Free Sound Effects for Podcasts

A guide on finding the best sounds and making your podcast shine!

Free sound effects for podcasts is something we specialise in and with more published every day there is growing demand. Here at ZapSplat, we have thousands of members who use our free sound effects for their podcasts, so rest assured, you’ve found one of the best resources online, if we do say so ourselves! Whatever stage you’re at, from a complete beginner to a seasoned pro, using sounds and using them right is an essential skill you need to know.

So here in this resource, we will introduce you to our library, give you some suggestions for the types of sound effects you might find useful and also some other resources we feel will be suitable. We’ll also add much more here too, including equipment, software and other tool suggestions to really help your podcasts shine above the rest.

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Okay, tell me more about the types of sound effects I will be using

There are different types of sounds and how you use them will depend entirely on your particular style and genre of podcast. We’re not just talking about categories of sounds here, but also how they can be used creatively. So let’s break it down…

 

Background sounds

Background sounds come in various shapes and sizes. They’re typically sounds which are subtle and can go unnoticed (if added well). They tend to be used to add atmosphere, set a scene or simply to add mood to the work. If your podcast is in a narrative style, you might decide on a sound that compliments the time and space of each scene. For example, a rural ambience with birds and wind for an outside countryside scene, or a droning room tone for something darker.

Using background sounds effectively may mean you need to add effects such as reverb or EQ to get it to fit and watch your levels. All too often I see an independent movie or listen to a podcast where the background audio is far too loud, or too busy, taking away the focus from the dialogue or action.

Sometimes referred to simply as a room tone, atmosphere or ambience, mostly these sounds are long recordings of at least 1 minute (we try to record for 3 to 5 minutes) giving you plenty of length to fit into your work. Using an audio editor (see the list at the bottom of this page for suggested editors) you can trim the audio to the desired length and make any other edits required. If you’ve found the perfect background sound but it’s too short, you can make it longer in a few ways.

Looping: this can be a quick fix, however be sure that the loop points don’t click, or there are no obvious sounds that are cut off at the loop point. Cross fading the loop points is a good way to avoid this. If looping, make sure the audio doesn’t have any glaringly obvious noises that when looped will become repetitive and annoying.

Slow it down: by slowing the sound down, it becomes longer in length. Audio editors almost always come with some form of time and pitch processors, and simply by lowering the pitch, the sound will become longer. The obvious drawback here is the lower pitched sound. It might sound completely unnatural, so use with caution.

Time stretching: Time stretching is a process that changes the duration of a sound file without altering its pitch. This method can work well, however it can also add artefacts to the sound that make it sound very unnatural, almost science fiction like. For me, this is usually a last resort.

Spot Sound Effects

A spot sound effect is different from a background sound in that they’re usually short, precise sounds that can represent an action the result of an action, an event or similar. Some examples of these are things like glass breaking, doors opening and closing, dogs barking etc. At ZapSplat, we try to record and include various versions for many of our spot sounds, often at different intensities or on different surfaces etc.

When using spot sounds, make sure to match the audio with the action or event it represents by intensity and material. All too often I hear people get this wrong. Regularly it’s with footsteps… someone uses the sound of high heeled shoes on concrete for a man walking on mud, which as you can imagine, is all wrong. Sometimes overly exaggerated effects work, like cartoons and animations, however be sure to really consider all the factors to get the right balance.

There are far too many categories to even make suggestions, so I suggest you head over to our main Categories Page to search our sounds.

Production elements

Production elements are sounds used for things such as to enhance, add tension or drama to a scene, transitions, whooshes etc. They are often designed rather than organic or natural. Think of a movie trailer for a horror film and you’ll be imagining all those big hits and impacts, drones and risers that help to make the trailer more engaging and dramatic and really grab your attention. Production elements are likely to be very useful for many types of podcasts, especially to enhance movement between segments and things like that.

The two most useful categories for these are Multimedia and Sound Design

Some popular categories for sound effects you might find useful:

How to use our sound effects in your podcasts

If you haven’t already, sign up for a free account with us. Once you’ve done that you’ll be able to start downloading our sounds and music right away, instantly to your device. There are a few questions we get asked Frequently regarding attribution and complying with our License Agreement, so here we will clear up a few of those questions.

 

How do I credit ZapSplat?

Crediting us is required if you’re a free Basic member. We have made this easy and there are a number of ways you can do it. The most common method is to mention ZapSplat in your  podcast description that the sound effects were obtained from ZapSplat. A simple line of text such as “Sound Effects from ZapSplat.com” is enough, but if you wish to go one step further, you can also credit the contributor, such as “sound effect by [contributor name] from ZapSplat.com. Our contributors aways welcome a little recognition for their work. Or if you prefer, you can credit is verbally in the podcast.

 

Do I have to credit ZapSplat and what if I don’t want to?

As per our License Agreement, yes you are required to credit us as a Basic member. However to remove this requirement, you can upgrade for the price of a coffee which removes the need to attribute us. To find our more about that, click here.

 

Are ZapSplat sounds 100% legal and safe to use?

Yes, they are. We spend many hours recording the sounds you’ll find here ourselves, or strike deals with the creators of other sounds directly. All our sounds are 100% safe to use.

 

How many podcasts can I use them in?

There are no limits. Once you’ve downloaded a sound via our library you can use them as many times as you wish, in as many podcasts (or other projects) as required. All we ask is you abide by the License terms and don’t share our sounds outside of your podcast.

Record your own sound effects

You might decide you’d prefer to record your own sounds and if you do, then you’ll need to spend some money on a recorder. It could be you already have a good studio microphone you use to record dialogue for your podcasts, however if you need to take it out on location, then I’d recommend investing in a portable recorder. These days there are some fantastic options for recorder/microphone combos, but some are way better than others.

I think I’ve owned over 20 portable recorders in my life and have a good grasp on which are better. Budget depending, you might decide to go for one of the following:

The Sony PCM D100 is regarded as one of the best out there. It’s rugged, has tons of built in storage (32GB), can accomodate extra via SD card, has adjustable microphones (X/Y, Spaced, ORTF) and it sounds amazing. It’s got the quietest preamps on any portable recorder I have owned and the battery lasts weeks. I own two and I use them daily. The downside to this recorder is the price. At close to $1000, it’s not cheap but it will be one of the best investments you will make.

Another offering by Sony and again, it’s amazing. It’s much smaller than the D100, but has the same adjustable microphones, internal storage (16GB) and great battery life (charged via USB). The main downside to this recorder is the noisier preamps and more compact interface. However at just a few hundred dollars, it’s well worth the money.

  • Zoom series

Zoom have released so many portable recorders over the last decade and they’re all great. From the H1N to the H6, each comes with their own pros and cons. At the bottom end, the recorders tend to have noisier pre amps and hard to use controls, but towards the top-end, they certainly come close to rival the Sony devices. The Zoom recorders (H5 upwards) have seperate microphone capsules you can add on, from omni directional, X/Y and spaced to shotgun, and are very affordable.

With the Zoom recorders, the higher up the range you go, the more recording tracks you get. If you’re just wanting to capture good quality stereo recordings, I would recommend staying with the H4 or even H2n.

Here are some links to the Zoom series:

Zoom H1 | Zoom H2N | Zoom H4N | Zoom H5 | Zoom H6

Top Pick: Audacity, free audio editor

Audacity

Image copyright of Audacity

While we know many of our users are already using an audio editor to edit and mix their podcasts, for those that are new, we recommend you check out Audacity. It’s free, open source and comes packed with features. One of the biggest advantages Audacity has over many of its rivals is its been around for years and has benefited from many collaborators using the software and working with the team to improve it. While we no longer use it ourselves,  we would if we were in a situation where we had to choose fro the many free editors out there. So we recommend you check it our. The documentation is fantastic and there are tons of video tutorials on YouTube you can watch to quickly master editing and mixing using it.

Here is a breakdown of just a few of the many features it comes with:

  • Audacity can record live through a mic or you can import recordings from other devices
  • Import, edit, and mix sounds and export recordings in different file formats
  • Supports 16-bit, 24-bit and 32-bit
  • Great plugin support, including support for LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and Audio Unit effect plug-ins
  • Non destructive audio editing, including Cut, Copy, Paste and Delete

Download Audacity for free here

While Audacity isn’t the only free DAW out there, it’s one we recommend you try. However you’ll find more here

Tips and tricks for best use of sounds in a podcast

Adding sounds to any form of media isn’t a standardised process. There is a certain amount of technical knowledge required, but also as much, if not more artistic freedom too. I often hear works where people had just chucked the sounds in without too much care or attention to levels, effects and placement. Here I’ll break down some basic techniques you can employ to get most out of adding sounds to your podcast.

Do you really need to add sounds?

Ok, so this first one might make you say, what? But sometimes it’s easy to add too many sounds. In movies and games or projects where there are a lot of visual aspects, it’s easier to justify adding more sfx to accompany what the viewer is seeing. But a podcast, much like a radio production is often (not always) lacking the visual side. Also, if your podcast is more factual, or of a sensitive nature, then adding sounds for the sake of it can not only take the focus away from the dialogue, but also runs the potential of being insensitive.

If your podcast subject is, for example, discussing something like mental health, or something equally as sensitive, often no sound is required, or maybe just some soothing nature ambience subtly playing underneath. The opposite of this could be a podcast that’s setting the scene of action, and you might decide to layer up several sounds to enhance the listener experience. All I can suggest here is think about your listeners, the subject matter and the vibe you want to create and try to use sound effects in a way that compliments it.

Acoustically treat the room you’re recording in

Walk into a radio station or recording studio and you’ll notice they often have foam panels on the walls and surfaces or other treatments that stop the reflections from bouncing around the room. Put very simply, if you are recording in a room that’s not acoustically treated, you may find your recordings don’t sound as professional as some of the bigger podcasts out there. Sound travels around the environment it exists within. Higher frequency sounds move faster and bounce from the walls and other surfaces for longer. This is called reverb. You’ll know the difference in sound when you clap in a large area with shiny walls compared to in a small cupboard or space. That long echo-like sound is the sound bouncing around.

You really want to avoid this to get a clear and clean recording. If you’re on a budget, you can simply lean mattresses against walls, hang up clothes, soft furnishings and anything absorbent in the room. Try it out and you’ll notice a big difference.

Compression is your best friend!

If you’re new to professional audio and post production, then terms like compression might mean nothing at all to you. However, I always say to people, once you’ve mastered the art of adding compression, you’ll never go back to not using it. I won’t go into loads of detail on the fundamentals of compression here, however if you want to know more, read this article.

Put simply, compression acts like a rubber band across your audio, squashing the louder peaks and boosting the quieter audio. It smoothens out the dynamic range, meaning that rather than having lots of loud peaks then quieter troughs, you get a smoother more consistent level. Depending on how it’s used, can add a more solid, punchy sound. Commercial radio tends to use high compression across the audio. For the podcast I record, I always apply some soft compression on recording in real-time, then add more compression in the mix to help balance out the levels between the voices, music and sound effects.

I also tend to use a rough compression when arranging and setting levels for my final mix, then replace with the final compression when bouncing the track down. This helps to get rough levels and not have to make too many adjustments later.

Get the levels right

How loud is too loud? Have you mixed the sound so quiet, no one can hear it? It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s something that people often get wrong. Often the more subtle a sound is, the more natural it’ll sound. That’s not a standard rule, but I find this is often the case. Next time you’re out in public, take a minute to listen to your surroundings. A city ambience for example isn’t all car hors and sirens that a Hollywood movie may lead you to believe. Depending on what your podcast is about, take some time to consider the audio in the context of the listener and ask yourself, is the sound too loud? Is it detracting from the dialogue? Has the focus shifted away from the dialogue and to the sounds? It could be that’s your intention, and if so, great. As I said before, there is no set rule and there is artistic freedom.

I record and edit a podcast every 2 weeks which is based around sobriety. Mostly, the podcast is spoken word only with some music, however to keep the mood light hearted to balance out the serious nature of the message, we incorporate some sound effects. Mostly, it’s things like eating off mic, funny noises or the sound of the audio guy being clumsy. To make these sound like they’re off-mic, we employ techniques such as keeping the levels lower than the live mics, adding some wet reverb to make the voice or effects sound like they’re away from the live mics and set back in the room. Little touches that add realism.

Should I use music?

Just as sounds can add or detract value to your podcast depending on how it’s used, the theme of your podcast and the mood you’re creating, music is the same. Music can be used to add atmosphere, set a certain tone or simply be used as a transition between sections. Most podcasts start with a theme, which could simply be spoken, a sound effect, musical or audio logo or an ident that informs the listener of your identity or brand.

But music can also be played in the background to great effect. Soft relaxing music might add a calming or soothing effect to a sensitive subject, or might tell the listener that the message being conveyed is sincere.

If you’re adding music, make sure the style suits the segment, make sure it’s not too loud as to drown out any spoken words and make sure it’s suitable to the overal feel you’re trying to create.

We have a great selection of free royalty free music here.

Tips for adding music to your podcasts

Music is often an integral part of the listing experience and there are some important factors to consider when sourcing, editing and adding music to your podcasts. Jere we will break down some of the most important to remember.

 

Only use music you’re legally allowed to

Music publishing and licensing is a complex field and it’s becoming increasingly controlled due to clever algorithms, AI and systems that protect composer’s rights. You can’t just take any piece of music and whack it into your podcast. If you use music you don’t have the rights to, then at best, expect the platform you’re publishing your work on to reject it, at worst, you’ll possibly have a lawyer getting in touch.

When a piece of music is created, copyright is automatically assigned to the work and it remains the copyright of the composer until 70 years after they die. Commercially released music normally isn’t published as royalty free, so don’t just rip off your favourite pop track and use it in your podcast.

What you’re looking for is royalty free music, or music that’s been licensed specifically for use in work such as podcasts. There are several libraries that provide music for this purpose and you’ll receive a license to use the music without risk in your work. Libraries such as ZapSplat specialise in royalty free music, so you’ll know it’s safe to use the music. Check out the links at the end of this page which list some alternatives to our own music library if you can’t find what you need here.

 

Don’t let the music steal the show

If you’re adding music underneath your dialog, make sure it’s not too loud and that the listener can still hear what you’re saying. Don’t let the music drown out the important message you’re trying to get across. Also, pay particular attention to the frequencies in the music. You don’t want to be speaking over music that has vocals, as it’ll confuse the listener, and you want your vocal to cut through. Mid range frequencies can interfere with the frequencies of the human voice. Just pay attention to the mix and make sure the music isn’t stealing the show.

 

Fade in and out

A professional sounding podcast pays attention to how the music fades in and out. Subtle fades in and out can help transition between sections, or allow your podcast to end on a nice note. Don’t just cut the music, fade it.

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