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.

 

Artefact 1 – video

That’s my artefact (above) – look at how boring it is. It’s OK to agree, I made it boring.

Here is someone else’s (above) from a few months ago.  It has less than 100 views which is kind of surprising considering the style they have used.  I also found this video, which is a few years older and made by other students, which has over 300 views – it is my goal to beat the view count on this video. I set out to do this by:

  • Sharing media on several platforms to get engagement
  • Sharing at times that encourage engagement
  • Targeting online accounts to get the video to spread further
  • Using tagging on YouTube to find an audience

Bonus video – filmed using the GoPro egg timer, it was going to be the main artefact but I didn’t like the light bleed and lack of clarity.

Why did I make this artefact?

Because I tried something else and it didn’t work and everyone loves a good timelapse. I had an animation made and had planned to project it on to something all Halloween-related however the projector was not bright enough and my phone didn’t pick up the action.

So as this didn’t go so well and with only 4 days until the deadline I had to find something else that was engaging and relevant. I fell on the idea of a timelapse because a) I had the kit to do so and b) they are an ‘easy sell’ for engagement as you can tag locations and businesses as well as local news groups.

How did I make this artefact?

I used a few different mobile apps to create this video, however I didn’t film it with a mobile phone for a few reasons, mainly that the contrast settings on the iPhone6s I have wasn’t good enough to pick up any differences in the clouds – thus making it a really crap timelapse. I did however edit with LapseIt and worked out the best time of day and direction with the app Magic Hour, both of these apps I talked about in this previous blog post.  Magic Hour is particularly useful as it helps you work out how long you are going to be taking images for, which means you can easily see how long you want to leave between images. I opted for a photo every 20 seconds.

Here is an image of me taking an image during the timelapse, as well as an image of the GoPro setup, Below is an image of the 4 other people/groups of people who where also taking images or videos of the media city at sunset on a Tuesday night in October. I also found an Ian (but more about that in his blog post).

How am I going to get engagement for this video?

I have set up a schedule of sharing the video on Twitter (the average tweet has a life of 40 minutes and a half life of a few hours), I have posted once on my own Facebook profile (something I really hate doing) and have encouraged others to share the content further. I even shared it on LinkedIn.

With twitter I have used simple hashtags including #mscret and #mediacityuk which means it will hopefully get picked up by local businesses and other class members. I have in other tweets tagged the university with their handle and a few local to Salford news/views accounts. The combination of these two things has lead to 5 retweets from businesses that I didn’t follow or have any other interaction with before today (Wednesday).

 

Smart Phone Image Capture

Smartphones are… well… smart – even smarter than the first spaceships that took men to the moon in the early space race. A single Apple iPhone 5 has 2.7 times the processing power of the 1985 Cray-2 supercomputer. That’s crazy powerful in such a short space of time, and I currently have two PS4s in the house which when combined realistically class as a supercomputer-level of processing power. But I am getting sidetracked.

I use my phone for image capture a lot, either with the built-in camera or via other cameras with app and WiFi/Bluetooth controls.  Below are some screen captures from my phone with a few of the apps that I use.

Two of the apps are built in to the phone, both the image viewer ‘Photos’ and FaceTime.  I also have Instagram, which is a pretty standard app to have, and Panorama which is a old app that takes 360 photos (something you can now do natively in the Apple camera app). I still have the panoramic app for a few reasons: one is that I paid for it many years ago and I want my money’s worth, and it doesn’t take up much space on the phone itself. But most importantly it stores all of your images online to view later, as well as images from other users.  It also is one of the first apps that used the movement and gyroscope in the phone to move around the image – something that is now becoming more and more common in photos online and is even native in Facebook applications.

Flickr is pretty self explanatory.  I have a pro membership and have a lot of images on there (about 3 thousand). Capture and the Panasonic Image App are both camera control apps, for the GoPro and a Panasonic Blue camera respectively; for me these cameras have very different uses: while the GoPro is more known, it does have its limitations including its shockingly poor battery life, whereas the Panasonic can be used whilst connected to a power source which in the past enabled me to film/take regular images for up to 8hours at a time.

Lapse It is a fantastic time lapse app that uses the phone camera to take images and I paid about £2.99 for it a few years ago and it’s been really useful. It had the ability to change exposure, ISO and contrast before starting to film as well as taking 12 images a second (12fps is used in animation traditionally) which can then be exported directly to YouTube or via an MP4 file which you can then send wherever you want.

Finally and probably the most interesting of the apps are 20Twenty and Magic Hour. Twenty20 is a new stock photography service that launched to the public after months of beta testing, which I was part of. It claims to have the world’s largest crowdsourced commercial image catalog — one that contains 45 million photos from 250,000 photographers based in 154 countries.  It runs competitions and other incentives for you to get involved with – and most importantly it earns me money. Magic Hour is a great little app that’s full of information to help you get the winning shot depending on location and weather, it has information on sunrise and sunset and how long it’s going to last as well as a host of other nifty little nuggets that increase the chances of getting that money-making shot.

We Killed the Comment Section

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Go to any mainstream news or entertainment website and you will notice that the comments section has either been removed outright, or it’s a wasteland. I first noticed this with the DigitalSpy redesign in early 2015 or even late 2014 – the comment section was removed and now all commenting was on the social media platform plugins. People said they hated it, then they got used to it.

NPR, a platform known for its robust community of thoughtful commenters, recently announced that they’re doing away with their comments section to make way for social media interactions via Facebook and Twitter. Along with many other internet sites the in-built comments section is leaving us in favour of the increasingly recognised social media comments plugin, or is simply showing the feeds of comments coming from the article’s social media post.

NPR‘s reasoning for this move is along the same lines as most other mainstream sites who’ve already gone down this road. Their in-article engagement only shows a small fraction of how many people read their content – in short it is easier to comment with an already logged-in social media than it is with a dedicated login required for each website. Plus it is well know that all comments from Facebook and Twitter are well thought out and are based on the commenter reading the article (not just a title)…

It’s about popularity and attaining the holy grail of going ‘viral’  as more and more ‘news sites’ compete with each other to get their 2 cents out to the masses, or to be the first to break a story. Because more commenters = more readers = more times adverts are seen on the site = more money earned from advertisers. Advertising has held up the world of news and media for decades and whilst the formats may have changed, the same basic fact remains and fundamentally we accept that that’s OK.

The more social interaction occurs, the higher the algorithms place you on search results; it feels dirty because really it’s modern news prostitution.  The difference is now it’s not just the creators of the media that are selling themselves, we the readers are doing it too without a second thought as we jab at our little touchscreen devices, tagging people to read an article, commenting on the poor nature of the facts, spewing garbage and self gratifying opinions that you expect others to read and adore and then getting understandably irate when someone dares to think differently from you.

But why not give the people what they want? It’s good business sense, right? I mean most people read their media linked from a social site on a mobile device on which they are already logged in across multiple apps. Where is the harm?

You shouldn’t reward people for choosing not to read an article before throwing out their opinion on it, just so they can give their two cents on a headline that’s either taken out of context or is simple click bait. It’s a trend that is becoming more and more common, even in the once well-respected national institution’s online publications.

Not everyone wants to create a Facebook or Twitter account, because Facebook and Twitter comments are a proven cesspool of negativity, bickering, and intentional ignorance. Not everyone wants to have their name, picture, work history, and friends list displayed to thousands of strangers on a daily basis (me included). You may not want to have your whole Facebook or Twitter collective see your opinions on an article, but there is still a part of you that might want to read something online and even offer comment without the rest of the world knowing that it’s you.

Urgh. Rant over.

POV Music Video

A band that I worked with wanted a music video to embody a 90’s feel, as well as show how a good time in a pub is not without its unfortunate after effects (the “Monday Comedown”).

I came up with the concept below, which used a GoPro on a head mount.  As the model had WiFi control and viewing it meant that I could direct and watch the action from out of shot at all times.

The video was influenced by the Prodigy video for Smack My Bitch up, although the one I made is admittedly a little bit more PG13!