Today more than ever, we tend to use our eyes more than our ears. Be it through television, digital or picture messages, the majority of the stories we’re told are done visually. But to tell the story of a site or an exhibition, audio is king.
From a practical point of view, audio encourages the visitor to look out into the space rather than down into a handheld device. It can talk directly to the visitor and accurately guide their sight to specific details in an artefact or a painting hanging on a wall.
And from a storytelling point of view, audio can transport the visitor to anywhere at any point in time. Imagine the cost involved in trying to recreate the Battle of Culloden in film. Now, unless you have a BBC-like budget, it’s going to be almost impossible to capture the battle accurately – and most importantly, realistically. However with audio, it can be done. Thanks to the theatre of the mind, sound effects, music and character voices can paint a picture so vivid, the visitor feels as if they’ve been transported back in time. As you stand on the moor, listening to the anguish in the voices of the men sent out to fight, the unmistakable clash of swords, the whine of horses, it’s as if you’re right there in the middle of the battle.
Talking of Culloden, it’s a great example of audio being supported by visual content to deliver a fantastic visitor experience. On a couple of occasions during the audio tour, the visitor is instructed to take a brief look at the device. On one occasion a roman coin is shown on the screen, a coin that was discovered where the visitor is currently standing. Here it makes complete sense to show the coin on the screen, rather than try to describe it in words, and deliver a more satisfactory experience for the visitor.
Nowadays anyone can create audio. Free recording and audio editing programmes exist for PCs and Macs, and you don’t even need a sound proof studio; to muffle background noise hold a duvet over your head while recording – an effective hack I learnt from working in radio!
There are plenty of sound effect libraries on the web and music can also be found from sites such as audiojungle.net – quality pieces of work that don’t cost the earth to license. And if you’d like to use character voices, why not approach a local theatre company or amateur dramatic society?
Clearly the quality isn’t going to be up to the standard of a recording studio in Dublin, with professional voiceovers and extensive libraries of music and sound effects, but scripted well and executed cleanly, you can create audio that will help you to deliver an amazing visitor experience.