Friday, March 25, 2011

Sound: More Important Than Ever

Ten years ago I published a an article in Shoot exploring the possibilities of how new media platforms might influence post production audio artisans. A decade later, here's the follow up.

Sound: More Important Than Ever

By Terry O'Gara
Originally Published in Shoot Magazine, March 25, 2011

At the close of 2000, I was among several members of the ad community enlisted by SHOOT to imagine what the coming decade might bring. In "The 2001 Challenge" I described how changing technologies might impact Audio Solutions. Among the things I got right, I suggested, "Tomorrow your projects will cross all platforms." But the truth is, that wasn't prophecy because by then I'd already jumped into interactive. I could not have predicted, however, that with all the advances in music technology, the sound of a $5 toy horn called a "Vuvuzela," would a decade later captivate the world and exemplify the new century's strongest example yet of sonic branding.

I also proposed that with the definition of "TV" expanding, the definition of "Composer" should also evolve. But today, even though many of us have retooled our studios, I'm not so sure that many of us have rewired our process. Advertising isn't what it was, so why treat a spot from 2011 the way you would one from '01? Have things changed that much? I think they have. For instance, did you notice, a funny thing happened on the way to the Internet? Everything downsized: Budgets, rosters and earnings. I've read attention spans have also diminished. But I don't think that's necessarily true, because there's plenty of evidence–from Amazon to Zinio–that people still crave good story experience.

Nevertheless, marketers have initiated a defense some call "Direct Branding," i.e. cut, cropped and full frontal message. I've come to think of these increasingly nano-sized communications as less story constructions than an extension of the art of Gesture. And in case you didn't notice, one result of this trend is the very real decline of traditional Film Scoring, and the ascent of Music Design.

Make no mistake, I mourn the elegant :60 cast aside in favor of the svelte, more energetic :15. But score treatments suddenly seem to lack the efficacy they once had to command undivided attention. Even scores won through competitive demoing, theoretically insuring awesomeness, lack immunity from the infectious disinterest of the texting, twittering masses. It used to be TV was accused of turning people into zombies. Now it's the other way around, and we're in the position of trying to reach out to a wireless, oft jaded demographic and make them feel something. But little can prevent a man with a remote from using it.

But there's good news: inventive gestures cut through media clutter, consolidate focus and even direct multitaskers engaged with a secondary device to look up, notice and listen. Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." The phrase never fails to foster thought, but it may be that today that message is actually the medium. And if that's the case, then what is required of the modern sonic artisan is not so much mere musical enhancement but audio that capably provides thrust to a client's message.

Certainly, there will always be a need for scores that support story or evoke feeling. However, increasingly more critical is the fulfillment of a marketing objective with sonic solutions that trigger immediate brand signification.

Which means, even at the cusp of another new game changing paradigm, the intelligent application of sound is more important than ever.

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