Diegetic is a term probably only those in the filmmaking business have heard of, but if you have landed here it probably is because you want to know about the definition of diegetic sounds too.

What does ‘Diegetic Sounds’ mean?

In filmmaking, the world of a film is called the diegesis, therefore everything that exists within that world is diegetic and everything else is non-diegetic. A diegetic sound is any sound that emanates from a film—it can include everything from the voices of characters, the dialogues, an internal monologue, and even the sounds of objects. Let’s say that a character is walking down a busy street in the middle of the city, but there are no sounds around, no car noises, no horns, no people talking, that would look very weird and wouldn’t make much sense. That is why diegetic sounds are there, and for a very important purpose: making a scene and a story look and feel more realistic. Even if we don’t see the source of the noise on the scene, and it appears to come from somewhere off the screen but is a legitimate real sound that goes along with the purpose of the scene, is considered a diegetic sound.

The term comes from the Greek word diegesis, which translates to narration or narrative. No surprise here, as any kind of sound is there to add something to the story. Sound effects, for example, as little as they seem, play a huge role in movies and series. Even sound effects such as rain or wind are considered diegetic sounds because they are sounds that would be expected in a situation like a storm.

How to distinguish Diegetic Sounds from other movie sounds?

Another common type of diegetic sound is music coming from a radio that seems to be playing in the background of a scene. In reality, it is most likely that the music wasn’t playing while the scene was being recorded. Usually this is added afterwards during the editing process but still, the music is part of what is happening on the scene. Actually, many diegetic sounds are recorded in a studio by sound engineers to make the sounds even more clear.

But don’t get confused with music, as it can function across the diegetic line into non-diegetic sound. For example, while the music heard by the characters is diegetic, a film’s soundtrack is a non-diegetic sound. 

So next time you are watching a film, start paying attention to all the sounds around, and you will realize how many there are in just one scene. 

What’s the difference between Diegetic and Non-diegetic sounds?

In general terms, the main difference is that non-diegetic sounds are the ones that the character can’t listen to, meaning that it doesn’t originate on screen. Sound effects outside the film’s world are also non-diegetic sounds, as well as a voice-over or a narrator telling the story. Of course, all of them add something extra to the narrative, but they do not originate inside the world of the film. All the non-diegetic sounds are added in post-production by editors.

Examples of Diegetic Sounds

As we mentioned earlier, diegetic sounds refer to every sound within the movie universe. Check this example below. In which Quick Silver saves the members of the X-men. Although, the song “Time in a bottle” by Jim Croce plays in the background. It’s because Quicksilver’s character decided to listen to the song with his headphones. Therefore, the song is playing in the world of the film and that makes it diegetic.

Another very similar example is that of “Karate Kid” (2010). Since the songs “Bottom Apple Jeans” and “Poker Face” start playing when the girl turns on the dance console.

Examples of Non-Diegetic Sounds

On the other hand, non-diegetic sounds refer to all those that do not exist within the universe of the movie, such as the soundtrack of the following scene from the movie “300”.

Can you combine Diegetic & Non-Diegetic Sound

Actually, both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds can be used in the same project, this is called trans-diegetic sound. These are there, usually, to link two scenes or make a transition. A perfect example of this is when there’s a soundtrack song playing in the background  (non-diegetic sound) and as the scene transitions, you can see that actually the character is listening to it on their headphones (diegetic sound). This mix of sounds is what we call trans-diegetic. 

Why are diegetic sounds important?

All of these types of sounds are a great way for filmmakers to build stronger and realistic scenes. Think of any great movie in history, and you will realize how all the sounds play a major role in storytelling. Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino and many more know the importance of music and sounds to not only tell their stories better but also to generate all types of emotions in the audience. What would The Godfather be like without its amazing soundtrack, or Star Wars without all the galactic sound effects? 

Still, you don’t have to be one of the most important filmmakers in the world to pay attention to sounds. Any kind of film, series or video in general, can benefit from adding the right type of sound, from music to sound effects. Even more, if it is original and made by artists, two qualities we are highly proud about here at HookSounds, as all of our royalty free music and sound effects are humanly made in-house. So if you are working on your next audiovisual content, be sure to have sounds that are equally as powerful as your images, your audience will for sure appreciate it.