It was a specific feeling that Earth Patravee wanted to evoke, when she was in the midst of conceiving the sunshine pop sound of her single ‘it’s ok’ last year. “I wanted it to feel like a warm hug,” recalls the Thai singer-songwriter, whose track was a slight pop punk swerve—away from her usually calm, floaty deliveries. Whilst this may have proven a challenge to achieve just three years ago, communicating this sentiment suddenly became infinitely more possible for the T-pop artist about two years ago—when Apple announced its Spatial Audio support for Dolby Atmos in Apple Music, which could be accessed across its breadth of devices such as the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.
Now, two years on, we’re here on the luxe, spacious grounds of Karma Studios, a world-class residential recording studio in Pattaya, Thailand, where a band of some of Southeast Asia’s top musicians such as local artists Charlie Lim, Myrne and Benjamin Kheng, have gathered together to share and experience what it’s like to mix and produce music with Spatial Audio in mind. It’s a rare, precious opportunity; as we witness and listen in on how the experience of making music is moulding and evolving anew—as the industry navigates the nascent stages of a phenomenal development.
Patravee is also joined by Singaporean producers Zeke Keran and Evan Low, better known as Flightsch and Evanturetime respectively, who also share with us more about what the experience behind-the-scenes has been like from a professional standpoint, with Spatial Audio altering the playing field as we speak. “You need to reframe your mind to actively mix in a three-dimensional space. You’re no longer mixing in stereo or even in surround, now you have the power to manipulate space, height and depth,” explains Low.
For the melomaniacs out there, perhaps you’ve already noticed these differences in your daily plays on Apple Music; the sonic experience has suddenly felt more complex—no longer is it a mere dual-output system but somehow, it almost feels like it’s being played live all around you. “The music moves with you. This makes it extremely interactive for the user—an immersive concept that was previously unheard of. It could make you feel like you were at a live show in a stadium, or transport you right into the studio with the band,” elaborates Keran. Thanks to Personalised Spatial Audio and the preliminary dynamic head tracking scan that has been introduced for this integration, all this is now possible in one’s very own everyday experience of music.
As the universe of Spatial Audio expands, the gap between an artist and their listeners has now decreased significantly, considering how the final audio package sits that much closer to how the musician so wishes for it to sound. For the technical audiophiles, that might mean envisioning exactly which speaker in the room their beloved artist had imagined for their voice to drift in from, or how a certain instrument is meant to enter the mix. But for the general music lover? “It’s a whole new way of experiencing audio—like listening to a live concert of your favourite artist with front row seats at a stadium,” alludes Low.
Notably, it’s made it a lot more interesting for the people in the studio as well. For artists like Patravee, it is about the transformed capabilities of being able to capture the essence of how they’re feeling—the full creative expression of a very emotional art. “Making a song has always been like painting a picture. We have a picture in mind and we want to paint it exactly like how we feel.” With Spatial Audio thrown into the mix, she discovered a different side to production that somehow felt like second nature to her: “I was aware that I could make it sound like my voice was coming from the back of the room or I could try things like making the sound go around my head. So now when I’m in the studio, I’m actually consciously preparing myself and thinking about how it would sound in the room. I’m doing a lot more layers in my voice, for example, because I might use them differently in the post-recording process.”
This experimental approach to creating music is no doubt also aided by the recent integration of Logic Pro with the iPad—Apple’s answer to a professional mobile recording studio—where the power of creating music at your fingertips from anywhere in the world has now been fully realised. Logic Pro in itself, which boasts the technical prowess of Dolby Atmos tools built in for musicians to try mixing in spatial audio, now takes on a new landscape: where all artists, old or new, can re-discover and re-analyse their approach. DJ and producer Myrne not only commends the seamlessness of the Logic Pro workflow, but regards it as a first step to tearing down the barriers to entry: “The ease of use of Logic Pro also encourages people to dabble in music production, traditionally a process with a steep learning curve.”
But broadening the artist’s musical playground is not all that Spatial Audio is doing. When it comes to the expansion of creative possibilities, Patravee, Keran and Low all note that it’s definitely upped the ante for the engineers and technicians in the room as well. “It translates into interesting techniques that have broken preconceived rules of music production,” says Low. With this heightened level of agency at the mixing and post-production stages, Patravee goes on to explain that it’s “a lot more negotiation and discussion happening in the room between the artist and a sound engineer now, which makes it an almost 50-50 creative process these days”.
And it sits right in line with the way the music landscape is evolving as we know it, ultimately stemming from the way we, the masses, consume it. As the nature of social media sparks overstimulation and shortening attention spans (read: TikTok), the essence of music, as Low notes, is increasingly leaning towards how one can capture “a mood, a message, or a vibe”. Experimentation and playfulness is key—with short, snappy, catchy songs gaining virality near instantly. With the sheer fact that someone could access and mix with Spatial Audio from the comfort of their very own bedrooms, this so-called ‘mood’ is only further emboldened.
At the end of the day, Patravee reminds us that everyone listens to vastly different genres and enjoys music differently—but the all-encompassing factor now is how Spatial Audio allows us all to feel that much closer to the music we so love. Local singer-songwriter Benjamin Kheng sums it up best: “It’s the sensation of discovering new things within a track that you might have been listening to for decades, or feeling like you’re literally in the same room surrounded by your favourite band. That’s the joy.”