Post-Production
April 12, 2021

Why Sound Effects Are Essential for Podcasts

By DJ Pangburn 7 min read

Highlights

  • Why sound effects are an essential tool for podcasters looking to improve their audience's engagement
  • See where you can find sounds to use in your podcast, from free to royalty-free
  • Learn how to download the right audio file and edit SFX into your podcast

If you’ve watched movies and television, tuned into radio stations, browsed YouTube or listened to podcasts, you’ve undoubtedly heard sound effects (SFX). A sound effect can be either created through artificial means such as software and synthesizers, or by processing or enhancing natural or acoustic sounds through sampling or Foley art. 

Beyond podcasts and filmed entertainment, you can hear SFX in cartoons, music, video games and many other media. Some effects draw attention to themselves, often in absurdly funny ways, like in comedies or morning radio shows. Other times, SFX are far more subtle and realistic, immersing viewers or listeners in the program’s world. 

Below, we will discuss the importance of podcast sound effects. We will also talk about where to find good SFX, how to add sound effects to a podcast and you’ll get some useful design tips for this vital form of media. 

Why SFX for podcasts matter

Ultimately, podcast sound effects are storytelling tools. This makes them just as integral to an audio or video story as the human voice, lighting, camera or costume design. On a technical level, SFX are part of the overall sound mix. Ideally, they work with speech (monologues, dialogues, interviews, etc.) and music for podcasts to help effectively tell a story. 

a guy talking on a podcast

As hinted at above, you can use SFX to tell a story in a variety of ways. Certain sounds can be comedic, while others can be dramatic, thrilling and even fantastical. The world of SFX is full of many types of sounds, and audio storytellers are only limited by their imaginations in how best to use them. 

Why SFX help you tell a better story

In podcast production, sound effects are crucial to telling a story. Why? A podcast, like a radio program, is an audio format, so podcast producers must heavily rely on sounds in the absence of visuals. 

One notable place you will find sound effects is in the intro to a podcast. A true-crime podcast, for instance, will likely have eerie sound effects to help plant a mysterious and foreboding mood in the minds of listeners. 

For example, sounds like footsteps, crows and wind would help to create an unnerving atmosphere for a true-crime or mystery podcast. For a comedy podcast, you could use a laugh track seriously, or to parody the use of laugh tracks. A travel podcast, on the other hand, will want to have effects that make listeners feel as if they’re along for the trip with sounds like honking horns, ambient crowd noise, airplanes and so on. 

What other benefits do SFX give podcasts?

Beyond the intro, you can use SFX to break up segments, like the beginning, middle and end of your podcast. They can also fill a podcast’s negative space—that is, spots where there isn’t a vocal monologue, dialogue or other audio recordings of the human voices. SFX can also overlap with the human voice to enhance emotions and be used in an outro. 

Before diving too deep into the world of podcast sound effects, think about how much your production needs them. If you’re planning on producing a podcast that reviews music, you might not need SFX. And if you’re making a podcast about cinema, like How Did This Get Made?, in which the hosts simply discuss movies, then you might not need SFX either. But if your podcast focuses on telling fictional stories, for example, then it might be really helpful to think of SFX the way filmmakers do. 

How to find SFX for your podcast

One way of getting podcast sound effects would be to hire a sound designer—someone who either makes sounds with software or is a foley artist or both. However, this can get expensive, especially if you plan to produce podcast episodes regularly. 

Alternatively, you can find free podcast sound effects on the Creative Commons (CC) SFX library FreeSound or YouTube’s Audio Library. Although these two websites are great resources, they won’t have the sonic vastness and depth of dedicated SFX platforms. And you’ll need to pay attention to the specifics of the CC license so you don’t unintentionally violate the creator’s terms of use. 

Where to find royalty-free SFX for podcasts

There are several options for premium SFX libraries. But like the free options, do your research on terms of use, so you can be confident you can use the sounds whenever, however and for as long as you like. 

To that end, royalty-free SFX subscriptions are a great option. Typically, users pay a periodic subscription fee to download sound effects without limit as they like and not pay a royalty (fee) every time they use the sound in a podcast. 

In terms of searching for free podcast sound effects, use the platform’s search functions. On Artlist, for instance, you can browse sounds of Sci-Fi machines and atmospheres. You can also search in folders for sounds of crowds, weather, transportation and many other SFX categories. These are helpful tools for finding the right SFX for your podcast.

What Gear you need for editing SFX into podcasts

To edit podcast sound effects, you’ll need a few tools. If you’re already producing a podcast or plan to soon, you will probably have some of these tools. 

First, you will need a computer, ideally one with the computing power to handle audio production software. Then, you’ll need the right audio editing software to edit and mix your podcast. 

guy editing a podcast with sound effects

We’ve talked about how to add sound effects to a podcast before in our article about essential podcast gear. If you haven’t read it, here’s a brief summary. If you have a Mac, try editing your podcast on Garageband. Yes, it’s entry-level and included on all Mac computers, but it’s a capable audio editor. Like more premium options, Garageband will allow you to drop SFX into your audio timeline, although your editing options will be comparatively limited.  

Another option is Audacity, which is free for both Mac and Windows computers. A really popular option amongst podcasters is Adobe Audition, which you can download with a Creative Cloud Subscription. Audition, as well as Apple Logic and Pro Tools, will give you more robust features for editing your SFX into your mix. 

Remember, in learning how to add sound effects to a podcast, take your time and practice. Listeners typically don’t respond well to poorly produced audio. 

SFX sound design tips

As we noted in the podcasting gear post, it’s best to keep your use and editing of SFX simple when starting a podcast. When it comes to sound design, Don’t try to do too much or get too fancy or tricky. 

How to experiment with SFX

Eventually, you might want to get fancy and tricky, and that’s okay! Before you do that, practice audio processing and editing. The last thing you want to do is to throw just any SFX experiment into your final podcast mix. 

How to get a smooth transition between SFX, vocals and music

Similarly, practice folding your SFX into your podcast’s vocal and musical tracks. You will want a nice, smooth transition between these three elements. Making these audio tracks gel is yet another reason why you don’t want to do too much at first. 

With lots of practice and experimentation, you will learn how to create final podcast mixes with a seamless and professional audio flow.