Thursday, August 17, 2000

Composing For the World Wide Web

By Terry O'Gara
First published by Digitrends Daily August 17, 2000

Today, navigating a Web site is like turning pages. When you think of audio on the Web, you think of a site with a smattering of sound effects that respond to a click. A click turns the page and drives the audio, not the other way around.

In the future, audio for the Web will be more like scoring for video or film, as the Internet paradigm becomes more television-like. Web advertising will evolve from banners into a form that approximates television commercials, or 'Web spots'. One exciting prospect for Web audio is that sound will be targeted to the consumer in the same way banner ads are today.

While a Web spot for an automobile might target a certain demographic group, i.e. women, the score accompanying it will be different for sub sets within the overall female demographic. Older women would hear one soundtrack, younger women another, teenagers another still. One spot might have a jazz track, another a classical score, or a rock track, etc.

Musical scores will be specific to demographic groups and to subsets. Don't think this will be uncommon, or that it apply only to text, because there is no such thing as local advertising on the Web.

As can be said of Web spots, so it goes with Web sites. Today content might change depending on who is viewing. In the future, the audio experience will also change. Right now, one is tempted to turn off the audio because it is so often such a banal experience. But as broadband opens up, as media companies merge with Internet access companies, computer users will devolve from being users into spectators of the great unfolding digital pageant. In case you haven't noticed, AOL has taken to using the term 'CHANNELS' to apply to different areas of interest.

True, the Internet will be all things to all people, and will provide an ever-increasing array of services. But I'm talking about that aspect of the Internet that lends itself to entertainment and information gathering. Substantial interactivity may apply to some sites, but the general public will be drawn away from 'destination sites' to Web sites that provide unique, gratifying experience.

We already pass by sites that provide little in the way of design. Before you know it, sites without sound will seem stingy too, if not altogether flat. Audiences don't buy bland, when they have a choice. Think about your own Internet usage. Sites that provide audio cues as you navigate, provide a richer experience than those that don't.

It is only a matter of time before even the most utilitarian destinations on the Web, even B2B sites and search engines, will need to consider entertainment value. Think of CNN, MSNBC, the evening news. Theoretically, the 'News' should survive as a simple information service, but the folks who bring you the news understand that packaging information as entertainment will attract legions who might not otherwise watch.

Branding certainly won't go away as the Internet develops. Just as sound is used to brand in traditional advertising, it will continue to play a role on the Web. One example is AOL's "You've Got Mail" audio cue that has become part of the popular consciousness.

Currently, the Web is a collection of static sites with equally static graphics waiting for you to click on them. That won't continue long. The Web will evolve into a 'moving' experience. Today the Web is like a stack of periodicals. Tomorrow, the Web experience will be like browsing an endless supply of DVDs, as it evolves into a medium where you can watch long-form stories.

I'm not just talking about animated sites, but about interaction, which will become a fluid experience. may still have the capacity to be an online catalog, but it will come to resemble Home Shopping Network or QVC, with a personalized, digitized, interactive sales clerk to help you.

Convergence will demand high-level scoring and sound design. Even content providers who offer text-based information will be forced to the inevitable conclusion that sound and music provide a richer consumer experience. And what about books online? Future online books won't be text downloaded to one's Palm Pilot, but will closely approximate a cinematic experience. As you scroll through the Internet version of a book, a score (not to mention graphics) will accompany it. Instead of just reading that a character is listening to a song on the radio, you'll hear it, too.

Think of the book, "High Fidelity," the story of a man obsessed with music. In the online version, you'll hear the songs the lead character discusses as he mentions them. And then you, the consumer, will click to, or wherever, to buy the music.

Broadband is a means to an end. The audience is driving demand for broadband. When the Internet is delivered through a more sophisticate medium, people will demand a richer experience. It's inevitable that the currently acceptable clicks and boinks won't cut it in a broadband world. And, the opportunities for composers and sound designers will multiply exponentially.

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