D&AD New Blood: Translating a Brand Into Sound

by Alex Normanton



woman with headphones
woman with headphones
woman with headphones

How a Group of Young Talents Helped Define the Sound of Brand X

On July 12-14, we were at D&AD’s New Blood Festival in Shoreditch, London to present ‘What Does Brand X Sound Like?’ as part of the Fringe programme. A fully interactive music workshop with the aim of immersing participants in the world of sonic branding.

Our EU Creative Director of Music & Brands Alex Normanton was there together with Paul Stroud, In-house Composer. Here’s his take on the experience, including feedback from the attendees.

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    powerpoint with people talking

I have a special place in my heart for the D&AD New Blood Festival. It was at this festival of creativity nearly 20 years ago that I picked up my first job as a Junior Designer at Saatchi & Saatchi, London.

The festival exists to showcase the latest graduates from the Universities and Colleges within the UK. Spread across 3 days and held within The Old Truman Brewery for creative agencies to pick up the most inspiring talent.

It starts with a private view exhibition of the latest work across visual design, illustration, advertising, digital and beyond, rounding up with the Student Award Show for those talented individuals to pick up a wood, yellow or white pencils (the globally recognised award trophies).

Many design and advertising agencies are also represented throughout the event through hosting talks, workshops, portfolio reviews and a few pints down the Commercial Tavern after hours (and sometimes during). Most of the creative disciples are represented in one place.

However, I, with my group of Jedi masters at MassiveMusic, are on a mission to fly the flag for ‘Sonic Branding’ and more overtly put the category on the radar for rising talent and within the awards arena.

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    cards and marker

Myself and the hugely talented Paul Stroud hosted a workshop aimed at students and young professionals entitled ‘The Sound of Brand X’, designed to introduce the topic of sonic branding and why it is on the rise for design agencies and brands.

We set a live brief for the delegates to create a 30-60 second song demo within an hour – a tough challenge with timings heavily reduced from our usual process. We talked about principles on how to start translating a brand into sound and then challenged our groups to think about:

  1. What’s the overall feeling we want to communicate?
  2. What ingredients we can play with to help create the right sound?
  3. What is the story we want to tell?
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    people sitting at table laughing

Students and young professionals were placed in mini music agencies (named after famous recording artists such as The Rolling Stones, Abba, Stevie Wonder) to grapple with translating visual language and brand principles into audio language and sonic principles.

It’s always interesting to see how different individuals come together to work on a brief against the clock. There is no room for egos. You have to shoot from the hip, make quick decisions and work effectively to create the right outcome. It wasn’t the time to introduce in-depth music-making platforms like Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton.

We opted for using Sampulator, an online music creator, to help each team to lay down a basic musical foundation. By using a limited palette of sounds, you have to be creative in how you use them in order to denote the right feeling.

Once the foundation was laid, the delegates were challenged to write a lyrical story that would resonate for ‘Brand X’. The combination of the right feeling with the right story can often be a powerful combination.

Also, the two layers have to work together and compliment each other, provide a moment of contrast and ultimately resonate and be measured against the original brief. Once scratch lyrics were finalised, it was into the makeshift vocal booth/portable recording studio. That’s when the fun commenced.

After this session, the attendees became acutely aware that designing sound is not easy. It takes time, dedication, strategic thinking, creativity, sleepless nights, debates, numerous hurdles, a clean set of ears and ultimately an awesome team.

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    woman and man in music studio

‘For someone very much interested in pursuing a career in music branding, this was an excellent, concise entertaining exercise’.
Joseph Dodd, Goldsmiths, University of London

Also, throughout the session we ran a social listening experiment. We played a dark and moody curated playlist, then swapped to a bright and upbeat curated playlist. Which playlist promoted creative thinking the most?

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    two phones with spotify

From observing the temperature of the room, energy and positivity in the space, I’d say there was something happening more in the space of energetic music. People seemed to talk more, get looser in their thinking, became more vocal.