Look around you, wherever you are as you read this. Aside from any plants, the odds are that everything you see was carefully designed by someone: it is intentional, meant to look like that. Its shape, colour, texture, size - all are the result of conscious choices. We could never imagine making something without being concerned with all these qualities. But as you move through the rest of your day today, start to notice that almost nothing you hear has been designed by anyone. The sound around us is mainly accidental: things make those noises just because that's what they do. Road traffic, aeroplanes, trains, coffee machines, hums, buzzes, the acoustics of rooms - almost all the elements of the soundscape are unintentional, undesigned by-products of people and machines just doing what they do, of our world being the way it is.
Not only is most urban sound accidental: much of it is unpleasant, inappropriate and counterproductive. This is partly because it's unplanned and partly because we all go around pretending it doesn't exist, so there's no demand for anybody to put it right.
Most businesses are shooting themselves in the foot every day with bad sound. This happens in any one of hundreds of auditory interactions with the world: the sound of the reception area; the sound of advertising; the sound of inbound and outbound telephone calls; the sound of offices; the sound of products and services being used; the sound of on-hold music... add all of them together and you get the sound of a business.
Most of the accidental and unpleasant sound I mentioned is made, directly or indirectly, by businesses that are simply unconscious of the sound they make. This is bizarre because they certainly care about people's opinions. Each year, trillions of dollars are spent on how businesses look, and almost nothing at all on how they sound. It's as if sound has no consequences - but it does.
What an opportunity there is for any business that starts to listen and become conscious about its sound! There's plenty of room for everyone in this vast new territory - but the richest pickings will go to those who stake the first claims, as they secure substantial competitive advantage over their rivals.
The quantity of academic research into the effects of sound is growing exponentially, and media coverage is constantly increasing. You only have to look at the sales of iPods to see the degree to which people want to take charge of their soundscapes; to change the default sound of modern living.
Every business is going to have to take responsibility for its sound sooner or later. My advice is to do it now, and do it wholeheartedly. You will gain market share against competitors who are reluctant to take on controlling their sound, your customers will love you for it - and the world will be a better place.
Author of the book "Sound Business"; Chairman of The Sound Agency; BrandSoundTM strategist;