Friday, August 11, 2000

Convergence And The Composer

Convergence And The Composer
By Terry O'Gara
Originally published in Shoot Magazine, August 11, 2000

Convergence is the buzz word du jour in media circles. But what does convergence mean for those of us who produce music and sound design? What happens when the public is armed with a digital television that allows viewers to delete commercials with a simple command? You could assume many of us are going to be out of our jobs. But the truth is that there will be more work out there than ever before. Just get ready to learn new techniques and habits again and again before a stable format finally arrives.

So, what's it going to be like? Presently, scoring the Web is like scoring a magazine. And the audio is a smattering of effects that respond to a "click." But as the Internet paradigm becomes more like television, audio for the Web will be more like scoring for video or film. It's only a matter of time before television style Web spots replace banner ads as the online advertising model. This is a good thing for music and sound design production houses: A Web spot for one product might target a certain demographic group, say women; the score accompanying the Web spot will be different for subsets within that demographic. Older women might hear one track, younger women might hear another; teenagers will hear still another. From a production perspective, I'm looking at one spot, three finals! And, heads up, by the way! It's already starting!

The same demands for audio will apply to Websites. As broadband opens up, as media companies merge with Internet access companies, computer users will devolve from being "users" back to being spectators of this great, unfolding digital pageant. Users already pass on sites that provide little in the way of design. Before you know it, sites without sound will seem "flat," and even the most utilitarian of destinations on the Web will have to consider the entertainment value they provide. Given a choice, audiences don't buy bland. The information will draw you in, but the experience gets you to return. By necessity, audio will undoubtedly have to play a larger role than it does now.

Today the Web is like a stack of periodicals. Tomorrow it's going to be more like browsing an endless supply of DVDs. Folks like Atom Films are poised for this. may remain essentially an online catalogue, but it will come to resemble Home Shopping Network or QVC, with a personalized, interactive sales clerk to help you. On the audio post side, this will require clever vocal digitization and thus a new stream of income for those who specialize in creative audio services. Does this mean audio engineers will have to add computer programming to their repertoire? You bet! Welcome to convergence: endless creative possibilities for the consumer, and an increasingly demanding skill set for audio professionals.

Even text-based content providers will be forced to the inevitable conclusion that sound and music provide a richer experience to the consumer. Books online will resemble their cinematic model. As you scroll through the Internet version of the book, a score (not to mention graphics) will accompany it. And then you, the consumer, will be able to go to, or wherever, and buy the music that went with the book.

What's driving this? The audience is, of course. So, it's inevitable that the currently acceptable clicks and boinks won't cut it down the road. But it's exciting that the opportunities for composers, sound designers and audio post will multiply exponentially. That's convergence!

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