It’s been a few years since I last discussed how to make custom sound effects and I have been spending that time seeking out more sound effect ideas. Speaking of last year, remember how I noted how one could imitate a cricket using only your mouth? Fred Newman’s MouthSounds has detailed directions on doing so (in addition to mimicking a buzzing fly).
How to Build Hair-Raising Haunted Houses by Megan Cooley Peterson is one of the few modern kids’ books about home haunting that actually provides suggestions about creating sound effects. In this case, she discusses how to make storm effects and the sound of rattling chains.
That isn’t the only book aimed at younger readers which contains sound effects ideas that haunters of any age can use.
Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies by Melanie Watt shows how the sounds of chewing, writing on a chalkboard and clothes in the dryer can sound spooky when removed from their usual context. Although Karen Latchana Kenney’s Cool Special Effects focuses more on the visual side of things, her instructions on creating “Singing Glasses” can be used to create sounds with a mystical or otherworldly feel. Oh, and you know the old “blow across the top of an empty glass bottle to create eerie moans” trick? You can change the sound by adding some water into the bottle prior to blowing! Changing the water level of the “Singing Glasses” also works the same way.
The Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio by Christopher H. Sterling and Cary O’Dell has a fascinating method of creating the sound of screeching monkeys and rats. Although they say to use turpentine, I have seen other sources say using a cork dipped in water can make the same effect.
Robert Gardner’s Experimenting with Sound Science Projects has some truly unique methods of creating the sounds of rain, fire, creaking doors and galloping horses. If you can’t find any heavy cellophane to use for the fire effect, just crush some cling wrap into a ball and record the sound of the ball as it expands. Do you remember the heartbeat sound effect from Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon album? According to Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd by Nick Mason, the effect was created using a padded drum! Those without one can try drumming their hands on a mattress or padded seat instead.
An electric guitar and its related gear can be used to create lots of interesting sound effects. Guitar Shop Series: Tricks and Special Effects by Ethan Fiks shows how to create the sound of a creaking door and two different ways to make bell sounds. I don’t know if he discusses creating a chainsaw sound effect in the full version of the book, so I’ll play it safe and share this YouTube tutorial on the matter.
Musical U has plenty of great articles about creating haunting audio for Halloween. One discusses some novel methods for creating the sounds of chains and thunder, in addition to = a great suggestion about enhancing ghostly wails. I also enjoyed the article about using chords and scales to create scary music. But you don’t need to be a skilled musician to use instruments to make scary audio. A quick screech from a violin and slamming down on piano keys are two great ways to create startling sounds for your custom soundtrack.
The classic old time radio series Inner Sanctum Mystery used some interesting methods to create the sound of a creaking door.
Rick Allen Creative’s website has instructions on creating booming impacts and a cartoon “boing” effect that’s a must for any haunted circus.
YouTube is rapidly becoming the top destination for sound creation tutorials. Here’s an especially impressive one uploaded by SpanglerScienceTV:
I highly recommend playing this. Not only does it include vocal effects, thunder and ghostly wails similar to those heard in 90’s Halloween decorations, but it also shows how to make a slide whistle using a turkey baster! That last one might seem out of place, but can’t you imagine it in a creepy circus? YouTube has many other fascinating tutorials, such as this one about creating clown horn noises with your mouth! It’s also not too difficult to make the sound of water drops with you mouth. If you can’t find the echo toy used in the Spangler video, a modified version of this homemade laser sound device could be a decent replacement. Anyone familiar with Dr. Druid’s Haunted Séance knows how putting a coin onto dry ice can create eerie screams. But did you know that rubbing a block of dry ice against a metal cookie sheet can also produce a different unnerving effect? Be sure to wear heavy gloves while doing this!
The groaning cup effect in the Spangler video can also be modified to create frog croaks. Just use a rubber band or sausage shaped balloon instead of string! You can make your own wooden train whistle for ghost train effects and I have to wonder if those without access to woodworking equipment could make something similar using a carrot flute. Vegetables can be used to create a wide variety of temporary instruments (including an owl call made from a bell pepper). The uploader hasn’t gone into detail about the creation process in a video yet, but he does answer questions made in the comments section. But you can always try making your own owl calls using your hands. The tutorials on crow caws and loon calls might also be of interest. Storm effects can be made with a box filled with marbles or by a group of people using only their bodies! I found another video which has more detailed instructions about using the body method, but the first video I linked to is admittedly more impressive. This homemade distressed rabbit call (which is used to attract coyotes) might sound scary if you altered it with audio editing software. One such program, Audacity, can also be used to make things sound like they’re being played on a radio.
Editing software like Audacity can help you in many other ways. I’ve heard of people altering and reusing thunder effects to use as gunshots and rumbling sounds for a haunted boiler room. You can easily record yourself laughing maniacally, breathing heavily, saying things like “Beware,” screaming, growling, whispering, groaning and moaning. The sounds of scratching, thumping, pounding and muffled yells are also popular, as are using dogs to create wolf sounds. Just be sure to let your neighbors know ahead of time so nobody calls the police by mistake. Even if they don’t sound all that great on their own, changing the playback speed and applying filters can make them much more frightening. You can speed things up, slow them down, play them in reverse, combine multiple tracks and any other combination you can think of to create truly unique results. Taking familiar musical compositions and slowing them down several hundred or thousand times is a very popular online trend at the moment and the results are often disturbing. You could simply record yourself saying “uh…” for as long as you can and make similar alterations in order to get an easy scary drone track. As an added bonus, slowing it down increases the duration of the track! Don’t be afraid to try imitating certain sounds you’re looking for using only your voice. Even if altering it with an editor doesn’t give you the desired effect, you can still try messing around with it to make a different scary effect.
The podcast A Sound Effect has lots of advice on creating your own custom audio, as does Epic Sound’s The Guide To Sound Effects. I also found an episode of HaunTopic Radio which discusses sound effects creation.
You might also enjoy:
Inexpensive Theremin Substitutes
The Apprehension Engine
Gravedigger’s Local 16 is not to be held responsible for the content on or anything that may occur (be it good or bad) as a result of visiting or downloading from any links on the above links (or constructing a project that’s detailed on them). This also applies to the suggestions made here. Attempt at your own discretion.