Consciously or subconsciously, our musical tastes and decisions are influenced by a whole host of other indicators that have nothing to do with sound - such as visual branding and artist reputation.
The same factors are at play in music in advertising. Historically, commercial music attained a certain glamour from its association with famous artists and its cultural visibility, making it attractive to advertisers. As a hangover from those days, some people still turn their noses up at the mention of the words ‘production music’ or ‘library music’.
But we want people to stop thinking about what it’s called and concentrate on how it sounds. Shakespeare famously wrote that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ – and the same is true for music.
Today, a growing number of producers are opening their ears to production music – not only for its artistry, but also as a simpler and more cost-effective option to procuring quality music. The reasons are twofold: firstly, the quality of production music has improved significantly; secondly, those in search of great music are becoming savvier to a richer variety of options at their fingertips.
Thanks to big-name endorsements and rapidly growing interest from discerning composers, the line between production music and commercial music is increasingly blurring. More and more now, the big question on producers’ minds is not so much the origin of the track but whether it is the right fit for their advert.
Given these changing perceptions, we were intrigued to find out how noticeable the differences between production music and commercial music were to adland. We wanted to conduct an informal litmus test to satisfy our own curiosity.
When stripped of all of the visual cues that usually influence our musical tastes and decision-making, how do people perceive music?
And so, BMGPM’s blind taste test of music was born. This June, the BMGPM team set out at the Cannes Lions (where better to tap into a cross-section of ad society?) equipped with headphones and an iPad to test festival-goers on how sharp their ears really were.
We challenged participants to listen to four different music genres (indie, big band jazz, electro pop, and rock) - each with snippets from three tracks - to guess whether they were commercial music or production music. Only, to make it a bit harder we removed all the obvious clues like the track title, artist, and visuals.
Our selection was made up of unknown production music tracks and recognisable commercial tracks from big artists, such as a track from a Grammy-Award-winning soundtrack, a track with four-million streams, a track from a Mercury-Prize-nominated band, and a track from an album that remained in the UK top 100 chart for four weeks.
Lending their ears were a varied mix of participants from different disciplines – amongst them were agencies, production companies, ad delivery companies, and music companies.
Only 55% of answers were correct.
Interestingly, our participants couldn’t decipher whether roughly half the tracks were production or commercial music. These people use music almost every day and this speaks volumes for the changing landscape of music and advertising.
The results of our test indicate that when stripped of any external influences (such as track title, artist reputation, and visual branding), the differences in quality between production music and commercial music are not easily discernible.
We knew that it was going to be a close call from growing feedback from creatives saying that the quality of production music is increasing, but what was most notable was the surprise expressed by most participants at how hard it was to tell the difference. While we’re not denying there’s a place for commercial music, we hope to see more people understanding the worth of production music and knowing not to shy away from using it.
With the likes of Drake and Gnarls Barkley sampling production music and artists such as Four Tet, DJ Fresh, and Mr Scruff creating it, it’s high time we stop letting outdated perceptions get in the way of great music.