CAMPOS GUIDE TO MUSIC CURATION (AKA: MUSIC BRAND STRATEGY)
Whether for b2b or b2c, music is a critical component of your brand experiences. It’s also true, that music often gets less attention than the rest of the preparation for an event, marketing campaign, or brand space.
With the summer music season fast approaching, there's never been a better time to take a closer listen to your brand. Read on for some tips on how to curate and integrate music successfully into your brand experiences.
3 min read.
By James Lynch, Creative Director, with cover art by Gerson Granados
Let’s have an honest show of hands - who can relate to one or more of the following?
It’s the day before a critical event for your brand and you are just now beginning to search for music to play when the doors open.
Uhm, how about the Billboard top 100?
Your marketing campaign is fast approaching - you need to identify your brand through music and have no idea where to start.
Your brand activation or retail space is about to open, and you need to program a day, a week, or a month’s worth of music for your customers, but your playlist is looking pretty bare.
You start to put a playlist together, but all you can think to add is the music you personally listen to.
There are several things we commonly see that contribute to mediocre musical experiences in marketing & events:
- A perception of under importance when it comes to brand association with music
- ‘Curator Concerns’ - Not knowing what to choose and where to start
- Curation by Committee - Too many cooks spoil the playlist
Do any of these sound familiar?
We’re stating the obvious here but there is A LOT of music in the world and the very nature of music is subjective. Personal tastes vary immensely. But no need to worry - there are some steps you can take to ensure the music for your event or campaign is on brand and on point.
First, let’s answer a few common questions and get some things out of the way.
What does music curation really mean?
Music curation is the development of a sonic profile that aligns with the culture and composition of your brand. In simple terms, it means thinking carefully about the selection of each piece of music that represents your brand and the placement of those pieces in the timeline of your event or campaign.
Is it even important to have music at your event/campaign?
It’s critical. And more importantly, it has to be the right music. Why? It’s a long list.
Music is the glue to any shared experience
It sets the tone by creating a particular mood/vibe
Music influences the behavior of your audience
It can be used to highlight portions/moments in the storytelling arc
Great events are multi-sensory, so the music and audile components are vital. AKA: Experiential.
Successful curation can lead to powerful brand positioning
Is a music curator different from a DJ?
Yes - in most cases. A music curator creates the soundtrack to your brand. This is not a case of set it and forget it. It should be an ongoing process - constantly tweaking and updating to remain current and relevant.
DJs are often hired for one-off gigs. The music they play for an event is not often shared with the audience pre or post event.
What music formats can be featured in a campaign/event?
- Pre-recorded music - such as playlists or previously recorded live music. Either distributed directly to your audience via a link or in the case of an event, played back through your sound system. Often both occur.
- Live music - brands often partner with artists to play live at their event or brand space.
So, with all of that in mind - where should you start? We’re glad you asked. Start by answering this question:
What is the identity of your brand?
If your brand was a person - what would they listen to/what music would you find on their phone? Spend time mapping out the brand. One component of this is getting to know your target audience. Try to develop empathy and understanding towards them. What types of music are they listening to? What artists are they influenced by? A combination of this and an understanding of the core identity of your brand is a great foundation for music curation.
For example, if Mattel are running a Barbie campaign - you may not find Rammstein on their playlist but instead may find Taylor Swift or One Direction!
Once you have spent time going through this process, start by creating a fresh playlist and adding some tracks to it. You can be very specific in the feeling or mood you are trying to establish, or a little more general. Usually, the more specific the better. Here are some pointers which will help you at this stage in the process:
Consider the rule of three when picking songs and ordering them in your playlist. Simply put, this means grouping your songs in threes, by genre or tonality. Doing so provides the listeners with some consistency from track to track, but also the element of surprise when the direction changes. This balance is key.
Allow the mood to build as the event builds. The music should ebb and flow. Allow for moments of relief here and there.
Deviate from the theme once or twice. Keep the audience guessing.
Ask yourself, are you preparing this music experience for an annual event or campaign? Consider only choosing music released within the last twelve months to keep things fresh.
If you have a lot of repeat business in your brand space, a best practice is to add new music on a monthly basis. Choose a fixed playlist size and allow the new music to push out the oldest music.
Consider the sound system that all of this is being played back on.
(Coverage, distribution, power etc. There is nothing worse than trying to share a musical masterpiece through a squeaky Bluetooth speaker)
Use the suggested artists feature on music streaming services, which automatically introduces you to new sounds based on songs you have already selected. This algorithm can be helpful in the beginning, but it does have its limitations.
Is explicit music a no go? Based on your brand, you will need to decide if explicit lyrics are acceptable or not. If not, try searching for a radio edit or instrumental version of the song you want to include.
For planning purposes, there are plenty of great platforms available, which have massive music databases. Here are some we like to use when researching music for our clients or ourselves.
Spotify - lots of great pre-built thematic or genre-based playlists to explore.
Apple Music - the ace of spades in terms of curation. Beats 1 radio alone is worth the subscription cost and is a great resource for discovering new music.
There are many other streaming platforms available, including YouTube Music, Tidal and Amazon Music. Most of them come with a free trial so you can check them out and decide on your favorite. Bear in mind, most of these platforms only grant users a personal music playback license - but this is a good start for research purposes.
If you find pre-existing curated playlists on these platforms that match your brand, you can always follow them and check back in from month to month to see what's new.
SoundCloud is another great music sharing/distribution platform. On SoundCloud you can often find artists releasing music directly and in some cases, you encounter smaller artists with amazing music that are willing to collaborate closely with your brand or license a track exclusively to you.
For project specific music, such as branded video, idents or podcast intros, there are many great sources. Artlist and Epidemic Sound are two of our favorites. When you go this route, the artist compensation process is typically very straight forward and is paid directly to the vendor through your subscription. However, if you plan to play music in your brand space outside of royalty free options, you must ensure you’re playing by the rules. Let's talk about music licensing for a moment.
The process of creating a piece of music is typically very collaborative. Often many hands touch the piece before it is shared with the world and if you wish to leverage a piece of music in a commercial setting, you have to make sure the people who made the music possible are fairly compensated. After all, it is their music.
BMI & ASCAP are two not-for-profit organizations which help to keep track of commercial music play and make sure the composers, writers, and music publishers receive their royalties. You can pay these organizations directly and periodically for a music performance license. It’s really simple to sign up. You can find more info directly on their websites, listed at the bottom of this article.
If you have read this far, hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to approach music curation for your brand and are excited about getting started! Remember, music is incredibly subjective. You may never think you have it right and often, no feedback from your audience is positive when it comes to music.
For events specifically, if you see phone screens with the Shazam app open, you’ve done well. If your audience are asking where they can find your playlist, you’ve hit the jackpot. And you should have the playlist available - for download via a shortened link, on your event or campaign website, embedded in the event mobile app and posted on social.
If you feel more lost than ever, don't worry. Music curation isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t a regular music listener or have very specific tastes (such as 1940’s French music), then perhaps pass the torch to a colleague or collaborate on the music selection for your brand. Not everyone keeps audiophiles on staff like we do here at Campos. In a pickle? Feel free to reach out to us.
Need some inspiration?
Check out some of the artists and songs we are currently listening to at Campos.