bookmark_borderCopyright and Home Haunting

From time to time I get asked by home haunters about performance royalties and copyright.  Most times it has to do with short clips or sometimes even longer segments of music or dialog from movies or other sources.

Recently, I had a great conversation with a representative of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) that helped me bullet point some key exceptions in the public performance of copyrighted audio material; citing from the Copyright Law of the United States, Title 17.

There are four basic tenants to consider for your haunt when choosing to use copyrighted material to avoid infringement of licensed material.

  1. Your attraction does not charge admission
  2. Any money that is collected goes to charity
  3. No direct or indirect commercial use
  4. Your attraction does not pay staff

Of course, there is much greater detail provided in the law itself, and I have provided the specific excerpt of which my conversation with ASCAP was focused.  Not being an attorney myself, this is not in any way a recommendation or specific advice for those looking to use copyrighted material in your display.  I present this merely as a good starting point to understanding the law itself and to be used as a jumping off point in making your decisions.

You can also find the entire, Title 17, document located here.

or at the website

As a Sound Designer and business owner, I will of course recommend you utilize original material in your display to make it unique and specific to your theme.  Also, it is always courteous (and will help protect you) to ask content owners their permission when freely downloading material off of YouTube or any other source that may not have more than, say, a Creative Commons license or who may be posting with the intent of non-commercial use.

For further information, here is a link to another article regarding “FREE” sound.



Excerpt from the Copyright Law of the United States

and Related Laws Contained in Tıtle 17 of the United States Code


Section 110
Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

(2) except with respect to a work produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via Copyright Law of the United States 25 §110 Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

digital networks, or a performance or display that is given by means of a copy or phonorecord that is not lawfully made and acquired under this title, and the transmitting government body or accredited nonprofit educational institution knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made and acquired, the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work, or display of a work in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session, by or in the course of a transmission, if—

(A) the performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution;

(B) the performance or display is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission;

(C) the transmission is made solely for, and, to the extent technologically feasible, the reception of such transmission is limited to—

(i) students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made; or

(ii) officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment; and

(D) the transmitting body or institution—

(i) institutes policies regarding copyright, provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that accurately describe, and promote compliance with, the laws of the United States relating to copyright, and provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection; and

(ii) in the case of digital transmissions—

(I) applies technological measures that reasonably prevent—

(aa) retention of the work in accessible form by recipients of the transmission from the transmitting body or institution for longer than the class session; and

(bb) unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others; and

(II) does not engage in conduct that could reasonably be expected to interfere with technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent such retention or unauthorized further dissemination;

(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;

(4) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work otherwise than in a transmission to the public, without any purpose of direct or indirect § 110 26 Copyright Law of the United States Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

commercial advantage and without payment of any fee or other compensation for the performance to any of its performers, promoters, or organizers, if—

(A) there is no direct or indirect admission charge; or

(B) the proceeds, after deducting the reasonable costs of producing the performance, are used exclusively for educational, religious, or charitable purposes and not for private financial gain, except where the copyright owner has served notice of objection to the performance under the following conditions:

(i) the notice shall be in writing and signed by the copyright owner or such owner’s duly authorized agent; and

(ii) the notice shall be served on the person responsible for the performance at least seven days before the date of the performance, and shall state the reasons for the objection; and

(iii) the notice shall comply, in form, content, and manner of service, with requirements that the Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by regulation;

(5)(A) except as provided in subparagraph (B), communication of a transmission embodying a performance or display of a work by the public reception of the transmission on a single receiving apparatus of a kind commonly used in private homes, unless—

(i) a direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission; or

(ii) the transmission thus received is further transmitted to the public;

(B) communication by an establishment of a transmission or retransmission embodying a performance or display of a nondramatic musical work intended to be received by the general public, originated by a radio or television broadcast station licensed as such by the Federal Communications Commission, or, if an audiovisual transmission, by a cable system or satellite carrier, if—

(i) in the case of an establishment other than a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 2,000 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or the establishment in which the communication occurs has 2,000 or more gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and—

(I) if the performance is by audio means only, the performance is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space; or

(II) if the performance or display is by audiovisual means, any visual portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 4 audiovisual devices, of which not Copyright Law of the United States 27 §110 Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

more than 1 audiovisual device is located in any 1 room, and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space;

(ii) in the case of a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 3,750 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or the establishment in which the communication occurs has 3,750 gross square feet of space or more (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and—

(I) if the performance is by audio means only, the performance is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space; or

(II) if the performance or display is by audiovisual means, any visual portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 4 audiovisual devices, of which not more than 1 audiovisual device is located in any 1 room, and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space;

(iii) no direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission or retransmission;

(iv) the transmission or retransmission is not further transmitted beyond the establishment where it is received; and

(v) the transmission or retransmission is licensed by the copyright owner of the work so publicly performed or displayed;

(6) performance of a nondramatic musical work by a governmental body or a nonprofit agricultural or horticultural organization, in the course of an annual agricultural or horticultural fair or exhibition conducted by such body or organization; the exemption provided by this clause shall extend to any liability for copyright infringement that would otherwise be imposed on such body or organization, under doctrines of vicarious liability or related infringement, for a performance by a concessionaire, business establishment, or other person at such fair or exhibition, but shall not excuse any such person from liability for the performance;

(7) performance of a nondramatic musical work by a vending establishment open to the public at large without any direct or indirect admission charge, where the sole purpose of the performance is to promote the retail sale of § 110 28 Copyright Law of the United States Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

copies or phonorecords of the work, or of the audiovisual or other devices utilized in such performance, and the performance is not transmitted beyond the place where the establishment is located and is within the immediate area where the sale is occurring;

(8) performance of a nondramatic literary work, by or in the course of a transmission specifically designed for and primarily directed to blind or other handicapped persons who are unable to read normal printed material as a result of their handicap, or deaf or other handicapped persons who are unable to hear the aural signals accompanying a transmission of visual signals, if the performance is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and its transmission is made through the facilities of: (i) a governmental body; or (ii) a noncommercial educational broadcast station (as defined in section 397 of title 47); or (iii) a radio subcarrier authorization (as defined in 47 CFR 73.293–73.295 and 73.593–73.595); or (iv) a cable system (as defined in section 111 (f));

(9) performance on a single occasion of a dramatic literary work published at least ten years before the date of the performance, by or in the course of a transmission specifically designed for and primarily directed to blind or other handicapped persons who are unable to read normal printed material as a result of their handicap, if the performance is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and its transmission is made through the facilities of a radio subcarrier authorization referred to in clause (8) (iii), Provided, That the provisions of this clause shall not be applicable to more than one performance of the same work by the same performers or under the auspices of the same organization;

(10) notwithstanding paragraph (4), the following is not an infringement of copyright: performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work in the course of a social function which is organized and promoted by a nonprofit veterans’ organization or a nonprofit fraternal organization to which the general public is not invited, but not including the invitees of the organizations, if the proceeds from the performance, after deducting the reasonable costs of producing the performance, are used exclusively for charitable purposes and not for financial gain. For purposes of this section the social functions of any college or university fraternity or sorority shall not be included unless the social function is held solely to raise funds for a specific charitable purpose; and

(11) the making imperceptible, by or at the direction of a member of a private household, of limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture, during a performance in or transmitted to that household for private home viewing, from an authorized copy of the motion picture, or the creation or provision of a computer program or other technology that enables such making imperceptible and that is designed and marketed to be used, at the direction of a member of a private household, for such making imperceptible, Copyright Law of the United States 29 §110 Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

if no fixed copy of the altered version of the motion picture is created by such computer program or other technology.

The exemptions provided under paragraph (5) shall not be taken into account in any administrative, judicial, or other governmental proceeding to set or adjust the royalties payable to copyright owners for the public performance or display of their works. Royalties payable to copyright owners for any public performance or display of their works other than such performances or displays as are exempted under paragraph (5) shall not be diminished in any respect as a result of such exemption.

In paragraph (2), the term “mediated instructional activities” with respect to the performance or display of a work by digital transmission under this section refers to activities that use such work as an integral part of the class experience, controlled by or under the actual supervision of the instructor and analogous to the type of performance or display that would take place in a live classroom setting. The term does not refer to activities that use, in 1 or more class sessions of a single course, such works as textbooks, course packs, or other material in any media, copies or phonorecords of which are typically purchased or acquired by the students in higher education for their independent use and retention or are typically purchased or acquired for elementary and secondary students for their possession and independent use.

For purposes of paragraph (2), accreditation—

(A) with respect to an institution providing post-secondary education, shall be as determined by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the United States Department of Education; and

(B) with respect to an institution providing elementary or secondary education, shall be as recognized by the applicable state certification or licensing procedures.

For purposes of paragraph (2), no governmental body or accredited nonprofit educational institution shall be liable for infringement by reason of the transient or temporary storage of material carried out through the automatic technical process of a digital transmission of the performance or display of that material as authorized under paragraph (2). No such material stored on the system or network controlled or operated by the transmitting body or institution under this paragraph shall be maintained on such system or network in a manner ordinarily accessible to anyone other than anticipated recipients. No such copy shall be maintained on the system or network in a manner ordinarily accessible to such anticipated recipients for a longer period than is reasonably necessary to facilitate the transmissions for which it was made.

For purposes of paragraph (11), the term “making imperceptible” does not include the addition of audio or video content that is performed or displayed over or in place of existing content in a motion picture.§ 111 30 Copyright Law of the United States Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright 

Nothing in paragraph (11) shall be construed to imply further rights under section 106 of this title, or to have any effect on defenses or limitations on rights granted under any other section of this title or under any other paragraph of this section.


bookmark_border“Watts” Up with the Volume?

A primer on the relationship between Watts, Decibels and Volume

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Watts, Decibels and Volume

Dialing in the right volume of music and sound effects for your haunt or escape room is essential to creating a great immersive experience for your customers.

At one time or another we have all been faced with the dilemma of determining how many watts are needed for our rooms or displays.  Will more watts give me greater volume?  Will it be enough to be heard over a crowd of people up to 30 feet away?

Volume, like music, is often subjective to the listener.  What is loud to one person, may be a perfect listening level to another.  And as we talk further about the variables involved, the answers may not be cut and dry, but the information provided should help develop a guideline in amp and speaker selection moving forward.


Let’s start out with what we know about Decibels

SPL (Sound Pressure Level) calculates the pressure of sound waves traveling through the air from a source of noise in units called Decibels (named after Alexander Graham Bell).  The Decibel unit is actually logarithmic. For now, we will use dB (Decibels) as our reference to sound pressure levels in this primer.

Also note that 0 dB is the unit we use to represent the lowest threshold of human hearing.  In the following chart, pay special attention to entries with distances as well as the Decibel level indicated.

Noise Source Decibel Level Decibel Effect
Jet take-off (at 25 meters)
Recommended product: Outdoor Noise Barriers
150 Eardrum rupture
Military jet aircraft take-off from aircraft carrier with afterburner at 50 ft (130 dB). 130
Thunderclap, chain saw. Oxygen torch (121 dB). 120 Painful. 32 times as loud as 70 dB.
Steel mill, auto horn at 1 meter. Turbo-fan aircraft at takeoff power at 200 ft (118 dB). Riveting machine (110 dB); live rock music (108 – 114 dB). 110 Average human pain threshold. 16 times as loud as 70 dB.
Jet take-off (at 305 meters), use of outboard motor, power lawn mower, motorcycle, farm tractor, jackhammer, garbage truck. Boeing 707 or DC-8 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing (106 dB); jet flyover at 1000 feet (103 dB); Bell J-2A helicopter at 100 ft (100 dB). 100 8 times as loud as 70 dB. Serious damage possible in 8 hr exposure.
Boeing 737 or DC-9 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing (97 dB); power mower (96 dB); motorcycle at 25 ft (90 dB). Newspaper press (97 dB). 90 4 times as loud as 70 dB. Likely damage in 8 hour exposure.
Garbage disposal, dishwasher, average factory, freight train (at 15 meters). Car wash at 20 ft (89 dB); propeller plane flyover at 1000 ft (88 dB); diesel truck 40 mph at 50 ft (84 dB); diesel train at 45 mph at 100 ft (83 dB). Food blender (88 dB); milling machine (85 dB); garbage disposal (80 dB). 80 2 times as loud as 70 dB. Possible damage in 8 hour exposure.
Passenger car at 65 mph at 25 ft (77 dB); freeway at 50 ft from pavement edge 10 a.m. (76 dB). Living room music (76 dB); radio or TV-audio, vacuum cleaner (70 dB). 70 Arbitrary base of comparison. Upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.
Conversation in restaurant, office, background music, Air conditioning unit at 100 feet. 60 Half as loud as 70 dB. Fairly quiet.
Quiet suburb, conversation at home. Large electrical transformers at 100 feet. 50 One-fourth as loud as 70 dB.
Library, bird calls (44 dB); lowest limit of urban ambient sound 40 One-eighth as loud as 70 dB.
Quiet rural area. 30 One-sixteenth as loud as 70 dB. Very Quiet.
Whisper, rustling leaves 20
Breathing 10 Barely audible

Lets Translate

So how does all this translate into volume or “loudness”?  The dB (Decibel) scale is logarithmic because that’s essentially how our ears respond.  A 10-fold increase in sound intensity, measured as a 10dB increase with a sound meter, would feel like a doubling in loudness to our ears.  Another 10-fold increase (another 10dB increase) would feel like another doubling. And so on and so forth.

Perceived Loudness

  • +10dB = 2x the loudness
  • +20dB = 4x the loudness
  • +30dB = 8x the loudness
  • +40dB = 16x the loudness

Now, while these numbers represent a good approximation in perception, they are often meaningless without taking distance into account.  And the most useful tool for us is the distance from the source of music and SFX.

  • 2X the distance from source = -6dB
  • 4x the distance from source = – 12dB
  • 10X the distance from source = -20dB

This is called the Inverse Square Law of Sound.
Find out more at

So Watts Watt???

Now, the real question we are looking to answer here is how the rated wattage of, let’s say, an amp and speaker combination (sound source) might play into determining how loud your music and SFX may be.

Wattage is a measure of electrical power.  When an amplifier processes sound, the output is measured in watts.  Same with speakers.  All speakers have a threshold of watts they can handle.  Look for these key specifications when making your amp and speaker selections.  Also, you will run into amps and speakers operating at particular Ohms.  It is always a best practice to match Amp and Speaker Ohms as to not damage either unit.

For amplifiers: 

  • RMS = the power an amplifier can deliver over a long period of time.
  • Peak = the power an amplifier can put out in short bursts or peaks.

For speakers:

  • Nominal power= what a speaker can handle long term without being damaged
  • Peak power= what a speaker can handle in short bursts without being damaged

And finally (arguably most importantly), look for the Sensitivity of the speakers you are evaluating.  Sensitivity helps determine how well a speaker can process power (watts) into volume (dB).  The more sensitive the better.  The measurement is usually taken from 1 meter (~3ft) from the speaker and you will see it expressed most often in the specs as dB.  Anything less than 85dB is rather inefficient so I’d recommend keeping between 85 and 94dB for the sensitivity as you make your decision.  This will help keep the following numbers more accurate in association to Decibels.

Watts to Decibels

Watts Decibels
2 93
4 96
8 99
16 102
32 105
64 108
128 111
256 114
512 117
1,024 120
These numbers are indicative of a distance measured 1 Meter (~3 Feet) away from the sound source.

Look at the 2-4 Watt range.  Did the numbers surprise you a bit? Looking at our table earlier in this primer, at 1 meter (~3ft) away from a 2-4 watt amp/speaker combo, your sound source will be comparably as loud as a power mower, motorcycle at 25ft away, or standing near a newspaper press.  As the watts doubled, did you see how the dB level changed by only +3dB ?

For a real life comparison, I’ll use a Scream Box (Sorry, Out Of Stock) .   I get a lot of questions about how loud something of that “size” is, and my customers are often surprised.

The Screambox can produce about 1 Watt of power and is in the 85dB range of sensitivity.  So with 1 Watt of power you will be able to generate approximately 88-90dB at 1 meter away with only a 1 Watt amp and speaker!  Pretty cool huh?
Now granted there are many other variables to consider here.  Other noise in the vicinity, groups of people absorbing sound, room absorption (furniture, walls, reverb), etc.   But when used as a jump scare or with a prop where people are within 3-5 feet of the Screambox, they will definitely get a great effect!

But if we think about a room, let’s say, 10×10 and you want to fill it with sound, taking in the variables is really important.  The more furniture you have, or possibly actors, reflective surfaces such as walls and ceilings, as well as your customers will impact the amount of air you can move.  My rule of thumb tends to be to get something that is loud enough that you have to turn down, not up, to get the desired result.

Let’s say in the same room you have an amp/speaker on one wall and because sound emanates in a sphere, you want to throw it at least 10 feet across the room and still be plenty loud to hear.  This is where the Sound Inverse Square law comes into play.

So, let’s say we have a 60 Watt amp/speaker combo that gives us about 105-108dB 3 feet away.   If we double that distance to 6 feet away, we now have about 99dB.  Double that again and we now have 93dB left over and just about to the edge of the farthest distance in the room.  Still pretty loud at this point!


Remember that for you, your actors and your audience that prolonged exposure to loud audio can cause ear damage.  As a rule of thumb, prolonged exposure above 70dB can cause fatigue and anything above 90dB at more than 8 hours can cause permanent damage.


Overall, the point to remember in this primer is that there are LOTs of variables involved in assessing the right amp/speaker setup for a room and it is almost always subjective.  The numbers given in this article are meant to be used as a guideline for determining the needs of a room or display.

But one thing remains very certain.  Bigger does not always mean better in this case.  A quality amp and speaker are going to produce much better sound and volume at lower wattages than lower quality amps and speakers at higher watts.  It’s all about the details.

Looking to find out more or get additional details?  Just ask!

Contact Me

Oh, and if you’ve never seen “This Is Spinal Tap”, here’s the scene I’ve referenced in the introduction to this primer.  Enjoy!




bookmark_borderFree Or Not To Free

A Few Thoughts on Free vs. Paid Audio

Now you might think this brief guide might be a bit slanted toward purchasing audio vs. downloading for free.  As a person who makes their living creating audio for Escape Rooms,

Haunted Attractions and Video Games I would much rather you make a purchase from me rather than download audio from the Internet.  However, my thoughts on Free vs. Paid Audio really comes down to what works best for your attraction.

With that being said, I thought I’d offer a few tips to those looking for audio and how to best go about getting what you’re looking for and understand what it is you might be getting.

The “Rights” of FREE

When it comes to electronic media on the internet, there is an abundance.  You can’t type in a search for any one thing and not get pages and pages worth of download options whether it be audio, pictures, video, blogs, etc.   It truly is a wonderful time!

When it comes to audio (like photos and art) there are always copyright, creator and owner considerations to be made.

  1. Someone took the time to create or record the sound, mix it, render it and post-it
  2. There may still be usage conditions that need to be followed
  3. Even if you pay for it, read the licensing terms and make sure you have the right to use it in public or,
  4. if you plan on distributing it, you may have to pay for additional licensing or royalties.

Ultimately, getting what you need may come down to simple courtesy.  If you find a piece of audio, a musical track or sound effects that really meet your needs, contact the person who posted them.  Find out if they mind you using them.

Creative Commons

Something else to keep an eye out for is a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work on conditions the artists chooses.

Getting What You Want vs. What You Need

When I’m shopping, I try to create two columns for myself to understand my desire, vs. requirements for my hard-earned dollar.  (usually comes down to raspberry filled donuts vs. deoderant…  but I digress)

For Example:

If your Haunt or Escape Room doesn’t really need a custom-made track or SFX library because you are on a budget, and have spent a majority of your resources on a build and/or other components, you may only NEED a simple soundtrack or SFX that will help augment what you have built.

If you are in your second year, looking for a better immersive experience for your customers or simply want to invest in better audio, you may WANT custom sound design and music that is commiserate with your attraction and is designed around your theme and specifications.

Quality and Originality

When it comes to quality and originality, it is not unheard of to be able to get something like that for free.  However, remember that anything you download can be downloaded by anyone else, so being “Original” in your audio isn’t necessarily something you can truly do in this case.


Quality isn’t so hard to do for free, but keep an eye out for some specs.  Here’s a quick list of what to look for.

  1. How does it sound to YOU? Is there unwanted background sound?
  2. CD Quality = 16bit/44.1 kHz
  3. Film / DVD Quality = 16bit / 48kHz or higher
  4. MP3s are compressed and lose fidelity and dynamics for the gain in smaller file sizes. However, look for or ask what the Kbps (Kilobits Per Second) is.
    1. 320Kbps = Best.
    2. 192Kbps = OK. Musical tracks lower in Kbps than this should be questioned or listened to thoroughly before downloading.
    3. 64-192Kbps = Generally good for individual Sound Effects depending on dynamics and volume.
  5. Stereo or Mono
    1. For the fullest sound, Stereo is often the best route to take for musical tracks. However, always test your Stereo track to ensure that any hard panning doesn’t negate the audible experience.  For instance, if you have a stereo track and one speaker or another speaker not in close proximity, and a musical piece of the track is panned hard left or right, only one speaker will pick up on the audio and the other will sound “dead”.
    2. Mono is great for individual SFX! Mono also reduces the size of the file.  When played back in Stereo, Mono is very forgiving and will play in both speakers equally.




As mentioned earlier, if it is something you can download for free, so can everyone else.  Like your design, we imagine that there are often times you want to present something new and original to your patrons.  That’s where having music and sound effects that are recorded, created, mixed and
mastered to your specifications comes into play.  I often like to compare it to the props, designs, lighting, décor and overall visual detail you put so much hard work into.  Audio just happens to be another important piece of your immersive environment.  Do you get something off-the-shelf or design it to meet your needs?


When you ask the question, “Where can I get some great audio for my Haunt, Escape Room, etc.” you will get a plethora of answers.  The trick to making that decision is knowing what you want and, perhaps when.  As I mentioned, maybe this is your first room or display and you need to get up and running quickly.  Maybe Free is the way to go for now.  Down the road, you may want to augment and be more discerning in your audio and have something custom created for you.

Remember, it’s all about you and what you want versus what you need.  Just make sure that with the countless options out there, you find what you’re looking for that will make you and your customers happy!



Ken Webster is a professional sound designer who enjoys creating new and original soundscapes for Escape Rooms, Haunted Attractions and Video Games.  He also enjoys helping others get the most from their audio and welcomes any questions or feedback you might have.

Something of important note.  This is a general guide and opinion.  I am in no way a lawyer or otherwise able to give you legal advice.  This is for you to explore more fully as needed.


bookmark_borderThe Importance and Implementation of Surround Sound

Implementing surround sound has always been one of my greatest joys in sound design.

Last year I had a customer approach me who had been working out an idea for a seance room for his home haunt.   You can imagine how excited I was to learn that they were looking to implement a 5.1 Surround system!

The scenario was simple.  There was an animated, talking skull in the center of the room that interacted with guests while summoning and warding off spirits from the afterlife around the room.  The 5.1 setup entailed using the center channel as the “talking head, or narration” and the signal controlled the animation to the skull.  Left, Right, Ls and Rs channels were used to have the disembodied voices “float” around the room in a question and answer fashion.   The LFE or Sub-Woofer was used for the occasional Thunder to invoke a bit of dread and doom.

Music and atmosphere played consistently on a looping 1 Hour track on both the Left and Right speakers.  From a sound design perspective, it was just a matter of assigning the voices to different channels over time, and allowing for movement from one channel to the other in seemingly random directions over that 1 Hour period.

We designed the track so that customers would hear a similar scenario start every 10 – 15 minutes during that 1 Hour loop.  And I’m happy to say it was a great success!

Now we know that most haunts are designed to encourage a more rapid flow of customers.  That’s not to say that surround would be out of the question if designed to give the effect in shorter time frames and even lead people from one room to the next.  You can also think of surround speakers merely as audio channels.  In this case you have 5 channels (or perhaps 7 depending on your gear).  Why not a soundtrack that has effects play in succession that lead down a corridor?  A disembodied voice, the sound of walking feet through water, creaking boards, someone above you or below you?  It does lend itself to some very creative scenarios once you layout the design and start engaging the sound design.  And that LFE?  Mmmmm…  low frequencies.  Explosions, Thunder, Growling, Rumble…. Instead of a subwoofer, why not rig the floor with a ButtKicker for some moving and shaking as customers walk through?  So many possibilities!

Another reason my client went with surround as a home haunter was the accessibility and lower cost of components.  You can purchase surround sound systems now for incredibly low prices that will do the trick.  And, plugging in a loop-able DVD that’s preconfigured for your scenario is an easy way to get up and running fast!
Which leads me to the most captive audience I can think of.  The Escape Room guest.  Here is a perfect opportunity to use surround in so many different ways.  If we boil it down, you are really just asking your sound designer to assign sound effects to various areas of your room at particular times in 1 Hour.  (Unless of course you are going for triggered sounds).  But the use of surround in an Escape Room can certainly lend itself to an immersive experience in practically any scenario or theme.  And again, the entry costs are minimal in a basic setup using consumer, off-the-shelf surround systems to do the heavy lifting for you.  Imagine the experience of being in a room with a Pirate theme and the ocean waves crashing all around you; the deep creaking and bowing of the ship is accentuated in the LFE at the same time Lighting and Thunder jolt you as you’re solving your mystery aboard a ship doomed to crash against the rocks in 1 Hour if you don’t get out in time.  Wind and the sound of gulls move from one side of the room to another to give that much more reality to the theme.  You get the picture.

The possibilities are almost endless, and something I would love to see more Escape Room and Haunts take advantage of.  Affordability, ease of setup and versatility all add up to a great experience for your guests, and a lot of fun for you and me to start creating something a bit unique or at least tremendously memorable for your customers.

Let’s get started shall we?

bookmark_borderSpeaker Wire Guide

What gauge do you need?

Wire thickness is identified by its American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire. Thicker wire presents less resistance to current flow.

Relative thickness of wire gauges, drawn to scale (not actual size).

Thick wire (12 or 14 gauge) is recommended for long wire runs, high power applications, and low-impedance speakers (4 or 6 ohms).

For relatively short runs (less than 50 feet) to 8 ohm speakers, 16 gauge wire will usually do just fine. It’s cost-effective and easy to work with.

Ask your advisor to recommend the proper gauge for your installation.

How much wire do you need?

To figure out how much speaker wire you need, run a string from your receiver or amplifier location to each of the speaker locations. Measure the string, and then add a few extra feet (to provide some slack for easier connection to your gear). Then add a few more feet, just to give yourself a margin of error.

Recommended Wire Lengths Based On Ohms

Gauge AWG 2 Ohm  4 Ohm 6 Ohm 8 Ohm
18 AWG 8 Feet Max 16 Feet Max 24 Feet Max 32 Feet Max
16 AWG 12 Feet Max 24 Feet Max 36 Feet Max 48 Feet Max
14 AWG 20 Feet Max 40 Feet Max 60 Feet Max 80 Feet Max
12 AWG 30 Feet Max 60 Feet Max 90 Feet Max 120 Feet Max



bookmark_borderYour Hearing and Job Safety

Recording the sound of Gun Shots

The CDC reports:

“Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illness in the United States. Each year approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to noise loud enough to damage their hearing.”

The is a staggering figure and is commonly associated with trades involving construction, live entertainment, aircraft maintenance, industrial work and so on. Often, our hearing health is taken for granted when it comes to our overall work safety and is one of the more easily preventable health risks through the planning and use of:

  • Ear plugs
  • Decreased exposure
  • Workplace layout and design
  • Low-noise machinery and equipment purchasing agreements

What I also find important to note is office place noise and its impact to our physical as well as psychological health. Elevated workplace noise has been shown to cause tinnitus (as well as noise induced, tinnitus has also been shown to be caused by anxiety and depression), hypertension and overall can be distracting and potentially lead to inefficient work practices. Especially in open office environments that have been the trend for many years now.

7 Ideas for Reducing Noise In An Open Office

How Do I reduce Noise

Being conscientious of the noise in your work place is the first step in remediation. In an office, find out from your employees if noise is a distraction and if it impacts their work or day-to-day interaction with colleagues and clients.

Other informative articles and websites


bookmark_borderWhat’s That Noise?

In our post, Pre-Production and Field Recording, we talked a bit about pre-production and things to think about before recording audio. In our summary, it came down to planning ahead and thinking about what could cause unwanted signals from being recorded and how to mitigate some of them.

But what other noise might we consider? Before we dive in, let’s talk a little about dynamic range.

In the context of audio and music, dynamic range demonstrates the ratio of sound from lowest to highest in audio equipment and musical instruments. This is measured in decibels (dB). It allows us to understand the maximum output signal and to rate a system’s noise floor.

Why is this important? When thinking about your recording levels, there are a myriad of sounds being recorded at any given time. Your equipment, no matter the quality, has a self-noise that makes up your Noise Floor. The environment around you constitutes an additional amount of audio that you are recording. And finally, your reference or source signal (the sound you actually want to record) makes up the rest.

For example, you may get a bit of hum or low level noise from your cables or your digital audio recorder. You may also have some self-noise coming from your microphone. As we increase the gain, these levels become more prominent. But because these levels should generally be lower than our source signal, they may go unnoticed or be candidates for some equalization and noise reduction in post-production to lessen their impact to the overall recording. However, the more we can attenuate the noise in our recordings before post, the less headaches we will likely have.

The trick here is to make sure that your source signal is recorded at the highest possible level, well above the noise-floor and environment. As you increase the gain, you are getting more of the signal you want. A good rule of thumb is to use your ears AND eyes during recording. Your meters are there for you to get a sense of the level at which your signal is being recorded, and your headphones are used to get an overall sense of your environment. That is why we want to determine our levels by the meters and not our headphones (which are almost always adjustable to their own output levels and do not represent the level of our recording). Also remember to not clip your recordings. In the context here of digital recording, any time your meter goes “RED” your levels are too high and the audio signal will result in distortion or clipping. There is no easy method to recover a clean version of the audio once it has been distorted.


  • Interpret and gauge your recording levels with your eyes
  • Understand your environment and the sounds being recorded with your ears
  • Noise-Floor consists of equipment self-noise such as microphones, digital recorders and cabling.
  • Environment noise consists of wind, rain, dogs, trains, cars and the like.
  • Dynamic Range demonstrates the ratio of sound from lowest to highest in audio equipment and musical instruments.

Some terms and specifications for microphones to keep in mind

The point where the microphone distorts. Characterized by clipping, crackling in the recording.

Higher ratings tend to be better, but there are microphones that have lower Max SPL that are used for vocals, acoustic instruments that do not need to have a high Max SPL.

Self noise (Equivalent Noise)

The amount of noise the microphone itself creates. Characterized by hiss, white noise.
Lower ratings are better
< 16dB

Dynamic range
The range between self-noise and Max SPL.
Higher ratings are better
> 128dB

Signal to Noise ratio
The range between self-noise and the reference signal.
Higher Ratings are better

Happy Recording!

bookmark_borderPre-Production and Field Recording

Capturing the Ocean Chaos


Today it is easier than ever to purchase high quality digital recorders for audio recording. Whether it be for film dialog, “wild” sound capture, Foley or otherwise, prices have dropped or at least stabilized for microphones, field recorders and digital audio software.

Even still, what remains is a demand for quality audio that comes not just from the device you choose or the microphone you select, but how you use them to get that fantastic quality of sound before post-production. If you have the quality gear, then the following very simple tips might help you get the most out of it. Not everything is fixable in post-production!

Plan, plan and plan some more.

If there is one thing that you can do to improve the quality of your audio recordings, plan ahead before you press record. This ranges from knowing your environment and the challenges you might face for ambient noise, to having a good sense of what you are recording.

business-idea-831053_1280  Are you filming a documentary? Get familiar with whom you are recording and how they react to having a microphone near their head or a lapel microphone attached to their shirt.

Filming outdoors? Check out your location a few hours ahead of time. How many planes just flew by? Are there dogs around that might start barking when you and your crew arrive?

How about that road nearby? Are you filming at a time near rush hour?

Indoor production? Check out that refrigerator. See if you can turn it off during those really important takes. (Be sure to plug or turn it back on!). HVAC. What a killer to an otherwise great take. See if that can also be turned off or is there another room you can shoot in?

Most importantly, get that room tone! It will come in handy later for you or those who will be laying down the mix.

Script Notes

A lot of times we are going to be following some sort of script. Take the time to get familiar with aliens-scriptthe environment, transitions, sounds that might actually be part of the scene, etc.

For example, if a scene calls for an actor to answer their phone, see if you can grab the audio of a phone ringing before Production. This not only provides clean audio for you to use as Foley, but you have just impressed the Producer / Director when you have this in your stock library and have saved them some time in both Production and Post-Production. Nice job!

Cell phone

It’s a given now that most everyone on your set, including you, is going to have a cell phone. It’s 2000px-no_cellphone-svgnot enough to have everyone set it to vibrate. The device needs to be turned off.
It is very likely no matter how good your gear, the sound of the phone just reaching out to the cell tower or uploading / downloading information will come through your recording equipment as static, hum or some other sound that will be next to impossible to remove later in post production. Best bet is to ask everyone to please turn the phones off. Mention this to your director (if you have one) as well and make it part of the communication to cast and crew.


Some of the above may be very obvious, but in the hurried schedule of a production shoot, it’s easy to forget a few of the basics. I’ve had a lot of students (as well as myself) improve their audio and lessen their pain in post production by following a few pre-production guidelines and planning their day ahead of time.



Happy recording!img_2911

bookmark_borderOf Sound Mind


Let’s be honest. For most haunts and escape rooms, the exhilaration of introducing new props, puzzles, animatronics and lighting effects has traditionally far outweighed the excitement of implementing new sound effects and audio reinforcement. It’s a well-established pattern that also includes film and stage productions. The reasons, which we won’t go into here, are various and often based on budget and what is perceived as the greatest value or “wow” factor in a production.

So as I’m flying to Alaska to capture field audio and wild sound (makes us audio people sound like exciting individuals doesn’t it?) I have the opportunity to write to you and reveal a few aspects of audio, as well as some key insights into the human senses, that I hope has the effect of invigorating excitement for sound design and its role within your attraction.

Making Magic Happen

Most everyone who has seen a magic show knows, it’s all about illusion. The sleight of hand, the deception, the smoke and mirrors that ultimately lead us to believe that what we are seeing is indeed magic and the magician is imbued with gifts of the supernatural. The real trick here is to draw you in, to keep your focus, and to leave you guessing how it was done. Ultimately, magic becomes an escape from reality and a chance to indulge and stimulate our senses beyond our every day.


You, the haunt or escape room owner, designer, enthusiast know this first hand. You are constantly thinking of new and creative ways to transport your customers to a world of make believe. You set out to deceive them, to distract them from reality. Your goal is to invoke feelings of excitement, fear and envelope them in mystery; ultimately to resolution and a feeling of accomplishment. You design your props to appear as real as possible and your theme to visually stimulate and enforce what you wish your customers to believe is real.

Sound as a Piece of the Magical Puzzle

A lot of people smarter than me (often referred to as cognitive psychologists, physicists, audiologists, anyone over the age of 5, and so on) have spent their lives investigating the impact of sound on our environment and how it affects us both physically and mentally. I like to break it down by thinking of a jigsaw puzzle.

When putting a puzzle together, you are engaging and exercising your brain, stimulating short and long term memory. The key to success is to be able to vividly imagine the picture you are trying to put together, while keeping track of minute detail as you select pieces that have no real context until they are placed together and made part of the whole image. Now think of the entire puzzle as your brain attempting to piece together all it can about the world. As we know, it takes multiple senses to engage us and help us understand the world around us. Sight, Sound, Taste and Touch all combine to give us a perception of what is around us at any given time AND to help us remember key details as we interact with them in life. Like a puzzle, each piece (or sense) contributes to the whole image. Without the ability to sense our surroundings, we are limited to how we complete the puzzle or, engage and retain memory of the vast world around us.

Putting The Puzzle Together

Now let’s apply this concept directly to our haunt and escape room endeavors. There are two primary things we are trying to do when we design and build our attraction.

  1. Provoke emotional responses
  2. Stimulate short and long term memory

It is obvious that as a haunt owner, you are doing everything you can to get an emotional response from your audience. The primary responses, of course, are fear and excitement. The brain is an easily manipulated thing, and through the use of life-like props and pneumatics, actors, sets and room design, you can create a believable theme that takes a person from the “real” world and immerses them in one of your own creation. Having something jump out at you around that corner, or an image of impending doom will frighten your guests as well as increase their adrenaline which generates the fight or flight response (hopefully more flight than fight here.). But to really enhance the reaction and the realism, it is necessary to stimulate all the senses possible. The two most common ways are through sight and sound. We will focus on touch here in a bit, but of the senses, the two I mentioned are the most easily designed and implemented.

Invoking fear

Sight and Sound go hand in hand and are often the most crucial to a cognitive response and long term memory. Sound has an added benefit of being Omni-directional, meaning, the sound you hear can be coming from in front of you, behind, above or below. Basically from any direction possible. And that, I must say, is probably the most manipulative sense of all. You may not be able to see that “thing” lurking above you, but you certainly can hear its raspy breathing. I have to imagine that before we had electricity or the control of fire, our ability to hear kept us alive as early humans crawling around in the dark. Interesting… not much electricity or light in those haunted houses now are there?


My point? With our ability to use sound directionally, omni-directionally, in surround sound and to pan or move the sound however we wish, we have one of the most versatile ways of invoking emotional response in our customers. We can deceive, distract and enhance our props and give life and atmosphere to a room. We can fit the pieces together and make an image more lifelike and complete the puzzle by combining both sight and sound. But wait…. It gets better.

By combining just those two senses, we have effectively increased the minds awareness, belief and memory of the experience. Why is this important? Well, we know that we are more capable of scaring the hell out of our guests at a haunt by leveraging what they see and hear. Now we have solidified the experience in their minds and embedded it in their memory. And a customer that remembers an experience is going to tell others. And they are likely to come back again. And again. Sounds good right?


Ok, if you are still with me, let’s take this a step further. Remember how I said that the more senses you can engage, like a puzzle, the more likely a customer will react and remember the moment? We know that using sound effectively will definitely do the job, but what about another sense such as touch or feeling?

Unless you are running a haunt or escape room that has an incredible amount of liability insurance and security, your actors are probably not going to be touching the patrons nor be willing to be touched themselves. Customers may casually touch a prop or object as they move through a haunt, or manipulate objects as they solve a puzzle in an escape room, but this isn’t the same as actively engaging and touching them. So is it possible? Let’s take the fact that the largest organ the human body has is its skin, with millions of pressure sensing nerve endings waiting to be stimulated (easy now, this is science). How can we take advantage of this? If sight and sound can induce our intended response and create lasting memories, just imagine if we added touch and feeling!

How can you stimulate all these senses at once?

Transducer for Haunt Audio Effects

So imagine if you will your haunt with a room that has lighting. A flash of light, followed by the roll of thunder to engage sight and sound. Now what about that feeling? For anyone who has been caught in a thunderstorm, you know first-hand that the ground will shake when in close proximity to a lighting strike. How did you feel? Exhilarated? Scared? All of the above? Well that’s three senses that just made you feel that way. And there is no reason we can’t simulate this in our haunt or escape room. The most effective way is to use what is called a transducer. A transducer is effectively a piston within a casing that is driven by lower frequencies and creates a strong vibrating action. These are often placed in specialized movie theatres, home theatres and used for flight simulations and other situations that lend themselves to an immersive experience.

Now imagine that same room, but now you have connected a couple of these transducers to a floor, desk or wall. The lighting strikes, the thunder rolls and your customers are shaking not just from the vibration of the floor they are standing on, but from absolute fear! As an aside, you take the one thing that keeps us grounded and feeling safe… ummmm… the GROUND and you start shaking it? You may need to hire someone with a mop to clean up every now and then. The same goes for an Escape Room. You’re not necessarily trying to induce fear here, but you are certainly wanting guests to respond to the success of solving a puzzle or opening a hidden passage or secret compartment. The moving of stone, perhaps, and simulating that with sound and vibration. Certainly an added effect that will get your customers talking and returning with their friends and families!

Now of course I really didn’t “touch” on the sense of smell or taste. There are a number of products out there that will induce smell, if that is your thing, especially through the use of fog. Again, one more sense that will certainly leave a lasting impression! (good or bad). As for taste; not even going to go there. I’ll leave that one up to you!

Sounding Off

But as I summarize what we talked about, I wanted to interject another often overlooked aspect of keying in on the human senses. Not everyone has the benefit of being able to utilize all of their senses. And I think this is something that needs to be considered when we design our haunts and escape rooms. Our friends or family members who may not be able to see or hear can often find that their options are limited in the world of entertainment. We have come a long way, but I think for the haunted attraction and escape room community, it gives us an opportunity to think and design differently. Sound and Touch become extremely important to someone who can’t see. Sight and Touch to someone who can’t hear. Incorporating these thoughts into design decisions benefits not only customers who may have impairments, but creates an exceptional experience for everyone. And I think that’s what we are all about when it comes to entertaining, engaging and making sure our customers have a fantastic time!

So as we put the puzzle together for our attraction, and think of all the innovative ways we can make magic happen, we now have a lot more in our toolbox to work with and consider. It’s truly a great time to be a haunt or escape room owner with all the innovative and technical ways we have at our disposal to make our themes come to life. And if we continue to tap into the primal complexities and opportunities of the human mind and senses in concert with all these innovations, we will surely succeed in puzzling, terrifying and exciting our customers each and every year.


bookmark_borderThe Importance of Good Sound Design


Sound provides a unique form of signaling. It is Omni-directional, meaning that it can signal an object or event that is completely out of sight and both outside and inside your tactile senses.

The goal in any haunt or escape room is to leave your customers with a lasting impression and memory of the occasion.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaadhaaaajgnlzge4mzaylwmxmgytngywoc1hywmzlwvhndhmm2yymtmwmwThis can be achieved by stimulating as many of the senses as possible. Our ability to learn and remember is based largely on how many of our senses are triggered.

Some people are even more attune to one or two senses over others Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell all come together to reinforce our interpretation of the world around us. The more we can incorporate into a haunt or escape room, the more likely the experience will be remembered.

Because sound is not visible to the human eye under normal conditions, several key effects can be implemented in Haunts and Escape Rooms using only audio and a well placed set of speakers.


This gives you a level of control over a customer’s reaction and how you setup a scare, for instance. aaeaaqaaaaaaaaliaaaajdiwy2nimgq4lwe4yjctnge4os1hndzhltdinzi2zddjngrknaYou might have a scare that relies upon a distracted customer to get the full effect. By using sound to direct their attention away from the event just before it takes place, it can enhance the effect of the primary scare and leave them terrified and unsure of what will happen next; and where.

Enhancing The Theme

Like a Haunted Attraction, an Escape Room has the opportunity to set the tone for what the customers are about to experience. Arguably, an Escape Room must continually reinforce the theme of the room and immerse the customers in a world for sometimes over an hour. During this time, sound effects and music can add to the suspense and the urgency of trying to solve the puzzle and escape before the sands of the hour glass; run out. With a unique and subtle atmosphere, the dynamics of a given room can be enhanced and help create an indelible memory of the event.

Emotional Impactaaeaaqaaaaaaaaidaaaajdu1zguyytdmlwqwzjgtngfjos05mtbhlwu1zdhiyzdhmdixna

Remember that boy or girl back in high-school you had a crush on? I bet you think of them every time a particular song is queued up in your playlist. There may be a happy or even sad event that comes to mind when you hear a song, or the sound of someone’s voice. The emotional impact you might be having is brought about by a memory that has been encoded in your brain by an associated sound. This might even bring about other memories that are sensory related. You might, at that moment, remember the smell of their perfume or cologne or perhaps remember how they looked when you last saw them.

When working in the world of Haunted Attractions, something jumping out at you visually will scare the living **** out of you. Add to that a sound effect that enhances the motion and look of the prop and you instantly increase the reactive nature of the customer.

Over the long term, they will associate that fear to the sound and sight of the prop and are likely to embed that into their long-term memory. And of course, that’s what we hope for. Because we want them to come back and bring their friends!

In summary, making sound a part of your customer’s overall experience is crucial to encoding the memory of your attraction in their mind. The goal being, of course, is to have them visit you time and again, refer you to their friends and family and ensure that their experience is one of a kind.

You put a lot of thought, time and money into how your attraction will visually appeal to your audience; it should also sound as good as it looks!

Find out how Sinful Audio can help in your sound design.