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Creating Sonic Signatures

NEW YORK, NY—Mention sonic branding, and the Intel chimes or Windows startup sounds might come to mind.

NEW YORK, NY—Mention sonic branding, and the Intel chimes or Windows startup sounds might come to mind. But sonic branding— the use of sound to create and reinforce brand recognition across multiple media—can be so much more, as exemplified by Audiobrain, a boutique company located in lower Manhattan that has become a world leader in brand sonification.

“We’re not a company that someone is going to call for a commercial,” says Audrey Arbeeny, Audiobrain’s owner and executive producer. The company will certainly create commercials for existing clients, she says, but “what people come to us for is to create an identity, leverage it across many touchpoints and then oversee the implementation.”

Audiobrain has reached its position of prominence through its experience, expertise and methodology, believes Arbeeny, a musician with a double major in accounting and psychology who originally wanted to be a music therapist. Indeed, Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, a renowned art and design college, has recognized her personal expertise in sonic branding, engaging her to teach the only course on the subject in the country. “They recognized that sensory design is the way of the future; you can’t design in one medium anymore.”

After many years as a senior producer at a more traditional music production house in New York, where she handled special identity work and product-sonification projects, Arbeeny struck out on her own to further develop her interest. “I really gravitated toward those projects and learned a lot about the use of intentional audio in developing an identity.”

Over the years, Audiobrain has developed an almost scientific approach that has attracted clients such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Unified Communications, NBC Olympics (the company has handled five Olympics and won an Emmy for Beijing), Virgin Mobile USA, Major League Soccer and Holland America Cruise Lines, to name a few. For some of those clients, Audiobrain’s initiatives can extend deep into the company culture.

“We create sonic branding guidelines so their teams around the world have a blueprint of what to do with the sound: what key signatures it will work with best if you are doing advertising; what are the iconic and ownable elements; how to foreshadow them in advertising; what popular artists align well with the brand. It’s really tying every sonic element back to the brand,” she explains.

“The voice that you hear when you call a call center is reflective of the brand, as is what they display in the retail environment, who they choose to align themselves with, what music is played on hold.”

Audiobrain’s clients can share the sonic assets created by the company worldwide. For example, says Arbeeny, “We just recently did something for a global brand, and their Dubai office called us, wanting to share it with the Pakistan office—they’re repurposing it to another form of advertising. We keep a repository where [clients] around the world can go and grab audio assets if they have a presentation to do, or they want music on hold.” Audiobrain can modify those assets at the client’s request, for example, making an oud—a stringed instrument—the prominent instrument for the Dubai market, she says.

The company has its own in-house production facilities serving a staff of six composers. “We also have a network of another 70 account managers and artists throughout the world,” she notes. Larger projects, such as recording a 100-piece orchestra for the MLS official anthem, are done elsewhere, by necessity.

Arbeeny had hoped that the composers would all work on the same platform. “Producers like things organized and standardized, and I did most of my work understanding that [Avid’s] Pro Tools is the gold standard. But I have two composers that work solely in Pro Tools, two that work in Ableton Live, and two that work in Digital Performer.”

The composers frequently work on each other’s projects and have so far run into few issues of compatibility, she admits. “But if it becomes problematic, we’re standardizing!”

The sonic-branding landscape is changing, Arbeeny reports. “It’s much more psychographic than it used to be. The proposals and requests that come in now are for more immersive, multi-touchpoint sonic branding. They want to look at Facebook, Skype, companies that have the audience that they would like to attract. Even if it’s a television network identity, they also want their apps, their website.”

She adds, “Environmental is becoming a lot larger—what you can do with kiosks and exhibits and point of purchase.” Audiobrain recently completed a sonification project for Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship.

Whatever the project, it’s all in a day’s work for Audiobrain. As Arbeeny notes, “We can go from television to sports to products to environments, because our sonic branding, our original composition and our technical skills are pretty advanced.”