Commercial Sounds

This collection aims to explore a series of questions regarding the relationship between sound and the commercial world. How and why does sound change in different types of commercial spaces? How do those sounds shape the consumers’ experiences? In turn, how do consumers contribute to the soundscape?

Commercial can be defined as, “Engaged in commerce; trading.” Oberlin’s commercial district, while virtually limited to two intersections, shows a great variety of goods and services. This diversity of goods and services effectively represents the eclectic nature and tastes of the Oberlin student body and greater Oberlin community. Although this exhibit was compiled by Oberlin students, and includes sounds from in and around Oberlin, the variation in constructed commercial soundscapes can be applied universally.

The soundscapes of different commercial spaces vary depending on the targeted consumer base, as well as the nature of the goods offered. For instance, the soundscape of a convenience store is characterized by audible chatter, shuffling of products on shelves and the high-pitched beep of the barcode scanner at checkout. However, the sounds experienced in a pottery gallery might include soft music and the gentle hum of a pottery wheel.

Specific commercial environments encourage differing types of consumer behavior. Oberlin’s Slow Train Cafe’s welcoming aesthetic, created by its plush cushions and well-worn stacks of board games, facilitates social interaction, which in turn helps to define its soundscape. Physical attributes of a commercial space signal to its customers the appropriate way to behave and, therefore, the amount, type and volume of sound that is acceptable. In this way, the soundscape of commercial spaces is created through interaction between establishment and patron.

Sound is a powerful tool for those who shape the commercial world. It can be used to create a social environment that encourages interaction over warm drinks, or a calm, relaxing one that promotes quiet appreciation and potential purchase of art. Ultimately, these soundscapes are able to manipulate consumers into engaging with the commercial space and make purchases.