The Six Dimensions of Sound: An Interview with Roger Gehrmann

Audio is an integral part of our history and collective memory. Music has always been playing, whether intentionally, or in the background, of our childhood, youth, and adult lives. Championing audio at Pandora is Roger Gehrmann, group creative director of ad creative.

We sat down with him to discuss all things audio and explore his vision for the future of Pandora’s creative direction.

Why is audio is going through a renaissance?

Roger Gehrmann: There’s a few reasons why we are moving into an age where audio is on the rise.

First, traditional radio and physical media used to dominate our relationship with audio media - but as wireless data has become faster and cheaper, it’s become easier for people to curate their own audio experience. What used to require giant folders of CD’s, we can now do with the smartphone already in our pocket. We now have instant access to giant libraries of music and spoken word.

With the technology shift - also comes a cultural shift. We now can change that experience with media that can make the task at hand, richer and more enjoyable. The long drive to work is a lot more bearable with your favorite musician, or washing the dishes can be a hilariously enjoyable endeavor when it’s done in tandem with your favorite comedian.

And with the bigger technology shift, comes interfaces that come with it. We are now in ‘The Headphone Age.’ These ubiquitous devices are a way for us to change-up our daily-to-day experience, to escape from it or even enhance it. You probably have a pair in your pocket or bag right now - and you probably own multiple sets. Globally headphone sales are at an all-time high with almost 368 million pairs sold last year, a whole 120 million more than computer sales. The last time the headphone industry had such a spike was back in the 60’s when home record players were becoming common.

Additionally, the trend isn’t just happening with headphones. Wireless connections in the car are quickly replacing the AM/FM radio experience. Smart TV’s and Smart Speakers (with Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa) have surged in the market in the last few years, becoming commonplace in the home, allowing us not only to consume more audio in new environments but also interact with them in a new way: through our voice.

The technological evolution is now shaping the way in which media content is being produced. Audio in many ways - physiologically and psychologically - is an essential and fundamental part of storytelling.

With the current Audio Renaissance, we are somewhat returning to our early roots, bringing back the age-old tradition of oral storytelling.

Media consumption often changes due to emerging and evolving technology. Just as touch interfaces allowed us to spend more time with a small screen rather than a large one - we are seeing a shift in the way we are consuming audio.

For advertisers and their brands, it’s essential for them to know how to express themselves through audio. Voice IS the new touch.

What would you tell a brand who’s just getting started in establishing their sonic identity?

RG: As we move into a more audio-focused world, creating a Sonic Identity (which includes everything that creates the “sound” of a brand) is imperative.

There are a few main things to consider when getting started in sonic identity:

  • How is your brand or product best represented sonically - is there an emotion or a sensation that is closely tied to the brand product or experience? (eg. a friendly approachable voice, a bright sequence of musical notes, a humorous sound effect etc.)
  • Employ sonic symbols or sonic archetypes to set the mood or create meaning (e.g. the sharp sound of sophistication, the powerful sound of speed, the calming sounds of nature)
  • Can you integrate a universally recognized sound that can be a way to set the tone, meaning or style of your brand? (eg. the enticing sizzle of a pan, a calming drop of water, a satisfying crunch)
  • Consider audio fatigue, can you make iterative variations on the creative concept to get around the issue of it sounding repetitive. (eg. McDonald's has hundreds of variations of their sonic logo)

There are also plenty of tried and tested techniques that can be employed, such as Theatre of the Mind to get the listener's imagination to create a visual in their minds, based off sounds.

What are your tech predictions for audio?

RG: Voice command is one of most significant technologies making waves and predictions are pointing towards more than 50% of searches being voice-based by 2020. And thanks to Alexa, shopping is already increasingly being done via voice - it’s making people more comfortable and paving the way to for people to start doing more sophisticated, multi-step interactions with voice. It won’t be long before we are booking entire holidays via an voice AI travel agent.

Podcasts and newer audio content formats becoming mainstream; We’ve seen the rise of podcasts over the last decade with the largest distributor reporting that more than a billion people have downloaded the approximately 250,000 titles available. A recent study showed that 40% of Americans have listened to a podcast, a huge jump for a few years before - proving it’s quickly becoming mainstream. Audiobooks are also on the rise, and audio dramas are back - and likely to make a big splash really soon.

With all of these audio content formats, going is not to be at the expense of music streaming. Music is always going to be there, and it’s usually consumed where other media can’t reach listeners. Music consumption is on the rise, driven primarily through streaming and all signs point it to it continuing to rise into the future.

What were a few of your favorite highlights at Cannes?

RG: Despite its ‘Festival of Creativity’ subtitle, the narrative at this year was dominated by technology: VR, AR, Audio and Blockchain and their roles in the advertising/media world. This was further highlighted by the prominence of the tech giants presence at the festival, taking up a lot of the physical space that was once owned by the various creative and media agencies.

One of my favorite moments at Cannes was a panel discussion titled ‘The Power of Big Tech Platforms’ where tech leaders valiantly tried to defend their positions where the moderator asked the question asked was ‘Are Tech Companies Good For Humanity.’ The discussion was deep and heated, with a live poll of the room very aptly reflecting the divisiveness of the current political climate.

Another highlight was a talk where Conan O’Brien and Shaq bantered about comedy, their brands and the relationship they have with their audiences - which was deeply interesting as it was entertaining. They were both big influences on me growing up, so I found it really profound how they have both pivoted and evolved their work to stay fresh and relevant in this quickly changing media world.

What is the six dimensions of sound and what makes it unique?

RG: The Six Dimensions of Sound is our way of examining and breaking down the unique characteristics of audio. We explore why sound is such a powerful force in conveying emotion, how it can be harnessed to tell a meaningful story and leave a lasting impression.

The experience is in six parts; starting by examining the physics - how sound can connect with us physiologically and resonate with us biologically. Then we go on to explore how sound can convey and change meaning through perception, voice and identity. It all culminates in the end in how we can harness all of these attributes to craft a compelling and engaging storytelling experience.

It’s also NOT a presentation, there’s no slides, no powerpoints, charts or anything visual at all. It’s an experience, lead through the medium of sound. It’s a lot of fun and those at Cannes who experienced it gave us some fantastic feedback. I can’t wait to roll it out elsewhere.