Transform Magazine: Five Minutes with Roscoe Williamson – 2023

Roscoe Williamson is the director of global creative strategy at sound brand agency MassiveMusic. Speaking from the iconic Boulevard de la Croisette, as the annual Cannes Lions festival is in full swing, Williamson describes to transform the fragmented relationship between the event and the sound brand, as well as the future of the industry.

As someone primarily interested in sound branding, what does Cannes Lions offer you? And does the festival sufficiently represent the sound brand image?

I think it’s a real opportunity to educate and inspire the industry in terms of what’s going on with sound. So the case and the point is that yesterday I was on the VaynerX boat giving a panel with TikTok and VaynerX about the power of sound on TikTok, and that just wouldn’t have happened three or four years ago. So to be here and to be among so many potential customers and partners, and to be able to talk about sound and music on these new channels and platforms, it’s really amazing.

But I think the sonic brand is definitely underrepresented in terms of awards. I mean, we listed an award for our Colgate project but there’s no particular sound brand category. So I think he should be more represented.

When did you enter the sonic brand industry and what overall progression have you seen in the industry since?

I’ve been in the music and advertising business for about 15 years. When I started, sound branding existed, but it was the first kind of sound branding school that existed in the 1990s, which came mainly from Germany. I started at the end of that in the mid-2000s and then worked in advertising doing a lot of music for commercials – either writing music or buying and licensing the music. Over time, what affected me a little was the relationship between the client and the agency, then us as a music house; the power of the agency seemed a little extinguished. They had so much to say about what music the brand should use and it all felt very executable from our perspective. So we slowly started talking directly to clients and we started talking more about the long term, more about strategies, more about how you can create assets with sound and how you can build your assets with sound. And then we started working more directly with the brand and that’s how sonic branding was born. I’ve been with Massive for nine years, and I guess the last six years have been mostly that kind of work.

Of course, MassiveMusic is very global with nine offices spread around the world. What general differences do you see in what brands require of your business in these distinct regions?

Each office is in a different life cycle depending on the industry situation. The Sonic brand is at an early stage in places, in my opinion, like Asia where it’s virtually non-existent. Whereas if you look at Europe, it’s actually been around in various forms for about 20 years, maybe more. In terms of the maturity of the type of projects we carry out and their depth, I would say that Europe is more advanced in this capacity. But in our Tokyo office, I think they’re working on their very first sound branding project, so we’re seeing signs of change.

Take your Colgate project, for example. How have the technical aspects of such a project changed since you joined the company in 2013?

Colgate is a huge global organization operating in over 200 markets around the world. So if you imagine this organization and the amount of different layers of stakeholders and the complexity of this stakeholder map – and you have to get something as abstract as a top-approved three-second audio piece – there’s so much strategic stakeholder management that goes with it. It involves a very different skill set than your traditional music house, which is guys and gals making great music for commercials. It’s a different thing.

I think something that helped in a weird way was the pandemic. Suddenly there was a switch to Zoom and everything just got faster, we were able to do a lot more interactive audio mood board sessions online, and that just speeded up the process and that allowed us to to evolve this process in a completely different way that was not possible before.

How far should brands go to fully understand the importance of music?

I think there is still a lot to do. The majority of brands still don’t take it seriously. They still don’t think about it in terms of the level of depth and nuance that they should be. The Sonic brand is about an ecosystem: it’s about putting in place selection guidance on the type of music you choose to use, but it’s also about creating distinctive assets that you choose to deploy. Yes, these can include sound logos and sound DNA, but it can also mean the voice you choose to use on your content or the sound of your products and interaction sounds.

We think the goal is for you to have a very clear understanding of how you present yourself in the sonic world and therefore a great platform to build on in the future with things like artist partnerships, innovations and activations.