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Why 2020 Has Been the Year of Sound

2020 has been a year like no other. The fabric of our society has changed almost beyond recognition as social distancing and constant restrictions on our daily life have become the norm.

But while people and businesses across the nation have been impacted in their own way by the pandemic, one thing that has stood out loud and clear is the importance of music and sound within our lives.

The sound of lockdown

Looking back to the start of lockdown in March, we witnessed the incredible power of music and sound to sooth, unite and connect us, even when we could not physically be together. In the UK we held our weekly clap for carers with households up and down the country using not just hands but also the clattering of pots and pans to show their gratitude to front line workers. Meanwhile, the Italians sang from their balconies, the Spanish serenaded their neighbours with guitars, and the people of Wuhan chanted in unison to show their solidarity.

In many ways social distancing rules have resulted in the dumbing down of our senses, with facemasks, screens and sanitiser now commonplace. However, our ability to listen seems to be the one sense that has not been affected, with lockdown bringing with it a swathe of musical experiences and activations from artists, entertainment platforms and consumer brands.

Earlier this year, musicians and singers including Chris Martin, John Legend and Lizzo took to live streaming performances in order to stay connected with their fans. And what was described as the live music event of the year actually took place within an online game, as US rapper Travis Scott performed a live set from within the Fortnite game. A staggering 12 million players took part with many more watching via streaming platforms, attracting an audience of 27.7 million in total. This was undoubtedly a hugely creative activation for the brand, demonstrating the enormous pulling power of music within the industry.

The sound of home

With more and more people working from home due to the pandemic, radio has reportedly boomed this year, while streaming platforms such as Spotify have seen a surge in listener numbers. Moreover, increased amounts of time spent at home has meant that across the world people are investing more time in understanding and making use of voice assisted technology in the home. In fact, one of the biggest stories in emerging technology this year has been the growth of different types of voice assistants, and with a number of different assistants emerging globally, voice is set to become a commodity like a website or an app.

In terms of numbers, Google recently reported there are 500 million monthly active users of Google Assistant, while Apple has 375 million active users of its Siri assistant. Considering these figures alongside the large amounts of money being invested into voice technology, it’s no secret that this is an industry on a serious growth trajectory.

The Zimmer effect

Looking more closely at the world of audio branding, there is one campaign this year that stands out above all others – Netflix’s collaboration with legendary composer Hans Zimmer. Netflix’s sonic logo was already famous around the world, however with the help of Zimmer they took their ubiquitous Ta-Dum sound and put it on steroids, creating a stunning, musical track designed specifically for cinema. By re-evaluating the role of sound within a cinematic context, Netflix has displayed an intelligent understanding of the various roles that sound needs to play within different brand contexts.

The sound of Christmas

Bringing us back to the present and with the festive season now upon us, this is the time when brands are keen to put music and sound at the core of their Christmas campaigns. And this year is no exception. The last few weeks have seen the much-anticipated Christmas adverts landing on our screens, with different brands opting for different approaches when it comes to the production routes they take and the style and tone of their campaigns.

What’s clear is that, for the most part, music has played a central role in the creation of this year’s campaigns. Take Argos, which cleverly chose Gary Barlow’s new single Incredible as the soundtrack to their campaign, taken from his latest album launched ahead of Christmas. The track is both lyrical, fun and a charming backdrop to the advert.

Meanwhile, John Lewis decided to break its traditional mould, for the first time commissioning an original song by award-winning artist Celeste entitled ‘A Little Love’, which some have suggested might even take the Christmas Number 1 spot.

And just this week, Co-Op unveiled their heart-warming ad featuring two brothers from Leeds performing an Oasis track outside their local store, to raise the spirits of their local community during the pandemic.

Despite the retail landscape changing so dramatically since the start of the year, the Christmas ads have shown that retailers are rightly recognising the power of music to both reflect their brand proposition and crucially to connect with their audience, something that has never been so important than in today’s world.

The road ahead

So as we look ahead to 2021, and the prospect of a brighter year for businesses and consumers, brands must take note of the important role that music and sound play in driving awareness, helping them to find audiences in places that our ears can reach but our eyes can’t always see.

Max is the Co-founder of DLMDD

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