Here at 344 Audio, we love to explore the wider scope of Sound Design, and more importantly it's effect on audiences.
That's why for this week's blog, we teamed up with Ellie Carmody aka lumassen to create some ASMR content. We also gained insights into the similarities and differences between ASMR Art and Sound Design, and how their techniques can be used to benefit both art forms.
What is ASMR?
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a feeling of mild euphoria, calmness or a 'zen-like' state many people face when exposed to external stimuli with certain audio, visual and situational cues. It is often described as 'tingles' or 'shivers down your spine'. ASMR Artists (ASMRtists) use soft whispering, crinkling paper and applying makeup etc. as common triggers for their audience. They often record video and audio for use on their YouTube channels to provide stimulation responses and temporary relief from illnesses such as Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and Panic Attacks for their viewers. Here is an example of an ASMR video by lumassen:
What is Sound Design?
Sound Design is the process of creating, recording, finding and manipulating Audio to achieve a desired result. It is used in a variety of artistic mediums such as Film, Video Games, Advertising and Music to serve a purpose. This purpose can be anything from evoking an emotional response (fear, laughter, disgust etc.) to adding another layer to the viewing experience of a project. Sound Designers use a variety of materials and technologies to perform, capture and implement their work to offer the best auditory experience for the audience. Here is an example of Sound Design work by 344 Audio:
ASMRtists are Sound Designers
ASMRtists perform sounds in almost every auditory response based video they create - yet many don't even realise that they are Sound Designers. ASMRtists speak in a whisper and use shorter words to create the most calming Audio experience for their listeners, they also alter microphone positioning to achieve the desired hyper real effect in their speech and Sounds. They take mundane items (like a Foley Artist picks props) and find the best way to enhance subtler sounds, making them the forefront of the experience, enhancing the pleasure audiences feel. These are all forms of Sound Design and these artists are taking advantage of some of the most typical tools used.
Sound Designers often (intentionally or unintentionally) use ASMR, but could stand to use this tool more often in certain situations. They also use a phenomena which is the exact opposite of ASMR (Misophonia) in Horror and Thriller movies. Sounds such as bowed cymbals, screeching nails on chalkboard and gore sounds can all trigger Misophonia, especially when a visual cue matches chillingly with the sound. Misophonia (unlike ASMR) has been shown to provide a negative response, leading to anger, disgust or a 'fight or flight' response. Surprisingly, the stimulus mostly comes from the human mouth; sounds such as chewing food, gulping and slurping being common offenders. Arguably, the reward and punishment sounds designed for video games can provide both mild ASMR and Misophonia. Examples being the 'coin collect' sound effect in Super Mario Bros. It's ascending metallic texture lets the player know that they gained some points, providing a sense of fulfilment. In Tomb Raider, when you die you hear the punishing scream of Lara Croft which provides a mild Misophonia response.
Both ASMR Art and Sound Design often pair their auditory experiences with visual stimuli, when combined these can trick the brain into a false sense of reality. ASMRtists often re-enact medical examinations and imitate speech, sound and the environment of these examinations, mimicking the way that picture and sound in films also get us 'hooked' to the characters and story with a continuity.
Sound for Pleasure vs. Sound for Purpose
The soundtracks for ASMR Art videos and films are vastly different. ASMRtists typically use a wide stereo image with binaural recording techniques and low self noise recording devices - even on dialogue sounds. This allows them to get that sense of hyper realism and quality which enhances the experience. Their whole piece is often made up of a single stereo left/right audio track with almost no post production processing. Because of this, they will often create many test videos, trying out different microphones, recording devices, windshields and positioning to see which workflows and systems offer the most pleasurable response for their fans.
Sound Designers typically use mono microphones for dialogue, and stereo recording techniques such as Spaced Pair and XY for ambient sounds. This offers more flexibility and ease of use in post production processing. Although not usually sounding as 'realistic' as a Binaural microphone system, a mono Shotgun/Cardiod microphone usually provides the best signal to noise ratio and consistency for film dialogue because of extraneous sounds when shooting, as well as providing perfect playback on mono sound systems. This is an example of where sound for purpose is chosen over sound for pleasure.
The soundtrack for a film can easily reach a track count in the hundreds, because of this, every sound must be cleaned of any noises such as clicks, pops, wind and hums that can build up and limit the control the Sound Designer has over the film's mix. This is in direct opposition to what ASMRtists prefer, which is to not cut noise, lip smacks, clicks or any other mouth noises from the recording as these add to the hyperrealism. Sound Designers often create hyperrealism through effects processors and mixing in post production instead of embracing naturally occurring sounds within recordings.
We and lumassen recorded some examples to show the differences in our approach...
We were both given the same 3 random items (Tibetan Bowl, Hand Drum, Plastic Elf Ears) to record, design and deliver. Notice how lumassen softly touches and moves the items around the stereo field with very little post processing and we process the sounds beyond recognition:
Both and ASMRtists and Sound Designers have things to learn from each other's approach. Sound Designers may neglect spending the time to record a sound that is closer to their desired result because they know there are a myriad of tools in post production. ASMRtists sometimes neglect the use of post processing to a certain extent, there are methods such as corrective EQ, compression and stereo processing that can help enhance the experience for their listeners.
Finally, we teamed up with lumassen for a Q+A session regarding ASMR and Sound Design:
344 Audio: What are your thoughts on ASMRtists, is their work purely for pleasure, or is it also for purpose?
lumassen: It's 50/50, some people create the content for the community to create happiness for people in general. Some people do ASMR videos for specific people who fear travelling - in the video, when you take off on a plane it will say certain prompts. There are also videos where ASMR is used as a guide for teaching - all of these examples of Sound for Purpose. Some people do it as a profession which is for a purpose which can either be to meet new like minded people or to make a living from it.
344 Audio: Are ASMRtists Sound Designers in your eyes?
lumassen: Yeah, I wouldn't have said it originally, but the more my eyes have been opened to the world of sound design, I realise how similar we actually are.
344 Audio: Have you learned anything from making this Blog and content, if so, what did you learn?
lumassen: I didn't realise how similar our methods were. I didn't realise I was a sound designer too or they were even in the same category. It's another way to portray it in a good way, the industry is niche and being put into the sound design subcategory is good for our community.
344 Audio: What have you learned from being an ASMRtist?
lumassen: To have more respect for content creators. Everyone does things in their own way. You have to respect how other people do it. The first time I spoke to other ASMR people, it was so nice and a place where I felt at home.
344 Audio: Have you noticed a shift in perceptions of ASMR over recent years?
lumassen: Yeah, it's been around for 10 or so years. It started out anonymous, it was usually a sound effect or ambient sounds. It then evolved into role playing and people saw it as strange. But those people who looked into it further saw it a beneficial tool for relaxation. People are so creative with ASMR that it has become an art form. If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design