A Sound Mind: The power of good sound design

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We enjoy writing blog posts about our most exciting projects, so after the resounding success of our latest campaign, it was very tempting to write all about how we created a fully immersive beer drinking experience, but instead I would like to take this opportunity to talk about something that whilst incredibly important to VR, is actually a huge element to any video that is often overlooked, and take a look at how the industry seems to be headed in a direction that in some respects may threaten this wonderful tool in the filmmakers box. 

I’m talking about a dimension in films that you cannot see. Something so subliminal that the untrained brain might not even realise when it’s not there. Yet when it’s done well it can make the difference between a ‘huh, that was nice’ and a shiver down your spine. It can be the difference between a like and a share. It can be the difference between indifference and a new found love for a brand. So how can something so subtle and easy to miss be so powerful? Because we are incredibly complex beings, with sparks flying under the hood that we don’t even know about – and those sparks can be generated by a plethora of stimulus, most of which we don’t consciously notice, but subconsciously, it drives us. 

I am of course talking about sound design. Sound design isn’t about music. It’s not about whoops, swoops and shipoops. It’s as much an art as cinematography is painting with light; it’s painting with sound, it’s stirring the emotional pot and it is awesomely powerful. A well composed sound design will encompass everything your film is about and add an extra dimension to the messaging, the meaning and the impact of the film. Take our Innis & Gunn VR for example; the sound design was as intricately tied into the meaning of the film as the shots themselves. For the Lager experience we wanted to encompass the refreshing, thirst quenching nature of the Lager style, as that was something we decided to be an important facet to Innis & Gunn’s mission to create a powerful homage to the Helles Lager style. 

Sound recording

Me, gathering assets to play with. Also a genuine selfie, no stick.

So we knew there were going to be big, wet shots – waves rolling to the viewers feet and cascading off rocks – sure, visually that works – but how do you portray this aurally? We wanted to go one step further than just doing the obvious and recording the sound of the sea, so we actually replaced the sound of the sea as the wave rolls and foams at your feet with a live recording of the beer being poured – exacerbated, doubled over and amplified. This meant that as the viewer was watching a large sea-scape, their ears were full with the sound of beer – and though they have absolutely no idea that that is whats happening, subliminally they know the sound of fizziness – not just through beer but through any thirst quenching fizzy drink that they’ve ever experienced throughout their entire life. The connections spark back to that time as a five year old, you put your ear right against the rim of the glass of Coke you were drinking and heard the sparkly, fizzy popping, before feeling that fizz bounce around off your lips, tongue and then down your throat. Your thirst was quenched then and in hearing it, you want it to be quenched now. Subtle, subliminal, simple yet powerful.

On a side note about the effectiveness of the technique in the campaign; this effect completely amplifies the beer drinking experience – if you took a sip at that very moment it would give you so much more than just a sip of beer, it would fulfil a genuine request that your brain is making.

This is the sound design for Immersive & Gunn Lager. Put your headphones on, and turn the volume up.

All of this love for sound design has got me thinking about the future. There is something happening at the moment that I am seeing more and more frequently, and it concerns me because without fully understanding the ramifications of it we could easily lose a powerful tool as digital filmmakers, marketers and brands. Social Media sites push their agenda on brands and consumers alike. It is up to Facebook to decide how the next generation of consumers engage with branded videos, and right now the developments in the last few years have hinted at a soundless future. Newsfeeds built to drive the consumption of multiple forms of content as quickly as possible have declared that sound be a secondary input, not necessarily associated with the primary visual experience, despite the impact that sound has on  your primary impression of an experience. Brands have in turn responded to this by requesting silent movies – a backwards step that seems to nod back to the days of Charlie Chaplin (though even he required a piano accompaniment). 

This is not to say that the art of sound design might completely disappear, it won’t, but I think the opportunity is there for filmmakers, marketers and brands to really lead this space and put emphasis on creating aurally stimulating experiences that audiences will not want to miss. It’s our job to make sure we’re giving our audience the best experience possible and sound should always be a big part of that. If the industry declines into a state where we no longer invest in stimulating this most important of senses, we will be losing not only a majorly useful communication tool, but also an entire dimension of depth in the work we’re producing.

If you want to talk sound design, or any other film technique hit me up at adam@ocollective.london

Oh, and here is the Original soundtrack, for good measure.

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