Movie theatres, films, and audio/video productions are increasingly adopting the Dolby Atmos surround sound technology and today most devices like smart TVs, home theatre systems, Blu-ray players, and the newer smartphones come equipped with Dolby Atmos capability. In India, 700+ screens have installed Dolby Atmos by mid-2020 and 800+ local titles have soundtracks mixed with Atmos surround sound.
From the earliest days of music creation and reproduction, composers, musicians, engineers, and technocrats have ceaselessly pursued the holy grail of perfect sound – a sound that is pure, natural, and LIVE.
Over the years sound technology has made huge strides in achieving that elusive goal. We have come a long way from the days of analog mono, stereo, to digital home theatre systems with 5.1 and 7.1 channels, for surround sound emanating from the front, sides, and back.
Dolby Atmos adds another dimension to the realism of sound reproduction by providing height channels, with ceiling speakers firing down and floor speakers firing up. In other words, it gives the listener that immersive 360o experience with the sound coming to you from all directions and the feeling of being inside the music.
Understanding the importance of high-quality sound in movies, games, and songs is a crucial part of the production. Indian films have for long used songs as a part of the film’s narrative and good sound quality makes the song, music, and lyrics that much more engaging.
Academy and Grammy Award-winning composer A R Rahman is renowned for utilising technology to make certain that the highest level of sound quality is achieved. The arrangement and production of music in his debut film, as a producer and writer, 99 Songs, is the first in India to use the Dolby Atmos technology on its soundtrack.
Commenting on the Dolby Atmos technology, Mr.Pankaj Kedia, Managing Director, Emerging Markets, Dolby Laboratories, said,
“One can hear instrumentals or vocals coming from specific speakers placed in the room, such as the front or rear speakers, which makes you feel like you are listening in a studio or at a live performance venue. For those who experience music on headphones with their smartphone, they can now enjoy a spectacular new experience with Dolby Atmos. Today, many key smartphone manufacturers support Dolby Atmos playback capabilities.”
The technology was initially launched for cinema halls and the first Dolby Atmos surround sound system was installed in Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, in June 2012 for the premiere of the film, Brave. Game of Thrones was the first TV show mixed with Dolby Atmos and REM’s 25th Anniversary release of their album, Automatic for the People, was the first to use it.
Worldwide leading companies including Sony, LG, Panasonic, Lenovo, streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, besides audio equipment manufactures like Denon, Marantz, Pioneer and Yamaha, among others have adopted Dolby Atmos for their products and platforms.
The job of a sound engineer is to capture the magic being created and performed, in its truest form, with the best gear that is available to them and to make it sound as good as possible.
“Technology gives you the tools to create and mould the sound, and with better tools you make better music. Everything is done digitally. The main software that I use to produce, has improved my workflow massively. The better plug-ins you use the better your mixes will sound for sure. But in the end, the deciding factor is your own ears,” cites leading hip hop music producer Sez on The Beat.
Most music producers and sound guys keep abreast of current technological developments and adapt to the changing times. Today there is a paradigm shift in technology aiding production and music producers now are able to wrap up their projects much faster.
“The focus of technological development is to always provide better experience with time. I started with tape and now I live in a world of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation). There is more flexibility now, I have more control over things like editing or rearranging things after recording is done. And to fix things microscopically,” feels one of India’s leading sound engineers, Shadab Rayeen.
“It’s all about marrying art and technology together and balancing each other. Technology always gave me a choice to do better in my field.”
Music creators tend to rely on a particular technology which they are accustomed to. The thought of switching to a newer technology is often discomforting, as it would be like a ‘back to school’ experience. Initially one has to undertake research and development work to understand and then acclimatize to the new technology. The learning curve can be a long and time consuming process, but ongoing work can’t stop.
It all about making the switch!
“The switch is not difficult at all. Dolby Atmos Music opens a new creative palette for musicians to experiment and express themselves with their recordings. The tools are compatible to existing workflows for mixing music,” claims Kedia.
The company is working closely with artists, record labels, and music streaming services to make the experience widely accessible. Two of the world’s largest record labels, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, are releasing tracks in Dolby Atmos from some of the biggest names in music. Artists like Coldplay, Lizzo, J Balvin, Giles Martin, are creating original music in Dolby Atmos.
With the advent of smarter technology and global music genres now becoming a part of Indian audiences’ palate, sound engineers and producers have to approach each genre specifically.
“Now we have more and different approaches to a particular genre whether it is jazz, hip hop or film scores. With the help of modern technology we now get to listen to lots of variety. We can shape up song, album or score very differently,” stressed Shadab.
With the rapidly changing music landscape, it is crucial for the music creators to keep abreast of new developments and technological advancements and make the best use of it.
To aid and tutor music authors, composers, and publishers across the country Dolby Laboratories Inc., announced the launch of an educational program for members of The Indian Performing Right Society Limited (IPRS).
“We are elated to join hands with Dolby Laboratories as a part of our IPRS 2.0 initiative, premeditated to add value and empower our members making them future ready. With the collaboration we intend to upskill our members with this breakthrough proficiency in audio creation and provide vital knowledge on adopting it to create remarkable experiences for their listeners,” added Mr.Rakesh Nigam, CEO IPRS.
The program will provide members the opportunity to attend Dolby Atmos Music Webinar Series covering technology & workflows, Dolby Atmos Tutorial Series, Dolby Institute Masterclass, and a free trial to Dolby Atmos Production Suite among other activities.
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