In 2005, a film editor’s assistant named Robert Ryang made a trailer for “The Shining,” reframing Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film as a feel-good father-son tale. The clip, intended for an industry contest, became a viral Internet sensation.
Ryang edited the scenes to create a comedic plot. But what completed the genre transformation was the soundtrack: He replaced the jangling, discordant score of Kubrick’s film with the uplifting strains of Peter Gabriel’s song “Solsbury Hill,” a staple of modern romantic comedies.
The power of a song to transform emotional texture is what author Joel Beckerman calls a “boom moment": when the right sound played at the right time creates an emotional connection with the listener.
Beckerman is a composer who founded Man Made Music, a music company based in New York and Burbank specializing in sonic branding.
In his new book with Tyler Gray, “The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy,” Beckerman explains how marketers and businesses can use sound to influence consumers’ perceptions and behavior. The book is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Sound is really the emotional engine for any story,” he writes. Businesses should take it as seriously as they do the visual elements of design and advertising.
Companies praised by Beckerman include the restaurant chain Chili’s, where the sizzle from fajita platters triggers orders from other diners, known as the “fajita effect,” and Disney, which uses sound to move people through amusement parks, including bird song and forest noises to create a kind of “fake quiet.”
Bad sound is worse than no sound at all, however. There is “sonic trash,” such as Frito-Lay’s Sun Chips bag, which was 100% biodegradable but made so much noise that it was scrapped within a year. Inappropriate use of songs in ad campaigns is another no-no, such as a Wrangler jeans commercial set to an edited snippet of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s antiwar anthem “‘Fortunate Son.”
Beckerman’s anecdotes, including how Apple computers came to have their particular start-up noise, are engaging.
Case studies of his own work developing sound for AT&T, Univision and NBC’s 2012 Super Bowl broadcast contain interesting details. But at times, these veer too much into pitches for his services instead of useful tools that other businesses could adopt.
There is also a limit to how much he can convey with words. Beckerman’s publisher would be smart to put out a digital edition including clips of his examples, such as AT&T’s four-note “sonic logo” and the growl of Ford’s special edition Bullitt Mustang that is meant to evoke the Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt.”
Although “The Sonic Boom” is aimed at marketing and advertising executives, Beckerman encourages everyone to exert more control over the personal “soundscapes” that permeate our lives as we move between home, car, work, shops and restaurants.
But his point of view favors the corporations he encourages to tell a “sonic story” whenever and wherever customers encounter their products or services.
McDonald’s “I’m loving it” jingle is pervasive on television. Do we really need to “hear and feel its sonic story in overhead music in the stores, at live events it sponsors, from the toys it gives away, on its website,” as Beckerman suggests? As he himself acknowledges, sometimes silence is the best strategy.
New York-based Shannon Bond writes about media and advertising for the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.