The ‘Age of Discontent’: how sound can aid optimism

In crisis, the soundtrack to our lives is so important

Bob Marley once said, ‘One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

That’s why the soundtrack to the lives that we curate is so important. Life isn’t easy — there is a lot we’re contending with. From the aftermath of Covid to the cost-of-living crisis, carbon footprint pressures and the effects of conflict. It’s no wonder we’re still experiencing a global major mental health crisis and a 25% increase in the levels of anxiety and depression since 2020.

As a ubiquitous presence in our lives, brands have a unique platform to affect and influence us — traditionally, of course, to sell us things. But increasingly, just as consumers are having to reflect on their impact on the world, brands are too — and rightly so. When times are difficult, brands do well to advertise with messages that aid well-being and value. People are purchasing for the greatest benefit, rather than luxury. But where brands thrive on optimism, they have an opportunity, in harder times, to create stories that have greater impact at a time needed most. Music and sound can play a fundamental role in this, too. 

Eat, sleep, move – repeat

A good brand, during tougher times, will look at how it can aid the going back to basics process. If you’ve watched Stutz (2022), the documentary on Netflix with Jonah Hill allowing us into his therapy sessions, you’ll recognize that therapist Phil Stutz emphasizes this — sleep, diet and fitness are the starting blocks to feeling better. 

A good diet is challenging when budgets are tight — so a recent campaign by Uncommon emphasizes how brands can help facilitate that. In supermarkets, when food is discounted it has a yellow sticker and this has become culturally recognizable, with TikTok trends dedicated to offering advice on how to find them. Uncommon created the AI-powered Yellow Sticker Cookbook, which allows consumers to input the items they’ve bought discounted and a recipe suggestion will be offered. Since music is proven to incite happiness when balancing familiarity and surprise, the unexpected variety of instruments and disjointed soundtrack for this campaign packs a satisfying result.

At MassiveMusic, we recently worked with Adidas on a recent campaign designed to empower a new generation to lace up their running shoes, get out there, reach the finish line… And keep going. We had to develop a sound that tapped into this imperfect process with a stubborn rhythm, the result turning into a powerful swell of warm arpeggios designed to not just amplify the storytelling but motivate people into feeling good as they achieve.

Bringing the noise

Lockdown demonstrated our inherent need and want for connection. Losing it meant many of us lost a sense of who we were. It also brought home how hard life can be for those who are alone, especially older generations who may also be feeling increasingly disconnected from a growing digital-first world. Where we know that music can bring us joy, researchers also believe it can play a significant role in strengthening social bonds — it’s a powerful social magnet. 

Heineken recently launched a campaign to encourage fans to break out of their ‘music bubbles’ and look to experience new music with new people at a series of concerts. Following strict lockdowns in Asia that meant people were unable to socialise and attend gigs, Heineken launched the ‘Refresh Your Nights’ series for 85,000 music fans in Vietnam and Malaysia, and featured local artists performing known tracks in their own style and genre. 

The new normal is noisier

As we adjust again to our busy lives, the world has become very noisy again. This can have a real physiological effect on us — too much noise can trigger our stress response and increase our levels of cortisone. Add that to the levels of stress and anxiety we’re already encountering and it’s overwhelming.

Being strategic with music choices can have real demonstrative effects. Picking the right music in an ad, for example, has the power to increase happiness by up to 19% as shown in a recent study.

This is why it’s so important for brands, who are competing in a visual and audible world, to be smart with their output and look at how they can contribute positively to daily lives — not adding to the mental clutter.  

Featured image: Heineken

James Bargent, Music Production Director, MassiveMusic London

James works as a Music Production Director at MassiveMusic in London. Since joining the Massive family in 2015, he has worked across a number of international brand campaigns including the production of a cover of Mad World for Acciona, a re-arrangement of the classic Mr Sheen theme, but also music compositions and productions for Shaun the Sheep, Strongbow, Nespresso... The list goes on. James has always had both ears on music. Along the way, he has written a word or two for industry publications, commenting on the subject of music in advertising and also promoting the music out there that deserves to be heard. After studying music by the coast in Brighton, he went on to compose music for production music libraries and work in the sync department at Warner Music, before finally joining the land of orange. First record: To Record Only Water for Ten Days, John Frusciante Favorite album: In Rainbows', Radiohead Favorite noise: Ambience Skills: Pedestrianism

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