Listening to someone’s voice is personal, and social audio is a beautifully unedited form of that.
Think of the last podcast or audiobook you listened to. Perhaps it was an autobiography: Consider how Michelle Obama in Becoming describes her life growing up. “She vividly details honest accounts of her struggles and triumphs with wit and wisdom. From her childhood in Chicago to her resiliency as one of the most visible public figures in the world, her strength throughout challenges while in the limelight is inspiring. Obama's unforgettable retelling of her life—both the personal aspects and the political—creates a listen that’s easy to get lost in,” shares Audible in a list of the 20 best audiobooks read by their authors. There is an undeniable authenticity in listening to her share her story, and fosters more of an emotional bond.
Emotions are driven by our speech… more so than we previously realized. “A recent study by Jean-Julien Aucouturier asked people to read and record a short, innocuous story. Their voices were then altered, and when played back, many of them would feel different based on what they heard. If their voice was sped up and the pitch raised, they felt more excited. Slower with pauses added — they would feel a bit more tired or unsure of themselves,” details an article in Behavior Signals.
What does this highlight? Our voices have a deep emotional impact on us. “So, when we don’t use our voices to communicate, it raises several questions about how effectively we are connecting with others.” Andrew Chen shares his thoughts on this in ‘Social Audio Strikes Back’: “Unlike much of social media, which just shows the highlights—the amazing travel adventures, the huge mansions and cars, fitness influencers, or people with amazing dance skills—audio hits different.”
So let’s take this a step further: Social audio, being unedited, can even be the opposite of the ‘highlights.’ And that’s a good thing.
Andrew continues, “When you listen to a live conversation on Clubhouse and hear people talk over each other, all the ‘ums,’ and sometimes awkward silences, it reminds you—in a shelter-in-place era—what a lively dinner conversation is supposed to feel like.”
Social audio is all about sharing ideas, not visuals, so the content is emphasized differently than the social media platforms we’ve gotten used to in the past twenty years. Audio sparks emotion: A recent study by Michael Kraus supported this idea, too. “His research identifies our sense of hearing as being more acute at detecting emotion in a conversation. The study showed a higher degree of accuracy in identifying emotions, not just when hearing a voice vs. seeing facial expressions, but also when compared to both hearing and seeing facial expressions. When isolated, a voice is loaded with information that the human ear is particularly good at understanding.” And that brings us to our main point.
The Most Important Social Audio Tip
Do you know what you need to have the spark of the ‘lively dinner conversation’? Clear, spatial audio. It may seem almost too obvious to recommend, but the bottom line is that good social audio is immersive audio.
Take a listen to the below video of the ‘Cocktail Party Effect’.
This is what a real life, unedited conversation sounds like. Enthusiastic back-and-forth communication with others that flows naturally. On the flip side, think of the last time you were on a social audio app, and someone’s audio quality sounded terrible — maybe they had unnecessary background noise, or just a muffled microphone. The impact their audio presence had on you was altered because of it, and not for the better.
Related reading: The 4 Most Popular Social Audio Apps in 2021
“Consider some of the simple cues that can convey a spectrum of emotion when in a conversation. Quick breathing, clipped words and excessive pauses might point to anxiety or being upset. A slow, monotone voice or a quieter tone than normal could point to exhaustion or illness. Faster, slightly louder speech could point to the excitement.”
So It may sound simple, but make sure your audio is as high quality as possible if you’re hoping to genuinely connect with others. If you’re working on an application that involves social audio… try implementing spatial audio. (You can even try recording in spatial audio, too.)
Spatial Audio and Social Audio are a Perfect Match
In fact, there’s actually clear app examples of spatial audio implemented already. Check out this blog post for more information. High Fidelity has a simple guides and resources page to help get you started quickly, too. Social audio apps, videoconferencing software, VR games, and other apps are all beginning to adopt higher quality audio solutions, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re all spatial.