A Cup of Coffee with Sacha Stoffers
by Ilaria Mangiardi
Since this series is called A Cup of Coffee With, let’s start with the most important question: are you a coffee lover, or do you usually prefer a cup of something else?
I do like a good cup of coffee, whether that’s a cappuccino in the morning or a nice espresso after dinner, but I wouldn’t say no to a nicely brewed beer as well. Currently, I often go for a New England IPA – it tastes even better when paired with the right music.
What kind of beer would MassiveMusic be and why?
Something funky and bubbly, basically any drink that leaves people surprised, energised, inspired and confidently ready to hit the stage.
I heard you know how to solve a Rubik’s cube, where all solutions are within the cube. When all basic options are gone, where do you draw from when you need that outside-of-the-box musical solution with a client?
I’m lucky enough to work at a company where I can tap into so many creative minds that we can always come up with something fresh. But, at times, when I’m working from home and don’t seem to get any further on a task, I find taking my mind off the situation is the best solution. I usually pick up the guitar, take a walk, listen to some music or go for a run. Sometimes, the simplest ideas can be the most convincing and you’ll get to them by just listening to the client. Just like the Rubik’s cube, the solution is often right in front of you.
You’ve done lectures for LSE and UvA. Who is harder to keep entertained: university students or indecisive brands?
Haha I don’t think the difference is in the entertainment part. Most people I meet, whether they are students or brand leaders, enjoy talking about music. They’re often eager to learn about the power of sound, and will gladly listen to find out what it can do for companies in terms of marketing and branding. The interest is almost always there, and as the topic is still rather niche and new for most, keeping them entertained is not the differentiator.
The key difference is that after attending a lecture, most students will have no doubt in recognising the importance of investing in a brand’s sonic identity. However, for marketing and brand leaders who need to make decisions on budget allocation for the upcoming year, achieving this outcome becomes more challenging.
Your Master’s thesis was on enhancing brand awareness through sound. How has the sonic branding landscape changed since then?
Many things have changed since then, especially if you look at the innovations in the audio space. TikTok still hadn’t been launched, market penetration of voice technologies such as virtual assistants was very small, the podcast industry hadn’t exploded yet and Mastercard hadn’t PRed the shizzle out of their sonic identity yet. So, in the past five years alone, we have seen brands realising the potential of music and sound, and how it has often been overlooked for decades. This is changing though, as TikTok is urging content creators to think ‘music first, content later’, while brands are jumping on the wagon to try and create audio memes. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years the notion of visual fatigue keeps increasing and we’ll be moving into a more balanced and hopefully screenless future.
Born in the Netherlands, you also lived in Toronto. You like it cold, don’t you? Do you have any tactics you use to break the ice when starting out with a client?
I don’t mind the cold occasionally, but that winter in Toronto proved to be a challenge. I believe the winter of 2013/2014 was one of the hardest winters in the past 50 years, with temperatures below -25°C, but I still loved the city and the amazing people living in it. In terms of breaking the ice, perhaps very cliché but… showing genuine interest in who you’re speaking with will make the conversation flow. Plus, again, most people love music in one way or another, so that’s always an easy conversation starter.
Among all the projects we worked on, which one do you take the most pride in?
As a big football fan, I still remember the first time I saw the film of ‘The Sound of the Premier League’ on the MassiveMusic website. It completely blew me away – it still does. The magnitude of how many people must have heard it, the music itself, but also all the positive reactions of fans around the world and, last but not least, the fact that Electronic Arts and FIFA even approached us to ask if they could include the music in the next FIFA game is mindblowing.
Also our work with UEFA on the Women’s Champions League still gives me goosebumps.
More locally, I’m also still very proud of the work we’ve done for the Dutch digital news website NU.nl and Dutch TV channel AVRO-TROS. Both brands have fully grasped the importance of consistent implementation of music and are now well-known for their sound. They also help to explain my job to my parents and their friends 😉
You probably heard a lot of myths about sonic branding. Can you bust a few popular ones?
The myth that what music you use doesn’t matter, because people turn off their sound anyway. This might have been the case several years ago, but you know it’s left in the past when even META (once known as Facebook) changed their content creation guidelines from ”always include subtitles because people might have their sound off” to “always incorporate sound”.
Secondly, brands are looking to engage with their audience and provide them with consistent brand experiences – only giving them half of what they ask for does not reflect well on your brand. It’s like going back in time to where we only had silent films. These days, technological advances allow for incorporating music & sound – so why not embrace it and think about it strategically?
AI is now the biggest talking point in the world. What kind of music changes do you see coming with it, and what would you say to brands that are worried about their potential new sonic identity quickly depreciating with new industry advancements?
I believe that AI will make things quicker, more efficient and easy, especially when it comes to scale and automation. Some of the key criteria for a strong sonic identity are consistency, flexibility and adaptability. Consistency in the sense of delivering a similar experience across relevant touchpoints with your audience, flexibility to cater to a wide range of contexts without losing the identity’s DNA, and adaptability to allow for quick edits to cater to ad hoc changes.
AI will play a role in this, and it already does. Imagine creating a unique and ownable sonic DNA and training AI to slightly adjust this core sonic DNA to match the audience, context, story arcs and timings of an ongoing stream of audiovisual content. Of course there will have to be some sort of quality control – not to mention the human touch will always be at the core of creativity, but the speed and scale of on-brand work will increase dramatically.
Lastly, what would Sacha Stoffers’ sonic identity sound like?
This is without a doubt the toughest question of this interview. It would have to be something generative, something that keeps on evolving and changing over time – like the view outside when you’re on a long road trip. A steady ongoing beat, with a nice dreamy lead guitar melody, sometimes high on energy and other times very relaxed and flowing. Yeah, that sounds about right.