Loudness wars: the music and voice over mix
How many times have you watched an online video and struggled to hear the voice over when it’s accompanied by music? When you’re listening and watching, you may just put it down to the media you are using to play it, or even your hearing! I know, I’ve been there and have sometimes thought one or both of those things. As a web video narrator of numerous corporate videos, this has become a bug bear of mine.
The reason for this apparent loudness war is invariably because the music levels have been set too high.
So, if the video was distracting because of this, then the result could be that potential clients or customers really couldn’t hear the message and, worse still, quickly moved onto another website. The client or customer may not even have been consciously aware as to what made them move on or not pay attention.
So what, you say? Well, given that it is generally accepted that 30% of the population are auditory, that’s almost a third who would find this particularly annoying and potentially move on from your video. That’s a pretty big number of potential customers you or your clients may be losing, aside from the rest who may also move on too.
You see, with video, what you’ve got are 3 elements going on at once, if you’re using voice over in the mix: the visual imagery in front of you, the voice over narration, and the ‘background’ music. All three need to be working in synergy to make the video effective. If the 2 audio elements are competing with each other, you’ve got a problem.
The music needs to complement the narration and/or the visual, rather than take over. It is meant as subtle ‘background’, not foreground. A little production and compression techniques which your voice over or production company can add to the finished narration, can better cut through the music, but they can only do so much if the volume of the music is set too high in the first place.
Choosing the right music at the outset can help with this, ideally something subtle, but if you’re set on using a heavier piece of music it’s even more important to lower the music levels, so that it very much sits underneath the voice over.
As an example, this kind of problem can spoil even some of the biggest events. Last year, I went to Wembley to see Robbie Williams. The excitement in the stadium was huge. However, once the music began, poor Robbie could barely be heard amongst the music, as the music levels were way too loud. At first I thought it was just me, as I’m auditory and noise sensitive. However, the people I was with felt the same and, certainly on our side of the stadium what I noticed was that the audience becoming visibly less engaged and restless. There was an unusually high amount of to-ing and fro-ing from the stadium into the food and bar areas and, although they were enjoying the atmosphere, I noticed that fans weren’t as responsive to the songs as they might have been. It wasn’t Robbie’s fault, but whoever was mixing the sound. There’s often a tendency to believe that loud is good. It isn’t, as what we came to hear was Robbie. I’ll say it again – ‘hear‘ Robbie, not be drowned out by the music. It’s pointless.
Bottom line is…keep the music levels down and let the narration shine through!
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