Will the music we listen to every day soon be more suited to our ears and our brain? Spatial sound, which is better adapted to our natural hearing, has been gaining ground, and we can expect to hear more of it in our music.
The move towards better sound quality would seem to be a natural progression, even if it does takes time to achieve spatial sound. How can we explain this phenomenon? And above all, what does it take to support this major transition?
Making Sound Spatialization the Next Big Thing
First of all, we need to demonstrate that spatialized sound and sound immersion are now very well received by the public and markets alike. According to CE Pro’s 2023 State of the Industry and Tech Trends to Watch report, immersive audio is one the sectors expected to grow the most by 2023 (with an anticipated 15% increase in the number of people equipping their homes with immersive audio equipment).
As far as the public is concerned, the younger generations are also interested in spatial audio, according to the latest figures. Indeed, Generation Z is generally more knowledgeable about and receptive to immersive sound; nearly 80% of respondents to a survey by Agora last September said they were ready and willing to pay for better quality equipment for spatialized listening. Unsurprisingly, the evolution of immersive sound is linked to the massive evolution of the metaverse, video games and the desire to experiment with better listening, which is at the heart of music.
In the music industry, streaming platforms are the preferred point of access for the general public to immersive sound content. With Apple Music having become the first platform to deliver spatialized content, the first figures shared are impressive. Indeed, according to statistics shared by Apple in early 2023, more than 80% of listeners have already used the function worldwide (at no additional cost), and the monthly number of spatial audio streams increased by 1,000% in 2022. Even if the option is new, spatialized sound in music is being welcomed with open arms.
There’s no doubt about the adoption of spatial sound, yet it’s still struggling to gain a foothold in the music industry.
Spatial Audio as a Service for Artists
As it happens, in today’s music industry, it is still complicated to create spatialized sound for every artist. In practical terms, there’s only one solution for artists: go into the studio and work with a specialized sound engineer with advanced spatial skills, with dedicated professional audio tools enabling remastering in spatial format.
In fact, access to spatial audio and creation designed for immersive sound is reserved for a small proportion of the artist community, having access to these processes via their producer or label, for example. The disparity that is likely to result from a transition to spatialized formats is a real problem for amateur and emerging artists. This is all the more true given that spatialization does not require the same methods for all musical genres. For example, spatializing a rap track would require focusing on the vocals and spatializing the instrumental part, while a classical track would require different techniques, since the different instruments would have to be spatialized without the same emphasis.
Supporting artists in understanding these new forms of creation will enable a transition to new practices around sound. Facilitating access to technologies is therefore a major challenge, to enable creators to exploit the full potential of these innovations, without ever losing sight of their primarily artistic know-how.
Ircam Amplify has announced the beta release of its new audio spatialization tool for music professionals. Artists can now access an intelligent 3D audio tool that Ircam Amplify teams have trained with thousands of tracks and feedback from sound professionals for optimal rendering where the artist retains control over the final choice of preset used.
Historically, music has always been at the forefront of innovation in the entertainment sector. The challenge now is to develop acculturation and to deliver the necessary tools for creators.
Making the Shift to Spatial Audio
Beyond the issue of acculturation and access to spatialization tools for artists, there remains the question of the music industry’s commitment to the standardization process. Considering that only around 120,000 spatialized tracks are distributed on streaming platforms every day out of a total of 100 million tracks. At these scales, the question of industrializing spatialization processes will soon arise.
The fundamental work lies with the streaming and distribution platforms, the major link between artists and their audiences. These stakeholders are the main points of public access to music (and spatialized music), yet very few of them offer this option! Apple Music is the market leader, with a growing range of spatialized content via Dolby Atmos technology, Spotify has yet to follow up on the integration of new sound-related functionalities… The platforms haven’t yet fully taken the plunge but the movement is well and truly underway, and audiences are asking for more.
Expanding Access to Spatial Audio Across the Entire Music Industry
Taking this a step further, spatial sound also means new ways of thinking about composition and creation. A tool that is accessible to everybody, like the one Ircam Amplify is working on, is a first step toward achieving greater sound quality across the board. The sound engineer does not disappear from the equation; he intervenes in his core business, in close collaboration with the artists, to enable everyone to concentrate on the creation itself.
In addition to musical creations created in the studio by expert spatial audio engineers, we also offer the democratization of spatial audio tools, enabling us to take these new formats into consideration, more easily, whether for new artist categories, for larger volumes, or simply for catalogs whose original tracks no longer exist. Ircam Amplify is contributing to the transformation of our formats by democratizing access with a new 3D audio tool in beta version.