With so many devices capable of capturing video and so many places to post those videos online, it’s clear that anyone with a great idea, passion, and determination can become a video artist. But whether you’re aiming to be the next YouTube star or simply putting together a film for family and friends, sound quality can make or break your project.

Glenn Kiser, director of the Dolby® Institute, moderated a recent panel on sound design for web video at VidCon in Anaheim, California. During the panel, which featured some examples of compelling sound design for web video from Video Game High School and a few shorts from established video studios Corridor Digital and Stoopid Buddy, Kiser and his guests gave attendees a look at how these video artists capture and process sound.

But keeping an ear on sound design isn’t just for larger studios or established series. We caught up with Kiser and independent sound designer Steven Cahill to see what tips they’d give content creators just starting out in web video.

Good sound design can cut your costs

Kiser and Cahill emphasized that sound design doesn’t have to be a large, additional expense—in fact, it can save filmmakers money. Can’t afford to film a huge helicopter crash? Provide the sound of the crash, and your audience will fill in the pictures on their own.

“Per dollar invested, you get so much more bang for your buck out of sound than by shooting more complicated visuals or doing visual effects,” Kiser said. “It’s a great tool to up your production value without having to spend a lot of money.

“We showed a clip at the panel from Video Game High School. It starts out with two people having a conversation, and they’re in the middle of this maelstrom of a war—but you don’t actually see any of that. All of that heavy lifting was done by the soundtrack.”

Think about audio from the beginning

“For the low-budget filmmaker, I think it’s critical to do great sound work,” Kiser said, adding that a video project’s sound design should begin before a single image has been recorded.

“One of the most important lessons is just being mindful about the quality of sound that you’re recording while you’re shooting. The very basic, first thing that we always come back to again and again is: don’t record your sound using the onboard camera mic,” Kiser said. “Always try to mic your actors more closely with either a boom or a wireless lavalier mic.” 

Make sure you’re using quality gear to play back your sound

Cahill was quick to point out that, for filmmakers working on building an audio toolkit, “a great set of speakers would be a really good start.”

Failing that, Cahill said, a good pair of headphones could suffice. Ultimately, it’s all about making sure you’re able to hear what you’re mixing in the highest quality possible, so that by the time it gets to your audience, it still sounds good.

Don’t be afraid to try something weird

During the panel, Freddie Wong of Video Game High School talked about creating unique effects by layering sounds from stock audio libraries. Kiser and Cahill agreed.

“We talked a lot in the panel today about abstract sound design, and I would just encourage everybody to be willing to experiment,” Kiser said.

“It’s such a great, sort of classic trick of sound design: you join two different kinds of sounds that you might not think would go together, and they create something new that’s really unexpected and can be kind of amazing. And it makes your track come alive in a way because then you’re putting stuff into it that people haven’t heard before. It just makes it much more interesting and dynamic.”