When developing content, we do not want to instil a sense of frustration by constantly blasting audiences with obnoxious noise and screaming voice overs. The use of contrast in sound is a powerful tool that allows us to build immersive and captivating soundscapes; ultimately aiding in telling a story.
The Power of Dynamics.
When producing audio content, we often want our work to be engaging to the viewer and have impact. Instinctively, we might feel that this means it should be loud and in-your-face. Contrary to this feeling, however, louder does not always necessarily equal better, and when things are too “loud”, they can potentially lose the impact and viewer engagement that we are trying to create.
During the period of time between the late 1980s and early 2010s, an ongoing push to make music releases louder and louder emerged, as what has been historically called the ‘Loudness War’. With the advent of CDs, the limits of how loud music could be pushed were raised, leading the industry to use compression and limiting to squeeze all of the dynamics out of music in favour of loudness.
This also became prevalent within the radio and television advertising industries. After many complaints about ads on TV being obnoxiously loud relative to the programs people were watching, Free TV Australia issued a new standard which adopted the international loudness specification for TV broadcasting. In early 2013, OP59 was introduced as a guideline to change the loudness measurement standard from VU and digital peak level readings to perceived loudness measurement units, denoted as LUFS/LKFS.
The consequence of this new standard was that the previously overly compressed content now sounded lifeless and flat compared to content that had a higher range of dynamics due to the industry’s adoption of new loudness specifications.
“Dynamics” in audio refers to the range between the quietest and loudest sounds in a mix. While some opt for using heavy compression to create maximum “loudness”, we believe that retaining a nice balance of dynamics creates much more impact and an overall more refined mix. Dynamic range should be used as a tool like any other, to create contrast between sounds and to allow each sonic element to be more pronounced.
Jeep Wrangler – The Gear You Need
This Jeep ad is an example of how dynamics can be a powerful tool in creating an immersive and impactful soundscape.
The sound design featured in the shots of Mark Visser, professional big wave surfer, placing his gear into the Jeep Wrangler, are very subtle, which allows the scenes of crashing waves to cut right through the mix to create impact. The music also sits lower in the mix, working with the sound design, ultimately creating a dynamic, immersive and engrossing atmosphere for the viewer.
Air Force – Runway ‘Anytime, Anywhere’
Another example of the use of dynamics is in this advertisement for the Air Force.
When transitioning between each location, we can hear the shift in the sound design of the soundscape based on what’s happening in the environment. The hustle and bustle of the people and vehicles going by contrast with the steady sound of rain in the night. The contrast between these soundscapes allows each to have their own character, and also importantly, it allows the advertisement to have dynamics between scenes, rather than just have a static energy level.
Movie World – Fright Nights
Dynamics can also be used to evoke a certain mood and create narrative tension. This advertisement for Movie Worlds ‘Fright Nights’ uses dynamics in the sound design to build a tense horror atmosphere.
The beginning of the ad uses subtle sound design and the absence of sound to highlight each little creak and breath, building suspense as the characters become anxious. The distant chopping sound becomes louder as they finally see what’s lurking in the theme park. The screams, growls, and music then ramp up as the tension builds into a climax. This is a great example of how the lack of sound can be a vital tool in creating a sense of unease, and how ultimately it can make thrilling moments much more impactful to the audience.
When developing content, we have to remember that it is created completely for the viewer. We do not want to instil a sense of frustration by constantly blasting audiences with obnoxious noise and screaming voice overs. It is evident that retaining dynamic range in audio production is essential to creating impact and flow, and enhancing viewer engagement. The use of contrast in sound is a powerful tool that allows us to build immersive and captivating soundscapes, and ultimately to aid in telling a story.