Clear sound: When the audience complains

Denys Blakeway, executive producer of Renaissance Revolution, reflects on his experience of being on the receiving end of viewer complaints about sound. Audibility is the single biggest topic of viewer complaints and this film forms part of the BBC’s best practice guide to the subject.

Aim for no complaints
The use of background music and its levels generate a lot of complaints from viewers. If a programme generates a significant number of justifiable complaints, Audience Services will ask productions to re-mix the sound at their own expense.

"We were lulled into a false sense of security." – Denys Blakeway

This was Denys’s experience on Renaissance Revolution, where he and the directors had deliberately chosen modern and challenging music to bring a new perspective to a period of art history that is fairly familiar. After the first broadcast he was asked to remix the music for episode two. He dropped the level of the music, but not the tracks chosen. Complaints about both the volume and the style of the music dropped dramatically.

Invite another opinion
If you’re in doubt, ask someone who isn’t familiar with your programme to listen to the mix and see if they understand what’s being said. As a director or editor it’s easy to get over familiar with your material and it can be difficult to watch it as a viewer does.

Drop your music level by 1ppm
Lowering background music levels by just 1 ppm makes a huge difference to viewers. It often won’t change your creative or editorial vision but it will make your dialogue much more audible.