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Sound Futures: The Next Frontier

With 2021 marking d&b’s 40th anniversary, David Claringbold, the company’s CMO, looks back to look forwards on the future of audio

This year marks d&b’s 40th birthday, and as is often the case for those of us who turn forty, the milestone has allowed us time to reflect as well as look forward and try to imagine the next 40 years in this ever-evolving and still relatively young industry.

It was as recently as 1970, when one of our industry giants, Clair Brothers toured one of their very first shows in Australia for Blood Sweat & Tears. At the time, they didn’t want to ship the large sound system home and they asked Bruce Jackson, co-founder of then fledgling production company Jands, to mind the system for them until they found a solution. At the time Bruce himself was at the beginning of his career but he too would become a legend, working for Elvis, Springsteen and Streisand and heading up various innovation projects for Clair before leaving to form Apogee and then Dolby Lake.


This moment, between the two soon-to be iconic titans of industry, is emblematic of the industry we know today. It’s an extraordinary story marked by coincidence, community, innovation and goodwill – traits that the industry was built on and still exhibits today. While
the industry has evolved into highly professional separate corporate entities and specializations, we still share a sense of community and vision driven by sound. We’ve come a long way in a short time but as we’ve all been reminded lately, we share so much.

We are now reaching an inflection point whereby over the last 18 months, while our industry has been in a forced hibernation, a period of innovative incubation has been underway on many levels. New technology, new leaders, convergent thinking and new innovations will emerge and accelerate the growth of the industry. We will see dramatic change evolve over the next few years.

Our systems and the software capabilities we are developing are building an awareness and awakening in people’s understanding of the value sound brings to a venue or an event and its impact on the human experience it serves. We are now in a new frontier of opportunity that will enable us to shape the sound experience in ways we had not previously thought possible and that’s opening up a whole new value proposition for high- quality, integrated audio system design.

Sound has always been so much more than just an auditory experience. Sound provides us with a connection to our place, our art, our ideas and our lives. I have been contemplating the role of sound and where the development of technology, creativity and humanity will lead us as we embrace the various cultural and technological changes that are emerging. This philosophical concept is something we at d&b have developed as a strategic thought platform known as ‘Sound Futures’.

Sound Futures allows us to consider developments in technology as solutions to fit the needs of our evolving society. To do this, we break apart the words ‘sound’ and ‘futures’ and consider them separately. Doing this, sound appears as more than just audio, rather having a well-thought-through holistic position, and futures are investments we make today to define our collective vision for the benefit of tomorrow.

This thinking then becomes an action platform to address sustainability, diversity, creativity, new business models, the network of everything, adaptable architectures, convergence and globalisation.

It’s no longer just about sound systems, we are one part of a much broader entertainment and information ecosystem within which we must evolve and grow responsibly and assuredly.

This thinking of sound as being more than simply public address is empowering significant growth for high quality audio and AV solutions in market segments where previously technology was at a base level. Areas such as sports, education, worship and hospitality, now understand that the overall customer requirement for excellence doesn’t just warrant ‘good enough audio’, especially when venues diversify their business models to achieve higher utilisation, audience demographics and fan experiences. Customers are looking not only at return on investment but for their technology platforms to empower their growth model strategies.

A lot of these considerations in these dynamic venues comes down to having the right technology infrastructure controlled and installed. Sound is one of those technologies but to the customer it’s the overall technology platform linked to the value generation the business requires that is the focus. This is where hi quality, immersive sound starts to generate a completely different conversational dynamic about sound, value and engagement with the non-technical influencers such as creatives and general management. In some way we are able to now hand them the controls and let them determine the shape of their sound simply by having a conversation about what their vision is.

It’s the point where a sound system becomes the storyteller, a mark of quality, a new creative instrument and an enabler of their bigger vision.  This confluence of capabilities presents us an enormous opportunity to move our industry forward, far beyond the simplistic approaches of big and loud and into something far more sophisticated and exciting.

We are seeing the evolution of the next level of possibility of a sound system — the shift from a transactional relationship with sound to an experiential one and with this shift comes practical change. For instance, in this new scenario, the audio system manufacturer and the creative directors, venue managers or event promoters work together in ways that were previously not relevant or required but can now be intrinsically linked when producing events, designing venues and rewarding audiences with a deeper, more connected experience.

Last year social distancing and capacity restrictions meant that venues had to look at alternative ways to offer live performances. While many looked to the obvious means of Zoom and virtual events, others looked to keep the sanctity of live events and instead reduce the number of performers needed onsite and produce new hybrid models of program.

We saw this recently in Ireland when the Irish National Opera was producing the Opera, Least Like the Other. The pandemic threatened to halt the production and performances but innovative thinking meant that the show could go in a new hybrid form. The production team was forced to find a new way to bring the sound of the live orchestra to the production, without having them in the same venue as the performers and audience. Using immersive audio in the form of d&b Soundscape, the team was able to place the sounds of the orchestra’s instruments coming from diverse areas outside the main venue to create a holistic orchestral score as if the musicians were in the performance room.

This style of integration of sound technology that can realise new creative possibilities will drive further innovation in loudspeaker design, platform processing, connectivity and studio to stage to home workflow models. It will also drive even further integration of the audio visual experience both on screen and in person.

No matter the way sound is shaped in the future, one thing is certain, live events will always be at the cornerstone. Manufacturers, venues and artists will need to adapt and strategize hybrid scenarios but the gathering element will remain. It’s a natural human instinct to gather as a community and share an experience. We want to be moved by arts and ideals, to be encouraged and inspired by shared beliefs and that’s what sound is all about.

While Sound Futures is a high-level concept, the basics of sound and its role in the human domain remain unchanged. Sound informs, inspires and entertains, it has done so throughout the earth’s existence, through the birth of radio and recording, the first live sound events, d&b’s birthday 40 years ago and it will continue to do so 40 years from now and forever. This is the defining connection between the heritage of the past, the reality of now and the visions of the future. It’s about ensuring our art and ideas are communicated with the highest levels of quality and accuracy and that any distortions are minimized. Those that embrace risk, put creative innovation, sustainability and customer centricity at the core of their values will reap the benefits long into the future. Here’s to a sound future for all the audio community.