How To Build An Audio Moodboard

Today's extract from Sonic Branding: An Introduction describes the method for developing an audio moodboard. The audio moodboard is an integral part of our creative process, not only because it enables us to refine the music brief, but because it takes our clients on a journey of learning and insight.

Chapter 19 - Moodboards

With the audits completed, we usually have plenty of reference materials to fuel the next part of the process. Our backgrounds in advertising and the media led us to believe that there were great benefits to using visual moodboards as an aid to a visual brief. When describing any creative guide, it is almost always useful to use stimuli other than the written and spoken word to give ideas form. Similarly, our backgrounds in music and theatre taught us that creating demo tracks or listening to pre-existing music with the intention of learning from the most appropriate pieces were very strong steps towards the creation of great music and design in sound. Bringing together this knowledge, we developed a creative process around sonic moodboards.

There are two types of moodboard that we use. The first is the ‘big idea’ or ‘belief’ moodboard. Like any visual moodboard, this is a collection of reference materials that approaches the central belief or idea of the brand in varying ways. In the visual world, I have seen moodboards covered with anything from beads to fake fur, carpets and pictures from magazines or logos from cars or supermarkets. Jon Turner introduced this approach to Enterprise IG, the WPP—owned brand consultants. There is validity in the living moodboard for sonic branding briefs but we have found the visual context they present to be distracting, particularly when entirely non-visual touchpoints such as the radio have been identified for inclusion in the branding.

As a result, in the sonic world, the reference material for moodboards is entirely audio and is dominated by the use of music that has been composed to convey an overall emotion or belief that is similar to that of the brand. There is such a broad range of music available today that almost any situation has already been composed for. Thus, we rely upon our knowledge of what is out there to select the right pieces for any one moodboard.

This is How We Do It

Of course, a vast and well-referenced music library is a great help as is the encyclopaedic musical knowledge of individuals within Sonicbrand. A particularly rich seam of material is the vast archive of film scores that have been created over the last 75 years. If one considers just how many scenes have had music written specifically for them, it is easy to imagine that almost every emotion has been tackled musically in the cinema.

From Charlie Chaplin’s own compositions for the 1931 movie City Lights to Badly Drawn Boy’s 2002 scoring of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, the vast output of Hollywood, and indeed Bollywood, has created as rich and diverse a selection of reference material as could ever be imagined. It is possible to argue that the finest composers of the twentieth century expressed themselves primarily through movie music; Max Steiner in the1930s and 1940s was responsible for the themes to Gone with the Wind and Casablanca, for example. Elmer Bernstein created true classics in the scores for The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Henry Mancini expressed the essence of The Pink Panther more eloquently in his theme tune than any other component of the film managed. John Barry (Zulu, Midnight Cowboy), Ennio Morricone (The Mission, Cinema Paradiso), Bernard Herrmann (Taxi Driver, Psycho) and John Williams (Star Wars, Schindler’s List) can be listed among the truly great composers of the last century. They are responsible in so many ways for how we experience the movies and for the great emotional impact the medium has on its audiences.

Every film score, of course, is different and every moodboard is distinct and new in its own way too. The choice of reference materials evolves throughout the briefing and auditing stages. It starts from as broad a base and range of styles as possible. Every piece of music ever written is a candidate. From there a narrowing and refinement takes place as pieces with the right emotion are retained and moved forward as pieces that do not fit the brand are discarded. Eventually, a moodboard that closely reflects the central belief of the brand is assembled. It will ideally consist of eight or more pieces that aggregate to express the big idea in its entirety. Each individual component, however, can never be perfect on its own as every piece of music has been written for a context or purpose that is different to that of the brand.

It is always important to have a number of pieces in the moodboard for another reason. When presented as a direction for musical creative work, a single piece of music can often be latched onto by the decision makers for a project. Once established as the ‘ideal’ piece within their minds, it is hard for the piece to be replaced, no matter how good the new composition maybe. This scenario will be familiar to anyone who has ever presented creative work of any kind that was accompanied by a single piece of ‘guide’ music. It is common practice in advertising agencies to present ‘animatics’, the sketch stage of TV commercials, to their client with a hastily chosen musical accompaniment. On many occasions these tracks, to nobody’s great advantage, end up being used for the final commercial because they have become lodged in the client’s psyche. In many ways, once the ear and mind link a piece of music with a visual context it is almost impossible to separate them again. Thus, to escape this potential straitjacket, we always have a number of different pieces of reference music at this early stage.....

Daniel M Jackson, CEO - CORD