We all know that brands love music but if they are to use sound to emotionally engage with consumers then understanding exactly how it affects them has to be at the very heart of sound branding. While great luminaries like Dr Daniel Levitin – Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Neuroscience and author of the groundbreaking ‘Your Brain on Music’ – have been considering this on an intellectual level for many years, agencies still appear to be dragging their heels when it comes to putting a science to the art of sound branding. But last week, Levitin’s scientific paper Life Soundtrack (commissioned by Philips Consumer Electronics in 2007) re-emerged in the somewhat unlikely format of an article in Men’s Health Magazine. According to the report, music affects the human brain in a huge variety of ways, allowing us to utilise certain types or genres of music to help complete different tasks. This is supported by consumer analysis carried out by Entertainment Media Research (EMR) which found that an impressive 82 per cent of us use music to boost our spirits. It also revealed that 75 per cent of people use music when they are engaged in a physical activity from housework to the gym and even sex!
But it’s not just physical activities which can be enhanced or made easier by the presence of certain sound. “Music has been shown to have specific effects on the body’s physiology, including heart rate, respiration, sweating, and mental activity,” explains Levitin. As anyone with a roommate at university will have no doubt discovered, some students find it easier to work in silence while others struggle to stay interested in the task at hand without some background noise. The report shows, however, that it would be too simple for us to just look to genre or tempo to find the appropriate music for study. Indeed, when studying text or anything else that requires verbal cognition “it is better to have instrumental music so as not to saturate the limited capacity of the attention system for verbal material”. Something like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is therefore much more likely to get you through those finals than tunes packed with distracting lyrical content. Guess that rap CD is out then!
And in these financially tumultuous times, many of us find it difficult to relax in the evenings and dozing off to sleep can seem a mammoth task in itself. But people still use music to help them to drift off. For the majority, songs with a slower tempo and lighter beat are “contemplative, relaxing and hypnotic”, such as that well-known sleep inducer Brahms’ Lullaby. However, much of a song’s ability to relax you is not related to bmp but to its “feel” factor. Fleetwood Mac’s song Hypnotized, is found to be indeed hypnotic by many listeners despite its fast tempo of 108 bpm. “In general, relaxing and sleep-inducing music avoids rapid changes in timbre, pitch, loudness or rhythm,” says Levitin. “Music with a large dynamic range (a Beethoven or Mahler symphony) is going to pull the listener out of their reverie during the intense parts, as opposed to music with less of a dynamic range.” Suggested tracks for banishing those sleepless nights include Bach: Oboe Concertos, Triple Concerto, Flute Concerto, Bill Evans’ The Village Vanguard Sessions, Chopin Nocturnes or Peter, Paul & Mary’s Greatest Hits. What tracks send you off every time? [**link to Facebook**]? And for all you lovers out there … what of romance? As many a young couple have discovered there is no simple formula here. However, it would appear that those that share musical tastes “usually find it easy to discover the optimal music for their romantic time together”.
Despite being originally unveiled more than two years ago, the publication of Levitin’s findings in a popular, glossy magazine this month proves that the issue of our response to music is becoming even more mainstream. It would seem that we don’t just want to simply listen, we are becoming ever more curious to understand why. From a brand perspective this now opens yet another dimension to the list of required insights for sound branding. Increasingly, understanding why and how sound is moderating arousal levels and concentration through its impact on the brain’s chemistry is becoming part of the equation. Because sound evokes such a visceral reaction beyond the control of the conscious mind, realising which songs will keep consumers shopping for longer, what tracks will stop viewers switching channels in an ad break and most importantly what sound connects a brand in a more genuine way to their consumers is fast moving from an interesting option to a must do.
At soundlounge we believe that it’s time for brands to start to apply the rigours of science to the art of music.