Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Most of the broadcast projects I've been involved in over the last two decades can in a sense be considered straight-ahead enhancements to moving picture, game play or venue experience. Nevertheless, it was in the mid nineties that I began formulating my own uniquely formulated Brand Theology, and not long after that, that I began chasing Broadband video as it emerged from Madison Alley (Madison Ave + Silicon V/Alley, i.e. the ad tech community) byte by precious byte, well before anyone thought audio would ever get small enough to enhance the web experience in any meaningful way.

More recently –in this millennium– I've positioned myself as a creative consultant. As such, I'm asked to consult individual artist/ entertainers who believe my once so-close-to-the-sun and you'll-get-burned-proximity to brand imaging (via music production for advertising, and as a founder of a pioneering interactive audio shop) might also make me capable at providing them with some insight how to reverse engineer the publicity process in order to fuel their own creative careers.

Along the way, I've had occasion to coin the rare phrase, and redefine others which had already found their way into limited circulation, if only as a means to explain myself with necessary clarity. I stumbled through a lot of now dead ideas, but a few things I got right. Today, even if the exact phrases that I chose aren't in wide use –Rock Brands, Medici Model, Camelback Collateral and Strategic Audio Partnerships– the ideas they represent are indeed present and certainly living large.

Most people I speak to seem to be gravitating towards using a variation of the phrase 'New Music Model', 'New Music Paradigm' or 'Music 2.0'. I think all three terms are rather neutral, –a sort of non descriptive nomenclature that doesn't quite reveal anything. Fine for a cocktail party, but otherwise devoid of content. But, sure, you'll catch me using one or the other on occasion as a kind of short hand when I know the person/s I'm addressing are already well acquainted with what those terms might imply.

Music 2.0 suggests a new version to replace the current version. But the terms I chose collectively describe aspects of what I originally conceived as a parallel 'music industry' –one where independent musicians thrived using a modified 'Medici model' –whether that meant accepting a role where public endorsements were required, or in my own case, accepting work-for-hire commissions in order to pay for 'my art'.

The Medici model isn't my own invention, and its meaning is widely understood by those who know the history of the Medici family and their patronage of the arts, between the 13th and 17th centuries. Ever since, DIY musicians and artists since then have been trying to find ways to reignite its potential so that they might be able to survive our capitalist construct, integrity intact, but sans Industry.

Enter the Internet, and the Medici model is actually viable again, albeit on a more significant scale.


In 2001, a few weeks after the World Trade Center fell, I produced a group of New York Metro area session musicians and singers, under the banner Gotham Artists, in the production of a tribute song. Despite it's limited '01/'02 release on the now defunct site ((it now lives a quiet life on the Garageband site), I continue to receive appreciative email complimenting our efforts and the resulting music.

I'm telling you this because the tools you have now, from home studio equipment to social networking sites to YouTube, all mean that you and your musical vision stand at least an equal chance –and in reality a very great possibility– of touching another soul on the other side of the planet.

And that's all it takes.

In many ways we live in a Post Sell Out World, but it still hasn't lost its heart. Get your music out there and don't worry about being too harshly judged. Ultimately, art is an experience of self discovery. If you become an international global pop star in the process, more power to you.


So with that in mind, I'm kicking 2008 out and 2009 in with a recap of what I think were some of the most prescient articles this author has published in the first few years of the new millennium.

The third article listed below, Branding With Audio, was published by an industry trade back in March of 2001, and represents one of the first widely read articles on Sonic Branding.

"Do you know what your company is saying right now?"

You can read some version of this phrase on just about every music house, audio branding company or composer website today, but prior to the publication of this article you would be hard put to find even industry insiders asking it. Not like I'm a futurist –a term I utterly loathe– but given my background and interests, I simply arrived at the question before most.

I include the article on this list because while it was written for an audience of account executives and marketers in mind, it concludes with advice I think is (still) applicable whatever side of a co-branding agreement you may be on, artist or executive:

"Branding beyond advertising means creating an experience that is free of an overt pitch yet is compelling enough that consumers will nevertheless identify it with your brand. If you've produced a CD, for instance, folks will listen to it while they eat, work out, make love, and your company will be the underscore to their lives. Oats may be oats, but if I'm making babies to your music, then chances are my babies will be eating your oats".

Agree or disagree, either way, I hope it provides continued food for thought (no pun intended). It's 2009 – you don't need a multi national to fund your project in order to draw fans from around the world.

here's to making a big noise in the new year,

Terry O'Gara

* * *

From the Critical Noise Archives

From YR 2000
ROCK BRANDS: Tomorrow's Rock Star Marketing Partners

From YR 2000
Convergence And The Composer
Originally published in Shoot Magazine, August, 2000

From YR 2001
Branding With Audio
Originally published in Clickz, March, 2001

From YR 2003
EXPERIENCE: Traditional Packaging Not Required

From YR 2003
This is Where the Story Ends

From YR 2006
Music as Collateral: Using Audio to Add Value

From YR 2007
Music as Collateral: Compatible Archetypes

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Co-Branding as an Alternative to 360 Deals

While presented as 'new music paradigm', the term 360 describes a wishful number of revenue streams flowing back to a traditional label, based on a traditional loan to an artist signing an otherwise traditional agreement.

Which is not to say you should never consider participating in such an agreement.

If your current income is zero, then a 360 deal makes great sense.

However, for an artist who has already established a revenue stream, a 360 deal only becomes a reasonable choice when all parties to the contract, having full understanding of their responsibilities to the other parties, and with full transparency can be held accountable for the execution (or abdication) of said responsibilities, so in effect, contract each other.

The label only wants to pay you on the net of record sales? Therefore likewise, carve out an agreement whereby they are only paid on the net of touring and merch; and like any good manager, hold them accountable for the fulfillment of specific, measurable responsibilities (that entitle them to the agreed commission). To me, that sounds fair and equitable.

The ideal 360 deal –from the artist's perspective– should therefore look a lot like a CO-BRANDING agreement, albeit where one partner (the source of funding) remains invisible, logo real estate notwithstanding.

With the exception of limited work-for-hire agreements (one-off commissions), no one in the new millennium should enter any kind relationship whose execution would compromise an artist's integrity.

Nobody should, but people will. As much as record companies are accused of being greedy, musicians are often equally guilty of signing draconian agreements in order to satisfy a lust for fame and celebrity. But this is not the always the case, of course, and in fact, as previously indicated, 360 deals make sense for some acts, and one may even make sense for you.

However, in our Post Sell Out World, you're a free agent. So, if you're going to sign a 360 deal, you don't necessarily have to do it with a traditional music label. Instead, you can do it with a collaborator of your choosing, for terms agreeable to both of you.

You might sign with the entity who gives you the least control but the most money; or you might choose to collaborate with a company that offers you less money but more creative control. Ideally, you will enter into either a limited term equity partnership or accept a 'Project Underwriter Sponsorship'.

FYI: Per the 'PBS Red Book', "PBS defines an "underwriter" as a third party that has voluntarily contributed cash to finance, in whole or in part, the production or acquisition of a PBS program. Money from such sources used toward research and development, or for packaging or repackaging a program, ordinarily counts as underwriting as well".

For our purposes, a Project Underwriter Sponsorship is defined as an agreement between a two or more parties whereby one or more has voluntarily contributed cash to finance, in whole or in part, the production of a an artistic project, in this case a musical recording by a specific artist/s and the subsequent promotion of the project, in return for credit for having done so.

Neither co-branding partners nor underwriters may necessarily have a history recording and distributing music. If we speak strictly of a 'new music paradigm', they usually do not.

In fact, for the purposes of raising funds in order to record, tour and pay the rent, EVERY company is a potential record company –from the local shops on Main Street to whomever happens to top the Fortune 400 list in a given year, and whether they sell futuristic widgets or old fashioned potpourri.

Of course, not every company can provide distribution, but depending on your specific needs you may or may not need a major label network in order to fulfill your own professional and artistic goals.

The important thing is that such deals are structured as mutually beneficial CO-BRANDING contracts, or as corporate sponsorship of an artistic enterprise, but never as label/bank providing a lopsided loan to the customer/artist. Because if all you need is a loan in order for your dreams to come true, there are cheaper ways to secure that loan, even in today's economy.

More to the point, artists can stop doing business as applicants for loans, if they find a way to position themselves as suitable investments in another company's or collaborator's business strategy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bands and Brands

In a recent article I recommended reading Jon Pareles excellent article published a few days ago in the New York Times ['Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan' (12/24/08)].

Briefly, Pareles notes, laments, and finally accepts the increasing (and seemingly unreversible) trend of bands aligning with brands.

I don't share Pareles' pain, except in my own dreamy romantic notion of 1979, which now seems a long, long time ago.

Otherwise, Pareles' recent article gives me no reason to think that we aren't continuing a shift in this direction, so if you're not comfortable with the way things are going now, the ride is going to be a rocky one indeed. For better or for worse, such ideas are perhaps more valid than ever, because before they were only concepts. Today, it seems like I bear witness to their evolving manifestation every time I hear about a new co-branding agreement between an artist and a product, service or experience.

What is so interesting to persons my age (anyone north of 18) about these relationships is that only ten years ago they would be framed as a story about an artist selling out. Now, they are presented as a Band and Brand aligning in strategic partnership for mutual benefit, to the surprise of just about nobody.

Maybe that's because what makes these agreements so uniquely post millennial, is that they are indeed constructed as co-branding agreements, and not merely conceived as another traditional sponsorship or endorsement deal. Those kinds of brand/band relationships are so yesteryear.

Pareles laments that artists can no longer be independent without record companies to support them. But perhaps the reality is that now, more than ever, artists are free to remain independent, for no longer beholden to record companies, they can still make a pretty good living –if they can find another source of funding to serve as a music industry surrogate.

Of course, you don't even need the construct of an 'Industry' to make it happen. You just need revenue and a means to enable distribution.

But speaking of surrogates, the co-branding paradigm isn't just for indie artists, either. The model is finally being put to test by some of today's biggest pop stars.

The Eagles not only inked a deal with Wal-Mart, the retailer is featuring them in a $40 million ad campaign. Think about it. This isn't your typical endorsement deal, and in fact it's the polar opposite of a 360 deal. It's co-branding: There are no masters or servants here, and no one is endorsing anything. Rather, separate parties share an agreement towards a common goal, or to reach parallel but individual goals.

Along these same lines, earlier this year Jay Z left "his longtime record label, Def Jam, for a roughly $150 million package with the concert giant Live Nation that includes financing for his own entertainment venture, in addition to recordings and tours for the next decade" (The New York Times).

It's also old news by now, but in 2007 Live Nation struck multi million dollar pacts with both U2 and Madonna. At the time Madonna told the Associated Press, “The paradigm in the music business has shifted and as an artist and a business woman, I have to move with that shift” (MSNBC).

Pundits may argue the relative merits of such deals, but whatever you do, stop thinking of recorded music as a primary revenue source. The music simply gives access to a lifestyle and an Experience. It may or may not convey a deeper message, but it certainly is the songwriter's (and performer's) own sonic branding.

So, the Dance Diva's albums might not sell like they used to, but she continues to deliver a premium experience for which fans are willing to pay a collective 200 million per tour. The value of the actual songs on the free market? Who knows –at this point all the merchandise –including the albums– are souvenirs of an experience. Is this good or bad?

It depends what's more important to you: The so called integrity of a given song, or the experience delivered by the music. Hey, guess what –you can actually have it both ways:

Art is flexible that way!

Don't believe me? Listen, Music can save your soul on Sunday; score a sound track on Monday; pitch products on Tuesday; create venue ambience on Wednesday; act as a study aid Thursday; accompany you to the gym on Friday; rock the house on Saturday; –and come back Sunday morning and save your soul all over again!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rise of the Creative Class and the New Value of Art

As others have noted, we have in a sense, moved from the era of the MBA to the age of the MFA. The creative classes are no longer starving in garrets, but changing the way you see and hear the world, beginning with the iPod you're listening to right now. Never mind that the baby boomers who popularized rock are now retirees. Everybody who was once an anti-establishment outsider, today is a representative of the (culturally) ruling classes.

Interesting, too, to note that with the rise of the creative class there has been a noticeable decline in the value of art. Sure, Van Goghs and Picassos will continue to fetch millions of dollars at auction, but what about commercial art? Or more to the point: What is the real value of reproducible works?

Similarly, if you can carry a thousand songs (or more) around with you, then really, how valuable is each individual song going to be to the listener? Songs, like singers, as the saying goes, have become a dime a dozen. And actually, they're worth even less than that – I mean, whose paying for music these days, anyway, but adults of a certain age?

In light of that, it's simply practical to consider, that if you're an artist, who is the real client/customer? Is it the individual who enjoys the free entertainment? Or is the person or company who funds its production? Every band knows the promoter is the real client. In this regard, the audience can be viewed simply as a way to measure value any given band has to a given promoter. In other words, a sold out house means very good Nielsen ratings and your band stands a good chance of being renewed, so to speak.

Network television has always had to deal with this balancing act (between art and commerce). The content is ostensibly created for the enjoyment of non-paying masses. But the customer is actually the advertiser who makes the programming possible. Producing content within such a model isn't necessarily selling out, if you're working on projects that don't compromise your ethics. But you may have to work within certain limitations regarding format and style and whether or not such content is appropriate for a given demographic. Does this make it less art? I don't know. Tex Avery and Chuck Jones gave their best years to Warner Bros., and I don't think of either of them sell outs.

Outside poets and painters, I can't think of any art form that isn't in some way collaborative, and therefore subject to compromise.

The question is not whether you must do one thing or the other, but are you clever enough to do both?

Can I re-contextualize my relationship with my clients in the way an athlete frames his or her relationship with a sponsor? Will doing so compromise my artistic integrity? Does Tiger Woods alter his swing on behalf of his sponsors? Absolutely not (except in so far as he always tries his best), and yet his sponsors are all too happy to associate themselves with Tiger, even on a losing day.

The interesting thing here is that you don't have to pay to see Tiger's 'performance'. If you catch him on TV, you can watch him for free. His appearance on your Television is complimentary, offered by advertisers who hope you'll consider this act of charity the next time you make a purchase. And yet Tiger appears to be making a healthy living without compromising his ideals. Granted he might lose sponsors if he suddenly started stitching in political statements next to the sports logos on his apparel, but he might also attract others for just the same reason.

As an artist, I wonder, what would happen if I started thinking about myself as a brand with mission? How would my life change if I actually conceived a personal vision statement? Would any of that negate my self perception as an artist? Why aren't more artists thinking the same way?

As it happens, in 2008, a lot of artists –and individuals– certainly are.

In their book Born Digital, authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser call children who were born into and raised in the digital world 'digital natives'. The tag makes sense now, but I suspect when historians look back at our age, they will also note how post Gen X generations were also perceptibly Branded @ Birth.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Welcome to the Post Sell Out World

In case you missed it, Jon Pareles writes a great article in the New York Times titled 'Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan' (12/24/08).

In it Pareles notes the increasing phenomenon of artists aligning with brands. It is a trend which produces conflicted feelings in the author. For even as Pareles laments the reality of musicians actively (and some would say shamelessly) seeking out corporate sponsors, he simultaneously accepts the situation, if only because the circumstance is now so blatantly manifest. There's just no going back.

Early in the article Pareles acknowledges:

"I know — time for me to get over it. After all, this is the reality of the 21st-century music business. Selling recordings to consumers as inexpensive artworks to be appreciated for their own sake is a much-diminished enterprise now that free copies multiply across the Web.”

I've shared Pareles' pain, but personally I am over it. So, Welcome to the Post Sell Out World, I guess. What I mean by that, is not that we –this consumer society– has suddenly abandoned its core principals, but that, like 'copyright', we understand its time to change the definition of 'selling out'.

It may still include entering into a contract that commits one to executing actions one would not do otherwise simply for the sake of getting rich. But it does not include a co-branding agreement where all parties entered into the agreement benefit mutually.

It's ironic, but by the this standard, artists of yesteryear who knowingly signed a draconian major label contract simply in order to satisfy a lust for fame and celebrity are the sell outs. But an independent artist who enters and agreement with a fashion house in order to produce an exclusive line of branded apparel is not.

On a micro level, I went through my own struggle with the issue of selling out when I started producing music for commercials in the early nineties. It sounds hilarious now, but in 1994, I was really just trying to come to terms with the fact that I was using a potentially 'God Given Talent' to sell French fries.

Oh dear, the moral dilemma.

And as hip and cool as it sounds to some, to have a career where people making million dollar videos are asking you what kind of music should adorn their moving image, producing music and sound design for TV commercials was not what I was thinking when I was honing my songwriting and composition skills as a kid.

But maybe, identifying the 'right' sound for a specific utilitarian use was in fact my real 'God Given' talent. Cause no one was banging down the door for my songs, but I was very good at using music to influence the purchasing habits of millions of people around the world.

Good? Evil? Maybe beyond good and evil. Anyway, I did enjoy what I was doing.

Fast forward to the present and today I primarily work with artists hip to personal branding and are trying to figure out ways to use both traditional and new social media in order to build and sustain their careers. I've hopped the fence from advertising into entertainment, but -initially surprising– the landscape is still very much the same.

If Pareles overlooks anything in his article, it's that pop music was ever appreciated for its own sake. Or maybe it was, but if it got recorded, released, promoted and distributed, someone somewhere was trying to make money.

There's also big difference between 1969 and now. Forty years ago music provided the score to a generation and a movement. Because culture is intangible, the music only appeared to exist in its own right. But it never did, it was fueled by –one might even say 'carried by'– youthful energy hungry for broad cultural change.

At the time, even the most melodic Beatles tunes sounded like noise to Bing Crosby fans, and even the most inanely conceived and dumbest pop tune seemed inherently capable of stoking the fires of revolution. But today, once rebellious rock songs sound just limp enough to be included on the playlist at at your local supermarket. And the same people who once disdained the rock sound are now singing Michelle ma belle all the way to and from their bridge games or the shuffle board deck.

It's both funny and interesting how tastes not only change, given time, but the way we listen, and what we actually hear, can simply transform reality.

And the new reality is that rock has gone mainstream. Having done so, it's become the voice of the establishment. No surprise then that if you're in the business of selling rock'n'roll in the new millennium, then you're going to have to figure out a way to distribute your creative assets to the Man.

So, the real question now is not whether mixing art and commerce is evil –romantics will still lament– but simply: If one is an artist, and knowing the history of advantage traditional business entities have had over artists, just how does one navigate the capitalist construct without getting taken stepping on a metaphorical land mine, just because, say, you have an MFA instead of an MBA, so to speak.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


First we learned there were no 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'. Then we learned the banks were trading worthless securities. Well, I'm now waiting for advertisers to wake up and realize their branding is also worthless.

Because, in a way, a lot of branding resembles sub-prime mortgages. Much of it is intellectual property that has been way, way overvalued. Can branding alone keep a stock afloat? Maybe, but I'm not betting on it.

Branding can only leverage consumer confidence so far. As personal assets decline, overextended brands will stumble. When the dust settles, Branding 2.0 might not even resemble the current practice.

For the purposes of this article a brand is a mark (graphic, sonic or otherwise) plus the perception of the company, product, service or experience which the mark is synonymous with (not to be confused with other creative assets purposed solely as sales generators).

How then does a mark become a Brand?

A brand is born as a symbol: a maker's mark. But a maker's mark has no value until customers endow it with such. Brands aren't born so much as they evolve, the result of a dynamic process that requires the input of both product or service provider –and consumer, viewer, user or audience.

Too many brand handlers have for too long operated on the premise that the assets they represent and manage have inherent value independent of third party perception. Try as one might to position a company (or product, service or experience) –a valid and important task– perception, nevertheless, alone determines value and remains the true brand essence.

Also, like physical property, the value of intellectual property fluctuates according to value of neighboring properties.

Value is never an independent variable. It is always dependent on consensus.

BV=C+D [Brand Value = Consensus + Demand]

In that way, these symbols and the companies, products and services they grace also resemble a floating currency.

In the case of a floating currency, value is determined by a combination of Faith and Trust, relative to other like commodities in the marketplace. Otherwise, the paper itself is valueless. The Dollar itself may not be pegged to gold anymore, but it's still pegged to Faith and Trust. And America, though the empire arguably looks a little wobbly today, is still nevertheless a great, solid brand. But can the same be said about many of the products that fill up our supermarkets and car dealerships? I'm not so sure.

A solid gold coin IS worth its weight in gold, by virtue of the inherent worth of the rare mineral on the open market. But the US dollar is accepted on 'Full Faith and Credit' of the Federal Government. Just like a Pick Up Truck is accepted on the Full Faith and Trust of General Motors.

In the case of the U.S. Government,'Full Faith and Credit' is defined as:

"Unconditional commitment to pay interest and principal on debt, usually issued or guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury or another government entity". (source)

In the case of Your Favorite Brand,'Full Faith and Trust' is defined as:

Unconditional commitment to a consistent standard in the provision of products, services and maintenance, for a fair price, relative to other market entities.

Most brands are not pegged to any kind of standard beyond an Art Director's aesthetic, and his or her gold standard is the latest award that sits on the shelf above his or her desk. Not exactly exchangeable on the free market.

Too often great advertising campaigns are fronts for failing companies. All the worse when the company starts failing after their commercials begin winning prestigious awards based on creativity. I know what I'm talking about. I've worked on award winning advertising campaigns and watched stock prices drop even as the advertising agency was congratulating itself for all the awards it was receiving for creative excellence.

Why are so many people in marketing so disconnected from the causal effect their efforts are supposed to produce: Sales?

There ought be an award show where entrants are required to demonstrate that, indeed, sales purposed marketing assets performed on strategy, as a prerequisite to consideration.


One thing we're learning about market activity in the new millennium is that it isn't just one or two business models and paradigms that have outlived their usefulness, but dozens –maybe all of them.

I first experienced this disconnect on a personnel level ten years ago, shortly after I founded BLISTER MEDIA, Silicon Alley's first Interactive Audio provider. By virtue of our positioning we generated a fair bit of buzz about the company and that translated into press mentions and all sorts of awards and recognition. But even though word-of-mouth won us notice, and our work earned us Industry recognition, that didn't mean new clients were storming the doors to work with us. We still had to win jobs by building personal relationships and in fact, relied on them. So, even though we had what amounted to an apparently buzz worthy micro-brand, that fact alone didn't actually win us any business.

The only thing that mattered was the relationships, and the quality of our work, and in that order, I might add. When I considered my own products and service choices, I realized the same kind of processes often applied. Only Faith and Trust earned by a solid ongoing relationship resulted in my own consumer choices. I only turned to NEW and NEW IMPROVED when the old relationships broke that trust. And I was angry when trustworthy brands became new but not necessarily improved, as when they changed the taste of classic Doritos.

This transformation of my thinking began in 1998, when I realized that I could no longer simply do my job operating purely as an expert in music or as a creative project manager. In order to provide adequate audio solutions to the agencies, brands and entertainment companies that I was working with, I needed more than a good ear and a turntable: I needed to understand positioning, branding, marketing, linguistics, semiotics, storytelling, consumer psychology –and perhaps to an even more comprehensive degree than my clients.

I've also come to realize that negative space is as important to the presentation of brand assets as the assets themselves. Does one experience a design as positioned in a space, or boldly distinguishing itself from the negative space around it? In a retail environment negative space isn't an empty vacuum, but everything else inhabiting the space. In the same way, music must compete with interference, or any emotive message it might deliver will be swallowed up by its own contribution to the noise threshold.

The second lesson I learned: Of Branding, Identity and Equity, the most important is the latter, Equity. Equity will produce the former whether you execute a directive to do so or not. The mark at the top of your stationary will help a book keeper differentiate your invoice from another vendor's –so you have a good chance of getting paid after a sale– but, really, don't expect letterhead to produce sales leads, horse before the cart and all that.

Extrapolate as necessary and apply to your multi-million dollar image campaign.

The same principals apply when one considers why Sound Mark development or its Commercial Scoring cousin works or doesn't work. If you're a member of the human species I'm going to assume you've heard Walter Werzowa's 3-second, 5-note INTEL 'bong' sonic logo, which according to Wikipedia "is broadcast somewhere in the world every five minutes". If you haven't, then I commend you for having managed to discover the Critical Noise blog before stumbling upon the most frequently sounded sonic brand logo on the planet (circa 1994–2009). Here's the logo:

The INTEL Logo probably didn't create new retail customers, but existing INTEL customers hear the electro-marimba sting, and it certainly reinforces their relationship with what they already either think is, or isn't, a great brand. Advertisers who accept the concept of sonic branding as a legitimate asset may hope it serves more than simply as a mnemonic, but that it will also initiate some sales. Honestly, that's unlikely, even if some creative professionals who produce such sonic solutions promise the world and present some stats to support their pitch.

Wow, I'd like to see those analytics and meet the copywriter that created them. If we can learn anything from the current global financial crisis, it's that formulas are capable of producing elasticity in results, and therefore any formula used as a sales tool can not be taken for granted. Sometimes, as a doctor might tell you, a gut feeling is a more accurate measure of reality than a number.

Fortunately, a Return on Investment (ROI) is not the only measure of creative, experiential or perceptive value.


How do you measure experience? How do you measure feeling? You probably already know that you can measure movies with Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, films frequently demonstrate Quality, Likability and Profit can and often are quite independent of the other. Doctor's use pain charts and the feedback from such things varies according to individual capacity to accommodate negative stimulation. Not really a good deal more scientific than estimating the degree of difference between 'ouch' and a blood curdling scream. So, that said, I think it unlikely that any brand and marketing department is going to out-analyze and out-stat the medical profession anytime soon –although, arguably, the engagement analysts that observe user activity on a given website may have a pretty good head start.

In practical terms, Sound Marks, specifically, do only two things very well: Distinguish/Differentiate and serve as a mnemonic. Non-musical and non-melodic marks might not even be capable of serving as a mnemonic. Not to mention the investment return on a bong is probably impossible to value. However, what you can do is measure the ratio between negative to positive emotion and use the results to manage perception.

Retail music packaging might indeed increase sales, if only by increasing pleasure perception, enhancing experience and therefore extending 'linger time' –but not by some manipulative music psychology magic that turns reticent visitors into buy-frenzy consumers. More likely you will turn them into fans first, and that will translate into sales and word-of-mouth advertising. But I categorize music supervision services like the kinds Muzak is long famous for as less branding than packaging –unless your definition of branding is so elastic that it includes 'EVERYTHING WE DO'. There's merit to that definition, but not in an article like this where I must limit terms in order to investigate specifities.

Network and cable music and sound design packaging won't make you watch a channel, won't even influence your viewing preferences, but it will help you remember what channel your favorite show is on.

I absolutely do think that a music or sound design score accompanying a televised ad campaign can and should be held accountable by analysts. But brand assets? Personally, I don't think you can or should measure branding or what the trade calls Image campaigns by a ROI yardstick. –Unless you understand that though your investment is monetary based, the return is not, and therefore needs to be measured by another scale.


Some transactions have no measurable value but to increase goodwill. If you don't think goodwill serves any importance, than consider what abandoning diplomatic missions overseas would do to Brand America. The Peace Corps may not be a profit-making enterprise, but the amount of good will it spreads around the world on behalf of the American brand is beyond measure by any current analytic.

That's because, unlike the stark pitches of direct marketing, which must deliver sales, some of the best branding (and sonic branding) is –ironically– transparent.

Consider Conversation:

When you and I communicate, we discuss things. I hear you but I don't consider the relative weight of each and every word you utter (unless we're negotiating a legal contract). Instead, I receive an overall meaning from you and go with it. Just like musical improvisation, I'm not thinking 'oh, and now here comes the D flat seven' –there's no time– I'm just responding. Likewise, in conversation, the individual words are incidental, the snappy phrases mnemonic, but in the end all that really matters is that you live not by your specific words –mnemonics aside– but the meanings and message you broadcast which can be translated into consistent behavioral observations. And this assumes you and I both share some degree of fluency in the same language. If you do, you win my faith and trust, and emerge branded as good, decent, honorable and worthy of one or more transactions. If you don't, you're branded as a rascal, a troll –someone who can't be trusted, someone who will sell me junk.

We can certainly enjoy communication using silent cues, but Sound adds Dimension; Music adds Emotion; Melody creates (and colors) Memories. And you know you have a hit when people sing along. Practically speaking, Silence is not an option. Either you, your client and your customers will create the context in which to have the conversation, or consumers will do it alone without you. If the latter is okay with you, then good news, you can fire your entire marketing department. But why would you choose not to use one of the most effective means of communication in your Branding & Marketing tool kit? Filmed entertainment doesn't need sound –or color (do we even need movies?)– but do you see anyone rushing back to silent film?

Music creates feeling and ingrains itself into memory like few other sensory elements available to us. It enhances every experience known to man: Kisses are more romantic with strings; explosions have a greater impact supported by timpani. Strings alone might even  make you feel romantic; timpani alone might even call to mind thunder. So, clearly, if we ask our branding to help us distinguish one product, service or experience from another, then sonic branding, in particular, can do just that, and do so quite capably. But will it drive sales? It may or it may not, but what it will certainly do is it will help audiences, consumers and users make a choice that is shaped by both their knowledge about a product and their feelings about and toward a particular brand.

Signification of all kinds communicates messages and meaning, and as such can be used to identify geographical and psychological locations, and influence direction and activity. But Musical Signification almost uniquely also influences how we feel as we make the choices we make.

It's not magic however. Unfortunately, for those who were hoping that branding alone would sustain them through a down market, I think they put too much faith in symbolism.

Sure, it might work for COKE, but will it work for you?

* * *

Happy to say that his article appears to be right on zeitgeist, for as it happens, the following offer two recent publications that cover some the same material:

A Funny Thing Happened When I Cut My Ad Spend – Nothing
By Peter Daboll, CEO of Bunchball, and published December 2nd 2008, in Adage

And recently published:

The Brand Bubble
By John Gerzema and Edward Lebar, and published October 2008 and available @ Amazon.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sound of the Year: 2008 – The Housing Implosion

The 2008 Critical Noise Sound of the Year belongs to:

The Housing Implosion.

According to Wikipedia,  in the controlled demolition industry, an implosion is:

"...the strategic placing of explosive material and timing of its detonation so that a structure collapses on itself in a matter of seconds, minimizing the physical damage to its immediate surroundings".

Unfortunately for homeowners and institutional investors, however, the bankers on Wall Street don't give two hoots about whether or not the bombs they drop into investors laps cause collateral damage or not.

As a result, the Housing Implosion began as the sound of a real estate bubble floating heavenward in 2006, finally popped in 2008, just about the time everyone on the planet finally believed the BS being mainlined to us from downtown Manhattan. Oddly, the echos of the pop cascaded into a Subprime mortgage crisis that only seemed to magnify in tragedy as time passed, rather than diminish.

Irish property bubble? Icelandic financial crisis? American foreclosures?

Strike all that bad juju up as unintended collateral damage and blame the borrowers appears to be the banks' collective strategy. Well, good luck with that. And it may very well work out for them. Because, now it seems that it will be years before anyone sorts this mess out. Which means, if they're lucky, 9 out of 10 living CEOs will be dead before the law catches up with them.

Crazy, too, because while the US military is deployed looking for terrorists and bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan, who would have thunk we could have saved billions if we just sent a few SEALS downtown and wiped out Goldman Sachs. No doubt, if someone thought of that, we could have saved a mint of human misery.

Maybe someone will figure it out eventually, that not all terrorists wear turbans; some wear custom tailored suits. In the meantime, kudos to everyone on Wall Street who blew up the balloon, because, yeah, that was one magnificent pop.

And hey, no worries, bro; so long as it was 'legal', or so complicated that no one can figure it out, your bonus is guaranteed.

+ + +


The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.