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The Psychology Of Sound and How to Utilize it

Discover the hidden power of sound and how it affects our emotions and behavior. Unleash its potential to enhance your life - read on to find out more!

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André Kirchner 22 Feb 2023

A universal language, music has the power to evoke feelings and change mood. But have you ever questioned why specific noises or music evoke various emotions in you? As a sound engineer, you can produce more appealing, emotionally resonant mixes by comprehending the psychology of music and how the brain interprets it.

First and foremost, the brain uses a sophisticated interaction of cognitive and emotional systems to comprehend music. The auditory cortex in the brain is where sounds are first processed after being heard. Here, the brain recognizes and categorizes the pitch, rhythm, and timbre of the sound. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin, which are linked to pleasure and connection, respectively, are then released as a result of these factors.

Knowing how the brain interprets music can help you as a sound engineer produce mixes that are both technically flawless and emotionally impactful. For instance, you can increase the emotional impact of a track and aid in evoking particular feelings in the listener by employing particular EQ settings and plugin effects.

Effects of Psychoacoustics

When we talk about psychoacoustic effects, we're talking about how the human brain interprets and processes sound. The phenomena of masking, which happens when one sound is made less detectable by the presence of another sound, is one of the most well-known psychoacoustic effects. To assist separate various sounds and make them more distinct, this effect is frequently employed in mixing and mastering. The Haas effect, often referred to as the precedence effect, is another psychoacoustic phenomenon that happens when two sounds are played one after the other with a short delay. The brain interprets these two sounds as coming from the same location as the first sound. This effect can be utilized to give a mix a sense of depth and space.

The Fletcher-Munson curves, commonly referred to as equal-loudness contours, are psychoacoustic phenomena that explain how sensitive the human ear is to certain frequencies at various volume levels. Because of this, a mix that sounds fantastic at a low volume may sound harsh and out of balance when played at a higher volume. For sound engineers to produce high-quality, pleasurable mixes that function well across all listening environments and volume levels, it is essential to understand these psychoacoustic effects.

Doctrin Of Affection

A common idea throughout the Baroque era was the doctrine of affections, which claimed that certain emotional states could be evoked in listeners by music. Several musical strategies, such as dissonance to create tension and resolution to produce a sense of release, were used by composers like Bach and Handel to create emotional differences within a composition. This strategy was intended to arouse the listener's emotions and was considered a means to more effectively and profoundly communicate through music. Although it is less well-known now, this idea emphasizes the value of emotion in music and how it may be used to forge closer ties between the composer, performer, and listener.

What connection does this have to sound engineering?

A thorough understanding of the genre, the instrument and sources, the mechanics of sound, and the technical facets of audio engineering are necessary to produce "emotional" mixes. For the technical side, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools, Cubase, or Logic, is the most typical audio engineering tool that has a number of built-in sound-shapers. With the help of a number of plugins and effects, you can record, edit, mix, and master audio tracks utilizing these tools.

As an illustration: You know, the frequency balance of the audio needs to be taken into account during mixing and mastering. The listener's perception of the mood and emotional impact of the recording can be changed, for instance, by boosting or cutting specific frequency ranges in the EQ. The dynamics of the music can also be controlled by utilizing compression and limiting, which also gives the track a more dense, refined, and polished sound.

As previously said, a great sound engineer also needs to have a thorough understanding of the artistic components of music in addition to technical know-how and equipment. This entails being aware of the traditions and the genre of the music you are working with, as well as being able to detect and emphasize any emotional cues in the music.

There are numerous instances of sound engineers that are also excellent musicians in their own right, such as Butch Vig or Josh Homme. These individuals make wonderful producers and have a thorough understanding of the genres, instruments, messages, etc. they are blending. Even when it's not absolutely necessary, it's crucial to develop a master plan for building an emotional foundation into each song or sound. Then, this might be regarded as your distinctive sound.

Creating a Concept: Step-by-Step

  1. Determine the main emotional message or tone you want the music to express before you do anything else. This could be joyful, depressing, upbeat, melancholic, etc.
  2. Take notes on how each instrument affects the emotional tone as you listen to the raw audio. This will make it easier for you to decide which components to emphasize and how to use them effectively in the mix.
  3. To highlight the emotional aspects of each music, try exploring various EQ and compression settings. To make a vocal track sound more personal and emotive, for instance, increase the midrange.
  4. To give the mix a sense of depth and space, use reverb and delay. The amount and kind of reverb or delay can have a significant impact on the song's emotional tone.
  5. Pay close attention to the stereo image and track panning. To convey motion and space, play around with various stereo widths and panning angles.
  6. At crucial points in the song, use automation to add and remove specific components from the mix. Including a lead guitar or vocal track during a chorus, for instance, might contribute to fostering a sense of uplift and emotional release.
  7. Use compression and limiting to produce a more consistent and polished sound while paying close attention to the mix's dynamics. The emotional meaning of the song will be more clearly conveyed as a result.
  8. To generate a sense of tension and release, experiment with varied volumes and balance between the individual songs. For instance, increasing the volume of the drums during a chorus might evoke excitement and vigor.
  9. To incorporate more texture and color into the mix, use effects like distortion, saturation, and modulation. These effects can give the impression of warmth and richness, which can elicit a range of nuanced emotions.
  10. Next, give the mix a thorough listen and tweak as necessary to make sure the song's emotional message is impactful and clear. In order to produce a mix that properly captures the desired emotional tone, don't be scared to explore and try new ideas.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sound engineering is a fascinating and challenging discipline that calls for both technical and aesthetic proficiency. A talented sound engineer can produce mixes that are both technically sound and emotionally resonant by comprehending how the brain processes music and applying the appropriate tools and approaches. Use your technical expertise, artistic intuition, and understanding of sound psychology the next time you're working on a mix to produce a tune that truly resonates with your listeners.

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Comment by Greg Savage |

It's amazing what you do with music in terms of having an impact on people's emotions. Love the steps you've presented as well.

- Greg

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