Thursday, May 22, 2014

Expierence Your Book with Mozart: Booktrack

Ever thought that reading would be more interesting if you had some kind of music to go along with it? No? Well maybe you've thought that you know a particular song goes just well with this passage and only if you could share it with the world. 

There's website, Booktrack, that allows users to listen to books and texts with synchronized movie-style soundtracks and sounds. Apparently you can buy books with soundtracks already loaded (for example, the Power of Six comes with over 70 different musical scores and sounds, according to The Atlantic), create your own for books, or even add music and sounds to books and documents you originally create. 

According to The Atlantic:
It takes about six weeks to produce the nine hour-long track for a typical book. Booktrack has a small in-house team, but the bulk of the labor is done at outside production companies like Park Road Post, which has won Academy Awards for sound mixing. Creative designers read each book and determine what music and sounds should be used, and where. It all comes together with a composer, an audio technician, and sometimes, a sound producer. Cameron said it was only natural to seek out sound experts from the film industry, and they try to work with writers when they can. 
But how exactly does it work? According to the Smithsonian:
How does the book know when to fire the gun? It reads your mind. Almost. By calculating your reading speed from when you turn the page, it gauges when you'll reach the word or group of words that trips a sound effect. For slow readers, the background music plays on a loop, idling euphoniously, until you get to one of the trigger words. 
Booktrack tries to help improve literacy
According to, it reports that the National Endowment for the Arts reports that 33% of high school and 42% of college students never read a book after graduation. And with these numbers, educators are looking for more ways to engage students with reading (with reading showing not only increased test scores, but other benefits as well).

So in comes Booktrack, hoping to help educations tackle the non-reading trends among young adults. Booktrack Classroom gives students free access to ebooks with soundtracks for reading or creating their own. 

The thinking goes that with videos, radio, TV, video games, and interactive media, students have a hard time engaging in silent reading with a book that requires longer attention spans and less interactive parts to keep them engaged. So Booktrack figures that by adding music and sound, it'll help keep their attention.

According to their press release:
The announcement follows findings from a research project conducted by a team of experts from the University of Auckland that shows how reading with Booktrack increases reading comprehension and engagement. Of the 260 students in the randomized study, those who read the syllabus text incorporating Booktrack’s synchronized soundtrack spent 30% more time reading and registered up to 17% higher comprehension in comparison with the control group.
A second study was conducted with students with reading difficulties, with an even greater impact. This group had up to 18% higher comprehension and 35% higher satisfaction. The studies were led by Dave Hithersay, head of Biology at Auckland’s Mt Roskill Grammar School.
  From my own experience, I know when reading a book, my English teachers have often played corresponding movies and soundtracks (usually not while we were actually reading) or would find some way to make it more interesting (because apparently just reading on its own can't be entertaining). In any case, its a nice idea. 

Creating your own Booktrack?
Going on from education, we've now come to the what if I actually want to do this and create my own Booktrack? part. 
Booktrack’s expansion into education builds on the company’s recent successful fundraising round where it secured US$3million from global investors, led by Sparkbox Ventures. It allows the company to build on its recent growth with Booktrack Studio, which provides self-published writers with the ability to add soundtracks to their ebooks. In just over five months since its launch, over 300,000 users have created more than 3,600 Booktracks in 30 different languages and have spent more than 2.5 years reading.
 Anyways, according to the website, its fairly simple. "1. Copy your existing work, type an original story, or use a royalty free text to get started. 2. Add music, ambient sounds, and effects from our free library of 1,000s of tracks to create an immersive soundtrack for your text. 3. Publish your story for our community of readers to enjoy and share."  But of course, we all know that it is never as simple as they say. So if you really want to create your own booktrack, there's this handy-dandy little guide on how to make yours nice  or you can check out their author's blog.

Booktrack isn't such a new idea
Even though this is totally relevant, but I feel I must mention audiobooks. If you've ever listened to an audiobook, you'll probably notice that there's usually a little bit of music and sound involved. Usually in between the reader actually reading, sometimes to indicate a break or to introduce a chapter or whatever.

Authors in the past have also made use of creating soundtracks to go along with their books. Author Glen Duncan collarbated with Stephen Coates to create soundtracks to go with the novels I, Lucifer and The Last Werewolf. Jeff VanderMeer has also created soundtracks to go with his books.

And besides that, is a habit for writers now days to seek out music that goes along with their books. For Those Crazy Years, I found some wonderful playlists on Spotify (I think under a genre called electro swing) that works perfectly with my 1920s steam/deco punk story. Many of my writing friends have also created playlists on 8tracks that go along with their books. And this Amazon post lists some other books that have soundtracks created with the story in mind.

Other tibits
You can watch this Tedtalk by Booktrack's co-founder Paul Cameron.

And although I think this is a pretty neat idea, and I could see how it could be appealing to some, I would think that overall, it would just be too distracting. Unless maybe you're already in a situation that is distracting and you want something to listen to. Besides that, if you're looking to buy a book with a Booktrack, it costs extra (obviously, but would you really want to spend a couple extra dollars on it?). In any case, the app for it is available for both Apple and Androids so you can download it for yourself and check it out. And I might have to as well just to see if it really does work nicely or not.

So what do you think? Would you like to add music and sounds to your own book or read a book with a soundtrack ebbed in it? Do you think it says something about society went we're using soundtracks to help engage readers, or do you think its a smart or stupid idea?


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