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Why the metaverse presents audio opportunities for brands
March 22, 2022
Uncertainty around the metaverse is understandable. And perhaps it’s fair to say there are wildly differing definitions being thrown around the boardroom and debuting the news feed. A heady mix of eager optimism, overhype and rapidly diversifying technology have probably muddied clarity. Or have they?
You can be sure, though, that technologies bringing us together in interoperable worlds that blend the physical and digital are going to become increasingly everyday. Already, the popularity of online avatars, gigs hosted in video games and the flipping of virtual real estate all assert the case that a great many of us have already dipped far more than a toe into the glowing waters of the metaverse.
And whilst companies like adidas, Meta and The Sandbox rush to establish their presence in whatever the metaverse might become, a great detail of attention has been focused on how these realms will look. But I’m more interested in how it sounds. In audio, I believe there are vast, untapped opportunities for creators, brands and the metaverse itself.
Out here in plain old reality, sound is remarkably important. It gives us cues that aid navigation, lets us judge distance and scale, and creates awareness of threats and opportunities. It also happens to be pretty important for communication - with our hearing evolved to single out individual voices or important messages in busy spaces. Audio’s knack for cutting through a visually overwhelming world is one of its greatest strengths. And yet it also gives us the option of draping busy soundscapes in our own choice of music or speech - effectively letting us soundtrack our own lives.
Dive into the metaverse, and all those things can be carried over. A silent metaverse would be an uncanny, eerie place, for one. Audio is essential to navigation and communication in a socially vibrant and dynamic virtual setting. Furthermore, as any video game developer will tell you, audio is critical for immersion and believability in digital realms. Note that ‘believability’ is an important word there - because the metaverse will sometimes want to transport us to places fantastical and unrealistic - yet it can’t feel like we’re still in a front room.
Audio is essential to the metaverse’s potential. It also offers striking potential for content delivery, and can reach individuals non-intrusively. Here non-intrusive literally means audio alongside any metaverse experiences - just as you listen to a playlist while playing a video game at home. There’s also a bounty of space in the metaverse for new forms of live radio broadcast, podcasts, commentary on unfolding events, and sonic social entities.
A separate trend has seen the likes of binaural and spatial sound become more commonplace. Those technologies essentially deliver ‘three-dimensional audio’, just as we experience in reality. This means we can near-subconsciously track where sound is coming from and how it might be influenced by the environment. As such, the soundscape of the metaverse will feel deeply natural and realistically nuanced, extending the potential for immersion, communication, content delivery and creative expression.
Clear audio vs visual noise
The opportunity for brands is likely clear by now. In metaverse worlds that might be bristlingly busy, constantly dynamic and full of competing visual elements, sound provides the opportunity for an intimate connection with individual users. That means the likes of audio advertising and messages delivered through music and speech will likely become powerful tools in the metaverse marketeer’s arsenal. Non-intrusive and contextually relevant formats will be key where advertising is concerned because breaking the illusion of the metaverse will likely only discourage or irritate its inhabitants.
There are new sonic marketing opportunities too. You’ve perhaps seen celebrity skins in video games, where a player avatar can assume the look or style of a famed icon they adore. Well, why not the celebrity voice skin, where metaversians can adopt the vocal timbre of figures they love - or even the singing prowess of a pop star? That will only be the beginning of what is possible if the metaverse lets us augment and adapt not just what we hear, but also the sounds we make.
There’s also remarkable potential for opportunity around audio logos and stings - think Intel’s famed three second tonal ditty, or the iconic ping of a GameBoy being powered up, which to this day continues to serve as sonic shorthand for video gaming in its entirety. Sonic brands may take on a towering new importance, as they are placed in the fabric of the metaverse, or even replace expected sound effects.
At this point it's also worth considering the rise of web3, blockchain, and decentralized technologies. Many will tell you that the metaverse will only truly meet its potential by integrating the ecosystem and spirit of decentralization. That’s because web3 and blockchain founded technologies help so drastically with ownership of digital items. Certainly, the likes of celebrity skins visual and audio-based could be sold en masse in the metaverse without a single block being mined, but in terms of ownership, one-off items and compensation for the likes of independent musicians, the blockchain will likely be key. Companies are already moving on the space, with Audius offering a captivating example of what we will surely see more of; a blockchain-based streaming platform that is community-governed with a view to fairly compensating creators.
As it stands, together we’re still at the point of establishing the collective rulebook for audio success in the metaverse. But where brands, marketing and advertising are concerned, the potential is striking. Again, thinking in terms of non-intrusive and contextually relevant will be key. This is about contributing to what the metaverse is - a destination and a place, where sound feels natural and intrinsically integrated.
That all means there’s never been a better time to familiarize yourself with today’s audio movement, where podcasts, audio ads and more are booming, capturing and captivating audiences in a world of visual noise.
Simply put, if you want presence in the metaverse, it's time to think in sound.