Every tattoo tells a story and now with the help of augmented reality, tattoos can finally speak for themselves. The brainchild of tech whiz-turned-tattoo artist Nate Siggard of Los Angeles, soundwave tattoos are ones that bring tattoos to life through pre-recorded audio clips that can be played back through a mobile app. They first became available to the public in December 2017—and according to Siggard, there are now 550 certified soundwave tattoo artists in 42 countries.
The origins of soundwave tattoos
Siggard’s inspiration came from an off-the-cuff comment made by his partner, Juliana Damiano in April 2017. Two years ago, he’d just finished creating matching Elton-John inspired tattoos for Vanderpump Rules star Kristen Duarte and her friend when Damiano walked in the room. She took one look at the tattoos which were the opening lines from the song Tiny Dancer and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could actually play the sound back?”
“In an instant, I said ‘I know how to do that,'” Siggard says. “I’d worked with augmented reality to animate paintings in a gallery and create art experiences so I knew I could use existing software to make this work too.”
It didn’t take very long from the time of Damiano’s initial remark to Siggard making soundwave tattoos a reality. Four days later on a Saturday night, Siggard recorded Damiano saying “I love you,” along with their then four-month-old daughter laughing and delightfully squealing with joy. He took the audio clip and created a soundwave image. From there, he proceeded to tattoo that image on his own leg while taping the entire thing on video.
When he was finished, he pulled up the companion app he’d created, aimed his smartphone at his soundwave tattoo and scanned it. Within seconds, he was able to play back the recording of Damiano and their daughter, immediately posting the video online.
How they actually work
“The process is not the same as a record player with a needle, that would be impossible because there’s not enough resolution but the end result of the experience is the same. It’s kind of like a magic trick,” Siggard says.
The so-called magicalaspect that ties the whole process together is Skinmotion, the cloud-based platform Siggard developed that stores all the audio clippings linked to people’s soundwave tattoos. Customers start by signing up for an account and paying a one-time activation fee of $39 to upload their audio recording which the n creates a unique soundwave pattern to give to their tattoo artist. Then once they get their tattoo they return to the app and upload the image of it, connecting it to their audio clip. For an annual fee of $9.99, customers store their audio clip on the platform.
Shortly after Siggard uploaded the video back in 2017, a friend called him and said, “You’re going viral—get a lawyer”, and so he did because of the massive—albeit positive—reaction. The lawyer advised Siggard to temporarily remove the video from the Internet and file a patent. “Taking the video down just added to the mystery,” Siggard laughed, “because people saw it and then it just disappeared.”
Once the patent was successfully filed, though, Siggard reposted the video. Within one week, it had garnered a seriously impressive 15 million views. And when other sites like Bored Panda caught wind and shared it, the video logged a whopping 350 million views in six weeks. Suddenly, Siggard was inundated with thousands of messages from people who wanted their own soundwave tattoos.
The current state of soundwave tattoos
To date, over 2,000 people have gotten a soundwave tattoo permanently capturing the sounds of everything from a favorite dog’s distinctive howl to a romantic marriage proposal to the heartbreaking sounds of a baby’s heartbeat that didn’t survive to excerpted messages from a deceased loved one extracted from a saved voicemail. “Ninety-nine percent of the tattoos represent love in some form,” shares Siggard.
“We are giving people a way to remember loved ones and keep their stories alive. We are empowering them to mark milestones and rites of passages in their lives, to help them grieve and heal and remember. Most of all, we are doing our part to preserve the integrity of their memories in a permanent way,” shares Siggard.
“Technology is changing the stigma of what it means to get a tattoo and augmented reality has added an extra dimension in terms of how you express yourself,” notes Siggard. “Suddenly, people that never even considered getting a tattoo want one,” he says enthusiastically.
As for the skeptics and Internet trolls who say what Siggard is doing isn’t real or can’t be done, he says, “Look, it’s a sign of intelligence not to believe everything you see on the Internet but I’m happy to prove them wrong on this one,” he says laughing.
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