You may have heard experienced producers postulate that good audio represents 90% of a production’s perceived quality in the mind of a viewer. The psychology behind the statement is connected to a phenomenon that we might call the awful audio syndrome which postulates that poor audio overrides good video.
According to this theory, a great looking production — one that is well lit, in sharp focus and composed in a visually appealing way — will be perceived as a poor quality video by the majority of viewers if the soundtrack is lacking; even if the visual quality itself is superb. Weak, tinny, buzz-ridden, aurally unappealing audio undermines excellent imagery. Conversely, very well produced audio that sounds rich, full, clear and powerful actually elevates the perceived quality of a video with poor image quality. So a dimly lit, poorly shot video with stellar sound will be perceived as a higher quality production than a great looking video with a sub-par soundtrack.
While the theory may seem illogical to visually-oriented video producers, it holds true, and professional producers have known the secret of superior sound for decades. Producers who want to drastically increase the perceived quality of their edits often purchase higher-resolution cameras with pricey lenses, or invest in more realistic look visual effects. They might, instead, do better to begin by concentrating on improving their audio tools and techniques.
The assumption here is that producers are concerned with improving the quality of their productions.
Many video producers aspire to produce professional looking, and sounding, programs. Those in this affinity group regularly compare their work to what they see on television or on the silver screen and find inspiration in creating media that rivals the quality of premium programming. However, not all creators of video are concerned with quality in a traditional sense. Web-based media has set a new standard by which would-be producers measure what makes a video good or bad.
There’s certainly a vast aesthetic difference between the latest Hollywood blockbuster and the roughly 600 hours of video that have been uploaded to YouTube since you began reading this column. One of the biggest differences is in audio. It’s increasingly common for online videos to have been recorded without the use of an external microphone, without bed music, without sound effects and without any effort given to audio sweetening.
In the world of online video sharing, the one measure of success is the number of views a video receives. The viewer does not usually have an expectation of quality production, but of raw entertainment value, communication of content or merely capturing a curiosity. As case in point, consider that a low quality, self narrated, YouTube video entitled, “Black Widow vs Praying Mantis: Spiders infest my house,” has received more than 12 million views; roughly the same number of people who tuned in to the first two episodes of the History Channel’s epic miniseries, “The Bible,” which was subsequently nominated for — among other things — three Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie.
Does audio quality still represent 90% of a video’s overall perceived quality?
The most accurate answer may be to say, it depends. Media quality is no longer based on a single standard. Therefore, before any piece of media can be judged as good or bad, success or failure, one must first identify the intended audience and purpose of the video. While video of a spider in a box may gain millions of YouTube views, it will never be nominated for an Emmy.
Author: Matthew York