Why music is critical to creating immersive VR/AR worlds
The promise of VR has finally arrived and it’s pretty accessible. Using just our phones and a simple piece of cardboard, we can experience virtual worlds unlike ever before. For example, upgrade your phone with an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or a Playstation VR and you can immerse yourself in an experience exceeding expectations. However, aside from the overwhelmingly incredible visuals, sound design is often treated as an afterthought.
The creation of a VR world is heavily biased towards the visuals. There is an endless assortment of creation tools for VR. For example on this list from Makezine, only 2 out of 17 recommended tools are for audio. It’s not uncommon for VR designers and developers to spend over a year creating a visually stunning environment, and then once finished with the visuals, they start sourcing music to “fill in the gaps.”
Here’s an alternative idea: Source your music first. Let music sit in the director’s seat and start with an inspiring soundtrack. Work your storyboard around the sound track. Try to time the events with the music fluctuations. Envision sourcing the music from locations within the virtual world and increase the volume increase as you approach and decrease as you retreat. Create action sequences around intense and engaging music. Build stunning vistas and wonderful, awe-inspiring scenes around music that promotes enchantment and introspection. A music-first approach will solidify the entire experience and establish an emotional connection.
Today, obtaining quality, royalty free music with a stock license is simpler than ever.
VR music composer McKenzie Stubbert rightfully states on Medium, “Sound and picture can establish a literal time and place. Music can establish an emotional time and place.” With a “music first” approach, you are starting with the emotional connection, and building a visual scene around it. When the goal is to captivate and retain users, it makes sense to design around the emotional foundation, and then add stunning visuals .
As graphics technology has improved a few thousand fold in a mere four decades, it’s easy to understand why so much emphasis goes into the visual production. Eye sight is our most dominant sense after all.
Although music technology hasn’t made the same dramatic advances, it’s still important to spend a little more effort on your music selection. You spend hours choosing colors, fonts, and the overall visual design. The music background needs to be treated with the same attention to detail, if not greater. The visuals can make for a stunning application, it’s the emotional connection that will keep your users coming back.