With the recent installation of a Dolby Atmos 3D Surround Sound system at Ministry Of Sound in London, it seems that 3D sound is going to become more and more prevalent in the electronic music scene. Producer Matt Darey is a pioneering artist who helped to develop the trance sound of the mid-90’s, enjoying a string of hits. Now working across a diverse range of genres, he has just released the first electronic music album written and produced for 7.1.4. 3D Surround Sound in the Dolby Atmos format. No one is better placed to give us the lowdown on what this futuristic format is all about. So we invited Matt to give us his 5 reasons why 3D sound will change electronic music…
As I finished creating my first piece of music in true 3D sound I knew it was a game changer. I was hooked and jumped head first into making an album using this new tech. 7.1.4 is the configuration of speakers making 3D sound possible as in the diagram above. A technology born in the world of cinema and now crossing over to the world of music production. That last evolutionary step from surround sound to 3D sound makes all the difference in realism. It’s the step into creating an audio experience that’s reminiscent of the way we hear sounds in the real world of three dimensional space.
1. It creates a fully immersive listening experience
The easiest way to describe 3D sound is that you feel like you’re inside the music. The first thing that strikes you when you hear music in 3D for the first time is how organic it is; it’s the way we hear sounds in the real world. You’re immersed at the centre of 12 or more speakers surrounding you from all sides and above. Music that is written and produced specifically for this 3D configuration of speakers is dramatically different from being surrounded by speakers feeding from a stereo source. This is because the producer of the music you’re listening to has complete control of the position in 3D space, of every individual element of the music. The high hat, percussion, bass, synth lines, vocals and effects can be placed anywhere in the room either in an exact position, or moving through the space between the listener and the speakers. This is made possible using an object-orientated approach where each sound in the mix is assigned to an object which has its own positional metadata. For example, a drum roll can move in a circle around you and then pass overhead. A synth sound can evolve from one centre speaker in mono and spread into a sound that completely engulfs the whole room from all directions. You can read about this but you have to hear it for yourself to fully understand what music produced in 3D is all about. Download an mp4 onto a USB stick and take it into an Audio Visual retailer to hear music for the first time in 3D. http://www.mattdareywolf.com/
2. It will change the way we make music
For a producer who has been making music in stereo his whole life, to switch to 3D is liberating. It’s like a drug; you’re hooked and going back to stereo can be a bit of a downer. In 3D you no longer have to cram all those sounds into left or right speakers competing for space. You now have 12 speakers or more and hence so much more open space to play with. You now have complete control of the position and movement of each sound in 3D space. Hence I recorded many more layers of vocals and harmonies in tracks like “Promises” and “Step Outside” placing each separate vocal track in a different position in 3D space. It’s like being surrounded by clones of the vocalist all singing slightly or dramatically different parts giving a warmth and fullness of sound you could never experience before 7.1.4. The guitarist recorded several layers of guitar. I had them coming from all different directions each played in subtly different ways. The effects and reverb bouncing from up above. It’s like WOW!! Then there’s specific control of the movement of a sound in 3D space. You can take a synth sequence and control its movement, like the lead sound in my track “LFO I Can’t Help Myself”. This is something that you could not do before. Unfortunately, as with all new technology, right now there is a rather high financial barrier to entry for music producers. The 7.1.4 studio I used to make this album cost £80k. The processing power required to place and move 60 objects in 3D space is quite enormous. Many electronic producers make music on their laptop that cost them £500. There are many forms of 3D sound creation technology emerging which are more financially accessible, like 3D for headphones. However 7.1.4 is what I would call True 3D and so far nothing comes close. As this technology develops then it will inevitably become more affordable and will become essential for electronic music producers.
3. Changing the format for music
The price of a full Atmos 7.1.4 home cinema system is falling quite rapidly, especially the new up-firing soundbar systems. In fact if you already have 5.1 or 7.1 home cinema, you can upgrade the AV receiver to Atmos and add the overheads. Producers who write music in 3D will undoubtedly come with the new innovations in production technique and ways to bring new experiences to the listener that we can’t imagine right now. Given that electronic music is leading the way with tech advances, I see this as where the most exciting things will happen, driving more consumers to upgrade their home AV systems. Outside of new music written in 3D sound, the potential for remastering back catalogue is huge. Imagine the best selling albums of all time, released in Dolby Atmos. I’ve already experimented together with a friend of mine, James Wood. We took 2 of my 20 year old chart hits from the 90’s and transformed them into 3D sound; the result was stunning. Major labels will love it because it will rejuvenate sales of their back catalogue, maybe even in the same way that they did with the emergence of digital formats like CD. Dolby already announced REM will soon release their best selling album in Atmos format; a classic reborn. Right now we are ahead of the curve creating Dolby Atmos content but all the major platforms are rolling out Atmos support, Windows 10, Xbox, Amazon, soon iTunes and increased music content will follow. Also 3D for headphones looks likely to be huge. It’s currently great for gaming FX and isolated sounds but not even close to the 7.1.4 experience.
4. Changing the music venue experience
For the clubber this means an enhanced and more immersive experience on steroids. The sheer power of a Dolby Atmos system like the one installed at Sound Bar in Chicago and Ministry of Sound London, coupled with this new tech is going to take that clubbing rush to a new level. Losing yourself in the music is going to be that much easier when you feel like you’re literally inside it. A DJ’s performance will have so much more scope for creativity on the fly. Right now I’m in the process of preparing my album DJ set in Atmos for Sound Bar in Chicago, the first U.S.A club to install a 3D Atmos club sound system. Using Dolby’s Atmos DJ app you have control over separate elements of the music. You are no longer limited to a fixed stereo track. You can therefore have a much greater degree of control over the musical elements and for the first time, how they move around the 3D space of the room. This will make each live performance more unique. When preparing music for a 3D venue performance you tend to be more dramatic with the use of this tech, as opposed to making an album, where you can be a lot more subtle.
5. Changing the way we experience live music
Another exciting area is the development of the the virtual live music experience at concerts, festivals and venues. 3D music will be a big part of making the virtual experience sense of realism that much greater. Electronic music is leading the way with streaming. Figures are now reaching 12 billion streams per month in a $7 billion industry. It follows that this huge turnover will drive investment in the evolution of technology that will allow the music lover to remotely experience new levels of realism. 3D music, virtual reality, 3D Vision and 360 degree video streaming are all evolving rapidly, side by side. Concerts recorded using Dolby Atmos audio feed from multiple mic’s in 7.2.4 configuration at a venue are already happening. As for the future, imagine a live streaming app that can link the audio and video feed from multiple fans smartphones at a live concert along with exact location, allowing remote viewing and listening from multiple perspectives at a concert by combining mobile phone location data with audio and video feeds. Many of them spend 90% of their time holding up their phones in the air anyway so it’s not a giant leap of imagination to think we are close to some kind of crowd broadcasting.
Matt Darey’s album, ‘Wolf’ written and produced for 7.1.4 3D Surround Sound in the Dolby Atmos format is available as a free download from www.mattdareywolf.com. A traditional stereo version is also available from www.facebook.com/mattdarey