Have you ever walked out of the film feeling empowered or terrified? Perhaps a little inspired? Heartbroken? Believe it or not, sound has more to do with that than what is visually on screen. Sound was not only invented to complete the production of commercials and films, but also to be used as a tool that aids films and commercials to convey a message; to evoke emotions in the audience. Even though film and TV are visual mediums, sound is part of the immersive experience that connects with the audience on a sensory level. Here are some reasons why sound is important post-production and why you should care:
The Importance of Sound
Sound calls attention to the various moods of the characters in front of the audience, and it defines the overall tone of the narrative. Music, dialogue, voiceovers, sound effects, and even silence are all audio post-production parts. And, if used creatively and purposely, they can all affect the audience in unique ways. In other words, sound helps the audience pick up on what the image lacks, which is interesting because, as we all know, there used to be a time when all moving images were completely silent. But even then, they managed to include music scores played live to make it more sensational. With time, filmmakers and pioneers discovered that sound was the single element missing to make storytelling more engaging and a richer experience.
The Psychology Behind It
Have you heard the phrase, “we feel what we hear” before? This is often taken for granted, not only in film production but also in our daily lives. This is a big mistake in the production of films and commercials. Sound has a powerful effect on the human body, and it should be a priority right next to the moving image. Basically, what happens is: sound releases cortisol, increasing the heart rate and even changing the way you are breathing. It affects us behaviorally, cognitively, and hormonally, meaning that what we hear can shift one of the things we value the most, our perception. Therefore, it affects our perception of purpose when watching a commercial or a film. For instance, in a commercial, a scary score plays when choosing a kind of product, inducing a connection and a negative emotion. Then it changes to a happy sound score when choosing the product the commercial is selling. Perception has been changed. This is a simple demonstration of how sound may affect the way we see things. Most of the time, filmmakers want to direct the audience in a certain direction, and one of the ways this is carefully done is by inducing emotion through sounds like in horror movies.
Some Film Examples
If you hear the voice of someone you love, your body will react and make you feel a wide range of positive emotions. A similar thing happens when you hear an unknown sound in real life, a scary sound effect in a film, only that the reaction is negative. Movies like Michael Gracey’s 2017 The Greatest Showman and Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Interstellar are great examples of when sound is used to induce emotions. For example, The Greatest Showman uses upbeat sounds and inspirational lyrics to emphasize what the narrative is about and works as a “call to action” for the audience. The Golden Globe Award-winning song This is Me has been known for making people burst into tears and break into a dance-off. The lyrics ask everyone to embrace their “scars” and stop being afraid of who they are. On the other hand, Interstellar’s soundtrack by the genius Hans Zimmer evokes a variety of emotions. Audiences have claimed that when they first listened to the musical score during the film, they felt they were able to feel “everything possible.” They were calm and peaceful, but they were also sad and lonely.
Breaking the Rules
Sound is supposed to match what is happening on screen or the tone and mood of the narrative. But rules are meant to be broken. This has been proven to work if it is done with a purpose and smart intention. Not for the sake of breaking them. Movies like John Krasinki’s 2018 A Quiet Place is a good example of breaking the rules, specifically for sound. A Quiet Place goes back to the beginnings of film history by creating a film that is almost entirely silent, except for a few jump scares and dialogue. This is not only to induce fear but to emphasize the setting in which the characters are living.
What About Commercials?
Creative audio post production for television and film can make commercials and movies iconic. Some use sound to create “catchy” songs and turn audiences into customers, while others use sound to evoke a certain emotion that makes the audience realize they need their product. They use non-diegetic and diegetic sounds, voiceover, sound effects, and dialogue for this purpose. The goal is to make the commercial and the product memorable, evoke a connection between the audience and the product, and create a “need.” One of the greatest TV commercials in history is the 1999 Budweiser’s “Whassup?!” The phrase has stayed in the pop culture canon and has even been used by DJs, talk shows hosts and comics. The commercial’s success achieved to transcend the product by creating a specific, new sound that can connect people. The “Whassup?!” is not only selling the beer but also the experience of having friends over and watching a game on TV. Another example of a great commercial is the 2015 “Like a Girl” by Always, which begins by asking teen participants to do certain things “like a girl.” They all make it sound that doing things like a girl is an insult. With the right musical score and the right dialogue, they change this belief by asking young girls to “fight like a girl” and “run like a girl.” The hopeful sounds match with what is on screen: girls running and fighting as hard as they can. Who could forget about the 1979 Super Bowl commercial “Meet Joe Green” by Coca-Cola, which starts pretty silent except for the dialogue. But when Joe Green picks up the bottle of coke, upbeat music begins, and his mood shifts. The sound sells the product as a magical way to change moods from “feeling down” to “adding a smile,” as the song lyrics state. The music connects with Joe Green’s sudden change from being “mean” to sharing a smile with the kid that offered the coke.
It does not matter how good the moving picture may be; if the sound effects are not right, it won’t work. Sound should be as important as the visual image (if not more important). Could you imagine watching Interstellar with the amazing special effects, the black void of the universe, award-nominated performances, but with a horror musical score instead? Or with the kinds of songs that appear in Guardians of the Galaxy like Come and Get your Love by Redbone? Not as fantastical, right? But how is it possible to achieve good quality audio? With the right audio team, you can achieve great post-production sound and sound design that is good or better than what is on screen.
With the right mixing and mastering, any company and brand can achieve phenomenal results. Here are some great sources that talk about the psychological effects sound has on the human body and the importance of audio and sound, which only emphasizes what I’ve explained so far. For example, the YouTube video The Power of Music in Film by Jack Pierce entertainingly explains that sound, specifically music, adds what the moving image lacks. On another note, Julius Dobos writes The Importance of Sound for the University of Silicon Valley, which is a short article on the importance of sounds in our daily lives, offering additional insights on sound production. Vox Magazine's short article Sound the alarm: how sounds affect our memory and emotions discusses how sounds evoke certain emotions, adding actual sounds you can hear as you read to be more experimental. To pair Vox Magazine’s article with a more scientific background, check this short yet insightful reading called 6 Ways your Brain Transforms Sound into Emotion by the Audiology & Hearing Aid Center, LLC.
Audio Post Production
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