The Art of Audio

The Art of Audio

As you Q Media blog readers may know, my primary role here at Q Media is to oversee the production elements that go into a tour. Educated and trained as an audio engineer, I welcome the opportunity to challenge myself to create a sonic approach that serves the emotional intention of our audio tour scripts and also engages the listener.

In this blog I’d like to provide a glimpse of my part of the audio tour production process and share a few examples of some of the choices I have made in producing several of our tours.

The first project I’d like to talk about is the audio tour we produced for NPS’s Kingsley Plantation, which won first place in NAI’s digital media category in 2013. Kingsley Plantation is a former slave plantation located near Jacksonville, FL, and the tour showcases the grounds from the owner’s grand home to the remains of its lowly slave quarters.  The project was produced by Q Media in conjunction of Somerset Group in Huntsville, AL.  Q Media wrote the tour and produced the audio content, and Somerset produced an unique iPhone platform with “enhanced reality.” This enabled the listener to be  immersed in the sonic environments of general locations (i.e. the waterfront, the kitchen, the stable, etc.), while narrator and character voices emerged at specific GPS points throughout the grounds as the visitor entered them. To my knowledge this is the only tour of its kind, and the experience is an effective, immersive one.

The Kingsley mansion is located near the water, and the slave quarters are located far back from there. One of the characteristics of these placements is that the mansion is always cooled by coastal breezes while the slave quarters are in a humid swamp. Upon entering the slave quarters, one becomes aware of the worsened conditions the slaves endured from the heat, humidity, and misery of having to live in a swamp versus the coast. I used this observation to create a sonic landscape that reflects the differences in the areas each segment of Kingsley’s inhabitants lived in. The mansion soundscape reflects the vitality of folks in charge of their destiny and involved with activities of promise, like the hustle and bustle of commerce and prosperity. The slave quarter areas are diminished and lacks this vibrancy.  In the audio tour songbirds sing around the mansion. Swarms of flies buzz at the slave quarters. The listener may not be aware of it, but as they journey back from the mansion to the slave quarters, they travel from the promise of life and abundance of the slave owners to the despair of the slaves–from day into night, promise into loss, hope into despair.

Another project we produced was for the USS Cavalla at the American Undersea Warfare Center in Seawolf Park, Galveston, TX. This World War II submarine sits on dry land, and tours of the sub take visitors throughout the length of the sub from the bow to the stern. As a matter of course, I strive to get natural sounds of the areas where a tour will take place. If it is of an outdoor exhibit, I want the sounds of the birds, insects, etc. of that area to be “site correct.” However, in the case of the Cavalla there was no way I could be in the sub while it was underway to get the actual sounds, so my imagination was the tool I relied on to create a realistic environment. This is where some studio trickery came to my aid. I had an idea about how to create a sonic environment for the sub and took the narrator’s recording and slowed it down as far as my software would allow.

Here is a segment of the isolated narrator recording:

Here is the sound of this same track narrator slowed down:

To me the resulting recording sounded like submarine sounds in operation–bubbles, creaks, air releases all “seemed” to be present.  I then mixed the slowed track into the underscore of the audio tour stops inside the sub to add to its soundtrack… and in doing so also made the narrator part of the sound of the sub!

Here is an audio tour stop from the tour showing an example of the finished mix–The Control Room stop.  See if you can hear the lowered narrator sound mixed into the recording (Hint–it’s easier to hear before the narrator starts speaking):

I’ve done many things like this in my years of producing audio tours.  To me the audio production is the most creative thing I do in producing our tours. Whether through capturing the authentic sounds of an outdoor space or sonically crafting my interpretation, the audio production of a tour is the final opportunity to engage the listeners to the script and experience–which will ultimately connect them to the space and the emotional goal of the tour.

So the next time you take an audio tour, ask yourself if you felt the production choices were engaging and effective. Like anything done with skill and forethought, well-crafted audio production should showcase the opportunities for a greater experience than that of a voice-only, low quality production.

If you plan to produce a tour, please remember that you only have one chance to make a good first impression with an audio tour. Make sure it is done with quality in order to give your listener a chance to be transformed and moved by the experience.  This will certainly prompt your visitors to recommend your facility to others. Always remember that a bad review and lackluster experience carries farther than a good one, so please strive to create a tour that engages and elevates the listener with stories and good audio production values. Your satisfaction in doing so will be great.

And of course consider hiring Q Media to do it with you. I promise you’ll be happy with both the process and the outcome!

Ask us about bringing an unforgettable mobile media tour to your venue.

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Mike is the COO of Q Media and drives technical leadership behind every Q Media Production. He directs every technical and artistic aspect, in addition to all deliverables of every project and has since the company’s inception.

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