We are surrounded by sound, but is the quality improving, or is it just the volume?
What wakes you up in the morning? What stirs you from your slumber and sets you in the right mood for the day ahead?
For most of us, we are woken by an alarm. A shrieking, barking, honking disruption to our peacefulness. For others, it is the interruption of the radio. For me, it is the calm newsfeed of BBC Radio 4’s Today program, setting the agenda and making me smarter (I like to think), but also fuelling a sense of permacrisis.
From that moment forward, sounds define the spaces around us for the rest of the day, for better and for worse. Before leaving the house, our sound system of choice pipes personalised music into bespoke room soundscapes, smartly (and spookily) following you around your home.
As we set off, earbuds mute the rumbling, and screeching of subway tubes, the droning and revving of urban traffic stuck in endless jams, or the beats to motivate our cycling (with a bit of HearThrough to keep us aware).
Audio accompanies the video that connects us to our work – or to our colleagues’ work when they forget to switch from speakers to headphones.
We have smart, increasingly AI-powered, entertainment systems in our vehicles, that increase the volume as we accelerate, with satnavs nagging us to turn left in 237 feet.
We even have sounds to meditate and be mindful to; soundscapes of white-, blue- and green noise. An increasing number of people are even turning to headphones to help them sleep – noise-canceling earbuds or sleep headbands.
We listen to music to help us focus, to help us to relax, to help us drown out the kids, inspire us, to motivate us to work or work out. Do we even have time to listen to music to dance to, or just to listen to, anymore?
The volume (and prevalence) of sound around us is constantly increasing – we have noise all throughout our lives and everywhere we turn.
I noticed this vividly on a recent holiday. I was lucky enough to go to Whistler – a beautiful place, I highly recommend it. But, bro, does it have a soundtrack?! There is muzak everywhere – They had a ski slopestyle jump event with thumping DJ sets, in the evening. There is muzak in the stores and bars and mountain restaurants. There is muzak pumped out on the main streets and pedestrian areas. They even have muzak on some of the chairlifts (never mind why – how??).
We have a relentless Soundtrack to our life.
Music and audio technology advances at a frightening pace – products, apps, services, and even different types of sound or obsessively-focused-on-sound sounds. shhh…I’m having an ASMR moment.
Which brands are improving the quality as well as the volume?
An obvious one is Spotify. Relentlessly passionate about improving what we listen to, Spotify has recently researched Sonic Science – how audio affects memory, mood, and physiology – and what it means for brands. Spotify conducted biometric, neuro-insight research to learn more about how audio affects the body, mind, and activity of listeners. “Recent advances in neuroscience show us that sounds actually impact us through every key centre of the brain – affecting the emotional, memory, and engagement centres alike.”
Spotify is also rolling out the slightly-more questionable Spotify Ai DJ that will choose songs for you and narrate the intros.
Using technology from OpenAI, which created ChatGPT, Ai DJ will generate facts about the music or genre that is playing, and a “stunning realistic” automated voice will enlighten you about the tracks.
And UK’s Metro readers gave the feature a thumbs up:
Apple continues to innovate, recently pushing its Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos for a more immersive sound experience. Thanks, but i will stick with my fantastic Jabra Elite 85T earbuds with Active Noise Cancelling and HearThrough. (For transparency, Jabra is a client, however, I still love them.)
And a number of brands are focusing hard on digital surround audio, such as Sony‘s 360 reality audio which will no doubt feature heavily in new PlayStation VR2 games.
So, let’s make sure we focus on quality, not just volume, for the soundtrack of our lives.