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Contrast in sound

Feb 19, 2018
When we create Brand-Sound-Tracks™ for our clients, we ensure every element of the piece reflects the business’ brand identity. Yet in the world of TV and cinema, they often subvert their sound to the most remarkable effect – as we discover in our exploration of musical contrasts.

Heralded by critics and aficionados alike, Netflix’s latest binge watch ‘End of the F**king World’ has been celebrated not just for its bravery, hilarity and bright young actors, but for its cleverly contrasting soundtrack. While its plot may be disturbing, the music that backs these sinister scenes is remarkably cheery. As protagonists James and Alyssa clear up a crime scene of their own making, we hear the altogether brighter sounds of a doo-wop hit ‘Zu Zu’ by the Bonnevilles, adding light into an episode that is really rather dark. In fact, much of the series’ black humour comes from musical choices like this, and it’s played an important role in catapulting the left-field show to success.

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While ‘End of the F**king World’ employs musical contrast to shockingly amusing effect, the technique itself is nothing new – and is seen and heard in many of cinema’s most iconic scenes. ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ by Stealers Wheel takes pride of place in Reservoir Dogs’ infamous torture scene, the jingly, jangly melody jarring dramatically with the splatterings of blood. In Danny Boyle’s 1996 classic, Trainspotting, Lou Reed’s idyllic, comforting ‘Perfect Day’ becomes the chilling anthem to Ewan McGregor’s heroin overdose. And in 2000’s American Psycho, Christian Bale’s psychotic tendencies are only further confounded by his decision to cue up Huey Lewis’ ‘It’s Hip to Be Square’ before taking an axe to Jared Leto’s head.
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But effective contrasts don’t just come in the form of cheerful music to dark scenes. Anachronistic pairings – the partnering of a period piece with modern music – have also proved to be equally powerful on the silver screen and small screen, and hit gangster drama Peaky Blinders is renowned for this practice. Nick Cave; The Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’ was chosen as the aptly titled, gothic theme tune, and the modern soundtrack continues with the likes of The Raconteurs, PJ Harvey, Radiohead and Jack White. This playlist successfully draws parallels between its 1919 setting and contemporary production values, while foregrounding the timelessness of the messages in the show through the songs. In the movies, Django Unchained intertwined tracks by 2Pac, James Brown and John Legend into its 1850 setting; saxophones meets synth in the electronic backing to 60s-London set Legend; and Baz Luhrmann expertly featured Jay-Z tracks like ‘$100 bill’ and ‘No Church in the Wild’ in the Great Gatsby to draw parallels between the radical jazz-age and new-age hip-hop.

The creative licence of TV and film allows for the impact these jarring musical choices deliver – but in the world of audio branding, it’s a very different story. If a piece contrasts with a business’ identity, it can be hugely damaging to their overall image – just imagine a funky house track associated with a law firm, or heavy rock playing as you wait on-hold to the dentist. Creating a piece exclusive to the business eliminates this risk, reflecting every element of a brand’s visual image and their company identity.

For businesses, compositional contrast can be a dangerous thing – so trust your Brand-Sound-Track™ to the professionals.