Why Audio?


Photo courtesy of SXC.

Clearly, with a name like Listen Closely Productions, sound is at the forefront of what we do. But as I begin updating the blog portion of this site more frequently, I thought it was appropriate to make the case for the magnificence of audio, and advocate for adding the dimension of quality sound to every multi-media project.

Audio augments all the other media.
The Oscar win for The Artist a couple of years back proved that you can make a successful silent movies these days; but the fact that it had been the first such winner since the advent of talkies says something about our desire to hear as well as see during multimedia experiences. And even silent movies had musical soundtracks!

Americans are increasingly seeking eyeball-free content.
According to an infographic developed by Crazy Egg, nearly one in three Americans has listened to a podcast, a figure sure to rise now that Apple baked a podcast into its iOS 6 operating system.

Public media is also catching on to the value of promoting mobile-friendly podcasts on a variety of apps streaming NPR-related content. Andy Bowers, writing on Current.org, explains why:

Podcasting is radio. It’s simply on-demand, time-shifted radio. Just as we’ve come to rely on digital video recorders and video-on-demand for much of our TV viewing, the same thing will happen in audio.

Podcasting will change our medium as fundamentally as the Web changed newspapers …. Podcasting is cheap. Launching a new public radio show is akin to replacing a classic building in Manhattan with a new one: The real estate is valuable and already in use, and everyone who loved the old building will never forgive you.

Launching a podcast, by contrast, is similar to building a shed in an empty field. It’s the least expensive way to produce a new show, let it find its voice, and determine whether and when it’s ready for drive time. The risk of failure is minimal. Who cares if a certain approach doesn’t work? Chalk it up to a good effort, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next experiment. Eventually you’ll find something that does work — and then you can swap it into your schedule to replace a beloved but flagging radio institution.

Quality audio storytelling sparks the imagination.
In the beginning (like in cavemen days when sitting around the fire telling stories was where it was at), our ancestors discovered they could paint “word-pictures” with their voice and entertain and inform their peers. Will Coley, in a presentation about what public radio has to teach nonprofits about effective storytelling, noted that listeners are better able to participate with their imagination, and hear the story on a more intimate level, compared to a similar tale told in another medium.

Voice recordings provide important emotional cues to personal or organizational stories.
We’ve only had recorded sound for a little over a century and a quarter, almost a half-century less than we’ve had photographic cameras. Writer Verlyn Klinkenborg, in an essay in the New York Times, posits this as the reason people are still reticent to record the voices of their friends and loved ones:

Now, it’s every bit as easy to record sound on a smartphone as it is to record images. And yet because sound is always a function of time, most of us still prefer to capture digital snapshots instead of digital audio samples, even in the form of video. There is still a kind of documentary formality in setting out to record the sound of your parents’ voices — a formality that has vanished entirely from photography.

However, making the effort to record sound brings entirely new dimensions to a story – whether it’s a news story, a memoir, an organizational history or another type of narrative. Klinkenborg describes sound’s immediacy:

The present is the place where sound thrives. After all, sound is motion, nearly life itself, and compared with the roar of the present, the silence of the past is deafening.

Personal historian Gloria Nussbaum, writing about the paucity of sound archives in family histories, describes what she finds so compelling about audio recordings:

I enjoy photos as much as anyone, but for the most part, photos are one-dimensional. Voice conveys emotion, timber, dialect, accent, vocabulary choices. Photos without captions soon become irrelevant but a recorded voice can stand alone forever ….

Maybe there are so many “voices,” so much noise in our everyday life, that we just don’t think about the value of voice. Voice is complex, it’s alive, it’s multi-dimensional, it’s extremely intimate, and (without substantial editing) it’s absolute.

For many of us, our first and most comforting experience is hearing our mother’s voice.
Finally, one of the reasons I’ve realized that storytelling through sound is so important and so powerful is because it is so primal. Before any of us are born, we are soothed (and probably unsettled on occasion) by the voice of our mother. Our ears are one of the first ways we experience life outside the womb – so the impact that a sound produced to be compelling and entertaining is magnified in a way that text or video cannot match.

And as testament to that, here’s a little story about my lifelong love affair with sound. My mom, circus clowns, phone robots and 70-foot industrial cherry pickers all make guest appearances in this story.

One comment

  1. […] – Provides a focus on that most powerful of all communication channels, the human voice. You can also add ambient sound, music or sound effects to enhance the storytelling […]

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