Several regular readers of both this column and my blog wrote me with questions about using music on websites. So I'm going to flesh out some concepts here.
It's not one thing: it's all things
An important aspect of web design and development -- one increasingly important as rich media applications become more prevalent -- is the understanding that no one thing is going to make or break success unless that one thing is so glaringly catastrophic as to invite calamity. Let me give you some examples from a research paper NextStage is currently working on:
- Placing high quality, expensive, prestigious items on a bright background will decrease online sales of those items by as much as 50 percent
- Using contemporary music on a site merchandising upscale items decreases sales by as much as 75 percent
Those are big numbers for what are simple oofs, yet they are examples of how one glaring error will destroy the best design and development efforts. The important lesson from this is that the use of sound events (music, voice-overs, et cetera) are just one element in the overall environment a site visitor enters into when they browse a site.
Towards versus AwayFrom
There are some amusing anecdotes about the early days of NextStage that play well into this topic. One such anecdote deals with an early incarnation of the NextStage website. If the NextStage Evolution Technology site (ET) determined that you were an auditory person, then it would play music in order to get and keep your attention focused on the website. One demonstration of this was with Edge Strategies' Frank Della Rosa. Frank is a bass player, and while he was browsing that early version of our site, it started playing a bass guitar riff so that other work distractions wouldn't keep him from focusing on the site. He was delighted and focused.
Those were the positives responses and are examples of what psycho- and neuro-linguists call "Toward" behaviors, as in "I am drawn towards x". Using sound events on a website -- even if it's for a sound-based site such as iTunes -- means knowing whether or not visitors are Towards-based or AwayFrom-based. Psycho- and neuro-linguists recognize "AwayFrom" behaviors as "I shy away from y."
Some people are drawn towards sound events; others find them distracting. One potential investor in NextStage's early days was highly auditory but AwayFrom, something ET couldn't determine at the time (we've fixed that). He came to the site; ET recognized he was primarily auditory, started playing music, but he was an AwayFrom kind of guy, and that killed the deal right there and then. I could have explained what was happening all day, but it wouldn't have mattered. Talk about an oof!
Towards and AwayFrom behaviors are best demonstrated by recognizing that sound itself is a complex form of communication. I described how certain elements of sound can be pleasing or not in "What's the best use of sound files Online?". The first job when using sound events as part of a visitor's browsing experience is to determine if the majority of visitors are Toward or AwayFrom, or ideally, is this individual visitor Toward or AwayFrom.
The simplest breakdown is age group and gender
I'll offer a large generality here and strongly suggest you do your own market research before going with this:
- For people under 35 years old, with a western cultural orientation, who are going to a site recognized for sound events (again, an iTunes-ish kind of site), autoloading popular music or having sound events is a good thing. (See this post for more.)
- For people over 35 years old, with the other factors the same as those under 36, autoloading popular, generational music and sound events is good-- provided the volume is low, as in "background" music.
- For people under 35 years old, with an Asian cultural orientation, and with the other factors the same as #1, above, it's a toss up. Sorry, folks. Data supports quiet music and sound events on autoload for people with a definite Asian cultural orientation, not so for youthful native-Asians with an adoptive Western cultural paradigm in place.
- For people over 35 years old, with Asian cultural orientation, going to a recognized sound event site, music or sound events should always be soft and of cultural origin even if they're going to a western-oriented site. (There's just enough data to suggest this at present. We're still researching it.)
- For a site targeting males, use guitars, bass and brass because they lean towards band instruments and sounds.
- For a site targeting females, use strings, woodwinds and piano because they lean towards orchestra instruments and sounds.
I did my best to answer their questions in some overlapping blog arcs on sound files, usability and rich media.
Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also author of the Biz Media Science blog. Read full bio.