We dance to the beat of our values
Exceptional brand playlists and how to create them
Hi! I’m Matheus, designer and illustrator at Scharf studio. As part of my daily studies, I like to research the different ways people connect and express their group identity. In this particular article, I invite you to accompany me through some thoughts regarding music and branding.
Long gone are the nostalgic days when you would declare all your feelings using a tape recorder to make a cassette mixtape. Even though I’m not as old to have that exact experience, that kind of ritual was an essential part of my teenage years. In the early 2010s, my high school best friend and I would exchange USB flash drives during recess. Those were our most precious possessions and a tool of vast personal exploration. In it, we would find a notepad document where we would write our deepest teenage confessions. And alongside it, there would always be a list of songs that harmonized perfectly like a fine wine.
We usually tried our best to match the lyrics to our adventures. And we even went as far as creating synesthetic concepts to select songs by combining the ones that had the same color, texture, or scent when we closed our eyes. I remember one fight we had about Everything is Embarrassing by Sky Ferreira being too cool-toned, therefore, not being able to be on a “lazy warm night” playlist. We had so much fun and learned a lot during that process.
Well, time passes and some of our songs are still playing on my Spotify.
Recently, at House of Scharf, we’ve been discussing the rising of branded playlists on music streaming platforms over the past few years. We firmly believe that this marketing strategy is here to stay, and if well executed, it can be a token of your community’s identity.
Here is a guide on what to be aware of when you create your brand’s playlist or hire an expert. First off, let’s dissect some of the main tools that can be used when making a brand’s playlist.
1. Mood: the sensations that your brand evokes
The mood is what you first notice when you come in contact with a song. The composer usually makes it through instrumentalization and melody patterns. Within a brand’s identity, the mood is also set by its sensory aspects, such as colors, shapes, and even smells. It doesn’t need to be verbalized to be felt.
One thing to consider is that two songs can have the same lyrics but completely different moods. For example, the fairytale romantic waltz of Once Upon a Dream, from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, was brought back in the 2014’s Maleficent soundtrack as a different experience. For its later form, since the story was set around the original film’s villain, Disney collaborated with Lana del Rey, a singer known for her dark nostalgic tracks. Together, they delivered an obscure mysterious version that matched the movie’s perspective. The lyrics were left intact, but the mood was new.
If you work in the fashion industry, you may be able to easily handle the mood in your playlists. It’s a tradition for a clothing brand to showcase its new products in a runway show that usually has a soundtrack accompanying the models. The message is delivered through the clothes, but the music puts the pieces in a specific environment even without any set design.
The mood is the part of the playlist that you can be most creative with: you can use it to glue songs together, shift the atmosphere, and even give your listener an intentional jumpscare. The most important thing is to be cohesive. If your brand identity is bubbly and childlike, please don’t put heavy metal tracks on your list, unless this irony is also an intrinsic part of your company.
2. Message: what your brand stands by
You can imagine the message as a loudspeaker. It will amplify everything that your brand stands for through a musician’s lyrics and context. It’s much more direct and less open for interpretation than the mood, even if the artist’s poetry is insane. In musical theater, this distinction is highlighted as the words of a song are the thoughts of a character, and the orchestra is the emotions.
In this day and age, you can’t just consider a song for its lyrics, you also have to make sure that the artist is not involved in some scandal that clashes with your brand’s image. Especially if your company deeply values inclusivity, make sure that nobody represented on your playlist is known for making hate speech remarks.
Two songs can have the same melody but different lyrics. Artists often revisit old tunes and make new versions, twisting the original lyrics to fit into a fresh perspective. You can use this as a tool to catch the listener's attention with something familiar and introduce new ideas at the same time.
For instance, take Anitta’s single Girl from Rio: it gets the chorus melody from Girl from Ipanema by Antônio Carlos Jobim, the ultimate bossa nova classic. In her contemporary rendition, Anitta deconstructs the idealization of the Brazilian woman presented by Jobim in the 1960s and showcases a much more realistic and relatable track.
3. Relatability: how your brand fits in a crowd
Music is universal, it doesn’t need to be fully understood to be felt. However, it is also a great indicator of someone’s identity and background. Your playlist can be a cross-cultural experience and represent what makes your company unique at the same time. Make your song selection more profound in meaning by valuing your origins and the culture of those who use your products.
As an illustration, Alexander McQueen is a fashion brand that carries the legacy of its homonymous English designer known for his thought-provoking and experimental collections. Therefore, it’s much more expected to find FKA Twigs on the playlists instead of someone like Adele. Even though both singers are British, FKA Twigs is the best match for the avant-garde core value of the brand.
Know your audience
Take time to analyze your target listener. Use the internet as your digital field to explore your client's tastes. You can use social media as a tool here: take notes of the songs that your audience share on their Instagram Stories, what kind of background music is played on reviews of products like yours on YouTube, what TikTok trends your users are joining in, and so on. Get a sense of the general vibe and genres of music at play. Are they calm or energetic? Vocal or instrumental? Classic or innovative?
Innovation and comfort
When selecting potential songs you can follow two different paths: aim for something inventive or feel comfortable with what is already known. You can provoke your listener with new music or make them feel at home playing old tunes.
I think the best solution is to consider both concepts, and so does Spotify. In 2015 the streaming company experienced one of its biggest success cases with the release of the personalized playlist called Discover Daily. This tool helps you come in contact with unknown tracks by analyzing your listening history, and sprinkling songs that you already like among the new ones.
While sewing the final result, be careful with trending or super popular songs: they can be fun at the moment but will make your playlists feel out of fashion very fast. Furthermore, always focus on quality over quantity. It’s much better to make a short but solid list than a huge, random one, which will soon fall into oblivion in the digital buzz.
Let your community be a part of it
In my experience, the most optimal tactic is to invite your admirers to be part of the process. Chanel does it by getting its brand ambassadors to make the playlists — you can see big names such as Angèle, G-Dragon, and Pharell Williams joining the fun.
By doing so, the brand takes the work off itself and serves more as a muse of inspiration while someone that is part of the public takes the artistic direction. It helps a lot in keeping the image of the brand fresh through different collaborations and can even open interesting marketing opportunities.
Thank you for the music
To better understand how relevant players are integrating music into their branding strategies, we strongly recommend visiting the following profiles on Spotify:
Sala is SCHARF's newsletter, an invitation to the curious ones.