Ever wonder who came up with the N-B-C chime or the “ker-chung” sound for Law & Order: SVU? How about the music for those Starbuck’s and Pottery Barn CDs? Bet you thought the music playing in hotel lobbies was just Muzak. Wrong. There’s actually a whole career field devoted to composing and selecting the right sounds–notes, chords, sound effects, music–for businesses and their products. That field is Audio Branding, and we’re profiling it in today’s post.
What kinds of jobs exist in the Audio Branding field?
Audio Branding brings together a unique mix of jobs, all bound by a common interest and expertise in music. Jobs in the field include Sound Designers, (or Sound Engineers), Brand Managers, Music Directors, Music Marketing Managers, Music Licensing Managers, consultants, songwriters, DJ’s, composers, arrangers, producers, digital audio editors, musicians, performers, and audio archivists.
What is an Audio Branding Manager?
Let’s start with the job that is the namesake of the field, the Audio Branding Manager. The Audio Branding Manager is the person in charge of ensuring that the sounds or songs associated with a business, product or service is consistent with the image s/he is trying to cultivate in the minds of people who might buy what his client/employer is selling. For instance, if you were buying a Bentley, you would expect everything about the experience to be luxurious, posh–the music played in the dealership, the CD that comes with the car, the voice and all of the sounds made by the entertainment/communications system. Someone has to select those sounds and music. That’s what the Audio Branding Manager does.
What do they do?
To wade deeper into the Audio Branding field, let’s look at the person who designs or creates the sounds and music that’s ultimately associated with a business, product or service–the Sound Designer. A sound designer goes a step further than the Audio Branding Manager. S/he actually creates the sound you hear when you power up your computer, when you play your favorite video game, press a button on a medical device or a piece of musical equipment, or even open the door of your car.
Other job descriptions:
- Music Directors – Music directors do the same thing as Audio Branding Managers, except they generally work for the business that produces a certain product/service not for an advertising agency (like the Audio Branding Manager).
- Music Marketing Manager – Music marketing managers market, or attempt to sell, the music of a band(s), or a library of music, to advertising agencies, businesses, music directors, and audio branding managers.
- Music Licensing – Sells the right to use music (not to own it) for a specified period or project.
- Songwriters, Composers, Arrangers – These are the creators of jingles, theme songs, and movie/TV scores. Songwriters write. Composers add instrumental pieces. Arrangers determine the voice, rhythm, tempo, etc., of a composition or song.
- Performers, Musicians, DJs – They bring the music and sounds to life.
- Producers – Integrates sound design, scores, and songs into a TV show, movie, commercial or event.
For whom do they work?
Those working in the Audio Branding field work for a variety of organizations, but most work for advertising or marketing firms, or directly for the people or businesses that produce a product/service, i.e. production companies, car manufacturers, design firms, event planners, performers and record companies. Michaelangelo L’Acqua, now the Global Music Director at W Hotels, is a great real-world example. L’Acqua used to work as a copywriter for an ad agency, and then as Tom Ford’s musical director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. He also scored and licensed music for nearly 200 commercials.
L’Acqua aside, others in the field work for consulting firms or as independent contractors (studio musicians, producers, jingle writers, sound designers and consultants).
How much do they get paid?
Pay varies widely in this field depending on who you work for and how important music is to their brand. A small consulting firm may pay mid-$40’s-$50’s for an audio branding manager with 1-3 years of experience, but a large advertising agency or an entertainment company may pay six figures. There’s a huge gap between entry-level and L’Acqua-level pay. Audio branding specialists who’ve managed to amass a decade in this field, and lots of brand-name clients, can demand $200,000 or more. Others in the field, like sound designers earn an average of $72,000 per year (about $60,000 for video game sound designers); music directors earn an average of $62,000; and music licensing managers earn an average of $40,000.
How do I break in?
There are a few entry doors here: (1) The Intern Route – This is the most effective route, especially if you want to work for an entertainment company or an advertising agency; (2) The Artist Route – Create a song or beat that others want for their product or production, (3) The Expert Route – Go to school to become a sound engineer or brand manager (marketing), and offer your services to artists, brand managers, businesses, etc.
The Intern Route is best if you’ve got no experience in the field, and if you want to work for a company that’s hard to break into. The Artist Route is best for songwriters, musicians, performers, DJ’s, producers. You can partner with marketing managers, music licensing managers, and others to get your stuff in front of brand managers and businesses. And, the Expert Route is best for those who are most interested in the technical aspect of the business–finding sonic solutions and using sophisticated electronic equipment.
To get started, explore these educational programs:
- Vancouver Film School – Sound Design for Visual Media (1 Year)
- Savannah School of Advertising & Design – B.F.A., M.A. and M.F.A. in sound design
- Berklee Conservatory of Music – Music Synthesis Degree/Diploma Program
The best places to dig around for internships and contract work will be sonic branding firms like RumbleFish and Greenlight Studios, advertising agencies, and production companies. Target event producers, gaming companies, and other businesses where music or sound is important.