By Kristen Lueck, VP Business Development & Partnerships, Made Music Studio
Immersive experiences have exploded in recent years with pop-up entertainment venues like The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit to the Museum of Ice Cream to Meow Wolf’s immersive installations becoming more the norm than the exception in entertainment options. True immersive experiences engage all five senses in physical and even digital spaces, truly immersing the consumer in unique storytelling and sensory experiences that can transport them to new places physically and in time.
While Instagram-friendly visuals and interactive elements tend to be front of mind when it comes to Experience Design, one of the most effective ways to truly engage with people in spaces is by focusing on music and sound. Human reaction time to sound is quicker than that of our other senses. We can perceive only about 25 visual events per second in comparison to 200 auditory events in the same amount of time. In many ways, sound acts as an organizer of all our senses and is effectively the senses’ first impression in any given physical space.
And while we can easily close or avert our eyes, the same is not possible for our ears. Thus, the power of sound works twofold: it doesn’t require us to look in a certain direction to have the desired impact and it can also draw attention to key areas of interest to ensure we never miss a meaningful moment.
With this in mind, how can we use sound to create memorable experiences that people feel a deep emotional connection with? From Made Music Studio’s research, we have found there’s an 86% correlation between your subconscious reaction to sound and your conscious desire to return to an experience. And often the most effective sound is the sound you feel more than outright hear. For when effective audio design best supports a space, it almost disappears into its environment. You don’t notice it as a separate component — you notice its impact only as integral to the larger experience.
Core Principles of Audio Design
When designing or curating a soundscape for a space, consider the intended emotional takeaways of that space, along with how that sound is best serving the overall experience. Effective audio should be more felt than heard – so it is vital to ensure that any playback is at a volume level appropriate to its environment and desired mood.
When we craft a soundscape for a space, we consider four core layers or “ingredients,” that will guide both our audio strategy and the composition process:
- Ambient sounds: Very low-level ambient sounds or a piece of music with minimal elements. Felt more than heard, ambient sounds are only consciously heard or recognized when in close proximity to the sound source.
- Background sounds: Background sound and music that sets an underlying tone, often to instantly provide a peaceful and calming mood to guests.
- Midground sounds: Music and sound loud enough to act as an aural cue to a guest, but not intrusive to conversations. It calls attention to an experience but doesn’t demand it.
- Foreground sounds: Used sparingly for surprise and delight. It demands attention and drives emotion.
Once you understand the different components of sound and its impact in a space, it’s time to dissect how you want people to feel once they enter. Here are a few questions to consider:
- How do you want guests to feel in the space? This can be as simple as a list of emotional adjectives. For example, do you want them to be curious? Excited? Relaxed?
- Is there a target audience for this space? Who is this space meant to resonate with? Are there multiple audiences to cater to? How do their needs differ?
- Is there a story you are trying to tell? If so, what is that story? This is a key question to ask no matter what space you’re attempting to score – be it a lobby, a museum or themed entertainment.
As Immersive Experiences continue to grow with more consumers seeking out ways to have multi-sensory experiences, it can be difficult to balance out the impact of each sense. But audio can be one of the simplest ways to engage consumers, with the biggest impact, if you understand the journey and outcome, you want consumers to leave with.