When it comes to branding, commercial design, advertising and event production, music continues to be a complicated area where long maintained myths and inexperienced opinions hold fast:

  • Music is ‘too subjective’ to be quantifiable or converted into metrics
  • Music doesn’t impact the customer experience
  • Music is a commodity to be bought and sold at the cheapest price

Why is the strategic integration of music so essential for brands, commercial design, advertising, and event production?  When implemented strategically, by an experience and educated designer, music provides not just a personal connection but also alters product perceptions, creates emotional experiences, differentiates the brand from competitors and provides real value for all shareholders.

In today’s world, we are engaged to a brand on an emotional level rather than on a rational one.   We have moved beyond the idea that a brand is just a logo or trademark represented through a company’s materials.  Pine and Gilmore (1998) express the fact that companies do not sell just products and services anymore – they sell experiences connected to brands.  “Experiences” are a source of value, distinct from services or products being offered.  Brands no longer appear to be unreachable subjects, but instead appear as “friends” who care about our fears, urges, and happiness.  (Lovemarks, Roberts , 2004).

One of the prevailing myths I continue to hear is that music is too subjective.  This oversimplified way of thinking about music continues to keep big box background music providers who industrialize music for businesses, as the leading source of music for commercial environments.

In 1998, a study conducted by Morris and Boone, (The Effects of Music on Emotional Response, Brand Attitude, and Purchase Intent in An Emotional Advertising Condition)  validated the impact of music on customer perception – both positive and negative – and music’s ability to change feelings.  What are interesting to note from this study, are the descriptive changes in the viewer’s feelings towards advertisements when music is added.  These changes in feelings occurred in nine of the twelve advertisements.

  • Sony Advertisement
    When subjects saw the advertisement without music, they felt nostalgic, different, awed, and full of wonder.When music was added, the viewers felt informed, self-conscious, virtuous, and useful.
  • Cancer treatment advertisement
    When subjects saw the advertisement without music, they felt egotistic, astonished, proud, and tempted.When music was added, viewers felt repentant, skeptical, contemptuous, coarse, and cynical. The music obviously did not help this advertisement project the correct feelings, especially because the adjectives for the advertisement without music were projecting the correct feelings. The adjectives not only reveal that the music was poorly chosen for this particular ad, but that music can change viewers’ feelings about an advertisement very drastically (i.e. from proud and astonished to skeptical, cynical and contemptuous).

Within this study NOTHING else changed except the addition of music. When adding music, 75% of the advertisements had emotionally affected outcomes.

Subjective means belief or opinion.  Objective, on the other hand, means certain or factual.  While you may have an opinion or a personal preference regarding your taste in music, there remains certain and factual information that validates the benefits of strategically implementing music.

  • The late Dr. Ira N. Alschuler, a psychiatrist and one time director of musical therapy at Wayne County Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, reported that “the mental and spiritual drug of music enters the human being through the thalamus, a part of the brain that is the main relay station for all emotions, sensations, and feelings. Thus music affects moods.”
  • Over a two week period, French and German music was played on alternate days from an in-store display of French and German wines.  French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas German music led to the opposite effect on sales.  (North, Adrian C.; Hargreaves, David J.; McKendrick, Jennifer, 1999)  Responses to a questionnaire suggested that customers were unaware of the effects of the music on their product choices.

Researchers have determined that emotions guide and influence consumer behavior far more than seen in traditional, cognitive research. (Rossiter & Percy, 1991; (Batra & Ray’s 1983; Holbrook & Batra, 1988).  Traditional research methods such as measures of recall, recognition and brand attitude measure consumers’ thoughts, but not their feelings or their total range of emotion. Humans think and feel, and both processes influence their behavior (Zajonc, 1980; Zajonc & Markus, 1982).

Experts have often reported that we feel first and think later. This probably isn’t news to many readers. There’s a new study, however, that again verifies that assumption. Ross Flom, from Brigham Young University, led a study in which it was proved that babies as young as 6 months can tell the difference between a dog barking in happiness and one who is barking in anger or distress.  The study was published in Developmental Psychology.  The results support the idea that people hear at a level of emotion and intensity that overpowers both words and visuals.

If we all understand the importance of creating an emotional connection, I continue to wonder why Music Design remains as after-thought for commercial space, and a missing service from branding, advertising, and event agencies.


Defining a music strategy

Whether you are a hotel, restaurant, retail store, or any other type of brick and mortar business, music is often an afterthought in the design of your space.

Although using music in your business can and should be fun, there are some initial evaluations you can make that will help focus your choices and lead to your music shaping your environment, rather than being chosen solely based on your personal tastes.

We’ve worked with dozens of clients that looked to use music as a background service, only to find they were never happy with it.  Music evokes emotion, creates a mood, or accentuates an environment.  It is never in the background.  If you don’t have a clear understanding about why you are using music, then you shouldn’t use it at all.

We’ve spoken with many frustrated clients who say nothing is right for them.  What they don’t understand is that they’ve never defined their own internal identity.   It’s not about picking your personal favorite songs – it’s about putting together a sound that represents who you are as a company, what your products or services mean to your customers, and what you want them to mean.  It’s about how the music projects and translates the visuals of your space, and how it actually sounds in a space with different building materials and architectural designs.

Here are some initial questions to evaluate before making the jump into changing your music or adding music into your business environment:

No matter how big or how small your company is, your musical environment plays a part in creating a connection between customer experience and customer perception.  Defining who you are is fundamental to any business so that your customers recognize you amongst the competition.

Consider your business environment as an individual and ask yourself
    1. What are my business’ values, our core beliefs?  For a list of words to get you started take a look here
    2. What is my business’ personality?  Are you outgoing?  Shy?  etc…?  Here is a great exercise to inspire your thoughts

Music isn’t just about hearing, it’s about feeling! Research has proven that deaf people can experience music by feeling the vibrations in their bodies.  A well-known deaf musician is the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who composed many famous works even after he had completely lost his hearing. There are actually many deaf musicians, including Evelyn Glennie, a highly acclaimed percussionist; Chris Buck, a virtuoso violinist; Robert Franz, a composer; and Johnnie Ray the American singer, songwriter and pianist who was partially deaf at 13 years old and, after surgery in 1958, became completely deaf.  This indicates that music is involved in a deeper cognitive process than unexamined phrases such as “pleasing to the ear” would suggest.

It is very important to define a clear objective of what you want music to do for your business
  1. Why do I want to play music?
  2. Do I want to play music to entertain and keep my employees’ happy?
  3. Do I want to create a sound that is uniquely mine and communicates my unique business personality?
  4. Do I want to play music for my customer’s perceived musical tastes?
  5. What are the benefits of music to me in my place of business?
  6. What is my budget for music?
With clearly defined goals you will be able to
  1. Take responsibility for the emotional value in your business space.
  2. Be able to communicate to employees and receive buy-in, so you’re not justifying the sound or listening to complaints about employees’ personal music likes and dislikes.
  3. Use music effectively to communicate your identity.
  4. Connect with your customers on an emotional level.
  5. Research music providers more objectively.

While these steps are only the beginning of the defining your music strategy (and by no means an exhaustive list), they are necessary questions to answer if you want to use music effectively as a design and communication tool in your business environment.


I am a huge technology geek. I love trying new apps, new gadgets and the like.

Last week, I was doing my weekly search on new apps when I ran into an organizing app called doo.

I sauntered on over to their website to take a look to learn what they do at doo. I’m a sucker for videos because I can just sit back, listen to what they have to say, see all the great screen shots, and experience it before having to go and download the app. The product videos are like cliff notes for me.

Music in product videos










Unfortunately, doo|Every Document of Your Life, represents an example of what not to do with music in your product videos.

Using the right music in your product video can make or break your message!

The Most Important Music Usage Tip You Need To Know For Your Product Video

  • Do not use music with words/lyrics when you are displaying product words or showing in detail how something works.

Now, I could get really complicated with the details on how to pick music to accompany a video based on the objective of the video, but instead I’m going to stick solely to language here.

The reason not to use music with lyrics in product videos is because the lyrics draw upon the same language centers of the brain that reading calls upon. The two main parts of the brain associated with language are Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area, the former of which is found in the temporal lobe while the latter is in the frontal lobe. 

Can you watch this once and tell me the details of what doo does and how it works?

Mailbox almost crossed the line with their use of lyrics in a marketing video. But take a look, this one is different.

Yes, you have lyrics, but their process is defined by visuals only. They do show emails, which have words on them, but the process is ultimately displayed as a visual experience. I’ll admit, when I watched this a couple of months ago I had to watch it twice because of the lyrics but they do a pretty good job of trying to keep the process of the app to a visual experience.

In order to use songs with lyrics in marketing videos that require you to read it’s better to present the words of the product either when there’s a break between the lyrics or when a word is sustained and has already been processed by the brain.

Ya gotta sync it properly.

The other choice is to not use lyrics at all.