Sound and music are probably the most universal languages in the world. Especially the increasing popularity of audio through music streaming, podcasts, Siri, Alexa and Co. makes the creation of a sound identity an essential component of a brand personality. “If” a brand uses audio in the right way, it is 96% more likely to be remembered and can build a lasting relationship with its customers. This is especially true for young adults, 74% of whom understand a brand personality better through music.
The “If” exists because it’s one of the biggest challenges for a brand to find its sound. That’s why we sat down with Karolina Namyslowska, Senior Creative at one of the world’s leading sound branding agencies AMP, for our new Cyanite interview series.
We wanted to know more about the challenges when finding the right music for a customer, how subjective music a really is and especially if and how the use of AI benefits her work.
Cyanite: Hi Karo, on your LinkedIn profile is written: “You are only given a little spark of madness, you musnt’t lose it” – which spark of madness has lead you to the music industry?
Karolina Namyslowska: You need to be slightly „mad“ to decide against a career path in economics, law, medicine or engineering. The creative path is much riskier and requires courage. Many of my classmates continued their careers at university and other academic institutions. I personally never saw myself doing this.
After my bachelor I wanted to stretch out my feelers and in 2013 I came across amp, where I started as an intern. That’s 7 years ago and I’m proud to say that I was their first employee. I’m very happy to have followed this creative path and to apply my knowledge and creativity to my job.
You have studied music from both a technological (Music Informatics) and a social/cultural (Musicology/Cultural Studies) perspective. To which extent do these 2 perspectives help you in your daily work, and when does which one come into play?
I’m a Senior Creative at amp and lead the entire Creative Team.
The job requires creative input, as well as quality control for all of our creative output. One of my main tasks is the translation of brands into sound.
For the conceptual part of my job, I rely on the vocabulary and analytical techniques I picked up in my musicology studies and my musical background (piano). I also have technical proficiency, which is equally important and useful.
I’m a little disheartened by the women in the industry who lack technical skills. I’m not talking about a highly technical specialization, but rather, just common sense and the ability to use basic software tools to your advantage. I hope we buck this trend going forward.
My music technology curriculum also provided me with the basic audio-technical know-how to contribute to all types of media productions. My day-to-day involves a constant exchange with our internal production team and external teams (bands, producers, sound designers, etc.). So knowing how to navigate tools like Final Cut, Logic, Pro Tools, etc.. provides me with valuable insight throughout the different phases of a production. Even in a creative / conceptual phase I profit from those tools, for instance, when making mood-videos to better imagine or explain an idea.
“I think the key to knowing or being familiar with a large musical repertoire is not shying away from certain genres or styles or artists”
At AMPs website you are named as their inhouse Spotify. How do you maintain a good overview of musical trends and new artists, when 300.000 new songs are being uploaded to the internet every day?
Listening to music is a core responsibility that comes with the job. Whether I’m looking for songs to better explain a concept to our clients – or if I’m digging for reference tracks to determine the creative direction for a new composition or production – my ultimate source is always Spotify.
I think the key to knowing or being familiar with a large musical repertoire is not shying away from certain genres or styles or artists. I was blessed with musical parents and a musical home – and we didn’t just use music as background noise, we actively listened to music.
I never lost interest or stopped enjoying music, despite my constant listening habits (professional and private). When I get on the train I put on my headphones and when I wrap my working day I listen to some more to relax. I’m always happy for new leads and new music, whether it’s from my friends, colleagues or through Spotify.
Your job is basically to understand the language of non-musicexperts (brands) and musicexperts (songwriters or publishers), and to bridge the gap between them. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in this process?
Many of the stakeholders and client partners that we work with consider music a purely subjective art form. Our greatest challenge and mission is to settle on a common language (with our clients) and define parameters to better understand, discuss and evaluate music.
For this reason, our process always includes an “educational” part. We develop a common understanding for how the brand should and it should not sound. To do this we derive and translate brand values (e.g. “edgy”, “urban”, or “innovative”) into basic musical characterizations. These parameters or criteria serve as the basic description for the sound of the brand and help to evaluate any and all Sonic Assets (incl. Tracks, Sonic Logos, etc.).
Our goal is to provide the client with more than just a “gut feeling” for what sounds on-brand and what doesn’t. We teach our clients to develop the skills necessary to judge and understand music themselves. Because ultimately, the client stakeholders are determining the current and future sound of their brand – not their personal playlist
Their recent campaign with Mercedes is one of AMP’s many examples that show the power of sound branding
When music is used in a commercial, but also when algorithm-based music recommendations come in to play, the emotional effect of music becomes is more or less generalised. How subjective is music really and how do you measure the emotional effect of a song?
I agree! Music can create a deeply emotional and personal experience.
But there are parameters that can influence or steer the experience in specific directions. Let’s take a basic example:
We have a song with a dragging tempo and melancholy vocals. If we were to show the song to 100 people and survey them, only a fraction would consider the song driving, bright and uplifting. Of course there are unpredictable and personal factors, such as an individual’s past experience or past relationship with the song. However, the overwhelming consensus will always be that the song is “introverted” and “melancholic”.
We trust the expert-team at amp to track and define this relationship between musical parameters and their effect on the emotional listening experience. But we also regularly rely on market research (implicit, explicit and emotion-based) for our projects. An important element of our evaluation process is the AI-Testing Tool Veritonic. We use it to quickly and regularly test Sonic Assets along a set of standard attributes and give us an indication of Brand Fit, Uniqueness and Recall.
We don’t, however, use market research and AI tools as a replacement for creativity. All it does, is help us and our clients verify observations and decisions.
“Our greatest challenge and mission is to settle on a common language (with our clients) and define parameters to better understand, discuss and evaluate music”
What has been the biggest technological revolution since you started working in Sound Branding?
I think the age of voice is no revolution, but an evolution. I’m very impressed with Amazon Alex and how every-day interactions have been so seamlessly integrated into people’s lives. I’m excited to see what happens to autonomous driving in the next few years and how sound will help facilitate the human-machine interaction.
How do you look at AI in music? Do you think there is a place for AI in the space of Sound Branding?
Like I said early, I think that AI has a place in Sonic Branding. Whether it’s used for the cataloguing of music (in databases, through search-algorithms, etc.) or in the evaluation of certain aspects of music. We at amp, recognized this potential early and have developed a platform for our clients, which they can use as their own brand-specific Spotify to browse and search for Sonic Assets. Our clients greatly appreciate this tool and it’s become one of amp’s USPs. We prioritize giving our clients the necessary implementation tools to use their Sonic Identity in the best and easiest possible way.
Ok, last question, imagine, you’re sitting in the English Garden in Munich in the summer of 2021, the corona crisis is hopefully over, and you’re looking back on the previous year. What do you hope to say in the future? Do you think the job of sound branding experts will have changed?
Primarily, I hope that the crisis will be over by then and that my family, friends and colleagues are healthy. I hope that the average 8 hour work day / 5 day work week becomes a thing of the past. I’m currently having a very good experience in my home office with amp.
I’m not sure if the job itself will change much. The significance of music and sonic branding will not level off – the opposite is true. The Corona virus is proving just how important and invaluable music is to people, especially in difficult times. It would be nice, especially here in Germany, to observe the same passion for music as we do in Italy and Spain.
Thanks a lot for taking your time Karo. Shout-outs to AMP and stay safe.