5 attention grabbing audio tricks

Loud noises attract our attention and these days adverts and brands are screaming at us from every angle to take notice. Consumers are overloaded, so it’s time to look at some slightly more cunning ways to get the attention of the public and get your message out there using the power of audio.

These tips will give you some insight into some creative ways of using audio to get people’s attention and will also dip into the science behind ‘attention grabbing’ sounds along the way.

1.Our brains like backwards sounds

The very nature of sound vibration is that it loses energy over time, meaning almost all sounds start loud and get quieter. Hitting a gong, plucking a string, dropping your keys, with all these noises you instantly get sound that then dies away at varying rates. Our brain is used to this, play a sound backwards and our brain focuses on the sound trying to work out what is happening.

Here is an example recording, the sound of a radiator being hit.

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Reverse

2.The evolution of the ear

Our ears have evolved to amplify certain frequencies. Your outer ear and your ear canal act as an amplifier boosting the signal where you need it most. This is centered around the human speech frequencies, which if you think about it makes sense. Humans have become the dominant species through the abilty to communicate with each other and it is only natural that we should have evolved to easily hear each other speak. The frequencies that the ear focuses on most are between 300hz and 3khz and this is one of the reasons why the bassist in a band gets less solos that the guitarist.

Here is an example from our news themes post:

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Here we have just the 300hz-3Khz frequencies. While the sound is not as full you can still distinguish the instruments and the melodies fairly easily.

This time the 300hz-3Khz frequencies have been removed making it much harder to distinguish the important information about the audio.

3.Psycho-acoustic effects

The audio equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing, psycho-acoustic effects confuse your brain. Take the Shepard Tone for example, it is a sound that appears to be constantly rising with no end point:

4.Silence

Silence is a very powerful tool in the audio arsenal. Again, much of the effect of silence on our attention stems from evolution.

Naturally the world is quite a noisy place and sudden silences are often an indicator of danger in the form of predators. As a successful species humans have evolved to take a particular interest in avoiding being eaten. As such our ears are always on, even when we sleep and our brain is constantly processing the input. It is very good at identifying sudden changes in audio that could be dangerous to us.

Much of the time our brain is ‘passively’ listening to the sound all around us, blocking out the everyday noises (traffic, computer fans, wildlife etc.) that are of no danger to us. When our brain very rapidly switches to actively focus on a particular sound this really grabs the attention of all our other senses. Load noises are a good example of this but often overlooked is the effect of sudden silence which in many cases can be much more interesting.

Here is a piece of music created by Ithaca Audio that focuses on the change in volume between loud and soft sounds to create tension in the listener:

The Jungle by Ithaca Audio


5.Quality

Last but certainly not least is quality. High definition, well recorded or created sounds just get our attention. Any of the attention grabbing tricks mentioned above will be dampened by bad quality audio. Wherever possible steer clear of low quality encoding such as mp3. Where small file sizes are necessary try looking at some of the lossless audio codecs such as mp3HD, FLAC and Apple Lossless. If size and compatibility absolutely demand mp3 then encode it at the highest quality settings that you can.