The “new media” were audiovisual from the very beginning. Michele Arnese also finds it surprising that we are focused more on eyes than ears even today. That’s why he founded the sound-branding agency amp 10 years ago. What the Catholic Church has to do with it — and why Mr. Arnese regularly gives away speakers — is revealed in his interview.

Your agency, amp, has received many prestigious awards. Do people still confuse your work today with “making a pretty audio logo”?

[laughs] It’s a bit crazy sometimes. While more and more people are walking around with headphones, allowing themselves to be guided by music online and on social media, companies are sometimes a bit deaf.

“Compared to the eye, the ear remains a neglected organ.”

But audio is no longer something that is just “nice to have” for brands. Visually, brands are told, their identities are complete. Now it’s time to invest in the acoustic parts of the brands — like the corporate identity — mentally as well as financially. With all the thought that goes into the image and emotionalization of brands, the world of sound long since ceased to be a footnote. Take James Bond; how firmly this brand is anchored in consumer awareness! The brand is not just a beneficiary of pop culture; it actively shapes it. That’s because it has a consistent audio identity. Everyone knows the Bond sounds, the guitar riffs and the famous songs, all of which sound different at first but are always uniform in expression and character. When companies understand how important this acoustic harmony is to their brand, they give it a long life.

In the age of sensory overload, founding a sound-branding agency … wasn’t that risky?

On the contrary. The market was and is overdue for a change of perspective. That’s because purely visual brand management is largely exhausted today, reaching its limits, and clearly pushing up against its boundaries. Those who want to stand out should not solely rely on optical impressions. More than ever, we live in a multi-sensory world. The multi-sensory design of a brand offers much more attention and depth. Sound is the logical next step in the emotionalization of brands.

What was the feedback from your first customers? Was your approach understood?

When we started ten years ago, this market segment was very fragmented, if occupied at all. Sound branding was rarely thought out. We were surprised again and again at how little brands used sound and recognized its power. Among the Fortune 500 companies, the majority did not have a holistic sound strategy. As musicians, the emotional power of melodies and compositions was a matter of course for us. We didn’t always want to just develop the next audio logo — we wanted to translate brands into sound, to create sound identities for them. We wanted to capture the nature of a brand at all acoustic contact points and weave this into an identity so that the audible expression would be distinctive. That was pioneering work in the beginning. When we then demonstrated the influence of organ and choral music on the effect of a church service in the Catholic Church, everyone quickly realized the importance of the right sound.

Storytelling in video and sound is a matter of course for social media users today. There were trends like Snapchat and long-running favorites like Instagram stories. Don’t such media invite all senses to be used instead of just the visual?

Yes, of course. And many companies produce strong content, videos, and stories. But what sound is right for this clip and what music for the next establishing shot? The master plan is missing. However, all this content is part of a brand message. Its acoustic component would be better approached in a concerted manner, with a higher-level strategy. Only when the sound is as well thought out and coordinated as the visual appearance does a company fully exploit the potential of its brand.

Those who listen to the many clips and videos released hear a lot of stock music and royalty-free standards. Is good sound too expensive for companies?

It’s still a common misconception that you have to spend a lot of money on a high-quality sound identity, for the premium level, so to speak. I don’t believe that. Music can make up half of the impact when someone watches a video. It’s a false economy. I think it’s rather the case that many companies are not at all aware of this dynamic. For example, someone watches the new image clip of a brand on YouTube. They unconsciously sense that it doesn’t convince them. They don’t know why — they’re not a music expert, after all. But something in it does not work within the meaning of the brand. There are psychoacoustic perceptions taking place that are still underestimated by many. Breaking down this potential and taking advantage of it effectively is cheaper than often assumed. We once did an ROI study with a financial industry client. Twelve months after the sound identity was launched, we asked for the expenses of the branch offices worldwide. The result: license and royalty costs had been cut in half. You do not necessarily need to spend more money; you only need to efficiently re-budget.

During development, do you use existing sound modules or do you compose everything anew?

We have no filing cabinet that we go to and take out individual elements. Our method is very design-oriented, and we always start from nothing: with a brand analysis that includes a sound workshop — together with the customer. That’s how we define the sound attributes of a brand before the first riff is composed. When we later present our different creative routes for the sound DNA of a brand, we are free of subjectivity when listening and evaluating. We are then on the same page, listening with the same ears.

The sound DNA?

We came up with the term. We even had it trademarked. After all, that’s what it’s all about … transporting the genetic code of a brand via sound, so to speak.

What comes next in the development process?

We put together a pool of acoustic elements that describe the brand. These can be melodies, riffs, and sounds but also sound environments, sound behavior, or voice colors. Everything that is needed to represent the brand and its personality at all acoustic contact points. Not just its values or tone of voice; its vision or the development planned for the brand is also included. Such questions are a matter of course for us: Where does the company want to go? What does it want to become? It is not uncommon for us to start working with a new customer when their brand is undergoing change, such as when it is being repositioned or reconsidered.

Do you use special techniques when developing a sound DNA?

We attach great importance to professional audio technology – on both ends of the transmission chain. Do you know what we do when we acquire a customer? We give the customer high-quality speakers. This is often a bureaucratic problem, because many companies are not allowed to accept gifts of this magnitude. We then tell them: The boxes are being loaned to you. We have seen meetings in the past where our work was plaintively hissing out of a laptop that a member of staff held up in the air. This also shows how senselessly such an important, fine sense such as hearing is handled. Nobody would judge colors in twilight.

But you don’t run a recording studio in the classical sense?

No. The requirements are far too specific from project to project. Sometimes we record a symphony orchestra in large-capacity studios, and sometimes we work with digital artists in living room studios. We need this diversity, this freedom to approach each project impartially and to adapt the recording conditions individually to the requirements of the brand personality.

“It’s often hard to find new studios that fit with our respective production projects.”

And the musicians, specialists, and talents must first be found … people who participate in such innovative processes, who go down new paths with us.

Speaking of talents:
What do your job advertisements look like? Who can get an interview with you?

We practically reinvented our job description. Someone who wants to work in a sound-branding agency needs an understanding of music. Music has to be more than a passion in this case. But we have a wide array of profiles in our team — from engineer to social scientist. What we do is multidisciplinary. You always need impulses and inspirations from other worlds. Fresh input is essential to our work. And in the truest sense of the phrase, you need an open ear for the market and the courage to go new ways. Many of our applicants have studied music or previously worked in music management, but that’s not required. As I said, sound branding is often pioneering work.

Do you hire composers?

For compositions, we rely on changing talents from all over the world. We appreciate this fresh look at new projects in the fundamental composition work. We want to preserve this authenticity by constantly working with new artists. When the first layouts for the components of a new sound DNA arrive, it’s always a magical moment for us.