In the ever-evolving world of audio production, one trend in particular has stood out in recent years - immersive 3D audio and, in particular, the rise of Dolby Atmos. As the demand around this technology continues to grow, we at High Tide - Immersive Audio firmly believe that it is worth thinking a few steps further than simply viewing Dolby Atmos as a technical format, and it is crucial for us to differentiate between "simple" Atmos mixes and true Atmos productions. We want to explain our thoughts on this topic and provide a more creative viewpoint on the subject, as we believe it is high time that artists and producers reclaim their creative control in Dolby Atmos.
Why is Dolby Atmos often treated as an afterthought or a marketing checklist? We often hear that Dolby Atmos versions have to be delivered somehow quickly after the fact because it's required by the label or even distribution platforms. While artists and producers put a lot of time, energy and heart and soul into the stereo versions and every detail in the production finds its place, for immersive formats (if at all) usually only a few stems are played out, which are then placed in the room by a third person, sometimes carelessly, sometimes without understanding the intention and energy of the song. Doesn't it make much more sense to get involved in the creative process as early as possible and work together with the artists and producers to create an immersive vision? Dolby Atmos offers a fantastic artistic opportunity to express music in a new way and bring it to life, but it is often a pure by-product that has to be there somehow because it is required.
Of course, it's not always possible to get involved in the creative process of the song right from the start, but even if the song has already been produced for stereo, you shouldn't be satisfied with a simple upmix and quickly place a few stems in a few places in the room according to the scheme. You can still work with artists to find out which elements deserve special attention in Dolby Atmos. You can talk about which cues should stand out, which elements should stand out from each other and what kind of spatial storytelling can be woven into the mix. Requesting additional signals (e.g. additional vocal doubling or choir tracks) or additional microphones should not be an obstacle on the way to a good Dolby Atmos production. Even if they were not used in the stereo mix, they can be deliberately used in Dolby Atmos to create an immersive sound experience.
Artistic design over routine
The difference between a standard Atmos (up)mix and a fully-fledged Atmos production lies in the obligation to achieve the best possible result for the dramaturgy and energy of a song and not to bluntly follow a routine to adapt as many songs as possible to the Dolby Atmos format in the shortest possible time. As already mentioned, when creating the stereo mix, artists have a say in the sound, drama, spatial distribution, frequencies and energy distribution. This level of involvement should flow seamlessly into Dolby Atmos. In reality, however, we often come across Atmos mixes where artists have had little or no influence. These mixes were commissioned purely for compulsory and marketing reasons, often created as if in a mixing machine, alienating the artists from the end result.
A call for change
It's disheartening to see how Dolby Atmos is seen in many cases as a mere obligation, a task on the to-do list. Instead, Dolby Atmos should be a canvas for artistic expression, offering artists and producers a new playground for creativity. Imagine artists writing a song, actively participating in the production process and shaping the Dolby Atmos mix according to their vision. This is the future we envision. Because this is the only way to create results that really bring a new experience. How are consumers and other music creators supposed to understand the beauty of immersive music productions if there are too many poor results out there?
So what is the solution? Let's work together to encourage artists, producers and decision makers to prioritize artistic collaboration in Dolby Atmos projects more. Let's not think of it as just a task, but as a platform for musical creative innovation. Just as musicians seek out the right partners for the stereo realization of their vision, the same should apply to the immersive field. This only works if we get the creative people on board, bring them closer to Dolby Atmos, let them really experience it... Then the gears in their heads start turning all by themselves and floods of ideas bubble out of them. Only then can artists recognize who is the right producer and engineer for their project in Dolby Atmos or another immersive audio format. Cross-genre and blanket framework agreements stand in the way of creative exchange and thus also the trend towards more outstanding immersive music productions.
Don't get us wrong, there are countless outstanding Atmos productions. Productions where music has been rethought and the artistic intention can be experienced in a new way. And that's exactly what they are - full productions with artistic influence. That should be the rule and not the exception.