Room tone definition

For the sound to live and play with all its aspects, one needs not only the skill of a sound designer but also good equipment. The room itself, where the sound is being worked on, is also important, especially for creating a room sound or a room tone. And what is it?

Whether you're recording pre-made or impromptu narration, you'll need to record some environmental sounds, the "silence" sound. During video editing, you can make the silence "sound" the way you want it when, for example, you want to insert a pause or add it before a block of narration. Such ambient sound effects are also called noise or room sounds, and these sounds will never be the same, even if recorded in the same studio and using the same microphone.

Room tone sound effect

This might not seem like a big deal, but room tone is a useful tool in video production. For a better understanding, let's look at the situations in which it is used.

Why record room tone

Unlike most other sound effects, room tone can and should be used in any frame of the video, unless you want to use total silence as a feature in a particular frame. Room tone creates the ambience, which is necessary in order not to distract the audience from the story as a whole due to the shortcomings of the audio tracks.

So, as the ambient sound effect, room tone is widely used as:

  • Background for dialogues. Live recordings often don't sound perfect due to interference in the form of wind or fan noise, which we don't normally notice, but which is very noticeable in the audio track. Therefore, dialogue is often re-recorded in the studio after filming. However, such recordings often sound too clean and crisp after processing, which can be too noticeable to some viewers, and room tone helps to smooth this out by adding natural to the ear noise.
  • Shots with no dialogue or music. Be it a shot where the character is alone in the room, or a pause in a conversation, it cannot be left completely silent. The presence of any sound, even a very quiet one, is important. If any part of the video doesn't have an audio track in it, the viewer may think that something is wrong with their device and it has stopped playing sound. So a recording of room tone is used as a background sound in such situations.
  • "Silent" shots. In the cinema, silence has a dramatic expressiveness, being between two segments of the film filled with some kind of sound content. There is still silence in the cinema that "accompanies" the shots, and they, for their part, give it a certain dramatic meaning. Thus, silence can have very different functions, but it always remains an effect of extremely strong dramatic tension. However, as stated above, silence cannot be represented as the complete absence of sound, unless it is a deliberate creative decision. So, if there is no such decision, it’s better to add an ambient track on the background of the shot.
  • Room sound

    These are just a few examples, but they show how important it is to have room sound in the video. Just think of any "quiet" scene in the film and imagine that there really is absolutely no sound at all – for most viewers, such silence will be very uncomfortable as if the sound has been cut off.

    If you are a content creator, there is mostly no need to use the room tone, unless the recordings of your voice require a huge amount of editing. If that is the case, it’s also important to note that you cannot just record a minute or so of it and use it in every video. It can work if you only have a few videos, but otherwise, this may become obvious to attentive viewers which will distract them from watching.

    Silence tone in films

    Plus, each room "sounds" differently – not only the room itself but also the arrangement of furniture in it affects the result. You can test this for yourself by turning off all possible sources of noise and simply listening or recording sound at some point in the room, then moving the furniture and doing it again. Of course, the quality of the recordings may not be perfect, but if you listen closely, you will realize that the sounds in them are not identical. So, if you need to use the room sound, it’s best to record it in the same state of the room as it will be seen in the video.