The Esoteric Nature Of Sound – I’m So Confused!

_I don't need no stinking sound!!_

Out of sight, out of mind. That is the common perception of sound in a nutshell.

Think sound doesn’t matter? The truth is, the majority of people don’t even notice sound when it’s correct. It’s just there. But, when it’s wrong, we are quick to levy some very opinionated judgements.

We don’t hesitate to purchase music if it sounds good. We ignore music if it doesn’t. We might choose to avoid a particular restaurant because it’s always too noisy, and we feel like we can’t enjoy friends there. We might choose a particular church because we like the chest-thumping concert-level sound reproduction, or we may choose a more traditional church because it’s quieter and more reverent. But, we never hesitate to judge and choose.

The truth is, rarely can a person identify the audible qualities of music or sound that they like or dislike. They just know they either do, or don’t. It’s a feeling or vibe more than an exact identifier.

In my opinion, not nearly enough weight is given by architects and interior designers to how a designed space sounds, versus how it looks, which nearly always gets the lions share of attention. Again, sound is out of sight, out of mind. But, how does this design lapse happen in a venue like a church that is all about music and spoken voice? There are many reason, which I will breakdown in future blog posts.

Regarding the above mentioned restaurants, there are a handful of them locally that I could never take a business client or my wife because we would need to shout across the table to be heard. Are restaurant owners and management really oblivious this?  It’s totally annoying, easily preventable in most cases, and cost effective if done before the restaurant is built. On the other hand, it’s costly to retrofit, but who can measure the lost business revenue caused by these obnoxious environments over the years a business is open? How much money does it cost the owner over time?

I avoid like the plague churches that literally hand out earplugs at the door. That kind of volume is unnecessary even for modern rock worship environments.  And, I am not bothered by reasonable loud music that I can feel in my chest as long as it is a “good sounding” loud, as opposed to a harsh or shrill mix caused by lack of proper spectral balance. Granted, in a church, it’s not about the sound directly. It’s about the worship. But, when the sound kills the worship experience, the guests find another church. Again, how many antendees and how much church revenue  is lost (they have to pay their bills, too!) because of the lack of consideration given to properly designed environments? More than most pastors would ever be willing to admit if they knew the truth.

Still don’t believe me? Consider this. There are reasons that record companies and movie studios spend absurd amounts of money on audio recordings that become the albums and movies that we break out our wallets to enjoy. It’s called big revenue. Ask yourself, why would XYZ Records spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their artist’s musical productions? Is ir because they are not good stewards of their resources, or bad businessmen? Hardly. They know the investment in sound quality pays off big! It moves customers to the checkout line and the movie theaters. And, it separates you from your cash, something you are more than willing to do when you are happy with the product!

To me, this is intriguing stuff to explore. I’ve been breaking down the phycology of how people respond to audio for over 20 years, and what is so esoteric to most has become very tangible to me. My goal with this blog is to focus on the “whys” and “hows” of good sound, and why it should matter to you. It’s important for any venue dependent of sound to define their sound identity correctly.

Audio, visual and acoustical design and integration is what BESA does, and we do it quite well. Subscribe to this blog for how this is accomplished. I won’t give away all my trade secrets, but I will breakdown various “facility case-studies” that went wrong during the architectural design process of various facilities I have been hired to fix. I will also explain how easily those sound issues could have been avoided with a little forethought during the design phase.

Happy listening!

~ Darren Bowls


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