Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:56:24 GMT
It’s an exciting time across the advertising industry with accelerating technological advancement and brands coming to agencies with ever more complex and left-field business problems. And that’s just as true for music and sound companies as it is for agencies and production companies. These days you’re just as likely to find audio-focused companies experimenting with virtual reality and social strategy as searching for tracks and tweaking the sound design.
1. Non-linear music
Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. Music’s pretty straightforward, right? Well not so much these days. Thanks to the demands of digital and experiential advertising as well as gaming and virtual reality, music production and supervision companies are thinking about music in a completely different way. In fact, with phrases like ‘3D experience’, ‘non-linear sound’ and ‘immersion’ being bandied about, the most cutting edge projects sound more like Turner Prize hopefuls than advertising.
“There’s quite an interesting change going on in the digital and online space at the moment,” explain MassiveMusic London MD Paul Reynolds and EP Roscoe Williamson. “It’s all about really rich brand experience and different types of content being pulled together. Audio doesn’t have to be thought of as linear any more. The technology that we’re developing at MassiveMusic will open up lots of opportunities for brands, agencies and clients. This interactive and adaptive area and technology is really interesting and as TV and online continue to merge more in the coming years it’s going to be really valuable. Then there’s 3D binaural sound. Oculus Rift and virtual reality in general requires a different quality of sound. Working with data programming is a different way of working with sounds and we’re lucky to have such talented people working here at MassiveMusic. You’re writing music and then coding it essentially so you can use them in adaptive environments. It’s mind-blowing and really exciting.”
2. Dolby Atmos
Forget surround sound, these days it’s all about Atmos. The new sound system from Dolby is giving sound engineers the chance to really show off their skills. With up to 64 independently controlled speakers, including speakers that sit directly above the audience, Atmos allows sound designers to create immersive ‘3D’ sound (just imagine a helicopter whirring overhead, or the pattering of rain on a tent canopy).
Grand Central Recording Studios were involved in creating the first UK advertising project to use Atmos – they partnered up with WCRS, Digital Cinema Media and Vizeum to create the ground-breaking project for BMW. This ad was all about sound; as a sleek red beemer took to the desert, a rumbling, snarling wolf growl bounced round the screening room to create an immersive experience.
“The introduction of Dolby Atmos has opened the door to a powerful new listening experience. We are beyond excited about the opportunities that this offers for us creatively,” explains Nicola Gilbert, Deputy MD at GCRS. “This was an incredibly exciting and unique project to be part of. For Ben Leeves, our Senior Sound Designer, it was a huge learning curve both technically and creatively. If you haven’t experienced the film ‘Gravity’ in 3D and in Dolby Atmos, you really should. It is the most amazing cinematic experience and demonstrates how ground-breaking Dolby Atmos is.”
There’s something quite heartening about the recent renaissance of music recognition service, Shazam. Founded in 1999 and launched in 2002, it was a quaint pre-smartphone novelty that allowed users struggling to name a tune to ring a number and play the song down the phone. These days it’s far slicker and takes the form of an app, natch. It also allows viewers to track down the artists behind catchy earworm tracks that they hear in commercials. Brands and record labels have, of course, cottoned on to this and there’s a growing trend for ads to feature the Shazam logo instead of the usual Twitter handles and hashtags. It presents an interesting opportunity for music supervision companies and labels and is making music a more prominent part of social and integrated strategies.
“When you Shazam a track, it doesn’t just tell you what the track is, it takes you to a microsite that might feature the brand and the artist. There’s an area there to be explored and certainly every record label is making sure that if there’s an edit done in a post-production house, it’s tagged for Shazam to make sure it’s picked up. You don’t want a situation where people love the track, Shazam it and it doesn’t recognise it because it’s been an edit done in Soho. There’s definitely more to come,” says Jungle Creative Director Dan Neale.
4. Data ‘n’ Deals
Of course Shazam is just a small part of a far wider phenomenon that’s seeing artists and their music become a more central part of brands’ social strategies – as well as thrusting rock, pop and hip hop into the belly of the ‘Big Data’ beast.
According to Leland Music’s Ed Bailie, it’s thanks to Spotify, with its Facebook log in, and Youtube and the aforementioned Shazam, we know more than ever about the demographics of music fans. That can help target online ads, but more than that it can help record labels better refine the where, when and how of new launches and tours and can give brands useful tools and information to help amplify the impact of the music used in their advertising. By understanding the reach of a particular artist, agencies and brands can figure out if it’s worth factoring an artist’s social media presence into agreements with record labels or creating extra content to increase the longevity of a campaign.
Ed cautions that while data has been transformative, it can’t replace the human touch, particularly if you’re trying to bring a fresh sound or undiscovered artist to your campaign.
“There still needs to be a careful curation process. There still needs to be people with their ear to the ground and have a good sense and feel for what works against the picture. There have been companies in the past that have tried to put all the music up in the cloud and allow you to search everything, but I don’t think there’s a risk of the personal interaction element dying out. You can see the impact that it has. That takes a lot of effort and it’s not a colour-by-numbers, data-driven thing in the slightest. It’s a feel. On the flip side of that I think that the data can be used to capitalise on where to target things once the creative has already been finalised. It’s all about where to push the strengths of the assets that you already have – so if you know you’re planning on using a certain piece of music you’re able to use data that tells you about the musician’s audience. You can find out what city that musician is most popular in, then you can make sure when their tour hits that city that the brand gets to be sponsor. It’s about weaving it together so there are more benefits rather than testing the creative against that data. That would definitely be detrimental to creativity.”
5. Media Re-mixed
With brands using what they know about artists’ fan bases to leverage more effective exposure, the interplay between music and media channels is also becoming more inventive. This year Sam Smith fans were treated to a live-streamed mini-gig courtesy of Google Chrome, who bought up a whole ad break to put the singer-songwriter centre stage.
“The Sam Smith Google Chrome commercial was a genius idea with live performance spanning a whole advert break. Agencies are becoming more creative and innovative with their ideas on reaching larger audiences thus gaining greater impact for both brand and artist. It makes for more longevity with brand and band association,” says Kate Young, MD at Soho Music.
Speaking to music production companies, music supervisors and audio post houses, one of the biggest bugbears to emerge was the continued use of sound-a-likes, most commonly deployed when agencies can afford the publishing rights to a song but not the recording rights. Its cousin, the celebrity cover song, also may have a limited shelf life. When done well it is captivating and can give a campaign an extra strategic boost (case in point, Lily Allen’s cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know for John Lewis The Bear and The Hare was the most Shazammed ad of 2013), but it’s an approach that’s losing its novelty value.
“The key to good music is simple and original tracks with good production; sound-a-likes lower the effectiveness and value of the music being used,” says Soho Music’s Young.
So what’s next? Dan Neale, Creative Director at Native, reckons we could start seeing a lot more original compositions and more creative approaches to re-working classic tracks.
“Obviously the re-record is still alive and well at the moment but I have got a feeling that it’s got a limited shelf life. It will be interesting to see what replaces that. Are we seeing more filmic stuff than we have done? Maybe original composition is having a bit of a renaissance because bands are creating tracks for brands,” he muses.
7. Have-a-go Heroes
The team at Eclectic music have combined a composer’s ear with technological innovation to create a tool that’s part search-engine, part project manager, part previewer and part treasure trove. Syncbubble has been designed to be as intuitive as possible - it lets music amateurs scour music using 35 carefully curated emotions and then preview the track against their own piece of video. The creators also hope it will take some of the confusion out of licensing and buying music as it turns the whole process into a bit of Amazon-like e-retail. You can try out Syncbubble here.
Meanwhile Altitude have broken down the tracks in their music library into their individual component instrument files so that creatives and music supervisors can remix and tweak to their heart's content.
8. Audience Participation
From cavemen to karaoke queens, the urge to create music has always been with us. That’s why more agencies and music companies have been exploiting technology that lets fans get involved in mixing and making their own music.
“The advancement of tech trends allows users to become actively involved in the musical experience. Traditionally, the audience would just be listening to work created by music production companies, now they’re able to interact. We’ve worked on campaigns where users are invited to create their own mixes, sing a tune into their phone in order to receive deals from a brand, as well as sharing the results with their friend,” says Tom Martin, MD and producer at Mcasso Music.
The team at Mcasso has worked with Razorfish and McDonald’s on two projects that put consumers in the spotlight. The first was an app that challenged users to sing along to a backing track while the device measured their performance. Those who hit the right notes and got their timing spot-on would get a voucher for a free smoothie. The second ‘Great Taste of America’ campaign involved creating a selection of tracks that epitomized Chicago, Nevada, Texas, New York and Memphis. Though the campaign was grounded in hip-hop, each city put a unique spin on the genre, with Texas associated with country and Chicago flirting with mob-era jazz. Razorfish then took the various elements of the tracks and created a web app that allowed users to put together their own final mix.
“Both of these are examples of how users can interact with the music and engage directly with a brand to potentially be rewarded for their interaction with the promotion,” says Tom.
9. Keeping it Real
Despite – or perhaps because of – the technology boom, there’s a real rootsy focus on craft and DIY sound. For Sander van Maarschalkerweerd and Nikolai van der Burg at Sizzer Amsterdam, they’ve enjoyed seeing their team leave the confines of the studio and head outside to experiment with different kinds of ‘real’ sounds. The result has been a more adventurous and authentic palette to play with.
“We’re loving the fact that people are more and more getting back to creating their own sounds as opposed to having library samples. Some of our guys create all their sounds in abandoned factories using old industrial machines and capturing the natural sound of the factory. It’s a development we embrace and support whole-heartedly,” they say.
Meanwhile, for Nylon Studios’ Mark Beckhaus that grittiness is also about supporting and encouraging raw talent. Bucking the trend for downsizing and overly relying on digital equipment, they’ve recently opened up a retro recording studio with a collection of rare recording equipment – and they’re inviting up-and-coming Australian bands to make the most of it. “I think an appreciation and return to the original craft of music as a creative development, is what excites me the most. We have expanded our business into some new areas of music production that really dovetail into our commitment to working on developing raw talent. This involves building a new recording studio dedicated to recording bands and live musicians who we'll be working with in both traditional song development as well as advertising,” says Mark.