I Can’t Hear Anything: Social Media + Sound
YOUR VIDEO FROM THAT KANYE CONCERT SOUNDS LIKE A DUMP TRUCK DRIVING THROUGH A NITROGLYCERIN PLANT
I CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING
After uploading the above clip to his YouTube account, Mr. Videeeooo wrote: “Put my N5 through it’s (sic) paces at a gig the other night only to come back and find the audio quality is appalling… Is this normal or do you think I have a faulty unit?”
Unfortunately, this is not a faulty unit.
Every Monday as I scroll through my Instagram feed, among sun dappled aloe vera plants, steaming mugs of coffee, and crossed feet in hammocks, I stumble upon the same series of 15 second clips: THE CONCERT VIDEOS. Strobes and moving lights that are more than an iPhone’s autofocus lens can handle, and an onslaught of compressed clipping sound that more closely resembles an explosion more than a musical performance. I think: Why did Instagram add this video feature? Bowls of blueberries charmingly placed in windowsills with light curtains billowing in the background, however abundant they may be in our feeds, do evoke a feeling, a sensation, an atmosphere. What story is being told by 15 second concert videos? What is being evoked? What can we understand in this video that is shorter than a standard ad, but was uploaded because it has more meaning than one?
Instagram filters make it look sunny when it’s not. The creepy dude in the corner making eyes at your friends can be cropped out. Camera apps and their various filters allow us to control the visuals in our lives, and though many use this control to exaggerate the fun they are having or the lushness of their blueberries, the effect remains: when I see a beautiful photo on social media, it makes me wish I was there.
The control that Instagram affords its users has helped broaden the conversation about photography. It has nudged people to talk about contrast, brightness, and composure. To think not just about what they are looking at, but how it is was made. We have had access to these editing tools for a long time, but we didn’t use them. Instagram helped bridge this divide and start a conversation where one might not previously have been held.
WE COULD DO THE SAME FOR SOUND
What if people thought about the elements of what they’re hearing? The audio filter is not a new thing. Sony had it in the ’90s on their receivers — “Church,” “Jazz Hall,” “Auditorium.” Our cars have long had treble and bass control. What we’ve lacked is a conversation about the aspects of sound. Just like a well-lit photo with the right amount of lens flare and tilt shift can make Gary, Indiana look like Miami Beach, great sound can turn your parents’ basement into the Grand Canyon.
WHY USERS AREN’T USING SOUND IN SOCIAL MEDIA
We lack the exact thing in sound that we crave when using social media: control. There is currently no way to control the volume or mic level on Instagram, Facebook, or Vine. There are no filters or compressors to help us edit sound. There is no Amaro for audio. The sound we record is the sound we get. And with the current designs of the microphones built into our mobile devices, they aren’t designed to give us the sound that we crave and deserve. Even the sound that comes through the jack and into our headphones is usually heavily compressed from a hefty .wav file into a .mp3 that carries a mono file to our ears. Even getting a stereo file would be better, but Facebook hasn’t seemed to catch onto that yet (we’ll get into that in a later post).
But in order for our phones to give us the sound that we want, we are going to need more than just our phones. But it doesn’t always work like that, especially in social situations. We are getting this crappy file because of the way that the microphones record, process, and play it back for us. Social media apps have filters for pictures, but nothing for audio. The files will be too big to handle and need a lot of work to become what you hear on a CD or in concert. Recording a live concert on your phone is cutting a lot of depth out of the actual production.
You’re at a concert. You’re wearing a fanny pack. You’re not going to carry around a microphone.
You may or may not be wearing a fanny pack, but you get the idea. Smartphones are great because they are multifunctional: microphone, camera, and social media all in one. Their primary use is communication, not the extra stuff that was added to make it more universal and entertaining. If great sound means adding heavy gear, it won’t catch on. But what’s one piece of equipment you’re already carrying in your fanny pack? Headphones. What if designing sound were as easy as wearing the headphones around your neck?
THAT KANYE CONCERT COULD SOUND LIKE A KANYE CONCERT
At Hooke, we’re working on it. And it’s going to be great. Trust us.
Great sound is an amazing experience, but we have to find a way to integrate it seamlessly into our lives. Because carrying a fanny pack at Coachella is already almost too much to rave with. Almost.
From One Ear To Another,