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Monday, 16 September 2013

The Power of Nothing

By Rob Bee

As a musician and a professional sound engineer sound is something that is very important to me. It is not only a medium of information exchange and communication, it can also be a thing of beauty, balance and comfort. I love the sound of an E major being struck on an electric guitar through a cranked-up valve amp. I love the sound of a robin in full song in the middle of the night because it’s found a street light and it thinks dawn is about to break. I love the glugging sound made when you pour that first glass of wine out of the bottle. I love the silly noises my parents always seem to make between picking up the phone and saying, ‘Hello.’ But there is another sound that I think is very special. It’s the sound of silence.

Very often when I get home from a busy day at work in the recording studio I’ll just sit on the sofa: no TV, no radio, no hi-fi, no wife. I will sit and enjoy the quiet. It’s about more than just resting my ears, I enjoy the stillness of the empty house and the moments of calm.

Take a walk in the countryside and you will hear a great variety of sounds – whether you’re hearing the crashing of waves on the beach, the wind rustling through the leaves in the woods or the babbling brooks in the valleys there are myriad sounds to be heard that calm the soul. But at other times we hear the sound of silence. It’s the sound the snow makes as you stand by yourself and listen to it fall; the world holding its breath as it awaits its transformation. It’s a powerful thing. It compels you to listen to it as it screams at you about its depth and richness. I find it sometimes at Morecambe Bay when conditions are perfect. It is a silence so complete that the occasional cry of a curlew or oystercatcher doesn’t puncture it; it enforces it and makes it stronger. It demands respect; and you obey lest you break the magic. It’s not that something’s missing – like a TV on mute – it’s that something is very definitely there and choosing to be noiseless.

A famous musician once said (I don't mind if you want to attribute this to Claude Debussy, Miles Davis or any of the other contenders – it wasn't me), “Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.” Gaps and silence can be powerful things, and especially true in advertising. There is a tendency to cram as much copy into a 30” ad as possible in order to impress information upon the listener and 'get your money's worth' out of the time you're paying for, but here as much as anywhere else less if often more. Whereas it sounds like it should be a good idea to use all the available space to tell those who are listening as much about your company as possible it's often counter productive as the speed the read needs to be to fit to time prevents any space or pauses in the ad, and these should be there to provide punctuation and make the information easier to take in (I am assuming here that people know the purpose of punctuation in writing – I think I'm assuming a lot given the quality of a lot of copy I read, but that’s another topic) and sometimes can even make your ad unintelligible . By far the better idea is to write a script that is short enough so the voiceover can comfortably read it and give it the space it needs to breathe. This way your message will be clear to the listeners and - given the way radio advertising particularly seems to be heading - it will stand out from the other ads played around it. Cut down on the copy and you will give people more information.

Do you want people to come into your showroom? Then don't put your phone number in the ad. Want people to check out your website? Then why inform people that you’re based around the corner from the multi-story car park? Are you having a laminate flooring sale? Then don't tell people the prices of your ceiling lights. Find the one thing you want to promote and only give that information. Use the space wisely.

And here's one last thought. Surely it's more valuable to make personal contact with your potential customers than for them simply to hear about you on the radio or TV? So cut the copy and only give them half the info they need. That way they'll have to ring or visit to find out more and you’ll have that contact which is more valuable to you than any amount of airtime.

Rob Bee is a sound engineer, musician and owner of 'Bee Productive', who offer audio production, live sound and consultancy. For more information visit http://beeproductive.co.uk

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