic Music and Sound Design is great for learning Max/MSP. Lastly, Gareth Fry also uses Sound Design for Stage for sound designing in live settings. Hope the article was of help. Thank you for reading.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.