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Music for Brands: Why it’s better to create your own sonic identity

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Amidst licensing and royalty battles over popular music, brands can more efficiently reach audiences by taking control of their sonic image.

A dispute over royalties between music publishers and social media platforms is currently making headlines worldwide. Songs by some of the best loved artists are being scrubbed from social platforms because licensing agreements for their music were not renewed. Thousands of popular videos are being pulled down or put on mute, a huge loss for platforms and their users.

These disputes offer stark lessons for anyone wishing to incorporate popular music into their media…especially brands. While it might sound appealing to use a pop song in marketing, the brand ultimately does not have control of the song, and that’s a big risk. In this day and age of digital media, usage rights (as we’ve seen) can change in an instant due to a disagreement with or limitations set by a media platform, not to mention other drawbacks that could impact a company’s bottom line or brand perception.

One of these drawbacks, obviously, is cost. Licensing a chart topping song can be very expensive and can weigh heavily on a marketing budget. Licensing agreements are also inherently limited. A brand may not be able to use a song across all media, applications, or geographies — making it difficult to maintain consistency across consumer touchpoints. Then there are less predictable factors. An artist may fall out of alignment with the brand’s values due to controversy, personal behavior, a decline in popularity, or other unforeseen factors. Moreover, popular music is less effective in building brand identity than many people think. According to a recent study consumers, especially media savvy young consumers, often find the connection between popular songs and brands inauthentic and out of sync with their personal values.

One way for brands to avoid the pitfalls of licensing popular music is through creating custom music. Sonic branding is to a brand’s audible identity what visual branding is to its visual identity — both play key roles in conveying a consistent image. Examples include custom audio logos, brand anthems for longer-form content, and short variations for social media usage, all of which can be precisely crafted to reflect the brand’s values and personality.

Although licensing a massive hit may seem appealing, brands should consider other ways to express themselves sonically. With custom music, brands have greater control over their sonic identities with fewer limitations on usage. And considering today’s content needs — and the potential for more licensing and royalties disputes — this may just be the answer brands are looking for.

By Chad Cook – President, Creative & Marketing, and Russell Boiarsky – Director, Brand Strategy at Stephen Arnold Music (SAM), The World Leader in Sonic Branding®, which has created award-winning audio branding for companies worldwide including CNN, Sony Interactive, Match, The Weather Channel, ESPN, WETA, and more.

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