by Jim Allen on October 14, 2022

in Extras,Film,Music

Music and Sound Design:
Setting the Scene of Events

Any event organiser worth his salt knows music and sound design for events must be part of any and all undertaking. Anything meant to be enjoyed visually must have fitting music and sound to accompany it.

You See What You Hear

Did you know that what you hear affects what you see?

A study published in the Universal Journal of Psychology (Anestis & Gouissios, 2015, p. 148) revealed that modifying the sound design of a movie can change the viewers’ perception of that movie. In this study, the researchers presented three versions of a three-minute scene from a film to the respondents.

The first version had the original musical score dominated by a non-diegetic sad piano music piece. By the way, non-diegetic means the sound does not exist in the movie character’s reality; it’s a sound only the viewers can hear, like dramatic music applied to a critical scene to sway the viewers emotionally.

The second and third versions excluded non-diegetic sounds. In other words, only sounds that can naturally occur in the movie setting were included. The second version had the dramatic natural sounds of voices, rain and vehicles (among other things). In contrast, the third version had comic, naturally occurring sounds, including a funny singing voice and animal and gang sounds.

After the experiment, the researchers found out that while the scene was initially deemed a drama (based on the original scoring), quite a number of the respondents characterised it as a comedy when the comic soundtrack accompanied it. In other words, the music and sound design influenced the genre the viewers perceived.

And it did not stop there. The same study revealed that sound could lead to visual illusions. Some viewers reported seeing something that wasn’t even present in the scene.

Sound can even guide your visual attention. Another study found you can direct a person’s attention by using sound frequencies that match the target object’s colour lightness. Thus, you can make your audience notice dark-coloured objects with lower sound frequencies and light-coloured objects with higher sound frequencies.

You can’t discount the importance of music and sound design on sight. It’s like smell to taste: indispensable.

Music and sound can make a visual experience much fuller, more engaging and more memorable. Plus, as the studies above show, they actually influence perception.

This is probably why even the so-called silent movies of the late 19th century and early 1900s were not truly silent. They might not have had dialogues, but they had musical scores.

Music and Sound for Immersive Shows

To reiterate, what people hear influences what they see or, to be more accurate, what they think they see. Therefore, if you want to sway your audience’s emotions, amplify their excitement, emphasise specific parts of a show, and affect how your audience perceives what they see, you must use music and sound.

Sounds will immerse your audience in your event. Imagine Dubai’s New Year Fireworks Display or Yas Waterworld’s Neon Nights event without an accompanying musical score.

It’s true. In the fireworks display, the fireworks’ sparkle will not diminish because it’s unaccompanied by music. But can it perhaps appear brighter to the audience if music played in the background? Likewise, the Neon Nights LED performers will remain as skilled and dazzling even without music. However, will the audience feel like dancing along if there’s no beat to give them cues on where and how to move?

In either scenario, how will the audience know where to gasp with excitement, hold their breath, erupt into applause, and keep their eyes peeled for the culmination if there’s no music to guide them?

Sound Design Elements

Event organisers are not expected to perform sound design themselves as this is a task best left to professionals. However, for oversight purposes, it will help to know the elements of sound design that your sound designer may use to make your event as immersive as possible.


A place has character and atmosphere, and a sound designer creates an intricate combination of sounds to reinforce this atmosphere. Different venues call for different ambient sounds. Thus, the Van Gogh Starry Night Exhibition held at Carrières de Lumières in Provence will have a different ambience from a concert held in Etihad Arena.


Events typically need live microphones. An awards ceremony like the Oscars, for instance, has hosts, presenters, and awardees, among others, who need microphones to be heard.

Sound designers may not necessarily do the live mic mixing themselves. However, they must ensure a soundboard operator is in charge of activating and attenuating microphones and making sure the speakers’ voices are adequately projected throughout the event space, especially when the ambient sound remains in place.


Sound designers can use existing music or create original musical scores. The music can be vocal, instrumental or even a full symphony.

The sound designer can weave music into ambient sound or designate it as accompaniment for specific parts of a show (e.g., a dance number).

Sound Effects

Sound effects refer to sounds that have been synthesised or recorded (say, through the Foley technique). These sound effects add richness to ambient sounds. They can be the sound of a door opening and closing, the slap of sandals on a wooden pier, the excited squeals of children, or the cackling of a crow.


Shows can include voice-overs, which are pre-recorded narrations or commentaries. Voice-overs are normally required for event introductions. Voice-overs may also be recorded for repeating event announcements.

Sound designers are in charge of finding and choosing the voice talent to perform necessary voice-overs. More importantly, they are responsible for correctly integrating such voice-overs where they’re needed.

Sound Design: Hear to See Better

People don’t just see a fireworks display, a concert or an exhibition. They perceive it with their whole being.

To this end, sound is an essential component of any event. It tells a story. It moves and guides event audiences, ensuring that the event will be perceived and understood as the organisers intended.

Thus, aside from an event’s visual components, the sound design spells the difference between successful and lacklustre.

{ 1 comment }

Jeffery Berry October 19, 2022 at 9:23 am

I also wrote an article based on this study on music in films and I want to say that if you study it completely and then pay attention to the sounds that accompany you when you go to a store or a bank, for example, you can conduct your own experiment.

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