4 Audio & Sound Design Trends for 2017

1. Sound Editing for 360 VR & VR Video

The biggest news for the media industry right now has been the breakthrough of virtual reality and 360 degree video into the mainstream. Although tech enthusiasts and media experts have been touting the arrival of immersive, 360 degree media for several years, we’ve recently seen a number of significant milestones. YouTube and Facebook began hosting 360 videos, Adobe Premiere now supports VR editing and video stock sites have started stocking 360 media.

Of course, while there’s been a lot of emphasis on what VR means for visual storytelling, these new technologies have also meant a significant change in the way filmmakers, editors, and producers think about sound design in their projects.

An interview with animator Peter Spence about how VR and 360 degree technologies are changing the world of sound editing, he says:

“Creating 360 videos is more like a theater experience than traditional film. To steer the audience, subtle visual trikes have to be used instead of jump cups. The audio has to match that.”

Spence’s biggest takeaway for filmmakers and sound editors is that VR requires a new approach to the storytelling space:

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2. Music for YouTube and Mobile

YouTube has revolutionized the way we produce and distribute video, empowering millions of self-made filmmakers and series creators to connect with global audiences, including a brand new generation of video bloggers and YouTube influencers. Although YouTube has been a dominant player in the media industry for years, 2016 saw a number of YouTube celebrities crossing over from the small screen to the big time, with even more breakthroughs expected in 2017.

The stakes and potential opportunities of YouTube success have never been more clear. Popular YouTubers Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig recently starred in the comedy Dirty 30 while Issa Rae, creator of the popular YouTube show Awkward Black Girl, launched her new show Insecure on HBO—which has already gotten a full renewal order for 2017.

3. Rebirth of Radio

From Serial and Radiolab to How Did this Get Made? and Startup, podcasts are here to stay and only gaining in popularity. Harking back to the Golden Age of Radio, this recent re-emergence in audio-only media has highlighted the important role that sound editing plays in effective storytelling.

A podcast’s theme music is essential for branding and setting the scene, and a fitting intro provides either the emotional grip or levity that podcasters rely on when developing an initial rapport with listeners. Podcasts also employ subtler uses of sound, including foley effects and looping tracks that provide listeners with emotional cues. A rhythmic beat can build tension as the plot thickens, or a gentle musical ambience creates a clean segue between segments in a program.

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4. Blockbuster Spectacle at Indie Scale

The year’s biggest blockbusters pulled no punches, literally or figuratively, when it came to producing loud, bombastic, and dazzling spectacles. Meanwhile, the majority of the films named as likely contenders for the 2017 Academy Awards—Arrival, La La Land, or Hacksaw Ridge, to name just a few—forefront both the psychologically surreal and the spectacular.

Yet not all of these films had large production budgets. Deadpool’s budget was infamously cut by $7M at the last minute, while this year’s favourite for the comedy/musical genre, La La Land, was made for only $30M, a relatively small price tag for a major box office headliner. When producers and sound designers have to tighten their belts, stock audio sound effects and music are often one of the first places they turn.

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Video might not have killed the Radio Star after all.

A long time ago, if there was a song you wanted to listen to, you had two options: go out and buy it on vinyl (and then cassette, and then CD and maybe even Minidisk), or turn on the radio and hope that your song might get played.

In the last decade the music landscape has changed dramatically.  Any song can be found online in seconds, you can watch a video (official or not) on YouTube, and from there you can either buy it on iTunes, or stream it on services like Spotify or Apple Music – or do something less legal to obtain the song. It is fair to expect that radio would suffer given all the other choice, but the truth is that it’s doing just fine.

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While many radio stations have shuttered or slimmed down their operations over the years, possibly even moving to online or DAB to save costs, it is clear that the industry is still strong, and that there is room for stations and personalities to thrive.

One of the reasons that radio is still so popular in our society is due to its readily available passive nature. We don’t need our hands or eyes to interact with the radio so we are still free to go about and do other things. Most people listen to radio in their cars on their way to and from work, though after those times of the day, the number of listeners drops off as many end up at computers or are busy during the day. Streaming services like iHeartRadio have seen this data, and they are working to make sure that once these listeners leave their cars and get wherever they are going, they stick to radio, though they may access it on a different device.

Another bonus to radio is how localised it can be, you can listen to a global, national, county or even city broadcaster filled with news and views that are relevant to the end users; traffic reports and local events are a staple on any local radio station. Figures show that local radio is often the most popular station in their area. The top 5 radio stations with the highest listening share in their area are Island FM (49.2% of all radio listening in their area is to this station), Channel 103 (36.9%), Radio Borders (34.3%), Moray Firth Radio (24.7%) and Manx Radio (24.6%).  The share of listening in a station’s broadcast area is normally the best way of monitoring how popular a radio station is. This makes it easier to work out how popular the station’s entire broadcasting output is, in comparison to others in its area. [Information from media.info]

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Radio is also a format that is easy to access and understand, there are still millions of people who are not online and have not yet tried a streaming service, but everybody knows how to operate a radio. There is no learning time associated with enjoying music, and it certainly doesn’t cost anything to continue to enjoy the medium (other than the Broadcasting Licence that we are required to have to listen to radio). While listening to radio certainly doesn’t offer the same freedoms as selecting a specific song from a library of tens of millions, most people are happy to identify a style that they like—pop, rock, hip-hop, 70’s—and let a curator (in this case a DJ) pick out the tunes from there.

Radio has embraced online life well and adapted accordingly (arguably better than TV) stations or personalities use social media to spread messages, competitions and get engagement form audience that in the past would only have happened via a call in or snail mail. They have learned to embrace the instant nature of social media that reflects and compliments the instant nature of radio broadcasting.

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Infinite choice is nice, but judging by the fact that there are still hundreds of millions of people listening to the radio on a weekly basis, it clearly isn’t what the majority of people are looking for.

Sounds Right – a look at Sound Trademarking & Branding

Sound affects us more than we know, it’s an often forgotten medium but sound can make or break a product or production – by having a sound that is displeasing or by not having the sound we expect, it can (and does) turn us away from a product. Sounds can stir up great emotions and feelings very quickly without having to stop the original function of the product, and advertisers are more aware of this than ever.

A sound trademark is a trademark where sound is used to perform the trademark function of uniquely identifying the commercial origin of products or services, much like a visual logo it has to be instantly recognisable and attributed to that one brand. Historically it has been difficult to get a sound trademarked, but this has started to change over the last 10 years as more companies are using sound to get across their messages.  Just like a visual logo, the most essential qualities of a sound logo are uniqueness, memorability, and relevancy to the brand promise.

Some widely known trademarked sounds include:

  • 20th Century Fox Fanfare (composed by Alfred Newman)
  • Audi sound logo
  • BMW sound logos – the first one with a “double gong” and the second one that is the current sound currently used.
  • ITV News at Ten “The bongs”
  • NBC chimes
  • Duracell’s 3-note “coppertop” logo
  • Fourscore, the four note audio ident used by Channel Four
  • “Intel inside” musical jingle (composed by Walter Werzowa)
  • Macintosh startup chime
  • McDonald’s Corporation’s 5-note “i’m lovin’ it” jingle
  • Nissan sound logos – there were three sounds
  • Nokia tune
  • PlayStation robot sound (“play-sta-tion”)
  • Samsung ringtone
  • Sony ding
  • T-Mobile sound logo (composed by Lance Massey)
  • THX’s Deep Note
  • Xbox 360 startup sound/swoosh, created by Audiobrain

The NBC chimes are arguably the most famous sound in American broadcasting, originating in the 1920s, the three key sequential notes are familiar to generations of radio listeners and television watchers. Many companies have tried to trademark sounds but only around 100 have ended up being accepted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office — and NBC’s iconic chimes were the first.

Sound branding

It gives a brand an additional way to break through audiences’ shortened attention spans. Sound branding (also known as audio branding, music branding, sonic branding, acoustic branding) can tell you whether the brand is romantic and sensual, family-friendly and everyday, indulgent and luxurious all without ever hearing words or seeing a picture. This is crucial for brands as the rise in two screen viewing means that the audience hasn’t always got its eyes on your adverts but they are likely to still be listening.

The sound logo (or audio mnemonic) is one of the tools of sound branding, along with the jingle, brand music, and brand theme. A sound logo (or audio logo or sonic logo) is a short distinctive melody or other sequence of sound, mostly positioned at the beginning or ending of a commercial. It can be seen as the acoustic equivalent of a visual logo. Often a combination of both types of logo is used to enforce the recognition of a brand. An example is the T-Mobile logo and ring tone composed by Lance Massey, or the Intel logo composed by Walter Werzowa.

The PlayStation start up sound is something really special to me, it’s an instant warm fuzzy feeling at the PS1 sound – it catapults me back to my pre-teens, but I love the audio resonance of the PS3 sound: it’s organic and rounded and swells like a tide, it sounds less electronic than its predecessors showing that machines are now more advanced than ever before.

The sound logo leads to learning effects on consumer’s perception of a certain product. A melody is the most memorable sequence of sound, since, when a melody starts, the human brain automatically expects the ending.

Radio and television stations create their own audio identities using melodic themes to strengthen their brand. Notable examples include the short variations of the BBC Radio 2 or Classic FM jingles. In recent years, television station idents have also introduced their own audio identities to strengthen their brand recognitions, most notably Channel 4 who have theirs trademarked.

The video below is a great short romp around some really recognisable sound logos (most of which are trademarked) and why they are the way they are featuring two sonic branding experts explain the thinking behind some of the world’s most recognizable sounds, Andrew Stafford and Steve Milton.

 

Artiphon Instrument 1 Review

Finally after much delay and anticipation my Antiphon Instrument 1 arrived last week!

‘The Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1 is a single device that can be played as a guitar, piano, drum pad, synthesizer, and many other instruments. By connecting the INSTRUMENT 1 to smartphones, tablets, and computers, people of all skill levels can choose from an always-expanding palette of sounds.’ That was the blurb on the kickstarter page that caused me to back it waaaaay back in 2014.  As someone who loves music but isn’t really that good at making it, this really felt like my jam. It’s like a keytar for the 21st century, and I have had the thing a few days now so I felt it was time to share with you all my feelings on my new musical companion.

They raised over $1.3 million from 3,391 backers from over 70 countries which is impressive and is still the most funded musical instrument on Kickstarter to date.

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Diagram of the Instrument 1

In the Box:

I ordered the gig edition so it came with a handy carry case and strap (which is a must). The box was sleek and professional and everything you would want to get in the post. There is a lack of instructions which could be annoying for some but a quick visit to the website sorts that out.

It felt and looked like the Artiphon was something special, the build quality was good and it doesn’t feel fragile or like anything is going to break in a hurry.

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My unboxing of the Instrument 1

The App:

Its important to note I have only tried the app on the iPhone 6s but it works well (even if it is a bit of a battery hog).  It’s clear and easy to use, and so far hasn’t had any issues with crashing. It would be nice to have an easier way of sharing and viewing other players custom set ups though – but these are things that can come with time I am sure.

In my hands:

It feels nice, solid and like a music instrument, it’s not too heavy but it does have some weight to it.  So far I have had the most luck playing it holding it like a guitar and using the iBow setting; I really want to master the violin style of playing but more practice is needed for that I think!

The speakers do distort if you put them to maximum and play some of the deeper sounds, it’s a little irritating but something that’s easy to work around. I have noticed on one occasion one of the strings/frets sticks, but its not something I have managed to replicate so I am hoping it was a glitch and nothing more sinister in the build. I personally preferred doing all the settings in the app rather than on the built-in dial, but both worked well.

The tone and pitch of the instrument 1 is something really beautiful, something you can’t fault it on is its sound replication.  It is never going to replace a guitar in recording sessions nor would you pick it over a real drum kit and sample pad, but what it does allow for is more realism than a standard midi device or a keyboard.

Where the Instrument 1 stands out compared to other MIDI instruments is you can just sit and play; I could happily lose an afternoon or weekend to just making silly music on it.

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My Instrument 1 gig edition in white

Recording:

So far the Artiphon has made its way into two projects that I am working on: a remix and an audio post production for video. I recorded differently for both. In the remix I plugged it in to the desk via the headphone jack to XLR. It sounded good, there were no faults – it was quick and easy; I also tried it with a DI box and that worked really well too. No complaints there.

When I tried using a external mic to pick up the sound it was a little trickier given the location of the speakers, I had to stand very still and very close to the microphone which after a few minutes was a little uncomfortable. But all in all this process was OK and I would do it again if no other option was available.

Final thoughts:

The Instrument 1 is fun and functional, it takes some getting used to and more playing will have to be done to find the real limits, but I look forward to that journey. My only real niggle is that the carry case doesn’t fit the charger plug in very well which is something that could be solved with a little extra room in the case, but that is by no means a deal breaker for me. I look forward to learning this new instrument (and make no mistake it is a new instrument) a lot more in the future.

Below is the first prototype from 2013, and below that the kickstarter video that got me to part with my cash.

 

Remixing Media

Today Blink 182 (the American pop punk band) have released a new song from their latest album – so far nothing unusual here. What is unusual is the video release that goes alongside the track.

With a band as old as Blink 182 it’s hard not to repeat ideas, but what they have made is an almost shot for shot remake of an original video from 1999, with only a small few changes. As one Facebook user commented, is this genius?

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I have actually created a side by side video comparison, minus the audio so that I don’t get bitched at by YouTube. Below though is a more direct shot for shot comparison using screenshots from each.

 

There are lots of things I could say about this video given their view of women and why they really feel the need to remake such a great video now with this release. But this is not really the time to go in to that. Have they made it to gain some nostalgia points? Definitely. Have they use naked women to get views? Probably. Have they polarized fans with this trip down memory lane? Most definitely. Would it stop any band doing it in the future? No.