Proper sound design for your multimedia is an investment, so maybe you want to save it for something important... like content that might increase sales and get you a bonus and time off to do stuff that’s fun… like spending your bonus.
What is your sonic brand?
Visual branding coordinates fonts, colors and shapes to create recognition. Audio branding coordinates music, voice and sound effects to achieve the same goal. Your company's multimedia content has a sound that creates a strong impression- whether you intend it to, or not.
How much does sound matter?
There have been several studies* regarding how the quality of audio influences whether you believe what you hear, and even how bad audio quality ruins our impression of visual content. To summarize: bad audio quality, whether technical or otherwise, has a big negative impact- specifically on credibility and believability.
And as we already know, there is a strong cognitive connection between what we hear, and our memory...
Sound Design: the Next Level
The term “Sound Design” seems liberally tossed around these days, so I thought I’d expound to create a clear understanding of what it is, what makes it great, and how it can greatly enhance your image branding.
Five dimensions of audio branding
The sound of your multimedia creates a strong impression––whether you intend it to or not
It goes without saying, right?
But many companies create their own audio content in-house.
Because, well, they have a microphone.
Common problems with self-made audio include low-volume, distorted, thin-sounding microphones and rambling, stumbling presentations due to lack of editing ability.
Remember that even though you may be proud that your team pulled together a DIY explainer video to embed in your website- the audience will judge your company on the professionalism- or lack thereof- of that content. While it's true that your company’s folks are by far the most knowledgeable about what your company does, be mindful that they may not be the best choice for talent to represent your business. If your brightest tech seems mumble-mouthed, sing-songy, or just downright boring “Bueller...?”, maybe a better option may be to write a script and assign it as a voiceover to someone who does that each day when they get to work. Then, just drop in the voiceover, and edit the visuals to sync up with it. Just adding a professional voice to narrate your Powerpoint presentation, then rendering the whole thing out as a video, means it can be used both as a stand-alone auto-play promotional video at trade shows, as well as embedded in your website.
Of course, the right music can add huge impact to any multimedia production.
You won't have to worry about music licensing if you outsource to a production company, but if you're doing it yourself, it goes without saying you must carefully read agreements regarding licensure of music for any commercial purpose. Unlike software installations (where you always skip the “reading it” part, and click “I Agree”), music contracts can have hidden "gotchas". While music licensing is beyond the scope of this article, it should suffice to say that whatever musical tracks you choose should be properly licensed.
Even simple sound effects can make visual content come alive. Sound effects can be used for forceful impact (think movie trailer), or subtle enhancement.
Check out the promo video below. Although I recorded the voiceover, ScoreBig's
in-house team handled the sound effects, and did a great job!
Consistency is key with audio branding
Familiarity means brand recognition. You don’t change your logo every time you place a new ad in order to “keep it fresh”, do you? Why change your voice talent or music with each new production? Remember: your sound is your brand. Be consistent.
Effective sound design means voice, music and sound effects must be carefully selected, and consistently utilized with all multimedia content, including Radio/TV, web ads, explainer and trade show videos, as well as your call center greetings and marketing-on-hold.
To keep your brand recognition, find the right voice actors, and use them consistently. Professional voice talent might cost a bit more than people you find on pay-to-play voice websites, but they will be here next time you need them.
When producing new content, don't change the music randomly- use your music. Effective sound design means choosing a set of musical themes, and sticking with them. Investing in an audio logo, or simple, short jingle is even better. The "We are farmers..." jingle may not make your party playlist, but it is short, memorable, and familiar.
I think the most common way multimedia content gets created is by someone looking at other multimedia presentations as a reference, then sorta kinda copying its style. Of course, that’s why it’s all too easy to end up with lookalike content if you’re not careful. Why look (or sound) like an “also ran”? This is where it’s sooo important to carefully consider the sound of your brand: the talent, music and sound effects that are being used. Don't be afraid to be different! Instead of choosing the deepest voice you can find, look for a unique, even quirky voice. Use music that's unexpected or unique. A single sound effect, whether organic, or creative "sound art", will put you out front. A bird chirp, rooster crow, or whatever- can add whimsy to your branding.
Once you find what works, use it everywhere there is sound!
An original music track can do wonders to separate your brand from the herd
The best choice for audio branding is original music- even if it's only a short 6-note melody. Just as with your visual branding, it's not advisable to use stock content-
stuff that may appear elsewhere- including your competition's marketing. Original music can be a simple musical tag, a full song hook, or a musical underscore. In any event, if it's exclusively yours, that sound or melody will burn in your identity when used consistently. And, one of the most wonderful things about having original music created is that variations can be created to fit a wide variety of applications, just as with a visual logo that's created in variations to accommodate various backgrounds, sizes and placement .
The right choices in music and voice can work magic. Great editing skills are key here. Getting the music to sync with the visuals- to start and stop where the most impact is created-- serves to rivet audience attention and tingle the spine.
Watch any movie trailer and notice how lacking the trailer is if you turn the sound off. It dies, right? Strong sound design creates strong emotion- and a strong impression. And then there's negative space: a good sound designer knows where to place silence to whip human emotions and give a punch to the gut.
And although this would be a good time to talk about how important a great voice delivery is, a great production technique is sans voiceover. Kinetic or dynamic text, when synced to music or percussive effects, can drive the point home just as effectively as a voiceover. There's something about words moving on the screen in time to the soundtrack that always grabs my attention.
Is your message believable?
Voice actors aren't people who do character voices, they are artists who pull meaning from words, and inject believability into the message. The list of people who can simply read without stumbling, or have a deep voice, is much longer than the list of people who can make you believe what they say. Once you find a voice like that, lock them in: Pro voice actors will work on retainer.
Voice actors aren't people who do character voices. They are artists who pull meaning from words.
Remember: it's the tone of a voice that sends the message. Ask anyone who's ever been in a relationship and they will tell you they've heard:
"It wasn't what you said- it was your tone."
There's no doubt: we humans are wired to notice the tone of the sounds we here. Sound design is all about tone.
About Ray Norman
Ray has nearly 3 decades of experience in sound design and music production, with a focus on audio branding. You can hear examples of his work here.