The Music and The Memories

Have you ever thought about the psychological differences between listening to a piece of music you’ve heard before, and a new piece of music?

If not, maybe you should start – as these differences can affect your audience considerably.  Music has a powerful emotional pull, and everyone has very personal associations with music they know.  Imagine a piece of music that has negative associations to you. It may be an ex-partners favourite song, or a favourite record your sibling used to play over and over.

Now imagine that an advert comes on TV, let’s say for a new smartphone coming out.  The ad starts and you hear those familiar opening bars of that song.  Are you thinking about the phone? You may be – but there is also the possibility that you will slip off into a daydream, feel a tiny surge of resentment that your sister got the better stereo and therefore could play the blooming song at full volume all the time, oh and weren’t you going to call her the other day and then forgot…

Not exactly what the advertisers were after, and there may be literally hundreds of songs which will provoke a memory or emotional response from you.  In fact, it’s scientifically proven that music can evoke memories, and may even be used in the future to help treat people with Alzheimer’s Disease: Science Daily: Brain Hub That Links Memory and Music Discovered

“Are you using a piece of music in your new project because it really is the best fitting piece of music?”

The effects can resonate in any type of media project, not just advertising. If you use a song or well-known piece of music in a corporate video that makes the listener think of something else, are they listening to the voice over?  Are they really paying attention?

The flip side to this coin is that sometimes music can be used because of its associations – you only need to watch a person’s soufflé actually rise on Come Dine With Me to hear the “Hallelujah” Chorus by Handel.  Also, if a piece of music is overused, (Take That, I’m looking at you) it may lose its impact altogether after the audience have heard it thousands of times.  Why would anyone need to buy the single?

Ear Art

So what if you don’t ever use well-known music, or don’t have the budget for it?  Well, you’re not excluded.  An intrinsic angle to this which is also worth considering, is whether you have a positive association with a piece of music because you have successfully used it in a project before.  The track may be unknown to most of the world, but to you it’s the track that two separate clients loved in their past projects.  Are you using it in your new project because it really is the best fitting piece of music, or are you using it because you have a positive association, and subconsciously think you will get the same positive result?

The Other Options

Cover Versions

If you use an unknown cover version of a well-known song, or get a composer to record one, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.  You could end up grabbing your audience’s attention whilst they hear the opening bars that they recognise, maybe played on a different instrument, then get the wave of recognition as the vocal comes in.  They’re delighted that they’ve recognised the song  in its new form, and because it’s a new version, they can associate it with the brand.  This was used to great effect by Adam and Eve for John Lewis in their Christmas 2009 and 2010 adverts.

Youtube – John Lewis Christmas 2009 “Sweet Child of Mine”

Youtube – John Lewis Christmas 2010 “Your Song”

Another good example is the cover of Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ by Alex Ball and Phillipa Alexander for M&C Saatchi. I asked Alex what he thought:

“The intention was to get a well-known song with relevant lyrics, but create a particularly laid back mood with a new arrangement of it. “Sunday Girl” is originally a pop/punk song, but it’s simple chord progression and major key lent itself to a slowed down acoustic version. This meant we could capture the mood we wanted, but have the “familiarity effect” of the song that the audience recognises. Our agency was inundated with calls from people wanting the cover, and so 10,000 downloads were made available from the Mail on Sunday website. So the music definitely did it’s job.” – Alex Ball

  Pros Cons
Existing Track Recognition from audience  Can be distracting, Expensive
Cover Version Recognition from audience, but can also be associated with a brand / film / subject as it is a new version Can be expensive, but usually cheaper than licensing the original recording.
Composed Music Tailored to fit the video No recognition from audience at first 

Composed Music

Specifically composed music has no outside connections or connotations, and is tailored specifically to your video.  However, there is no instant recognition from the audience first time, but if the music is strong enough and heard enough times (in advertising) it can really signify the brand.

In a corporate film or documentary, composed or unknown music can work well as the listener will be able to concentrate on the subject without being distracted, and the music can be tailored to match the moods of the film. 

And just to finish off, a few of my personal associations:




  • If I hear any song from ‘K’ by Kula Shaker I instantly remember being 14
  • If I hear anything by Roy Orbison or Neil Young I remember being a young child (what my Mum used to play all the time)

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.  If you liked this blog, please subscribe :0)


Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live
Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live





About clairecomposer

Professional composer for screen - TV, Documentary, Cinema, Live, Corporate, Web.
This entry was posted in Music, Media, TV, Film, Video Production, Composition and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Music and The Memories

  1. Music is inevitably a subjective experience and you can never know how an audience, a part of that audience or an individual will react to the music you have chosen. There are even those who hate music with anything!

    The key to using music in corporate production is remembering who it is for, your audience and your audiences reaction and engagement to the visuals you have produced. It seems to me you need a hard headed business approach every bit as much as a touchy feely creative approach. What I like musically may be irrelevant, what I have to ask have I picked the right music for my visuals, for my client and for my clients audience.

  2. Pingback: 10 Professional Tips for Using Music in Your Production « Words from the "Turtles"…

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