Can we start injecting more personality into Radio Imaging and Audio Branding? This article might seem a bit harsh but sometimes reevaluating our Audio Brands might be the most important thing we can ever do, and here's why.
Over the 2-3 decades, Radio Imaging has become about that "BIG" sound with over the top sound design, huge sounding trailer voices and maybe slightly unnatural designs. Yes, Radio is like a Soap Opera, in that you're trying to "put on'' a personality that matches the music, audience and feel. But are we starting to miss the point and objective with our own medium? I think we have lost some of the character and personality within Imaging.
While researching for this article and listening to hours of audio, music and branding itself, I came across a very interesting article from the BBC about the last decade of Pop and Chart Music. While the article was interesting and so true, it was the last line about the future that really intrigued me and made me think about changes in our world in this decade.
Technology often drives musical innovation - from the invention of the electric guitar to the advent of auto-tune. Harding and Sloan suggest that the ubiquity of earbuds and headphones could be responsible for a change in the way singers record their vocals.
"Billie Eilish might be representative of that trend," says Sloan. "We're going to hear a lot more voices that are really quiet and really intimate and take advantage of the fact we're all listening to music on our earphones.
That whispered-in-your-ear sound shares some of the experience of podcasting - that feeling that someone is speaking directly in your ear.” -- [From Five ways music changed in the 2010s, by Mark Savage, BBC Music Reporter]
I think in 2020, things are going to shift slightly and for the better. I personally feel storytelling and content driven pieces will take center-stage in every audio medium. Just because the content sounds like it’s longer-form, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Okay, there are a handful of stations across the world doing this already (particularly with Breakfast Show content). Creating sweepers, promos and other pieces using artist content to drive creativity is the way forward.
Look at YouTube and Vlogs (sure, they're nothing new) and how TikTok is starting to take the world by storm. Why are they working? They are usually bite-size or short but they are certainly driving audiences in droves and the multi-million hits are very attractive. The streaming generation must be embraced within the Radio world NOW. It's not about making a promo driving listeners to content on social channels - that is not effective, as you are relying on repetition and valuable airtime, whereas you could be putting relatable content on the mainstream platform (FM).
I also think the generation of TikTok has driven creativity through the roof and that's here to stay. Give it 12-24 months and TikTok will easily become the Number 1 Social Media platform for under 35s in the world! Give that another 12-24 months and I could easily see it being Number 1 with under 45s. I think it's great when a new social media platform comes out because it shifts creators’ thinking, and I don't think we've seen something quite like the uniqueness of it since Instagram launched ten years ago.
So, should we be changing our angle? Should we be creating content for the TikTok audience?
I am quite lucky that in my primary role with SiriusXM - most of the channels I work on are very content heavy. When I say heavy, I don't mean messy or long; I mean the Imaging is the content. It's very unique and sets each channel apart, and I honestly think that's the next step we're going to see across the world.
Maybe as an industry we need to reevaluate our brand guidelines to also include the sound of the station. It might spark an idea or angle to take when it comes to the radio station's greatest in-house asset - Radio Imaging and Audio Branding.
Denzil Lacey is an Imaging Producer with SiriusXM and runs his own Audio Company, Zava Media in Ireland. He welcomes your comments below.