So you understand the power of music. But looking for the sound of your brand, you’re not sure where to start. What will it be? A jingle? A three-note soundlogo? Instead of risking brand equity and jumping right in, take a step back and get informed first.
When we explored the elements of music, we’ve identified three basic elements. Rhythm, pitch and timbre. As it turned out, timbre plays a pivotal role in how we’ve come to understand music. Timbre is what makes a particular instrument have a different sound from another. Even when they have the same pitch and loudness.
The timbral information we receive works as a trigger. Connecting to the appropriate feelings and memories. Quicker than melody or rhythm, it prompts us to search for meaning. This already starts in the womb where we learn to identify our mothers voice. Associating it with the soothing shelter it provides.
We don’t lose this ability as we enter the world. Recognising a hungry lion from a thunder stroke clearly is an evolutionary advantage. In the same way, timbre is how we identify a cry for help. The voice of a loved one amidst a room full people.
We only need a split-second to recognise timbre. With rhythm or melody, this takes a lot more effort.
In music, timbre is how we attach meaning to any tonal fingerprint. It’s how a Timbaland production sounds like a Timbaland production. Or how Amy sounds different from Adele. In fact, timbre is one of the most defining elements of music.
This has not always been the case.
Before tinkering with timbre, our ancestors started out with rythm. Both for communication-purposes and as a social identifier. Only with the advent of harmonics in Ancient Greece did we begin playing with melody.
Our appreciation of music evolved. And melody and harmony became its most significant means of expression. So if you’re able to tell your Beethoven from your Bach, it’s because of their harmonic footprint. Not the timbral qualities of the instruments you’re listening to.
Yet, over the last century, the use of harmonics grew increasingly abstract (Schönberg, anyone?). At the same time, our ability to record and manipulate sounds increased.
This is why timbre has taken pole position in how we have come to enjoy music.
It’s exactly what producers do, if you’ve ever wondered. Most composers don’t care if they use a standard set of chord-progressions. But they do take extreme caution when it comes to creating a distinct and recognisable sound.
You can copy the sound of a particular song but change its harmonic structure. And most people will have a hard time telling the difference (fortunately copyright-laws have not caught on to this yet).
What holds true for artists also applies to brands. If you aim to get noticed in a world full of visual and sonic clutter, your brand needs develop a distinct timbre. The sound of your brand, and your brand only. Brands that take themselves seriously are already embracing this notion.
Or are they?