Often the sounds we are surrounded by are seen as background and not really thought about deeply, be it the soundscape of a busy city, a workspace, our daily commutes, or the sounds that exist around our homes and home offices. It’s understandable that much of what we hear is just accepted as the soundtracks of our lives.
Sound can have quite an impact on our emotions, however. Just think about the time when a certain song on the radio or TV or in a shop brought back particular memories or evoked feelings of sadness, happiness, or nostalgia. Sound can also encourage us to move our bodies, sometimes without even intending to do so first – the rhythm gets you!
When it comes to staging events, the most obvious of sounds to look at and consider first is, quite literally, the sound of music.
The right music can influence the mood of an event and change the way people attending the event feel. How does it do this? Music can heighten our emotional state by allowing for emotional processing. It can provide a container of safety for feeling and expressing emotions. Being moved by music, whether it brings on a relaxed state or a motivated state, changes our cortisol levels and the regulation of our nervous system. A feeling of regulation can reduce stress, encourage productivity, and has a host of wellbeing benefits in promoting healthy organ function (1).
Most of us have probably heard about classical music being beneficial for babies’ cognitive development. While the impact on developing cognition is debated, what’s not debated is that the music changes physiology. Rather than raising IQ, most classical music has a calming effect that sees the release of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter. The dopamine release spikes pleasure and reduces or prevents the release of stress hormones. With improved mood and less stress, our thinking is clearer, and tasks may be easier and more enjoyable (2).
Recent studies have shown classical music can slow down heart rate and breathing rate and also decrease emotional distress. It can lower cortisol levels in the brain and thus lessen anxiety and lower blood pressure. Some studies also suggest that listening to 20 minutes of classical music per day can modulate the genes that are linked with learning and memory, and down regulate neuro-degenerative diseases, though this is still being fully explored. Music is well known to evoke memories, and that increase in dopamine mentioned earlier is said to potentially slow down the ageing process (Chakravarthi Kanduri, et al, 2015).
Neuroscience and psychology research suggests Baroque music, in particular, potentially impacts our capacity for learning and focus. Certain Baroque tracks stimulate alpha waves in the brain, waves that are associated with being present and able to attend to the tasks at hand. The music was also found to increase spatial reasoning, attentiveness and concentration, alongside improvements in the speed of learning and later recall (3).
It’s not just classical music, or music in general, to consider when it comes to utilising sound in our event experiences. Research shows that exposure to nature sounds accelerates physiological and psychological restoration up to 37% faster after a stressor (Alvarsson et al 2010). Nature sound exposure can reduce cognitive fatigue, and when added with a visual – such as seeing trees or an image of a bird – the sound has an even stronger and more positive impact due to the strong connection between the visual and auditory systems (4).
Having a sound that references nature – be it the sound of songbirds, the buzz of bees, music with natural sounds in it, water sounds, or digital sounds that mimic nature – can enhance an event and significantly add to the wellbeing and receptivity of attendees.
And maybe using sounds that fit with the season and timing of your event could enhance the positive effects even further.
Sound should not be overlooked when it comes to event planning and the event experience we want to design for our clients. It can powerfully transform the way attendees feel, what they achieve, and how they remember an event.
1. Porges, Stephen. Pocket Guide to the Poly-Vagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. Norton Agency Publishers, September 5, 2017 (1st ed)
2. The effects of classical music on the brain, Symphony Central Coast, October 30, 2019.
Chakravarthi Kanduri, Pirre Raijas, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Liisa Ukkola-Vuoti, Harri Lähdesmäki, Irma Järvelä (2015). The effect of listening to music on human transcriptome. https://peerj.com/articles/830/
3. Music for Wellbeing: Focus with Baroque, December 7, 2020.
Alvarsson, J., S. Wiens & M. Nilsson (2010). Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7 (3), 1036-1046. 62 65 67
4. Terrapin Bright Green LLC Study, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,
Fetching Events & Communications is a boutique agency that works with the community, for the community, specialising in project management, event management, communications and volunteer engagement. Combining our international event experience in media with our communications knowledge and skills, Fetching Events & Communications provides a fully integrated events, volunteer engagement and communications service.