Christian Long

Julian Treasure: The 4 Ways Sound Affects Us

In TED Talks on May 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Reflection by JACKSON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Julian Treasure: The 4 Ways Sound Affects Us

Of all the TED Talks I’ve looked at, Julian Treasure’s talk on how sound affects human behavior is one of the most hands-on (or, if the obvious pun is made, ears-on) Talks that I’ve seen. Instead of simply discussing a topic that may sound fascinating but is not easy to relate to, he provides casual examples – from getting a shock from alarm bells to immediately recognizing the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night.” On top of his highly successful methods of presentation, he makes a series of startling points about the negative effects of inappropriately applied sound in retail soundscapes.

Unsuccessful soundscapes not only make customers leave more quickly, they “turn around at the door, because the sound in there is so dreadful.” This illustrates the massive power sound has on making snap decisions. One easy way to demonstrate this power is to wait for a bright sunny day, a gloomy, cloudy day, or some time when you’re feeling some sort of powerful emotion, such as anger. Pull up your music library, and set it to “Shuffle All.” Keep track of how many songs you listen to all the way through. Do you see yourself pressing the “Next Track” button when the song doesn’t coincide with your mood? This happens all the time when one looks at background music. If I happen to be feeling mellow and relaxed when I turn on my car radio, and a Metallica song comes on, there’s a pretty nice chance I’ll change the station. The same applies to a retail store. However, in such a setting, I can’t simply change the station. To turn off the abhorrent music, I must, to the chagrin of the store owners, leave the store. This is not a good option for anyone, as I might be invited into the store with their new Gadget 2.0 that’s on sale, but be repulsed by the music, and they would lose a sale.

There are a few ways to fix this. One option is to turn off the music. However, this is a bad idea, as simply turning off the music makes it impossible to gain the positive effects of music on sales. However, when a customer really wants to stay in a store, but is repulsed by the music, there arises a strange situation. The solution, while not yet having been applied to sound systems (but which solves another type of a repulsive soundscape), comes in the form of the “TV-B-Gone.” This small device allows a user to turn off TVs with the push of a button – the device simply emits the infrared “turn off” signal for hundreds of different brands and varieties of television, turning off the TV and allowing the user to enjoy the quiet provided by not having to listen to a distracting broadcast. The device has already garnered widespread use in locales such as bars and airports. A device that turned off sound systems would allow customers to avoid the negative soundscape, but this solution deprives the other customers of the audio experience, just as your neighbor might have been watching the news broadcast that you just turned off.

The far more practical solution is to tailor the soundscape to the type of customer that the store is attempting to attract. If stores can do this, they can remove the negative effect of the ineffective soundscape, and attract more customers. By simply adapting to the auditory needs of their customers, stores can greatly increase their sales, and we, as customers, will have more pleasant stores to shop in.


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