The small sounds consumer products make—whether a snap, click, rustle or pop—can be memorable and deeply satisfying, often suggesting luxury, freshness, effectiveness or security.
Companies, in their endless drive to motivate customers to buy, are paying more attention to these product noises and going to great lengths to manipulate them. Sound is emerging as a new branding frontier.
Does the start-up sound of a computer have an emotional meaning to its user? Why are ringtones more popular than ringback tones? Is the commercial jingle a relic in our supposedly media-savvy age? How does a retail space decide upon its playlist? Do bars and restaurants really sell more drinks when the music is played louder? Why do some stores hide their speakers, while others make them prominent features of the interior design? Should websites have scores, or background music, the way that movies and TV shows do? Should ebooks? Should movies and TV shows, for that matter? Why are voice actors famous in some countries and largely anonymous in others? What have online MP3 retailers learned from brick’n’mortar stores — what have they unlearned, and what have they forgotten? How do darknet filesharing services promote themselves in secret? What does the relative prominence of social-network functionality say about Apple, Bandcamp, eMusic, Rhapsody, SoundCloud, and other online services? When and why did musicians stop being perceived as sell-outs when they licensed their songs to TV commercials?
What, to put it simply, does a brand sound like?
These are some of the questions we’ll explore in a course I’ll be teaching this autumn at the Academy of Art in San Francisco (academyart.edu).
Wish I could attend ….
Even in the traditional music industry, the need for bands to self-promote and build a “platform” has become institutionalized, which has to a degree crowdsourced the A&R function. This article from last week’s Economist gets at the dialectics of this shift:
A&R men used to be alchemists, discovering base talent and turning it into gold…. These days they are venture capitalists. Particularly at big labels such as Universal, A&R executives increasingly expect acts to have built a self-sustaining, if modest, business before they offer them a recording contract. Large numbers of Facebook friends and Twitter followers help show that a band has traction. But record labels have become wary of social-media indicators. They know that desperate bands may chatter about themselves or hire marketing firms to inflate their online metrics.
Bands are less artists than entrepreneurial startups, manipulating online social networks to gain leverage with potential investors. The product they sell doesn’t need to be good if the market for it can be posited, and the structure of the industry encourages musicians to focus their talents on that sort of market making. As certain social media metrics get corrupted, new ones will be established, because they serve as an essential proxy for the one metric that will never be perfected, the one that quantifies talent in the abstract.