Talk of e-commerce experiences often involves a smattering of familiar words: “intuitive this,” “quickly that,” “so-seamless-my-five-year-old-son-could-redecorate-our-house-in-the-dark” easy. (eBay shows us Karlie Kloss can do it in 24-hours, so can you!). Clean, simple and user friendly. Because of this shift, the role of the physical retail environment has been reimagined. It has slowly morphed into the fun uncle – the one that you want to visit on a road trip, that will tell you jokes, give you freebees, and make you feel personally attended to. The retail store has become a product in itself where design, technology and emotions intersect.
This shift allows for brands to build flagship stores that are personal, experimental and can become seamlessly integrated into the local landscape. Let’s think of a few recent examples: Need a nap in the middle of the day? Go to Casper’s showroom. Want to meet up with friends to chill out and listen to music? Go to one of the listening rooms in Sonos’ Flagship Store.
One of the most impactful ways to tap into this design shift is music and sound. At Man Made Music, we were lucky enough to get the chance to create a sonic branding experience for the newest AT&T flagship retail store at Union Square in San Francisco. The store, housed in a historic 1921 landmark building in the heart of the city, is one of the most immersive experiences ever seen in a retail flagship store to date in the telecommunications industry. A living manifesto of the promise of a world made better with connected technologies and the human experience that they unlock. As the Sonic Branding Agency of Record for AT&T, Man Made Music has created a full sonic identity system, but for this experience we wanted to acknowledge the opportunity to be personalized and connect with local visitors. Our team decided to create an immersive sonic experience that showed awareness and appreciation for the San Francisco community.
We used the sounds and sights of San Francisco as a cultural blueprint, a city known for its diversity and multicultural history. A large percentage (36%) of foreign-born residents call San Francisco home, with the largest group coming from China. The city is dotted with vibrant neighborhoods, including Chinatown, the Mission District, and North Beach and is also known for celebrating its multicultural roots through various festivals and events throughout the year. In order to capture the essence of the city, we created three tracks to be paired with a nanolumen display that showcased visuals inspired by the murals of the Mission District. These tracks were meant to be reminiscent of a local San Francisco gathering: an authentic and approachable vibe, a space that celebrates artistic-expression with a global feel. To deliver on this flavor, we composed pieces with Asian, Latin American and African inspired melodies and recorded two world class percussionists that used instruments from Africa: congas, bongos, and an Udu drum, and from Latin America: timbales, compana cowbell, and a guiro. For the tracks listen here:
As with AT&T and other spaces, music and sound provide us a unique and efficient way for stores to become emotion-driven tourist destinations, where the design can be personalized and experimental. Research (what better way than facts to back a claim!) further helps us make this case. “Consumers today are looking at purchasing as an experimental activity, and want to enjoy the entire process of buying from the word ‘go’ to the post-purchase stage” says the International Journal of Management. A multitude of studies show that pleasant experiences created by music can lead to longer dwell time, higher purchase rates, higher likelihood to recommend the experience to others and future visits. As physical retail environments continue to evolve into playgrounds rather than assembly lines, we encourage brands to use music and sound as a tool to bring local or unexpected flair to an experience that elevates and differentiates it from its e-commerce experience.
Maya Friedman is Strategist at Man Made Music. Talk with her on Twitter @mcfried7.
Why Sound Is an Immutable Ingredient for Great Storytelling
Virtual reality and augmented reality have become resident buzzwords, first in the lexicon of Fast Company and TechCrunch writers and futurists, followed by educational institutions, healthcare providers, news sources, media conglomerates, and early tech adopters—the list goes on. They are words that are rapidly gaining traction alongside old timers like the “Internet of Things,” “Thought Leader” and “Millennial.” And if you’re not tapping into virtual reality’s potential, it seems as if you’re already behind the times.
As a strategic music studio, our philosophy is based on the premise that half of storytelling is sound, because it is the strongest conveyer of emotion. We recognize that great sound is the missing link between creating reality rather than a shadow of reality. Therefore, our expertise in music and sound is a unique contribution to this buzzworthy medium. Most everyone in this field has been focused on great visuals, with sound as a mere afterthought. This lack of attention to sound negates half of the potential experience and with that goes half of a story’s emotional undercurrent. Furthermore, the tools we’ve pioneered to create positional audio allow sound to be accurately placed in space, relative to imagery, which has drastically improved our ability to create more true-to-life experiences.
With an influx of virtual reality content, we took a moment to critique three recognized VR experiences over the past year, with an eye on both sound as an emotional storytelling tool and the use of positional audio to increase realism.
Catatonic, a spectacular, spine-chilling immersive journey, takes you through an insane asylum, in which you are a wheelchair-bound patient.
As you exit the elevator and are wheeled through the doors of the asylum, you begin a deeply unsettling sonic journey. Turn your head to peak into the patient rooms along the corridor, and you’ll hear shrill screams, low growling and glass shattering, all of which slowly dissipate as you continue farther down the hallway. The film makes excellent use of the agonizingly slow tempo of footsteps and a squeaking wheelchair, evoking a sense of intense discomfort and underscoring the sinking feeling that escape is a fleeting dream.
In a few instances, Catatonic does fail to capitalize on opportunities for sound. Throughout the 7-minute film, you are being pushed by a large, faceless attendant. As you turn your head to face your nurse, the film doesn’t jump on this interaction to increase a sense of terror: you hear no breathing down your back, no muttering. As you glance downward, you realize you’re strapped to the wheelchair. At this point, the filmmakers might have played with the sound of shackles clinking, increasing the sensation of being trapped. In one instance, a doctor inserts a needle into your hand, but there is no sensory stimulation—the sound of the doctor flicking the needle or the push of a syringe—causing you to momentarily snap back into a passive viewing state.
Watch the experience without sound and you’ll find it half as terrifying. What would the shower scene in Psycho be without the screeching violin?
For thrill-seekers who are desensitized to horror films, try Catatonic on for size. Good luck: Catatonic
Take Flight is a short New York Times film that celebrated 2015’s best actors through a fantastical recreation of iconic airborne moments in cinematic history.
The film relies strongly on audio to set the stage for the story by recreating busy Los Angeles streets paired with blurry opening visuals. You hear ambulance alarms, honks, tires on wet pavement, cues that immediately alert you to your whereabouts. However the film fails to use enhanced positional audio capabilities that would more fully immerse you in the environment. As you do a 360 scan, the addition of passerby street conversations or clips of music as cars rushed past would capture a more true-to-life soundscape of Los Angeles and give greater depth to the environment as people and things move closer and further away from you.
As the film progresses, you leave the city and begin to float above the clouds. The sound of the cityscape becomes a distant memory, and a beautiful musical score begins, contrasting the bustling sounds of reality with the dream-like state of flying above the Los Angeles skyline. The music is the key emotional undercurrent that highlights the fantastical scene of floating above the clouds, childlike and playful yet transcendent. Above the clouds, you witness historic film scenes, for example E.T. and Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance during Royal Wedding. But the film experience could be enhanced by using positional audio capabilities for accompaniment. These could include sounds from E.T.’s bicycle or Fred Astaire’s tap shoes as you move closer and further away from the various floating actors, enhancing the magic of these moments.
For a dream-like escape: Take Flight
The Night Cafe
The Night Cafe, a well-received virtual reality tribute to Van Gogh, recreates the world of the artistic genius. This nod to Van Gogh, known for his expressive and spontaneous use of vivid colors and emotive subject matter, only dabbles in sound, a missed opportunity to give the piece a strong emotional undercurrent.
While the animation is stunning, you feel as if you’re viewing a tour through the artist’s home rather than actively walking through this creative space. The filmmaker could have tapped into sound and music to recreate the art scene in 19th century Paris or delve deeper into the mind of the bipolar painter through a variety of musical underscores to mirror the frequent mood swings the painter suffered from. As virtual reality affords us opportunities to travel to imaginary worlds, sound and music could also bring to life Van Gogh’s most famous works, Starry Night and Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, as you move in more closely to view each of the paintings.
For art aficionados: The Night Cafe
As virtual and augmented reality twist, turn and mold, we can guarantee that sound will continue to be a key storytelling tool to set the mood for the experience, give depth to this 3-D world and heighten emotion.
Taylor Swift, doe-eyed country songstress turned reigning goddess of pop and token best friend of fashion’s most elite, has sold out nearly every show of her 1989 World Tour. The tour has grossed over $17 million to date with many Swift groupies attending not only one show, but a whopping two, leaving an inevitable gaping hole in the bank accounts of many tweens and their parents.
For the majority of us, Taylor Swift songs are more of a guilty pleasure. We find ourselves listening to them on the final mile of an exhausting jog or as the popular sing-along song during a solo ten-hour road trip. Along with Taylor Swift on the list of guilty pleasure artists is our other daddy’s girl, Miley Cyrus, who has refused to take a photograph without her tongue out since 2007. “Party in the USA” was so catchy that it would’ve had the ability to get even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Grandpa Joe out of bed and chanting along to the chorus “and the Jay Z song was on.”
Urban Dictionary, 2015
Research around this topic shows that stimulating feelings of guilt often activate the pleasure areas of our brains concurrently. Guilt and pleasure are so intertwined in our brains, which is perhaps why our vices are so tempting. Simply, because we know they’re off limits. But according to pop culture’s definition, listening to a guilty pleasure song in public can immediately diminish our musical credibility and should only be listened to in private for risk of losing social currency.
However, if only for today, I’d like to encourage everyone to embrace your inner fan girl and start noddin’ your head like “yeah!” to your favorite, guilty-pleasure artists. If you need some help, we’ve created a sinful playlist for some unapologetic listening.
Maya Friedman is Account Executive at Man Made Music. Tell her about your guilty pleasure listening habits on Twitter @mcfried7.
Charlie Phillips, Head of Documentaries at The Guardian, recently questioned the future of information dissemination. When readers are no longer hungrily consuming the written word, how does a news source maintain its audience? In order to tackle the on-going challenges of the population’s shrinking attention span and the downsizing of the user interface, The Guardian is placing increased emphasis on 90-second informative documentaries and podcasts to keep readers in-the-know.
Sound is another source that is rapidly gaining in popularity as a medium to deliver information. Just think, the one-second “whoosh” of an outgoing email really says, “the angry draft you wrote to your co-worker to blow off steam has unfortunately landed in the inbox of said co-worker” and the two note “ba-doop” of a text message is able to communicate “the Two Dancing Girls Emoji and the Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes Emoji” have been successfully sent to your mom.
Fast Company spoke to this topic best: “With the rise of smart objects, we’ve found that products increasingly need to communicate even without a screen, through things like light and sound patterns.” Let’s take a look at four noteworthy uses of sound (or wordless tongue, if you will) that help creatively deliver information to users.
The Sound of Football: In this Swedish Campaign, visually impaired soccer players were given equipment that allowed them to hear rather than see what was happening on the soccer field. In the experience, “a bell rings as a player approaches the ball, a cymbal means they’re close to the net, and a thumping drone signals an incoming player.” Can you guess the final score in this tech-enabled match against professional football players? 1-1.
Let’s think: How can sound be used in other experiences to deliver information that helps to equalize the playing field for the visually impaired?
Disorder: Interactive applications and video games are being increasingly used to provide a deeper look into mental illness. In Disorder, “a psychological 2D puzzle platformer,” players must traverse both light and dark worlds in order to fully understand the difficulty of living with the destructive and chaotic thoughts common of many psychological illnesses. The application relies heavily on user interface sounds and a thematic soundtrack to provide key cues to video game users about their trajectory through the immersive experience.
Let’s think a little more: Where else can sound make a difference in providing key information about the emotional states associated with stigmatized disorders?
Moff: A wearable technology for children that transforms ordinary products into extraordinary objects through sound. The Moff band picks up on wrist movement and interprets them into meaningful sounds, so children are led to imagine household products as toys. “Imagine holding a spatula and slicing the air with it. With Moff on your wrist you now have a sword!”
Let’s not rub this product in our parents’ faces. The holidays would’ve been a no-brainer. Too little, too late.
The Apple Watch: You’re probably sick of hearing about the Apple watch, I know. However, the continuing conversation surrounding Apple’s newest product doesn’t downplay its incredible use of sonic as a substitute for its teeny-tiny user interface. While designing the Apple Watch, Jonny Ive excitedly bragged about its newest user interface sounds, “You just press this button and it slides off, and that is just gorgeous,” he was saying…”But listen as it closes,” he said. “It makes this fantastic k-chit.”
Let’s think our hardest: Smell as a messenger for information is right on the heels of sound. The recently released iPad application ONotes offers “scent-augmented movies, books, photos and music.” Watch out visual, sonic and olfactory are charging full speed ahead. Will Apple be next to implement olfactory sensitivity into their products?
Maya Friedman is Account Executive at Man Made Music. Talk to her on Twitter @mcfried7.