What sound advice

Top 10 do’s and don’ts for audio on corporate websites.

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One feature that has had little impact on corporate websites (just as much outside the FT Bowen Craggs Index constituency as within it) is sound. Even though the web has been able to handle audio from the beginning, there has been a general feeling among companies that it is irrelevant, or worse. Most of the audio on Index sites rather supports this, though the most irritating example, on EDF’s home page, has now gone.
Is it time to think again? Well, apparently more people now use speakers or headphones, so sound is not as universally wasted as before. And the spread of broadband and the associated expansion of video and animation mean that a site can seem odder without sound than with it. Try the home page of Aston Martin as an example.
We are no experts, but we know someone who is. Michael Spencer runs Sound Strategies, a specialist consultancy that helps companies use music and other sound more effectively. Mike is a former professional musician who takes an approach that blends the musical, the academic and the commercial. He has put together the following tips and pitfalls for companies thinking about the web.

Do…


1 …consider a short landing page animation with sound as a way of creating a welcoming atmosphere, even if there are no other audio elements on the site.
2 …ensure the music is original and differentiated, not an off-the-shelf music library track, and that the creative brief ensures it ‘says’ something distinctive about the company and its message.
3 …think about what music can communicate that speech or text cannot.
4 …choose carefully the tone and quality of voices for podcast/webcast recordings. (Executives are not necessarily the best people to deliver what the executives want to say.)
5 …consider audio versions of news or financial reports – especially in summary form.
6 …ensure that any web audio/video clips have easy-to-find off/on/volume/skip controls.
7 …provide value-added information for videos and podcasts: running time, alternative playback platforms, download size, creative credits if appropriate.
8 …opt for synchronised music for videos or animations – that is, where the music is specially constructed and edited to reflect the video action.
9 …think strategically in terms of audio on your website. For example, by exploiting different variations or arrangements of a common musical theme on different pages.
10 …ensure that music loops (repeating phrases during page loading, for example) are not too short and that they stop, preferably by fading out, when a new window or tab opens.

Don’t…


1 …be satisfied with videos or animations that are underscored with undifferentiated, off-the-shelf library music.
2 …pander to what agencies will tell you are current musical tastes – inevitably these will change in a couple of months.
3 …think of music as simply a background mood generator – it can do a lot more.
4 …restrict audio and video elements of the site to the media or corporate responsibility pages – think creatively.
5 …assume that video or audio (or indeed text) archives have any purpose on the website, simply because it is easy to put them there.
6 …imagine that hip audio signals triggered by clicks or mouse movements will excite anyone other than the web designers.
7 …ever contemplate using synthesised speech for anything on a corporate website.
8 …strip stock library music tracks behind a spoken financial report or voice-overs delivering upbeat company news.
9 …ask an actor simply to read out verbatim written financial reports. Write a special script.
10 …imagine certain music genres will attract a different demographic such as a younger clientele; they are more likely to repel existing supporters.

First published 30 April, 2008
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