Memes appear simple at first glance but have added complexity beneath the surface. They exist to express the current meta through satire, making us laugh, by having access to all media since, well, the dawn of time.
That meta ranges from humor, current events, to insert subreddit of your choice. Regardless of the topic, what every meme has in common is that they take a media reference and use a colloquialism to tell a joke or express a point of view. Clinical as that explanation might be, I love memes and think they are brilliant!
What about meme sounds? Meme sound effects are often just as important as the meme itself. Much of the same applies, but you are now hearing the cultural reference that goes along with the meme. I usually associate the word meme with images more than sounds, partly because what we now call a meme sound did not have a name back in the 90s and early 2000s. That is not to say they do not conjure up the same emotions or work in the same ways.
In that vein, I picked some examples that I either use or infer in day to day conversations. I work in IT, so there are inevitable moments of just waiting for “stuff” to happen, dead air during calls, and everyone’s favorite show stopper. I just wish Microsoft Teams supported sounds in addition to their GIF gallery!
Examples of meme sound effects
Example 1 – “Two hours later…” – Spongebob Squarepants
Example 2 – Crickets silence
Example 3 – Windows error
Memes occupy a lot of grey areas these days. Meme sound effects fall under this grey area as well. New copyright legislation is introduced often in an attempt to keep up with new content formats, mediums, and technology. Memes use the power of parody and are not often focused on monetization. In many cases, people attempt to get a meme copyrighted but fail.
What about cases of marketing for profit? The Grumppuccino case awarded $700,000 in favor of cat’s and meme’s owners. One can make the argument that copyright applies here because the owners own the copyright to their original photos.
My take on memes is that they embody the same spirit of cutting apart magazines and assembling the pieces into a collage or a body that tells a new story. It is fun, and yes, certain pieces can be considered art in their own right. We also live in interesting times of premium content; for example, many Instagram accounts focused on making premium cat content, which translated into profit. We can see how it makes sense for them to copyright their original works.
Copyright itself is there to protect the rights of artists, content creators, and the companies that own significant portions of the rights to a piece of work. By that token, yes, make a meme, but do not try to make money off it if you do not have explicit copyright permission.
The EU Directive on Copyright – Article 13
This is commonly referred to as the “Meme Ban” because of its focus on requiring websites over a certain size to monitor user-created content and remove copyright-infringing material. This might manifest as upload filters that automatically screen for copyrighted content, but also brings to the front all the false positives produced by similar bots in use at present. Questions around the technology remain.
Sound and Music
Brevity of length is not a guarantee of avoiding the need for licensing. The less than six-second rule is often used as a defense. This does not constitute a legal right to use samples without copyright permission. The only real way is to seek permission from the copyright holder, which is often a combination of the record company and the credited songwriters.
YouTube Content ID
This is a grey area because of how rights are enforced. Some cases might see content taken down, others times the original content owner might request a monetized video featuring their content be removed.
Create your own meme sound effects
The safest, most cost-effective, and legally compliant approach is to make your own sound meme sound effect. This does not mean starting from scratch. There are still plenty of free sounds out there. We have a great article on making your own explosion sound effects. Links to these are located further down.
Start with an idea, chances are that you already have an idea or topic in mind. We will solely be focusing on standalone sounds from here on. I believe that your personality should play a part in creative exercises, this being no exception.
We are talking about meme sounds, so it is best to keep it light, short, and simple. The key is to keep the theme and message clear, you want your audience to understand the reference. That is not to say there aren’t some topical deep dives out there for the most hardcore of fans.
The main point is you can and should get a little silly when generating content. The process can be a lot of fun and that usually feeds back into fueling your creativity. Otherwise, we start using words like forced and contrived.
The Technical Bits
Start a project in the audio editor of your choice. I still use a couple of flavors of Logic Pro and can use anything from ye’ olde QuickTime 7 Pro or Adobe Premiere to strip away the audio layer if the source material comes from a video. This is also the right time to get your project settings correct, particularly your sample and frame rates. It is always safe to bet on 48 KHz and 29.97 fps for NTSC or 25 fps for PAL.
I recommend seeking some inspiration from material similar in style or genre, when mixing music I will listen to the same tracks from a related genre to calibrate my ears, take note of spatial cues, and balance. Familiarize yourself with relevant sounds and take note of their length and structure.
What kind of sound are you after, will it be a one shot, include music, more than a sentence of dialogue? What are you trying to achieve, humour, emote, a point?
If you are going with dialogue, say the words out loud, manipulate them, and check your result matches with your inner voice. You can start using your DAW’s time stretch, pitch shift tools, and EQ. Keep at it and you’ll have it sounding like Darth Vader on Helium in no time!
If making a sound, maybe go for something like an epic slam for a jaw-dropping moment. You can start with a hand clap or hitting a flat surface, take the same tools you just used and manipulate the pitch and duration into something slower and heavier. Add some reverb for good measure in order to give it a sense of space and you now have a one-shot slam effect.
Memes rely on cultural context. You will need an initial topic to latch on to before your meme sound takes on a life of its own. For example, lifting or recreating the entirety of the Ezekiel verse that Samuel L Jackson goes through in Pulp Fiction does not qualify as a meme sound. For one, it is too long, and without the context of the scene, it just becomes a bible verse. However, taking a still image of that same scene and adding the two lines of meme text will bring that scene and its dialogue to the forefront.
Your sound therefore needs to work in the same way, but in reverse. Can your sound replace a lengthy video sequence or set of stills? The Wilhelm scream is a good example, you hear it and instantly have a dozen images flooding in.
When it comes to meme sound effects, a good tactic can be to mimic a sound if you know that copyright is an issue. For example, dialogue can be re-recorded, word choice and phrasing can be altered. You can tell the same joke using different words, provided the end result is the same it makes little difference. I rationalize this in the same way that a band can cover a song and then make a logical leap where a new song might be inspired by an existing body of work.
The best advice I can give you is make it your own by injecting your personality and sense of humor!
Free Sounds and Articles
- Grumpy cat lawsuit
- EU Copyright Directive
- Music sample copyright
- Meme sounds:
- “Two hours later…” – Spongebob Squarepants
- Crickets silence
- Windows error