As the Technical Director at Q Media, I oversee the audio production aspect of our tours: recording talent, editing narrative, and adding music and sound effects into our narratives. When we produce a tour, the audio production is the last part of the creative process, and it is my job to oversee the sonic support for the words and ideas that are being presented in the script. “Support” is the correct word for me to use here; music and sound effects won’t make a poorly written script more engaging if the emotional goals of the project haven’t been achieved. My goal is to ensure the audio supports the narrative, and ultimately, these audio choices need to be transparent.
Let me explain.
An old adage among live sound audio engineers is that audio production is never noticed by an audience until something goes wrong. We’ve all been at a concert or lecture when things are fine until a squeak of feedback or an inoperable microphone disconnects us from the experience and dumps us into an awareness that something isn’t right. The talent may lose momentum. The show may stutter for a moment. We are briefly distracted from the focus of the presentation to the audio issue at hand: The perfect moment of performance and listener is disrupted.
These things happen…
… So one important goal for live audio production is simple: audio support should stay unnoticed and problem free. A measure of success for a live sound audio engineer would be that his or her work isn’t noticed and that the audience stays engaged throughout the performance because the audio support was problem free and, therefore, transparent.
In the end it can be a thankless job to provide good audio. Rarely at the end of a successful concert does the audience turn around and applaud the audio engineer who helped present it to them. At best audio engineers toil behind the scenes and strive NOT to get attention because usually attention occurs when something goes wrong. But if audio production is successful, the listener sustains an engaged experience, and they seamlessly usher the listeners on a journey without them being aware of it. The audio choices we make strive to do this–to keep the listeners engaged without a sense that something is “wrong.”
This is the approach to the music and sound effects we choose. If music and sound effects are going to be included in a tour, we’ll ask the client in our pre-production meetings what they envision as the “soundtrack” of the tour in order to keep the venue in mind. What type of music represents their vision of their place? And their vision of their story? We then make production decisions that match their vision. We strive to capture a sense of the facility with our tour and make the choices for the music and sound effects reflect it. The goal is to have the audio production transparent so the listener isn’t aware of the “crafting” of the soundscape of the tour. Instead, the audio production must entwine with the narrative and the space to enhance a “theater of the mind” experience for the listener.
If we’ve done our job, the audio production isn’t noticed, but it has been seamlessly woven into the narrative to support its message. This is the goal of transparent audio.
So the next time you take an audio tour, see if you become aware of the audio production. Or hopefully not.
Oh, and next time you’re at a concert and you enjoyed the sound, turn around and applaud the audio engineer. Trust me, it will make his night.