Audio Branding - The Music Brief

Today's extract from Sonic Branding: An Introduction takes us from the audio moodboard through to the development of a music brief.

Chapter 20 - Identity

At the end of the moodboard workshops, we are faced with one of two scenarios. If the process is based upon big idea moodboards, then the third stage of the sonic branding engine sees the creative director armed with a musical moodboard and the feedback of the decision-making group. This feedback will have information regarding each component of the moodboard and how closely its emotions match the desired expression of the sonic branding. There will also be some detailed intelligence regarding specific instruments, rhythms or sounds that are particularly liked in the context of a brand communication.

As shown earlier in our examination of the nature of brands, the identity level of a brand is incredibly important because it exists at a higher level than the experience of the stakeholders and must represent the belief of the brand. Similarly, in the sonic branding engine, the identity level is the most important creatively and strategically, as the use of the sonic branding across each touchpoint gains its consistency and distinctiveness primarily as a result of how it relates back to the identity level. The identity level is primarily concerned with building a system of sonic branding that will be capable of generating the distinct, memorable, flexible and honest identifiers that a brand needs to generate belief among stakeholders. As such it is the beating heart of sonic branding.

There are a number of ways of creating the system and each one, strategically and creatively, will be different. There are some components, however, that are common to all sonic brand identities. These are the sonic language, sonic logo (TM) and guidelines. 

Chapter 21 - Sonic Language

The visual branding world is very familiar with the concept of a language system. This would traditionally be composed of a colour palette, a font, perhaps a photographic style, layouts and shapes that are considered the language of a brand and can be used in most combinations in branded communications. In the world of sonic branding, the language system required is at least as complex, if not more so. What creates the difficulty is the fact that sound has a relationship with the passing of time that visuals, apart from film which is rarely used in brand communications, do not share. A brochure or a press ad stands still. Sonic branding moves through time. As a result, it is much harder to define than colours or shapes. There is no set classification for sounds as yet because the temporal element gives sounds an infinite number of possibilities. Therefore, we are inventing the equivalent of a Pantone system as it goes along, though I doubt we will ever reach the point where all sounds are classified and numbered.

The sonic language aims to assemble the sounds identified during the creative process so far and express these in a clear and understandable was as the sounds will become the cornerstones of the brand’s sonic identity.

In the first case, where big idea moodboards are the only reference, it is the job of the creative director to identify the sounds that have been well received and interpret these in an own-able way. For example, where a piano melody may have been deemed on-brand, it is obvious that the piano reference will itself already belong to an existing piece of music. It is necessary, therefore, for the creative director to take the instrument and create a new melody that has the same emotional content as the piece referenced in the moodboard.

Exactly the same principle relates to any ambient sounds that are deemed on-brand in the big idea moodboard stage but are obviously pre-existing and subject to another’s copyright. In this case, it is the job of the creative director to source and record a similar sounds that can then be owned by the brand. Allowing the creative director the chance to reinterpret the brief that has come from the moodboard is a great opportunity for generating the distinctive magic that should be sought in any new music or ambient sound.

Where value moodboards have been employed, the sonic language is well defined by the time the identity stage is reached. There is less room here for interpretation of the sounds by the creative or composer but that is not to say that the creative’s work is finished, far from it. The sonic language identified needs to be expressed in some way that will allow it to make sense to the decision—making group and to those who will create the brand experiences further down the line. To do this, the sonic language’s temporal relationship must be expressed as must the inter-relationships of the different elements of the language. This expression usually takes the form of a brand score.

The brand score is a piece of music that brings together all the elements of the sonic language: vocal, instrumental and ambient sounds. It can vary in length, depending upon the richness of the language defined at the identity stage and will usually introduce a melody that is new, distinct, recognizable, own-able and memorable for the brand. It is in the creation of the brand score that the creative magic of music is given its chance to live.

Process is what leads to an accurate brief and clear understanding of the brand but a spark is required to go from the process stage into true creativity. Brand scores, even when the sonic language has been pre-defined and agreed, can and should be surprising because the sonic branding must be new and distinct.

The brand score is perhaps the most important piece of the sonic branding process because it will contain all the rational and emotional information required for future sonic branding work. That said, it is not designed for use in external touchpoints for the brand. It is an expression of the sonic language in its purest form and as such has no specific reference points for the experiential contexts that apply to specific touchpoints. For example, the brand score may be three minutes in length. Simplistically, a radio ad may be 30 seconds duration or an office environment may require some branding for nine hours every day. Though the information required to create pieces of these varying lengths will be contained within the brand score, it in itself cannot be chopped into pieces or put on constant repeat to work fully in these scenarios. The first creative work that the brand score informs is the sonic logo. In truth, they are created simultaneously as the logo is always in the composer’s mind while the brand score is designed.

Daniel Jackson, CEO - CORD