Luxurious sound from the Audi brand
- A design of its own, and a sound of its own: Audi defines the tonal language for all market appearances
- Project Manager Bochmann: "Recognizable even with your eyes closed"
- Audi Sound Studio with several thousand individual sound files
The RS 5 races towards Florian Käppler at more than 200 km/h (124.27 mph). Just a few more meters – nothing must go wrong now! All week his team has prepared meticulously for this weekend. Just a few centimetres separate him from the metallic-blue Audi as it shoots past him before vanishing into the banked corner. All that remains is the reverberation of the 4.2-liter V8 in his ears – and a recording of the engine's sound. Käppler gives the thumbs-up signal - the recording is a success.
Standing at the edge of the track is Andreas Graf. He's holding a checklist to ensure the team won't forget anything on this weekend at the Bosch Test Center in Boxberg. Handling circuit, vehicle dynamics area, tunnel and full-speed through water are all on his list of recordings to make. The task: to capture the fast-paced character of an Audi RS 5 – not in pictures, but through sound. The audio engineers collect all the driving sounds of the sporty model that can be heard "in the wild": from high speeds to slamming on the brakes, on cobblestones and on wet asphalt. Altogether, it'll take nearly a whole day to record everything. Pencil in hand, Graf enters a tick against the high-speed track column.
As the CEO of the sound agency Klangerfinder GmbH & Co KG, Käppler is an audio expert. Together with Graf, the managing partner of s12 GmbH, he's working for Audi on a project that the team in Ingolstadt hope will conquer a new field in marketing: Corporate Sound. "Audi has a clear design language: Today, you recognize our brand right away when you encounter it on a billboard, at an event or in a commercial," says Corporate Sound Project Manager Margarita Bochmann. "In the future, you'll also be able to recognize Audi with your eyes closed."
Having your own distinctive sound has great potential, the team in Ingolstadt believes. Music gets under your skin; it's what makes a movie scene emotional in the first place. This is an exciting field that has hardly been explored by brands. "Of course, a lot of companies have their own sound logos that are played at the end of a commercial, but the musical background during the commercial is not usually memorable," Graf points out. "While everything sounds bombastic and individual, in the end it also seems alike." The proof for Graf: If you go to the kitchen during the commercial break of a Sunday evening blockbuster movie, even a trained ear won't be able to tell the difference between the commercials for the individual car brands.
According to Käppler, the reason is that the composers of the digital music and brand sounds often use the same universally available sound files. In other words, the commercials' sounds largely come from the same pool. The brand with the four rings plans to break out of this standardized sound straitjacket by creating its own sound database to be used exclusively for Audi. Timbres and note sequences, exclusively developed instruments, entire melodies: characteristic sounds will be used by composers working for the brand.
"Our task was to work out how Audi sounds and to compile from this information an extremely flexible, creative and usable portfolio of sounds," Bochmann explains. The obvious starting point for the typical Audi sound is the brand's own cars. Commercial film productions often obtain engine and other car sounds from recordings not specific to the brand, which are then edited on computer. In contrast, the Corporate Sound Team set out to record each sound live – from each and every Audi model. This meant using dozens of microphones installed in the interior, above the tires, in the engine compartment, at the doors. From operating the soft-top or turn signals, controlling the MMI to opening and closing the doors – each click, slam and ticking sound is recorded. Together with the trip recordings from the high-speed circuit, these sounds form the first part of the Audi sound database. "By using this comprehensive sound catalog, in the postproduction phase of a product video we can set to music any scene showing a particular model – with the original sounds," boasts Graf. "We've even recorded the sounds with a specially developed method so that you can also hear changes in perspective, with the sounds now coming from different directions," Käppler adds.
The project extends far beyond the sound recordings of the cars. A corporate sound concept was also developed in Stuttgart and Munich, and defined together with Audi over a number of months. After this musicians came to Klangerfinder's sound studio in Stuttgart, and played string and percussion instruments until the style best matching the brand and the tone color with the most character were found. To achieve the widest possible range of use for the new Audi sound, the team created not just melodies, but broke down the music into its individual components note by note. "The sound of the Audi instruments has been specially defined for the brand," states Graf. "They are supposed to lend the music in, for example, an Audi commercial a typical Audi sound characteristic," explains Käppler. Included is a musical instrument that the team developed from purely automotive sounds: the "precise percussion" is a dynamically driving sound with high recognition value.
The company is compiling the individual Audi sounds – already numbering in the thousands – in a virtual Sound Studio for artists, sound designers and producers who work with Audi. "We give the composers individual sound files as well as a guideline,” says Bochmann. “But the actual creative work lies with the composers.” In the future, each sound will sound like Audi, and yet the sound characteristic will remain variable. "Our sounds function like spices," adds Bochmann. "You can use each sound exclusively or combine them. In every case the sounds become a signature, and clearly set our work apart from that of other brands."
The new Audi sound can already be heard in the media: The TV commercial for the new A5 Sportback was already set to music with sounds from the Audi Sound Studio. Graf sees it as a milestone in sound branding: "Together with the Audi Brand Department, we've created a flexible audio identity with recognizable elements." The result is good to hear.
Other components of the Audi Sound Studio are:
The Brand Music Pool. A constantly updated list of non-exclusive compositions befitting the Audi brand and usable as background music, for example at events and in dealerships. Instead of tuning into an arbitrary radio station or looking for music themselves, as was previously common in the industry, in the future Audi dealers will be able to access a wide choice of music.
The Brand Voice. In the future, a defined Audi voice could speak exclusively for the brand with the four rings. Applications range from commercials to announcements on the Audi mailbox.