Check your bias: finding audio files for your audience’s ears

By Jeff Bray

Manager, Audio Content, iStock

"Every project is the product of a ménage-a-trois between intent, aesthetic/aural choices and the culture/tastes of your viewer. In Facebook terms, it’s complicated."

As human beings we are confronted daily with a wave of visual information. Our optical obsession has colonized our remaining senses, leading to paradoxical figures of speech like “eat with our eyes.” When we hear that phrase, we don’t think of ourselves poking cake into our eyeballs, but rather the enjoyment we get from the appearance of a dish. In much the same way, I’m proposing that we need to also start to “see with our ears.”

When assembling a project with both audio and visual elements, you quickly realize that you are dealing with a complex relationship. Not only is there a correlation between the visual and sonic tones you set, but there’s also a third party involved – the consumer of your product. Every project is the product of a ménage-a-trois between intent, aesthetic/aural choices and the culture/tastes of your viewer. In Facebook terms, it’s complicated.

Below are a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right audio tracks for your project.

Define your intent

Intent is fairly easy to sort out. In regards to your product or idea, you are most likely attempting to get someone to take an action, whether it’s buying into your concept or buying your product.

Establish the aesthetic

You most likely have some ideas as to the visual aesthetic that has either been branded into your product or campaign. The trick with your viewer is speaking to them in a language that they both understand and connect with.

Understand your audience

The more exact you can be in figuring out the visual and aural language of your intended audience the more likely you will be to communicate and solicit your idea effectively.

You never want your target audience to feel like you don't understand them because you’ve selected music based on a misperception of their culture. Unless you are immersed in that culture, the easiest way to alienate your audience is to let your personal tastes completely dictate your music choice.

Here are three tips to help you hear what exactly it is that you’re looking for:

1. Get a second opinion

Remember that you are choosing music to represent an idea, not your tastes in music. Play any early edits that have music and sound to as many people as you can. Get feedback. People are usually not shy about giving you opinions on music. Just bear in mind that they are bias to their own tastes too. Take all comments with a grain of salt, but when there’s a pile of salt you may need to rethink your choice.

2. Compare your choice

After you have picked the track you feel works best for your project, choose two or three more options to compare it with. Don't go back to your initial pool of choices. Do a search for new files. Pick one that is similar to your chosen track, pick one that is more or less intense and choose one that might work as a counterpoint or contrasting feel. Play them to picture. Though it’s best to sync them up, you may not have time for this. At the very least have them play at the same time in two different apps to get an idea of how a different choice could push your production in a new direction before you bounce your final cut.

3. Be a little different

Innovation is not usually ground breaking, but rather a subtle shift in the norm that swells to have a much larger impact on the way we perceive and navigate the day to day. Get out of the box a little with your music choice. Not out of the box like wearing pajamas to work with a top hat - just don't settle for what you have heard work for other productions. The first few times a ukulele track was used in a commercial was amazing and innovative. The next thousand times were not so great.

About Jeff Bray

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Jeff has been living and breathing music his entire life. From playing in indie bands to working as tour manager for Martin Sexton to producing songs for international clients, it is only natural that he now finds himself as the Audio Manager at iStock. Holding a BFA in drawing from the Alberta College of Art and Design, Jeff also takes his love of music into the world of animation to produce wildly imaginative works that both sing and dance.

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