In today’s modern world we are bombarded by sound at every turn. Rolling news channels run 24 hours a day; we have more access to music, film and television than ever before; and advertisers are having to cut through this cacophony of noise to clearly present their products.
It was this exact problem that creative agency CHI&Partners leveraged for The Times and Sunday Times’ first ever joint campaign. ‘Heart of the story’ promised viewers that buying The Times and Sunday Times would help them ‘cut through the noise to the stories that matter’. However, despite the tag line, sound design was at the heart of the message.
CHI&Partners approached us at Wave Studios in order to create a sound that would highlight one individual element in each scene, but even this minimalist approach required much sound design trickery.
The task of pinpointing one sound in each scene – be it Trump’s footsteps, a police radio, or a child crying – may seem simple enough, but in reality took a great amount of trial and error and experimentation.
There is no sync sound in the spot, so we had to build every sound from scratch and pair it to the corresponding scene. The entire spot is anchored on the juxtaposition between noisy visuals and the delicate and precise audio we created. Once we found the right sound, the viewer is gripped by this unsettling and yet interesting balance between sound and vision.
The ‘cut through the noise’ approach is so effective because when we are bombarded with ‘noisy visuals’ it is easy to switch off. The precise and delicate approach we took to the audio reengages the viewer and forces them to take a fresh view on images and stories they will almost certainly have seen before.
Unfortunately, we have all become accustomed to seeing images presenting the horror of the refugee crisis, the situation in Syria or the rise of Donald Trump. In a way we have become desensitised to these images, but it’s far harder to become desensitised to sound. And this, in essence, is why sound design will always be critical to any campaign.
But Wave did far more than just create the sound of footsteps or bird songs, we also went on to add a musical underscore that built from the opening scene. This high pitch underscore, almost a shriek, was purposefully set at a frequency that would force the viewer to pay attention.
The musical underscore builds from start to finish, getting sharper and sharper, ensuring that the viewer’s eyes are locked onto the screen right up until the moment The Times and Sunday Times logos are revealed. When moving images can’t grab viewer’s attention, sound design always has a trick or two up its sleeve.
Beyond this high pitch underscore, we then took it a step further by creating an atmosphere that would further unsettle the viewer. We built a background Atmos bed of discordant digital distortion, deliberately using frequencies that are annoying to the human ear, weaving it in and out of the key sfx to create an ambience of confusion and irritation.
So, for a spot that promises to ‘cut through the noise’, there was a whole bunch of noise going on. This is true of so many campaigns, so understanding the importance of sound design from the outset is the key. To create the perfect campaign, agencies and brands must understand that sound and vision are as essential as each other.
Sound and visuals must synergise to create a successful campaign; leaving sound design as something to ‘tidy up in post’ can be the death of a good idea. Even when a campaign’s focus isn’t on sound, there’s no easier way to undermine the finished product than to not take sound design seriously.
In essence, collaboration is king.