The Sound of Wikipedia: Unveiling the Creative Journey at TNW Conference 2023

by Ilaria Mangiardi



The great thing about seeing your colleagues on stage is that you get an inside scoop on the groundbreaking projects they got to work on. Well, lucky for me, I was involved in the whole PR & Comms campaign around The Sound of All Human Knowledge – a global, open contest led by Wikimedia, the free knowledge movement behind Wikipedia – so I already knew what was coming.

But hey, who am I to spoil the fun?

So, when our very own Roscoe Williamson, Global Creative Strategy Director at MassiveMusic and Songtradr, took the stage at TNW, one of the best tech conferences in the world, it was like being in the front row of the coolest gig in town.

Joined on stage by Zack McCune, Director of Brand at Wikimedia Foundation, Roscoe, who collaborated with big brands like the Premier League, TikTok and Colgate among others, kicked off his presentation by engaging the audience.

He had us close our eyes and immerse ourselves in a soundscape, challenging us to identify the brands behind the various sounds and sonic logos he played for us. It’s more than just, as someone would call them, ‘catchy jingles’. We’re way beyond the big bong. It’s about how a brand strategically uses music, sound and voice across all touchpoints.

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The driving force behind the audio renaissance, as Roscoe puts it, is the ever-increasing fragmentation of media. Think of the diversification and proliferation of media platforms, channels and content options we have at our disposal – from speakers and podcasts to music streaming services, advertising networks and IoT devices that enable connected audio experiences. Back in the day, we used to consume around 400 ads daily.

Fast forward to 2023, and we’re now surrounded by a staggering 7000 (!) ads per day. Say what? But, I guess we should say – thankfully, we only remember a fraction of them.

To cut through the noise, create consistency and build trust with their consumers, brands are leveraging the power of music and sound.

Roscoe then dropped some mind-blowing stats. We’re talking about 460 million podcast listeners worldwide, 1 billion monthly TikTok users, a quarter-billion users on ad-supported Spotify, and a smart speaker market valued at a whopping $7 billion. Those numbers speak for themselves – audio is everywhere, and it’s here to stay.

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With these statistics in mind, it’s no surprise that more brands are asking themselves: “What should we sound like?”

Our recent collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation on crafting a sonic identity for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects saw us going through a meticulous process that involved contributors from all walks of life defining ‘The Sound of All Human Knowledge’ in under 4 seconds. Imagine the challenge!

The contest received over 3000 submissions from 135 different countries. From Honduras to Greenland, Rwanda to Papua New Guinea, the world united to shape the sound of Wikimedia, including Wikipedia.

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Of course, there were challenges along the way. Legal considerations were paramount – we had to ensure we could trace the origins of samples used and secure Creative Commons licenses. This proved handy when a sonic logo that sounded suspiciously close to Disney made a cameo appearance…

Together with the Wikimedia Foundation, we devised a PR & Comms campaign to encourage worldwide participation. And, did it pay off! The media response was fantastic and, with banners splashed across the top of Wikipedia articles , we made the right kind of noise.

After meticulously scrutinising all submissions internally, we narrowed down the selection to a final set of ten. To ensure a fair and inclusive process, we then opened up the voting to Wikimedia volunteer contributors who, through a community vote, selected Thaddeus Osborne’s submission as the winner.

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Fun fact – By day, Thaddeus Osborne works as a nuclear engineer in Virginia, USA. By night, he produces music for fun. His submission features the pages turning of a book, keyboard clicks and a synthesizer chime. What’s not to love?

In his words: “By incorporating my sound, I hope to make Wikipedia even more accessible and engaging, enabling readers [and now listeners] to embark on their own journey of discovery and knowledge. With more answers and information at our fingertips, we can tackle big problems and create a brighter future for all.”

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And, after everything Roscoe and Zack shared on stage, captivating the audience with their remarkable synergy, they left us with the biggest cliffhanger hanging in the air.

“So, where does the sound of Wikimedia go from here?”

Guess we’ll have to wiki-venture into the sonic unknown and see.