Sound Scape, What makes audio compelling?

When it comes to videos or multimedia in general people are typically focused on the visual aspect. I mean come on, let’s face it, when they do the sound mixing awards at the Oscars you’re probably thinking, “Really, there’s a whole category for this?”. But in reality the sound is half the battle to a good video. The audio aspect of a movie, short film, or even a commercial is what completes the sensory experience as much as the commercial can, well until TVs can start producing smells to make us feel like we’re in the experience, but if you really think about it would you want to smell whatever scents might accompany Game of Thrones? I doubt it.

So what makes audio compelling?

  • In radio ads the sound tells the whole story, so I would say it’s important for sound to be narrative.
  • Really compelling sound is a mix of many different kinds and levels of sounds. Natural sounds mixed in with sound effects, or even just the seamless blending of contrasting sounds juxtaposed together can have the desired effect; be it fear, empathy, or even stimulating an appetite.
  • Somehow it seems fitting for a human voice to be present somewhere in an audio clip. We’d get on just fine without it but when it comes to the narrative aspect of compelling sound, I think sometimes just hearing the sound of a human voice is all we need to feel connected to the message being delivered.
  • A song or even a beat is sometimes the key to a great audio sample. People like songs, we like to sing or tap our foot along to the beet. Usually some sort of rhythm is needed to tie things together.
  • High quality natural sound. If you’re going to have the sound of a bee buzzing, it had better be clear and had better not just be a stock sound. Humans have a great ear for recognizing when sounds are contrived, and when they’re naturally occurring. Faking it isn’t good enough. But hey, we’re Americans and sometimes we have trouble deciphering what’s real and what’s not so if you’re going to use stock sound files you’d better be really good at editing!

Below are three examples of the points I mentioned above. 

The above video is titled “The new however-you-want-it Frappuccino blended beverage” from Starbucks. The audio is a brilliant mix of many different kinds of sounds mixed together with seamless editing. The rhythm of the sounds juxtaposed with the script creates a beat that gets you in the mood for a blended frappuccino. The crispness and clean cutting of each sound makes for an excellent auditory and visual experience.

So with this commercial there are very few sounds happening, I would say about three; the narrator, the beat and a little bit of tambourine at the end. Watching the video there’s so many different visuals that go along with the audio, but somehow if you close your eyes you still know what’s going on and you still get the point. The best aspect of the audio here is the rhythm. The narrator’s voice is smooth and crisp and the excellent script paints a clear picture of all of the different things you can buy and get 5% cash back! It’s pretty catchy, but so simple.

Now this one’s my favorite. It definitely has a niche market but somehow manges to hit two types of people with beautifully recorded sound. It starts off with the lapping of breaking waves and you think ok, I’m on a beach. Next you hear someone carving through beautiful powder snow and you think, now I’m in the mountains. The great thing about this video is that if you heard only the audio you would think one thing and it would still make sense. Then when you watch the video two different story lines make sense. The video combines a mix of clear recognizable sounds as well as narration that tells a complete story.

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