Stephen Arnold Music

The Most Heard, Least Known Composers In America

The Origins of Sonic Branding

There’s nothing new about the sonic brand, it’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. Think about the rooster crowing, the thunder from the lightning. All these things are basically the foundation of what a sonic brand is: They evoke an emotional response when somebody hears it.

What a sonic brand really does is evoke something in your brain that says, “Hey, go do this,” or “Get ready for that,” or “Watch out!” So when you heard thunder, you’d go into the cave for shelter, or when you heard the rooster crowing you knew it was time to get up and go to work plowing the fields. Or your brain would be able to differentiate between whether you were hearing a snake in the grass, or just the wind.

That’s the relationship from a psychological, scientific perspective of what sound does. It’s interesting because the only way sound can work that way is if it’s connected to something that happens over and over again: It’s the repetition of sound that causes us to say, “I need to go and do this now.”

Fast forward to today when you’ve got wide-reaching sonic signatures, like the ones my company has done for the Weather Channel or CNN Headline News. I don’t think these came about because mankind one day just said, “OK, we’re going to take a sound and exploit it.” It was obviously an evolutionary process. Because it went from being just nature to everything around us: the whistle of a train coming into a station, an alarm clock, a boiling coffee pot, your Blackberry, car keys in the ignition…you name it. If you made a list of all the sound signals you heard throughout the day, from the moment you woke up until you went to bed, it would be unbelievably long – you can’t consciously think about all the ways you use sounds in your life.

But at some point our tendency to associate sounds with events and reactions was recognized as, “We can use this to get people to remember our products or services.”

In the commercial aspect, many times a listener feels like they hate a sonic brand, and they’ll say, “I don’t want to hear that again.” But as we point out in some of our presentations, “Sometimes you love it. Sometimes you hate it. And sometimes you hate that you love it!”

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