Reflections of a Sound Designer

Audio's Place in Advertising: Where It Is Today, and Where Is It Headed Tomorrow?

By Marshall Grupp, Partner/COO/Sound Designer at Sound Lounge

Did you ever stop during your walk home from work and just listen? I have been doing that more and more lately. It is amazing the cacophony of sounds that exist at the intersection of 23rd St. and 5th Ave. Even after 35+ years of sound designing and sound editing, one thing that still gets me every time is the sound the subway makes as it passes by, 50 feet below street level. You can get so many ideas from just listening. In the hustle and bustle of the workday, we don't tend to take time to listen--listen to our co-workers, our children, and the world that surrounds us.

Many times in the advertising industry, the great importance of sound is not a consideration. Audio, unfortunately, often becomes an afterthought in the overall planning of a commercial or even a film, for that matter. Sound design, markedly, is often treated like the neglected child of the advertising industry, despite the fact that the multi-dimensional quality that's inherent in sound as a general entity can be integral in telling the stories that ads aim to tell. Sound can be as powerful and large as a basketball being dunked or as small and gentle as a baby cooing. And yet, comments like, "We can do it in the mix," "Do you really think it needs sound?" "We have no money in our budget for sound FX," and, arguably the most disappointing, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, the client wants to take out all the sound effects and go with just the music track and VO," continue to resonant in this creative community.

That said, some brands do understand what sound design can offer to the success of their spots and should be looked at as examples of the power of sound to tell a strong story. Cars, sporting goods and video games all tend to incorporate sound in a significant way. Ford is one brand that's currently airing some very sound intensive spots. The campaign called for more types of sounds than the usual car sounds, which makes the spots stand out from the other car ads on TV. Another notable example is the Samsung "Symphony" commercial that I sound designed recently, as sound is a real character in that story. What I mean is, the sound was more than just, "Sound FX: Telephone ring," listed on the final script. Sound played the leading role!

Seeing and working on spots like these provides me some assurance that somewhere out there, despite what the norm seems to be these days, there are others in this industry who still value sound (and see the value of sound) the way that I do. I can only hope that the more senior believers instill the importance of sound in the juniors below them, as they are groomed to be the future leaders of our industry. And, if they aren't, I'd like to implore them to. It will only make the creative work of both today and tomorrow more successful, which, ultimately, will keep our beloved industry thriving.