There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few days ago called Music of the Hemispheres. It's about Daniel Levitin, a researcher who is working on understanding how music triggers our emotions.
Apparently, while scientists in the past have looked at how the brain processes music, they've looked at music narrowly as a collection of sounds. Surprisingly little research has been done as to how and why music can create powerful emotional responses and create deep memories. That is Levitin's focus - before getting his PhD, he was a musician and a record producer, so he comes at the subject both as a music lover and as a scientist.
I think his work is really important for us. We've been thinking a lot here about music recently, and we're actually organizing a conference later this year about the role of music in communication. If successful communications is increasingly about creating powerful emotional responses, we all need to understand better how things like music can contribute to that. And maybe while we're at it, we should stop bastardizing well-loved song lyrics. In music, like in everything else in marketing, we tend
to think too narrowly and only from a marketer's point of view: we use music to capture attention or get a
message across, without thinking about whether we've made something that anyone would actually choose to spend time with; without asking whether we've created something of value for the viewer, or just for ourselves.
But when music is done right it can be magical. Here are two of my favourite examples, both from video game ads. I love that this Playstation ad uses a 120-year old piece of music, Fauré's Requiem:
And I get chills from this recent Xbox Gears of War ad using the Gary Jules cover of Mad World (found via Lee):
The music takes each of those ads to a completely different place. It's what makes them work, makes them different, and makes them worth watching. And I'd like understand that process better.
As a side note, the Times article was written by Clive Thompson, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. He writes on science, technology, and culture for the Times, Wired, Fast Company, and Discover in a Malcolm Gladwell/Steven Johnson kind of style. I recently realized that 4 different things I was reading or had put aside to go back to were all written by him. His blog is good too.
A warm happy holidays from everyone here at Leo Burnett Toronto. Thanks for choosing to spend some time with us this year. All the best for the new year.
There will be no silly videos or other self-promoting shenanigans from us, instead here are a few of our favourite holiday treats to put you in a festive mood...
I seem to be developing a stable of running items here lately. If the Leo blog were the New Yorker and Jason were the Malcolm Gladwell of the Leo Blog (There's a quote for your next performance review, Jason) I guess this might make me its Nancy Franklin. Or more likely the person who compiles these:
This actually isn't so much a random discovery in and of itself as it is a method for making random discoveries. If you've got an iPod, you've probably went a bit mad at first and loaded it with everything in your music collection, as well as bunch of stuff from other people's. And then, if you're like me, you went back to listening to the same old albums and songs you did before, leaving the bulk of your iPod's contents unheard, unappreciated and, possibly, undiscovered.
The "Shuffle" function on the iPod is pretty good, altough many people question just how random it actually is. And it plays stuff you've already heard. So a few friends and I have become strong proponents of using iTunes to create a "Never Played" playlist: a smart playlist that only includes songs you've never listened to before. (Of course, you might actually have listened to them in some other context, just not on your iPod.)
As you work your way through all your unheard music (and sometimes it really does seem like work, particularly when "The Boiler" is followed by the theme from "The A-Team" and yet another live version of "Genesis Hall"), you come across some wonderful stuff you either forgot existed or never knew about in the first place. I don't know how I've lived my life without Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk in The Room".
It becomes kind of a challenge, with iTunes removing stuff from the list as you listen and keeping track of how many days of music you have remaining. And there is one paramount rule, at least according to my friends: you must listen to every part of everything. No fast forwarding. Sitting through "The Boiler" is no picnic, but it's worth it. Particularly, I'm told, when your "Never Played" playlist winds up looking like this:
Photo of the completed playlist via Bibendum, who waded through hours of US Supreme Court arguments to wipe out his list and who has his own insightful, if very infrequently updated, blog on Canadian politics.
I've uploaded a photo-based guide to creating your own "Never Played" playlist to my flickr page.
I really respect Beck. I think that more than anyone, he's been quite thoughtful about the state of the music industry and how to combat piracy. Instead of, say, suing fans and trying to control how people use music, he's taking the opposite approach: create more content, let people freely interact with it, and be... well, more interesting.
I just bought his new album, The Information, which came out last week to some fanfare. It contains lots of extra stuff, like a companion DVD with home-made videos for each of the songs. Best of all is that the album cover is blank, and comes with a book of stickers made by various underground artists - each album with a slightly different collection of stickers - so you can create your very own album cover. As Interscope (his record company) says the album art is "either non-existent or infinite, depending on one's point of view." Beck is basically saying that you could illegally download the songs, but you'd miss out on half the fun. Very cool - when was the last time you looked forward to buying a physical CD?
In a bizarre (and hugely backwards) twist, though, the
company that manages the UK charting system has announced that the new
album won't be eligible for the British charts because the customizable packaging gives it an "unfair advantage" over other albums. Huh? Now that is one of the stupider things I've heard.
There's a great interview with Beck in Wired last month where he discusses his philosophy on being interesting, letting people co-create with you, and other stuff.
"There are so many dimensions to what a record can be these days. Artists can and should approach making an album as an opportunity to do a series of releases – one that's visual, one that has alternate versions, and one that's something the listener can participate in or arrange and change. It's time for the album to embrace the technology."
He could just as well be talking about advertising. Substitute "brand communication" for "album" and "marketer" for "artist" in that and it makes good sense for our industry too.
Beck album art photo courtesy the Design Observer.
I've been really enjoying the TV show Weeds. It stars Mary Louise Parker, who has to be one of the most compelling actors alive and someone I'd love to have coffee with someday, as a recently widowed woman who turns to dealing pot in her suburb to make ends meet. And Malvina Reynolds' excellent subversive song "Little Boxes" plays over the opening credit sequence. The second season recently started and the producers have started doing something fun - they've had the title song recorded by a different artist every week, by a broad range of artists including Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, and Engelbert Humperdinck (and really, is there any artist whose name is more fun to say than Engelbert Humperdinck?). It was even sung in French one week.
It's a small thing, but it makes me more engaged in the show. Even though I've recorded the shows on my PVR, I actually stop to watch the credits every time instead of fast forwarding through them, as I do with other shows. I look forward to seeing who will be doing the music next. It gives me a reason to think about the show. It makes it more interesting.
Has any advertising campaign ever done this (regularly changed up the music on a TV spot)? I think that would be an interesting thing to try.
I was at home last night doing some work on the computer and recognized a familiar song coming from the TV in the living room. I took a moment to listen because it’s a song I really love, but I quickly realized it wasn’t the original version. And the lyrics were different. And, good God, Cadbury had rewritten the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” for an ad.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” One of the most touching songs of youthful naivete I’ve ever heard.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The song that made Ben Hamper, as he told the story in “Roger and Me,” weep when he heard it on the way home from being laid off from a Flint, MI auto plant.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” A song that – this was a long time ago – in a moment of epic self-pity, I put on “Repeat 1” in my CD player and listened to for several hours straight.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was being used to sell chocolate bars.
Here’s one of the executions that ran in Australia, I believe. (For all I know these have been running for a while in Canada and I’ve just missed them.)
Now, obviously, we’re many years past Neil Young’s “This Note’s For You” and people freaking out because “Revolution” is in a Nike ad, but my first reaction was still to rush the living room and scream “Nooooo!” at the TV.
My second reaction was to think, “What have I done?” We’re currently finishing up a spot that uses a well-known song from long ago that, I imagine, might tote around emotional baggage for a few people. I wondered if when that spot went to air if there wouldn’t be a similar rush and cry from people who couldn’t believe what had happened to one of their favourite songs.
I didn’t dwell on this for too long, actually. For one thing, our spot doesn’t change the lyrics at all; it just puts them in a different and, I think, amusing context that no one could really begrudge. For another, I’d hate to think I’ve caused someone to run from another room to yell at a spot I worked on, so I choose not to think about it too much. And finally, I listened to the Beach Boys version on the way into work this morning - twice, actually, because I somehow loaded a duplicate version onto my iPod – and, to be honest, it didn’t suffer much from having had different words set to it. It’s a good enough song that a bad commercial using it hasn’t really affected my enjoyment of it.
* Just as a final note, I also recalled snickering a few months ago when someone told me about trying to get the rights to a song, only to be told that the band that wrote it had forbidden it from ever being used in an ad. I snickered because it’s a band I truly dislike and a song I think is utter crap that couldn’t be more commercialized that it already is (although I can see how it might mean something to some people). But reflecting on my reaction last night, I think I might understand why they might have chosen to forgo the money they certainly could have sold it for. And I’m glad. Mostly because I hate it and it would definitely be all over the place if they licensed it.
I've been meaning to post this for a while - a great Colbert Report clip from a few weeks ago, which has been making the internet rounds ever since (apolgies if you've seen it). It's worth watching for four reasons:
1) The ad we all love to hate finally went mainstream. Is it just me or has Stephen Colbert's show started to get better than Jon Stewart's? It's funnier, more incisive, edgier. I wonder if this is one of the reasons - he's picking up on stuff from blogs and the web in real time.
2) It's a decent analysis of pop culture and our lack of interest in government.
3) "Filliam H. Muffman"
4) A good interview with one of the guys from OK Go, discussing how they marketed themselves directly to their audience via YouTube and avoided the big music industry machine. Colbert's retort: "But how do you know it's awesome until a corporation says it is?"
A new music downloading service, called SpiralFrog, was announced yesterday (their corporate website is here). The big news is it will be free - no more 99 cent purchases - and instead will be supported by advertising. They're not the first legal freebie download service, but they'll be the first one with a decent selection: the other big news is Universal Music, the owners of the world's largest music catalog (about 24% of all songs by some estimates), has announced support for it.
Some people are heralding SpiralFrog as finally being a challenger to iTunes' dominance. But getting music for free comes with some huge conditions. First off you'll have to watch ads, and will be prevented by "special software" from skipping past them (closing your eyes until they're over is still allowed, though). Second, you'll have to visit the SpiralFrog website at least once a month to watch more ads to keep getting access to the music you've downloaded. If you don't visit the site, no more music collection. Third, the files are protected from copying or sharing the music (no burning to CD). Fourth, the music will be in WMA format so it won't work with an iPod.
Now free is a powerful motivator - even at 99 cents, when you have a few thousand songs that gets expensive. And Salon magazine's Site Pass which uses this "watch an ad to get free content" model has been fairly successful, according to Wired. As John Grant says on his blog: "Once something has been free there ain't no going back." Also, as dominant as iTunes/iPod is right now (around 80% market share of legal downloads), one thing we've seen over and over in the last decade is that no monopoly is safe anymore (and several new competitive MP3 players are getting good reviews). And illegal downloading, still quite popular, certainly has its drawbacks, from threat of lawsuit to corrupted files to viruses.
But the thing is, free is only better than doling out cash (and safe is better than risking bad files and viruses) if all things are equal. That's a big if, and all things are clearly not equal here. I like free stuff as much as the next person, but SprialFrog has some pretty hefty conditions. Let's not forget other motivators can be as powerful as "free." People have developed very strong expectations for control and flexibility with their media, which this simply won't give them. Even if they don't burn CDs or share media, I think people like to know they can: people like feeling they own their music. And don't underestimate people's desire to avoid advertising. Plus at the end of the day, for the legal downloading crowd, iTunes offers a really good product experience which people seem to be quite happy with.
Personally, I think that 99 cents a song is a fair price to pay for a safe, legal download that lets you own the music, and avoids most conditions. We'll see if the market agrees, but I have a feeling we shouldn't write iTunes off just yet.
(images via Spell with Flickr, which totally rocks)