Big Sync Music

Music: Data needs the human touch

Although data is a powerful tool, the art of music supervision still relies on human intuition

Dominic Caisley, chief executive, Big Sync Music
Dominic Caisley, chief executive, Big Sync Music

We have all heard it: "Can we come in and show you our new system? It uses data to automatically…"

Music supervisors, like all marketing professionals, aim to keep up with the incredible technological innovations that claim to (and sometimes do) help us do our jobs. However, I have yet to hear about a piece of technology with a sense of humour – or one that can cope with the kind of creative conversations that happen every day in advertising: "It’s not whiskey enough" or "It needs to be more roast chicken than fried chicken". We know what we mean but computer, I’m afraid, still says "no".

Digital technology and the data it generates can help us better understand our audiences in musical terms. It informs our artist and song choices and helps validate our decisions. Powerful tools such as Musicmetric and The Echo Nest can show us recurring listening patterns, as well as which artists and what languages generate the most page views. 

Real-time data can be biased, though, and technology can only illuminate some of the journey. We must act as creative filters through which to view and interpret the data. The success of a campaign begins and ends with human intuition and emotional intelligence – from understanding a brief to interpreting feedback such as: "It’s the wrong kind of silence."

How will a particular piece of music help with the narrative of a film or enhance the irony of a situation? Data can narrow down our search for the right music but we need human intervention to deliver real insight on the cultural cachet, gravitas or emotion it can evoke.

The rational processing of an algorithm would never have picked the slowed-down, eerie Mechanical Bride version of Umbrella chosen for Lola Madrid’s Cannes-winning Magnum campaign, "be true to your pleasure". This specific cover worked because it emphasised the underlying mood of the film, provoking a double take from the viewer. The Rihanna original version would have been too obvious. 

By measuring how the music element is working within a campaign, big data can also give us the ability to adapt within the creative process. Real-time data showing us spikes of activity can be mapped against media spend to see how music is resonating with a brand. In October last year, Shazam told us that Winning, our original composition for Lucky Generals’ Pot Noodle "you can make it" campaign, was trending. We always felt that a full version of the song could work as a single in its own right – a creative decision backed up with persuasive real-time feedback.

Clever use of big data can take us beyond simply finding the right track for an ad. It can steer campaign ambitions and create overall music strategies. It can help us work out if a brand will benefit from the borrowed equity and power behind a big name such as Taylor Swift for Cornetto, or whether we need an original composition or music with or without words. Data helps us champion a track to the client and negotiate costs with rights owners so brands can make an informed decision and budget accordingly before final execution.

In today’s constantly changing marketing landscape, successful music supervisors must use big data to help discover, validate and secure great music for our clients. Human insight, intuition and an ear for music are the vital elements that data cannot supply – the variables that make the difference between a hit and a miss.

My Playlist

It makes me cry
Fairport Convention, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Hottest new talent
Ezra Furman and Wolf Alice 
A recent discovery
Neil Young’s 1982 album, Trans
My latest download
Her,  Five Minutes
A guilty pleasure
Playing my collection to my four-year-old daughter hoping for a reaction
Most underrated artist/track
In the car
Anything I can sing to – Gene and Depeche Mode work best

Dominic Caisley, chief executive, Big Sync Music