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:

windmills-on-little-planet-alternative-energy-concept_fJ7hepRd.jpg

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.

JM-Industrial-DSC_0053.jpg

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.

Advertisements

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.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-18-40-24

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]

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 18.40.49.png

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.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-18-41-11

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.

 

OkGo – Experimental Video Rock Stars

An American rock band originally from Chicago, OK Go is composed of Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka and Andy Ross. The band is known for its often quirky and elaborate one-take music videos. They had mild to middling success until they started making more interesting/experimental music videos.

OK Go has become famous for their creative and often low-budget music videos, most of which have been promoted through YouTube. Many of these have become viral videos including the 2006 video for “Here It Goes Again”which won a Grammy Award for Best Music Video in 2007. The band performed a complex routine with the aid of motorized treadmills, and has received over 50 million views on YouTube four years later.

 

 

The band’s video for Needing/Getting, released February 5, 2012 in partnership with Chevrolet, debuted during Super Bowl XLVI and has over 32 million views on YouTube.  Many of the videos also use long or single-shot takes, which Salons Matt Zoller Seitz claims “restore[s] a sense of wonder to the musical number by letting the performers’ humanity shine through and allowing them to do their thing with a minimum of filmmaking interference“.The success of OK Go’s music first won the band the 14th Annual Webby Special Achievement Award for Film and Video Artist of the Year.The video for “This Too Shall Pass” was named both “Video of the Year” and “Best Rock Video” at the 3rd annual UK Music Video Awards.”This Too Shall Pass” won the LA Film Fest’s Audience Award for Best Music Video,UK MVA Awards – Music Video of the Year Winner 2010, among others.

The band has worked with directors including Francis Lawrence, Olivier Gondry, Brian L. Perkins, Scott Keiner, and Todd Sullivan. The videos have been screened and displayed at museums, art galleries, and film festivals around the world including the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Saatchi & Saatchi New Director’s Showcase.

 

 

The video for “I Wont Let You Down” is objectively the first to feature the use of a UAV drone to film a whole music video. There are many other examples of OK Go pushing the boundaries between music video and experimental art (stop motion toast being particularly memorable), companies give large sponsorship to them for features in their videos or for them to be in a stylized ad campaign. Their blend of inoffensive middle of the road indie music is greatly uplifted in the public domain by viral videos which are in themselves a very clever marketing tool. I think it’s fair to say no one would remember OK Go if they hadn’t got on their treadmills back in 2006 and their subsequently more interesting (and expensive) videos that have followed.

 

 

Their most recent video focuses on the super slow-mo trend that is both a hit on YouTube and with the general consumer as more and more devices can record at higher frame rates. A large amount of planning and calculations has evidently gone in to this video to get the sound and visual synchronization. What’s perhaps most impressive is how well they managed to sync up the song with the incredibly fast “events,” of which there are exactly 318. So how did they do it?

“We used very precise digital triggers to set off several hundred events in extremely quick succession. The triggers were synchronized to high speed robotic arms which whipped the cameras along the path of the action,” Kulash explains on the band’s official website.  “Though the routine was planned as a single event, currently no camera control systems exist which could move fast enough (or for many sections, change direction fast enough) to capture a movement this long and complex with a single camera, so the video you see connects seven camera movements.”

screen_shot_2016-11-23_at_11-55-24_am

This spreadsheet consists of  dozens of connected worksheets feeding off of a master sheet 25 columns wide and nearly 400 rows long. In Kulash’s words, it “calculates the exact timing of each event from a variety of data that related the events to one another and to the time scale in which they were being shot.”

On top of this intricate web of events, many were shot at different speeds. Each section was shot at a constant rate, but between the events they toggled from one speed to another.

Kulash breaks it down further: “When the guitars explode, we are 200x slower than reality (6,000 frames per second), but Tim and Andy’s short bursts of lip sync (Tim twice and Andy once) are only 3x slower than real life (90 frames per second). The watermelons are around 150x, and the spray paint cans are a little over 60x.”

 

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.

71a74beade49ed9b2833672ecb025587_original
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.

unnamed
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.

unnamed-3
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 2 – Christmas Advert Remix

As mentioned before in a past blogpost I decided to edit the John Lewis advert for my remix artefact. The main reasons for this are:

  • It’s topical
  • It will hopefully spread quite far
  • It should be relatively quick to make

The advert came out at 8am on Thursday 10th November (a departure from the normal Friday release date due to remembrance day). By 11am it had over 700,000 views and by 10pm it had over 6 million. Below is the advert as released by them.

It’s a bit of a departure from recent years when our heart strings have been pulled via cute animals, lonely old men and sad snowmen, but it didn’t stop it trending it Twitter, featuring on all the major news websites and it didn’t stop EVERYONE talking about it.

It did give me a dilemma though as I had a pretty clear idea of what to do to a sad video, but one that was meant to be happy and funny? I am not as good at that. I looked at just replacing the music with the original – but that was boring; I looked at focusing on the dog – but again there wasn’t much scope there. So I went funny, and focused on the trampoline as you can see in my version below.

I have used the same meta data as the original advert to hopefully gain some views.  What I do notice this year is that people so far haven’t done many parodies but have focused on reaction videos but this might be a time thing and could change in the next few weeks.

I have kept the video length closer to two minutes like the original advert to help gain more views and I also kept the opening frames as close to the original as possible for the same reason.  If Leonard Cohen had died on Thursday I would have swapped the music for his, unfortunately the timings didn’t match up and I had already made my remix.

Live Music Recording

When I was a sabbatical officer at the University of Bradford I did many strange and wonderful things with my time, but a standard thing was running live music events. This saw me learning (and subsequently teaching a group of students) to run a mixing desk for live band nights where each night had two supports and then the lead act. The drum kit belonged to the venue so only the breakables came with the band which made setting up far quicker every event. Sound checking was done for the main act before opening, while the support act had a live soundcheck just before their set.

“Party on the Amp is our huge end of year event featuring huge live acts, DJs, a fairground food stalls and more.

Party on the Amp is a huge free day festival on the amphitheatre featuring the best in student performers, acoustic acts, local bands and big headliners, but make sure you grab your wristband to get you access to our fairground and to our huge after party with three rooms of music, DJs and three great acts performing on our main stage.”

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-12-43-59

[TDTDJ from a gig at Bradford SU in November of 2011]

For Party On The Amp 2012 I wanted to do something really impressive (more so than in past years) so I put the stage on the roof and arranged for more commercial acts to perform. Below is the full set (including first track soundcheck) for the band That Drummer That DJ. The feed is taken from the master channel of the desk via an Edirol 203.

EDIT: Youtube is a pain in the butt and says no to the video. Dropbox link here