The Science of Sound

The Science of Sound

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Every visible, recognizable element of an event has an impact on the audience, whether they consciously recognize it or not. Sound and light both play significant roles in influencing attendees, both by providing obvious visual and audio cues and more subtly, through small changes and cues that don’t always register at the front of the audience’s minds.

Audio is a core component of every live event and one that has numerous applications. From making sure the microphone used by the keynote speaker is the best possible choice to the background music and changes in volume that indicate when attendees should take their seats, audio is a science integral to live event success.

The Psychology of Sound

One nearly universally understood example of using sound to influence an audience is the laugh track used by a variety of TV shows past and present, NBC News said. Despite its lack of popularity with some critics and viewers, this indicator clearly tells the audience when to laugh, identifying the jokes and other humorous elements of a program. Another example to consider is the use of music in suspense and horror films to indicate the presence of danger – and, as time has gone on, to trick the audience into thinking the protagonists are threatened, as Time magazine pointed out. In this case, the music hits on a basic biological response in the brain related to the distress calls of animals.

These two examples are easy to understand because they are so pervasive in mass media. Although they’re cues that many audience members can recognize if they’re paying attention, they still provide the intended effect. Other audio cues follow the same format but are less obvious or intrusive. Similarly, they continue to elicit a reaction from audience members.

Less-obvious music and audio cues are used in various aspects of commerce. Many stores choose music to match their expected client base, Lifehacker noted. This strategy draws on the ability of music to trigger emotions and then have shoppers associate those feelings with the products in the store.


How Sound Affects the Audience at Live Events

The applications of sound to influence the audience during live events draw on many of the same principles used in TV and in retail stores, although there are plenty of other considerations as well. The staging of speakers in regard to the speed of sound in large facilities is a common concern, to ensure the audience hears the same thing at the same time and with the same clarity. A basic rule with speaker application is the line of sight, if you can see it, you can hear it. Anything obstructing the speakers whether a screen or drape will disrupt the sound.

The quality of the sound heard by attendees while presenters are talking is vital, and a number of adjustments are involved to create the best audio environment possible. A lack of understandability or the presence of pervasive distortion can easily cause distractions, drawing attention away from the words used and overall message. If a venue is comprised of mostly glass or metal or has vaulted ceilings, the audio engineer must design and install the audio system in a way that minimizes reverb and echo that could distort the sound to the audience. A great audio system and associated design should never draw attention away from what’s happening on stage.

There are plenty of other considerations to make, too, like using background music to set the mood and lowering its volume, along with a slow drop of the house lights, to indicate a part of the event is about to begin. Audio cues that encourage the audience to look at a certain part of the stage or punctuate a presentation are also important.

With all the technical and psychological considerations that go into successful sound use at live events, it’s critical to have an experienced and knowledgeable team handling everything from the speakers to the mixing board. A great team provides a well thought out system, a strong initial set up and carefully reviews everything before the show starts, and is ready to quickly respond to and correct any issue that arises during it.




Alford Media