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Music, memory and the commercial potential for music and brands

Updated: Jan 20

This post is the third in a series of interviews with experts in the sonic branding sector. And we’re delighted that Dave Baker another alumnus of Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths, University of London, shared why he is so excited to be involved in our latest research project with Goldsmiths, supported by Innovate UK.



Dave Baker - SoundOut
Dave Baker - SoundOut


How did you get into the fast-developing field of audio-branding?

I’m originally a musician. I play the trumpet and I became fascinated by music psychology while studying for a PhD in music and memory. I worked in the cognitive and brain science area while at Louisiana State University and looked at how people learn melodies and the impact of melodic memory. This intersects well with the world of audio branding.


What made you study for your Masters at Goldsmiths?

To get the data science grounding with music. It is one of the few programs that has an MSc in this field. Because it is an intensive quantitative MSc, it means that people take you seriously when you carry out further quantitative research.


What resonated most with you while at Goldsmiths?

The course takes a very different approach to analysing music. A traditional music approach encourages you to look for the humanistic choices a composer makes at a single moment. The Goldsmiths’ approach encourages you to look for what’s common across multiple pieces of music that triggers the same reaction. This provides a bird’s eye view that makes you think about the impact of music very differently, where we account for all the experiences someone has had with music rather than just one piece.


I am naturally very curious, and Goldsmiths encourages people to follow their interests. It also sees academic and industry success as equally tenable. A lot of programmes purport to do that but it’s real at Goldsmiths and leads to people doing really out-there projects, like the Innovate project which is a genuine world first.


While at Goldsmiths Daniel Mullensiefen introduced me to how to use data science to help figure out what’s the right melody for your brand and remove some of the subjectivity from the selection. When there is lots of money on the line you want to be more systematic about it!


What interests you about the Innovate project with SoundOut? Why not just become a great musician?

I like the best of both worlds. I still play the trumpet, but I find that this kind of research is intellectually stimulating and makes my music practice easier.

The great thing about this study is that it enables us to ask very direct questions. It will help to identify if there are systematic patterns for things like semantic associations with music, memory for music – explicit memory, recall memory, recognition memory - and does it lead to propensity to buy.


You need the tools of quantitative science to solve these questions and SoundOut makes this possible because they can ask questions in a non-superficial way. Academic research tends to create a sanitised, reduced view of the world. But SoundOut deals with the messy real world and something cultural like music and purchasing habits where there is lot of ‘background noise’. SoundOut provides access to the volumes of data needed to model these types of questions and quantify the uncertainty around findings that are grounded in what people actually think and do rather than what we might observe in a small lab study. Based on the volumes of data they can provide we should be able to predict what the impact of music will be in certain applications – such as increasing the propensity to buy.


What do you like about the way SoundOut commercialises research?

I really like the way SoundOut has used the data science to create tools like BrandMatch. It is a state-of-the-art approach which enables brands to be sure they are staying true to their brand when they make audio branding choices.


How important is implicit testing for audio branding?

A huge amount of music psychology rests on the assumption that our brain unconsciously tracks the different patterns we hear in music and uses this to control how we respond to music. This was first suggested in the 50s and now we have the processing power to investigate these questions in an applied rather than just theoretical way. This project will provide us the evidence we need to show how the subconscious response to music can be translated into a direct use case for audio branding.


You are probably aware of the Attribute Mapper tool SoundOut has created that enables you to identify a music track for an individual’s attributes. If you had to select a music track that represents you, what would it be?

This question is always very difficult because one track never really feels like it captures myself in its totality! But if I had to choose a track to represent myself at the moment, it might be the recording of Misterioso by J.J. Johnson. It's got this very understated head that leads to some of the most vibrant musical ideas I've ever heard in a recording.


What impact do you think the psychology of music will have on marketing and branding in the next 3-5 years by using tools like those created by SoundOut?

This is a great question because I think that we're really at the beginning of the impact that the psychology of music is going to have on the world of marketing and branding. There's a lot of hype around it. But what I really hope to see in the next three to five years is a tempering of expectations on what relying on the tools of science can do with the data we have available. What I would really like to see is a lot of new psychological frameworks become commonplace so that discussions in the music and science space start with a common understanding of how it works, rather than just trusting some sort of black box.


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