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Why Should I Test My Music?

Andrew Eisner August 20, 2016
Why Should I Test My Music?
Soundboard by Veritonic  

You test everything, why don't you test your music?

  Advertising today is data driven.   Yes, that’s right: the days of “Mad Men,” drinking martinis and dreaming up amazing campaigns, then releasing them on TV in a blaze of glory, is on it’s way out.  Creativity is still central to advertising— and always will be! — but resources are too scarce and competition is too great to allow the decisions on potentially millions of dollars in ad spend to be made based on gut alone.  That’s why more and more companies are committing to making their decision-making process for marketing and advertising more data-driven.   What does that mean?  Usually it means that data is applied to the core creative concept, in the form of a focus group, which is almost never of the size to reveal statistically significant measurements.  The visuals get tested, the copy is tested, the ad buy is informed by data, and the size and composition of the audience that sees the ad is measured.  Even the choice of colors is informed by data.  For online advertising, the use of data is even more pervasive: the ad units may be A/B tested, the audience is micro-targeted, and the viewability of the ad is measured more and more frequently.   In fact, there’s really only one area of advertising that doesn’t have any data supporting the decisions that get made: selecting the music.  

Music Defies Easy Measurement

  Why is this?  Music has some characteristics that defy easy categorization and measurement, and addressing these issues is complex and time-consuming.  Music is highly subjective, for one: who doesn’t have a special memory of “that song they played at prom”, or a similar association?  These experiences lead individuals to make decisions that may not reflect the tastes and associations of the audience the marketer is trying to reach.  Similarly, until recently, no one has applied any psychological framework to music, but that’s changing as research reveals how music impacts the brain.   Music also has a temporal component that makes it unique.  It must be consumed over a period of time, unlike an image or copy.  Music is also frequently asked to evoke different emotions at different times throughout an ad: for example, happy for the first ten seconds, then nervous for the next ten seconds, before resolving to an even happier state for the last ten seconds.  As we like to say at Veritonic, music has “lots of nooks and crannies!”   The format of music also defies easy categorization and manipulation.  It usually exists as a collection of .MP3 files, which is a file format designed for compression, not easy categorization.  Even at the most sophisticated agencies, music is frequently stored in a folder in the iTunes account of the music supervisor, or maybe the creative director.  Formats and storage options like these don’t lend themselves to sorting, discovery or collaboration.  

Music Metadata Isn’t A Help

  To the extent that there is data to facilitate the selection of music for advertising, it’s in the form of “metadata”.  These are simple tags added by the composer — or even more frequently by the ad agency’s interns! — that list the artist, title, date of creation, and maybe the owners of the tracks’ copyrights.  In fact, most of the metadata is concerned with the administration and usage of the music, rather than anything useful to help select it.   The data that most music libraries have isn’t any better or more helpful.  Libraries or online aggregators and resellers try to augment the “typical” metadata by having staff or interns add simple generalizations about the music, like tempo or beats per minute, genre, and instrumentation.  They may also try to categorize the “mood” of the music, boiling down the entire piece to a single “emotion”.  These tags have the same issues as metadata: they’re the output of a single person’s perceptions of the emotion, who almost certainly doesn’t represent the target audience that the advertiser or user of the music is trying to reach.   Testing can address all of these shortcomings, and give data that far exceeds these limitations.  Advanced psychological frameworks can give insight about how people respond to the audio stimulus.  And built-to-purpose audiences - that match the audiences marketers are trying to reach - can give their opinions about the music, revealing the emotional texture of music, while also informing the marketers and composers about how well the music supports the story the marketer is trying to tell.  

Supporting Creativity

  Will this limit creativity?  Far from it.  If anything the reverse is true.  Data can support making choices that would otherwise be perceived as risky or out of the mainstream.   For example, a prominent music publisher told us about a doo-wop track that he felt would be perfect for a TV spot he was working on.  But without data to support the choice, he couldn’t convince his client to go with a musical style that isn’t in the mainstream right now.   There’s also a ton of research that shows that the rigor of an objective decision-making process can actually improve creativity.   That’s why you should test your music.  You test everything else, and that data makes for better marketing and better results.  The technology is here to address the difficulties in testing music, helping you make better decisions about the music in your marketing   Have you tested your music, or used any data to select music?  Let us know what you've used and your experience to date in the comments!  

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