C-Word Talk #33: MassiveMusic

Luc van Stiphout & Alex Normanton of Massive Music take VBAT through the compositions of “Sonic Branding”.

On the 19th of April, Luc van Stiphout: Head of Music & Brands, and Alex Normanton: EU Creative Director of Music & Brands of the international creative music agency ‘MassiveMusic’ came downtown from A’DAM Tower to talk audio branding and sound design with the VBAT-ers, plus guests.

An Introduction to Sonic Branding

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sonic branding, think of it like audio graphic design. In a nutshell: it is the practice of creating a sound logo in various adaptations for brand application, but much wider than that, it is the creation of a holistic brand experience through sound. And while it isn’t something all brands are currently doing, MassiveMusic certainly believe in its potency. In their introduction, they told us: “Our brains process sound nearly 20% faster than visual input”. Also, when brand identities were synced with music or sound, they scored significantly higher on cut through and brand recall.

In short, sonic branding allows people to recognise a brand quicker, and remember it for longer.

MassiveMusic believe the power of sound really resonates with people. It has been proven that sounds connects much quicker with people rather than visual branding. And I have to say I’m inclined to agree. For example, if you were to be played a song you used to listen to in your childhood, I bet memories of that time and place in your life would come flooding back to you, in a matter of moments. There’s something about music which makes it more powerful than a poster, it’s almost inexplicable.

With such high levels of recall and recognisability, it begs the question: “Why don’t brands utilise the power of sound more?” A lot of brands have a distinct lack of awareness or understanding on how music can help to aid a wider brand expression.

Verse 1: Branding The Premier League

The first case study the duo presented was the sonic branding for Premier League, the most viewed football competition across the entire globe, with over 2 billion viewers. They talked us through the design process, and it fascinated us to see how many similarities sonic branding had to corporate design, in all stages of the brief. It starts off exactly the same way, tackling the questions with the client: what is the personality of Premier League? Who is it for? How can we make it stand out from other football leagues? How can we make it more ownable for the fans? The same as the start of a graphical brief, we must first know the correct questions to answer. This resulted in MassiveMusic helping create a brand personality that set itself out from the rest, a concept for a sound that was more authentic, gritty, and modern than the competition. In fact, all of the competition’s sound profile was a pompous ‘heavenly’ chorus of strings and choirs. A sonic brand that would put Premier League back into the hands of the fans. To this end, they created a concept of the soundtrack — like a designer would do a rough sketch to illustrate the general direction they want to take a project in.

Afterwards comes the question: “How to properly achieve this authentic, gritty, modern sound?” By recording real sounds of the fans and the games themselves and cut them up into a more current music genre. MassiveMusic actually went down to a Premier League game and recorded live sounds of everything: the tick of a turnstile, footballs hitting crossbars, the raucous din of the crowd. All of this to build a truly authentic sound bank of samples — the sound of the fans themselves that would be later chopped up into a composition. And just like visual designers, MassiveMusic had to look for inspiration. What kind of sound and genre did they want to embody the spirit of Premier League? The answer was: “Something down to earth, gritty and unapologetically edgy”. This inspiration ‘moodboard’ was a mixture of choppy samples and growling bass synths, ranging from trap to dubstep.

And now, with a sound bank, a concept and some inspiration, they had all the necessary tools to build the iconic soundtrack from Premier League.

Here it is.

Massive Music’s Iconic Premier League anthem— via YouTube

And again, just like a corporate design brief, there wasn’t just one deliverable. MassiveMusic designed a general tone of music, which can be changed into different strands depending on the application. So, from the walkout anthem, to fantasy football and Matchday Live, they had produced a multi-faceted sonic identity for Premier League with a consistent and thorough brand sound as a result. A sound that felt authentic, that put Premier League back into the hands of the fans. And the anthem is so well liked by fans that, by their constant requests on social media and YouTube, FIFA decided to implement the theme into the game for an even more realistic experience.

The steps in the design process are practically identical but what really struck me from this case study is how easy it seemed it would be for visual designers and audio designers to collaborate on a job such as Premier League. Two fronts moving forward simultaneously, drawing inspiration from each other. Clients often see sonic branding as an afterthought to a visual identity, instead of a necessity from the outset. This was a talking point of the lecture: since the initial phase, MassiveMusic had wanted to work more with designers so that they could be ingrained into one another.

Verse 2: Phillips Signature Soundbank

The second case study was a brief for Philips, the Dutch multinational technology company. MassiveMusic was asked to create a unique sonic identity and really walked the extra mile to come up with a 360 music package that would support Philips’ DNA and resonate with their audience. For this project — that still has to go live, we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek in the kitchen and some very interesting insights. The only thing we can say for now is that by watching this space you won’t be disappointed.


And so perhaps a few readers are wondering: “Why don’t we see more collaborative projects between graphic design and sonic branding?” In short, a big part of the answer comes down to a lack of awareness of how sound can benefit a brand. People haven’t yet discovered the potential of sonic branding. I hadn’t really considered the possibilities of music as a medium for branding to the extent that MassiveMusic operates until their lecture at VBAT. But now it seems to me it is an industry with volumes of potential. And as more companies see the value in it, we will see more of an integration between brands and music. Not only in advertising, television and on-screen, but also beyond the screen. Think of brands moving towards a screenless future, but also how music can tackle mental health and encourage wellness.

MassiveMusic is one of the leading creative music agencies in the world with offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. The agency helps brands find their voice and tell their story through music. MassiveMusic produces and composes for the advertising, broadcast branding and interactive worlds. They develop music strategies for global brands, provide music search and licensing services, create innovative activations, scout new talent — and throw a mean party every once in awhile. The company is proud to have sprinkled its melodic magic on many of the world’s biggest brands.

Website: www.massivemusic.com

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written by John Skead, Creative Intern at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT