Designing the Sound of Fear

Designing the Sound of Fear

January 6, 2016 | Nicci Fears, Owner – Phobius Haunted House

As haunted attraction owners and enthusiasts, we all know how important it is to be able to fully immerse haunted attraction attendees into an environment of pure terror. Creating fear isn’t for the faint of heart — it is a carefully thought out art form.

Haunt enthusiasts of today are much different than their predecessors. They demand an environment that draws them into a realistic realm of suspense and horror.

There are multiple elements that play into designing fear, sound being one of them… and arguably one of the most important. Before you can decide on what type of sound to incorporate into your own attraction, you must first look at the bigger picture.

When deciding on sound options, you must consider what environment you are conveying it in. Does your attraction have a theme? Is it a hospital, a prison, a manor or some other eerily stagnant and creepy environment? For example, it wouldn’t make sense to have organ music playing in a prison cell block or to have sirens blaring inside an old Victorian style manor.

Once the general theme of your attraction has been established, you can then consider the different ways to incorporate the sound inside it.

Some owners decide to go with one overall ambient soundtrack for an entire attraction. The benefit to this method is that all of the speakers are attached to one soundtrack that may be several minutes in length. This ensures that your customers hear a continual track seamlessly throughout their experience, with no abrupt beginning or ending to tracks.

The other option is to choose to design each scene or a set of scenes with its own sound. This method typically involves shorter tracks to ensure that each customer gets the same sound experience in each area.

At Phobius Haunted House, we have chosen the latter method.

Phobius is designed to flow like a book. As you walk through the attraction, you will not find yourself going from the middle of a zombie apocalypse into Dracula’s lair. It just doesn’t make sense. The layout is also designed to account for highs and lows in the customer experience.

The phenomenon of the “flight-or-fight” response can only last for so long. So, if you design your haunted attraction to give a false sense of security in intermittent areas, you will find that you are able to trigger that response more often in your customers by allowing them to “reset” their fear response. If every environment in your attraction is intense, your customers will quickly grow exhausted; and eventually become numb to that sought after emotion of fear.

As such, the sounds in each area are changed to reflect the feelings that we are trying to draw out of our customers. Some areas have ambient noises similar to those in real life situations; such as frogs and crickets in an outdoor scene or the sound of an a/c unit running inside a freezer. Other areas have methodical musical tones that can instill fear in our guests similar to how movie scores do. (Think “da-dun…da-dun… da-dun da-dun da-dun” or “REE! REE! REE! REE!”) Some scenes have both methods applied.

We have also chosen not to incorporate any lyrics into any of our sounds with the exception of the occasional ghostly whisper; as to not take the chance reminding our customers that they are indeed in an artificial, safe environment. The exception to this general rule is if you are playing music out of a radio or TV. This is obviously a more organic ambient noise that can be a great tool if used correctly.

No matter which approach you decide to use in your sound design, be sure to keep it realistic.

A word to the wise, keep in mind that most music is subject to copyright law. If you are going to use a particular sound in your attraction, be sure that you have obtained the appropriate licensing rights to do so. Just because you bought Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” on iTunes does not mean you necessarily have the right to play it in your haunt. So be sure to do your research.

Happy Haunting!