Three primary areas in which any future-facing business could benefit by hiring a Chief Sound Officer are:
- Customer Satisfaction and Wellbeing
- Employee Health and Productivity
- Market Relevance and ROI
While one article cannot possibly cover all the applications of sound, offer the abundance of research validation, nor touch upon every market sector, I hope to provide you with a little context and a few examples of how the value and impact of business can be amplified through the power of sound.
The Decade of Sound
In his keynote address to the Audio Collaborative last November, HARMAN’s President of Consumer Audio Division Carsten Olesen announced that we were entering a sound-first era – one that HARMAN called the “Decade of Sound”.
Coming from one of the world’s largest consumer audio groups (including AKG, Crown, Harmon Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Studer, Ban & Olufson, Lexicon, and more), this could sound like little more than a provocative tagline. I can assure you, however, there is a lot more substance behind Olesen’s words than a well-crafted slogan.
Before we jump into why hiring a Chief Sound Officer would be a wise investment for any company looking to stay competitive in the Decade of Sound, let’s take a look at two of the world’s greatest technologies: the human brain and the ear.
Sound and The Brain
Sound – good or bad – is an ever-present input that affects multiple functions of the human brain, and nearly every part of the human experience. These include our perception, our health, and our capacity to communicate and perform at our highest potential.
At the most basic primal level, sound is brain’s first line of defense – letting it know, in any given moment, whether or not we are safe. The human ear can also be one of our greatest gateways for pleasure: whether the source of that pleasure is the voice of our favorite singer, the rippling sounds of a brook in nature, or the contagious laughter of a small child.
If any part of your business is made up of human beings, your business would benefit from paying closer attention to sound.
Sound even affects our senses of sight and taste. Unlike our eyes and mouth, however, the human ear never closes. Our system is not only affected by the sounds and music we get to choose but constantly exposed to and impacted by the undesired sounds and noise we don’t.
Not in the Audio Business? – Think Again
Contrary to what many business owners believe, you don’t have to be dealing with the noise-intensive locations like construction sites, factories, urban centers, airports or even shared workspaces to be faced with sound challenges, nor to be the benefactor of a broad range of opportunities that can come from the advanced applications of sound in your business.
While you may not be in the sound business, sound is in your business.
In his book, Sound Business, author, TED Speaker and pioneer in the field Julian Treasure tells us that worker productivity is reduced by as much as 70%, based on the impact of noise and sonic distraction. This doesn’t bode well for the evolution shared workspaces, open classrooms, or many of the COVID-induced work-from-home scenarios. When noise goes up, heart rate goes up; and focus and wellbeing go down. The good news is – there are solutions.
Environmental sound experts like Treasure, and a whole range of companies working in the quickly evolving Hearables field, offer proven opportunities to both add beneficial audio experiences and to reduce unwanted noise. In addition to improvements in performance outcomes, these can include increases in worker and customer satisfaction.
“One day, mankind will fight noise as relentlessly as Cholera in the Past.” – Robert Koch
Additionally, more conscientious and science-backed sonic solutions mean better health. One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that health and wellness have risen to the top of priority list. For businesses that care about the wellbeing of their stakeholders, we are in an even more vital time to include sound health strategies in the mix.
Sound Business Applications
Beyond the aforementioned industries, and more obvious sectors like entertainment, live event venues and consumer audio, let’s take a quick look at a few businesses that could benefit by seeing sound in new ways:
Sound and audio have long been a competitive standard in automotive design. Significant advancements have been made with soundproofing materials to keep out traffic noise, high-fidelity music systems to keep drivers inspired, and hands-free phone interfaces and voice-activated controls to keep eyes on the road.
In the future of auto-sound 2.0, you are likely to see emotion monitoring and responsive programming to reduce stress and road rage. Other features might include audio sensors to help detect substance-impaired driving and personalized soundscapes to help improve your wellbeing or even help your baby fall asleep.
Last year, Ari Peralta, Founder of the London-based innovation and wellbeing studio Arigami, partnered with sound and wellness expert Tom Middleton to create an audio-based market differentiator for the Nissan LEAF. Nissan was looking for a way to convince young parents to choose their entry-level EV over competing brands. Through the team’s research, they discovered two key factors that lead to the Nissan LEAF Dream Drive project:
- Over 50% of parents use what they call “dream driving” (driving the infant around in the car) to help their baby settle down and fall asleep.
- The humming of the combustion engine (something lacking in electric vehicles) is a major contributor to inducing the desired state.
Positive outcomes from creating the first zero-emission “dream drive” experience included: a research-based lullaby soundtrack, an annual reduction of up to 70,000g of CO2 emissions (when compared to using a combustion engine), increased sales of the LEAF, and an environmentally-minded community of happier parents and babies.
Meanwhile, some competitors in the space, like the Toyota premium-class fuel cell Murai, have received less attention when it comes to the sound health of their passengers. They’ve added more alarming sounds to the vehicle. While these “driver aides” are well intended, like the noisy alarms in NICU, they were created without full consideration of the negative impact certain sounds can have on the stress levels of drivers and their passengers. Sounds like a great reason to hire a CSO.
Online Meetings and Conferencing Platforms
While online conferences, work-from-home, and Zoom meetings have become the norm, high-quality audio for online communications, events and collaborations have not. Low-grade digital audio not only diminishes the quality of the human connection and basic communication, it can also add unnecessary physical and psychological stress to the brain and the entire system.
Motivated in part by the immediate demands of the recording industry and top musical artists lacking access to live venues and professional studios, companies like immersive-audio guru Greg Morgenstein’s Hear360 are racing to build advanced solutions for the transmission of hi-resolution spacial audio to be transmitted over both popular and custom platforms. Among non-audio clients quick to recognize the need and the value are the business software giant SAP
What Business Can Learn from Immersive Audio
Entertainment, gaming and the next-level immersive wave of VR will continue to push the threshold of audio-dependent experiences in ways that other businesses can benefit. Second Life founder Phillip Rosedale is one of many sound evangelists who is testing the capabilities of special and immersive audio in new ways. In a recent conversation, he shared that he will be transforming his latest virtual world platform Hi-Fidelity to an audio-only experience, proving the power that sound has defined the way we experience the world.
But what does that mean for your business?
In addition to actually moving some online business communications into the more immersive virtual settings, learnings from the new interactive, 360 and VR technology will provide us with more advanced solutions for 2D and physical environments. In the immersive world, over 50% of the user’s emotional and psychological experience is controlled by audio. The convergence of these technologies will transform the digital meeting and online event experience, as well as re-define user expectations for more audio-rich digital products.
Personalized Medicine & Wellbeing – The Hearables Revolution
While some experts focus on environmental, multi-user and business sound solutions, the growth in sound health opportunities to help the individual control their own sonic experiences, and optimize their wellbeing and potential by doing so, is exploding.
Through the world of Hearables, sound and music will take a far more prominent role in delivering quality personalized experiences and desired outcomes to the user. In addition, for the first time, those outcomes will be measurable in real-time based on a wide range of biometrics for the user to monitor on their smartphone.
Leading wellness apps Headspace and Calm are examples of companies stepping up their investment into music and sound to compete for subscribers and offer better user experiences. The latest Apple Watch has a new feature that alerts you when the volume of sound around you reaches unhealthy levels. Noise filtering will become standard in the next evolution of Hearables, while some manufactures are already featuring hearing tests and adjustable settings within their apps to match the user’s personal hearing profile.
Back in the business world, Hearables also offer a great solution for managing sound in shared workspaces, improving productivity and addressing some of the sound-related work-from-home challenges. When combined with the added opportunities for optimizing health and wellbeing, they provide a low-cost win-win solution.
The future of sound has already arrived, and savvy CEOs should listen closely.
Manufacturing – Saving Machine Life
Claudio Hasler is the CEO and co-founder of the Berlin-based audio analytics and predictive health company Peak Profiling. A few years ago, he set out to measure health conditions and detect a disease from the human voice. Their recent clinical study to detect ADHD from voice analytics – highlighted at the WPA World Congress of Psychiatry – is among the biggest clinical trials of its kind.
Much to their surprise, Hasler and his team have found a list of enthusiastic clients lining up from the manufacturing sector. Their same sound-analyzing technology intended to serve the health and wellbeing of humanity, has proven to be highly effective at predicting the health and lifespan of expensive industrial equipment. By analyzing audible sound and vibration from the machine, they are able to predict and prevent potential breakdowns in production and workflows.
Helping Special Needs Populations
Back on the human front, and in a bit of reverse engineering, Hear360 is using their same advanced spacial audio technology that companies use for audio mapping to help the blind better perceive and have more control over their environments. The same sound-based technologies could be applied to help improve accessibility in public and commercial spaces. London-based Arigami is applying the applications of spacial audio and immersive environments that they used for major hospitality clients to create more supportive healing spaces for Alzheimer patients.
The list of highly-challenged industries that would benefit from better integrating audio-based solutions into their growth strategies goes on and on. It includes healthcare, live events, hospitality, fitness clubs, urban planning, education, and many more.
In addition, we’ve yet to scratch the surface on the power of one of the most amazing expressions of sound – music.
I hope by now, however, you have a taste of what is and will be possible in the Decade of Sound.
I also invite you to consider including the insights of a Chief Sound Officer or Sound Health Team to help amplify the potential of your business, its stakeholders, and yourself in the years ahead.