The Power of Sound

Remember when movies and videos didn’t have sound? Did you know Charlie Chaplin, the world’s greatest silent film actor and filmmaker, originally believed the introduction of audio into cinema to be a detriment to the film industry? After years of success with his cartoonish silent films, Chaplin couldn’t fathom having sound in his videos. His physical humor adapted to silence and he feared his audience wouldn’t like dialogue. Prior to audio, stories were told in films solely using visual images, captions, and physical expression through acting. At the time, he had no idea of the role that sound would play in engaging and articulating messages to audiences in the decades to come.

Like the rest of the world, Chaplin eventually accepted audio. In fact, one of his most powerful cinematic moments was the monologue in his first “talking picture” called The Great Dictator. When Chaplin’s character is mistaken for an evil, warmongering dictator, he is forced to make a speech to the indoctrinated people of the nation. Though he is just a lowly barber with no public speaking experience, here’s what he came up with:

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone - if possible – Jew, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

He proceeds to describe the need for people to unite and work together for the good of each other in the midst of life’s darker moments. The monologue is still viewed as one of the most moving and thematically relevant speeches in history. The passion in Chaplin’s voice is felt as he appears to look directly into the eyes of the viewer, seeming to speak to them on an individual level. He likely would not have been able to deliver such a compelling, relatable message to the audience if he was constrained to a black screen with text. Though he was skeptical, Chaplin demonstrated audio could be a precious gift for storytelling.

For example, if I’m a writing a biography about a professional baseball player, I would have a finite number of words at my disposal. If I wanted to paint him as “skilled,” and “successful,” I would probably use these words to describe them or reference experiences portraying them as such. But if I were to make a video about that player, it would be a very different process.

Instead of using written words, a video offers the opportunity to characterize a person or message through visuals and sound. With video of an athlete training, walking up to the plate and crushing the ball out of the park, we get to see their skill and success with our own eyes. With the sound of the ball clashing against the bat and the audience screaming their name, we can almost perceive the feeling that player has each time he is up at-bat. Though these sensations can be described effectively with written words, a video gives us a different, exciting and almost palpable angle of that person’s life.

Though Chaplin was right to predict the style of film he mastered would be fazed out by sound, he would have to learn firsthand that combining audio and video provided an entirely new dimension to the process of conveying a character or message. There is no question that the addition of audio has allowed for new artistic opportunities both in marketing and video production, and creators would be wise to brainstorm ways to innovate the use of sound.

Don't miss out on the opportunity sound and video can offer your business. We can help you tap into these vital tools. Email  or call (914) 607-7888 and discuss your marketing strategy with us.

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