time to change the way we view music and the arts

Super Bowled Over By Sonic Branding

Humorously enough, my central source of focus isn’t for Sega’s iconic “blue blur,” better known as Sonic the Hedgehog; though the related lasting appeal of this character could certainly join the topic party based on the affiliated songs and sounds that have trailed not far behind his 20 year gaming legacy.

No, when I say “Sonic Branding,” something that can be described non-technically as an “earworm to your pocket,” I’m talking about the multi-million dollar business within the music industry that can be as inevitably infectious as their musical ‘pieces’ are short. Somewhere on the corner of theme music and jingles, lies the somewhat flexible natured sonic brand, which unlike a full theme or jingle, can be as briefly encapsulating as a single note or non melody based effect. (The latter being the case with things like motorcycle company, Harley Davidson trademarking the “distinctive V-twin engine sound” emitted from their bikes.)

One figure of the sonic brand world may come up in more internet searches over the coming days. Mr. Joel Beckerman, the founder of music production and sonic branding consultancy Man Made Music, has recently charged himself up with two company tasks that carry an immensely heavy weight. One for its association to American sports and the other for its almost monopoly sized hold on the communications world. (Somewhere, a T-Mobile executive is laughing.)

Promising a new sonic logo and other brand associating melodies for AT&T, Beckerman teamed up with additional musicians for this composition process, which he states  in an article by the Wall Street Journal, as being “by necessity[,] collaborative.” The WSJ piece outlines the expenses, energy and simultaneously empirical and emotional mindset and system Beckerman applies when hitting a home run for his clients. Testing and composing up against descriptive parameters, competitor sonic logos and even AT&T’s company mission statement, it’s almost no wonder coming up with the perfect advertising byte in five notes or less can land you a budget “typically rang[ing] between $60,000 and several hundred thousand dollars” to achieve your optimal result. In the end, Beckerman and the rest of the team for AT&T’s project trimmed down a pile of 60+ possible works to seven for serious presentation, to one brief byte comprised of “a stair-step of bright tones.”

What’s interesting is the delicate balance in the core of these sonic brands. The empirical side of their creation that Beckerman finds inherently necessary as well, analyzes things like the factual commonalities of sound type, speed or perhaps immediate association, with competitor sonics. A breakdown of his approach is well summarized in this way:

“[Beckerman] discovered that virtually all of them used electronic tones and realized AT&T had the opportunity for a more earthy sounding alternative. He presented the company with relevant trends in art, music and culture. With a mandate to humanize AT&T, he spotlighted the way some consumers try to balance their tech-saturated lives with pursuits like organic foods, crafts and the often ramshackle sound of Brooklyn indie rock bands. He played music for his clients, including a song by the idiosyncratic British singer Imogen Heap, and had them rate it based on the mood conveyed. That gave him a better sense of what his client’s parameters for “human”-sounding music were.”

According to this description of Beckerman’s actions, only after he’s newly defined humanistic music with his client, using anything but his personal soul and gut feeling, does he then request specifically subjective preference on the sonic itself. He says, Don’t tell us what you want it to sound like; tell us how you want to feel when you hear it.” This tells me that Beckerman has found a compositional formula that perfectly aligns personal touch with client priority. Beckerman finds and assembles the instruments and rhythms to evoke whatever feelings the AT&T execs. ask for — thereby making the work uniquely his own — but the creation at the end is also a representation of characteristics that have nothing to do with Beckerman’s individual likes or dislikes and keep his integrity as an objective service provider nicely intact. This is much the same way you could probably describe a commissioned piece of clothing. Fashion designers have their own sense of style but they have to makes clothes to certain requisites presented by their clients and blatant deviation makes you seem difficult.

The “stair-step of bright tones” can be heard at the very end of this and other recent AT&T spot commercials for their products and services.

Aside from his individual work as a composer and producer, Beckerman’s second project I mentioned earlier, involved refreshing and expanding upon John Williams‘s rock and orchestra powered NFL/Superbowl theme, “Wide Receiver.” While Williams can almost be regarded as an untouchable figure in the world of soundtracks and themes, given just  the award winning projects alone –and that one would think it’s something you ‘just don’t do’ –to mess with the NFL theme song… Beckerman and Williams have actually teamed up before. Their work was what was considered an “anniversary” project to redo NBC‘s signature jingle, known as the NBC Chimes, in grand symphonic form. (so signature it’s usually the first mnemonic device for music students to remember a major 6th. hahaha) Given how this sound byte has been a staple of NBC broadcasting for almost a century, I think it’s safe to say Beckerman will deliver without making a mockery of Williams’ work. The tune won’t be premiered until this weekend but the Superbowl will be the place you can find it.

P.S. Little legal football fact: you can’t actually say “Superbowl” in a way that makes your consumer believe your product/service was endorsed by the Superbowl anymore, but since this is the offcial theme we’re talking about, I think the context fits for Beckerman. haha! (The heads up is courtesy of MusicN3rd from Intern Like a Rockstar!)


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