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Music is like Jellybeans

A Tale of the Trials of Taxonomy by a Maudlin Musical Money Manager


music licensing is like jellybeans

When I was a child I was always obsessed with ACME jellybeans. Not only did I love the individual flavours, but each time i’d save up my hard earned coppers to visit the sweet shop, a new packet of ACME jellybeans would always come with a recipe booklet. I didn’t really like the cinnamon flavour on its own but according to this bible of bean flavour blends I could mix two apple flavour jellybeans with one cinnamon flavour to produce the unmistakable apple pie. Or a Plum Sorbet made from two plum beans, a lemon one and a green apple bean. Mmmm Delicious! 

Fast foward 30 years and I’m European Creative Director of the worlds largest global independant music licensing company and its my job to forge relations with all the music decision makers, movers and shakers in the advertising world. But here’s the problem, every ad agency creative is asking for music in this or that genre, back then we were looking at over eleven hundred musical genres in social circulation according to our monitoring of social network conversations. And meanwhile our Catalogue of indipendant musical artists around the globe who’s interests we represented for music licensing opportunities was also growing. When I started we were managing a catalogue of around eight thousand artists, with a few real gems that we kept tabs on, but as soon as this number started pushing the twenty thousand artists mark, equating to around half a million songs… rating and reviewing and labeling this music in our database with meaningful descriptions of the genre each track best represented so that we could find it again once a fashion brand like Rimmel was looking for the next hot song in London Diva-Rock circa. 2012 for their global TV advertising campaign suggesting people “get the london look”.

And at the time of this recording we’re now just breaking fifteen hundred genres, and that number is only going to go up. The cold fact is… pigeonholing artists into genre pigeon-holes just doesn’t work. Think about it. Its not how music is. Sure when we’re younger and we want to rebel but the tribal instinct to belong to a gang kicks in we’ll profess to the world that we only listen to deep-core techno or seattle grunge rock, or whatever it may be … and of course all other music just is listened to by idiots. But as we get older go through phases and appreciate broader spectrum of musical genres whilst always feeling nostalgia for our past romances, the spectrum of what we like and why we like it starts to broaden.

While culture has a need to place like minded groups of people together so that fashion merchandise can be marketed at demographics of people, and music sometimes gets swept up in this… if you think about it, and if you’re truly honest with yourself, thats not the reason the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you hear something truly amazing. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we all have guilty pleasures somewhere on the spectrum, whether it some annoyingly catchy riff you heard on Radio 1 from a genre you wouldn’t bias towards… or it could be something a embarassing as my secret Justin Bieber obsession… either way there’s an internal conflict there where something in the music… some elemental essence is breaking through the surface of something that on normal circumstances we’d be more comfortable packing away in a box labelled “emo-elecro-teen-pop : hazardous to street credibility” So upon founding our new music company we started to think about what the individual flavours of the Jelly beans should be. Take for example our Apple Pie example and liken it to Mainstream Rock, so instead of two apples and a cinnamon, we might say Mainstream Rock comprises of real instruments, a driving feel, empassioned, mighty vocals, and more ofen than not a sense of something that builds…. think old Metallica, Green Day or anything by 3 Doors Down.

Then you’ve got bands that start to layer in more synthy and sound design like Fleetwood Mac’s timeless “The Chain” or “Tango in the Night” or the multilayered production thechniques championed by bands like the Foo Fighters. So you can see where I’m going with this… add a Synthersizer Jellybean where appropriate, a Sound Design Jelly Bean for anything produced by the likes of Brian Eno and a Complexity & Depth jelly bean where we think the intricate structure of a song deserves props. As you can imagine the task of figuring out the thirty-six or so flavours that could be combined to describe fifteen hundred odd genres was daundhting to say the least. I mean where do you start?

Well we thought it a good idea to look at the descriptive words our clients were using on music briefs. So gradually after collectively trawling through old briefs going back ten or so years, between us we collectively started creating our own language of music if you will. And in fact we found that as often as genre was mentioned, our clients were infact asking for music by emotion or even instrumentation or lyrical theme or global loacation.

So now, rather than managing tags for Finnish Hardcore, German Street Punk, Dutch Techno, West African Jazz and the hundreds of other nation specific genre sets, we can just tag the music with the elements we think its got a great foundation in, and when the music search comes through for “something jazzy from the West coast of Africa” the music will show up… BUT IMPORTATLY … it will also show up when someone searches for “something organic with a world music feel”. We’re not pigeonholing anymore. Now everything is under consideration for every brief. So in a bean-shell thats the story of how our tagging system evolved… and we think its pretty darn fab. So whether you’re rating your own music or other peoples, try to think of the elements that make up the song and “vote-up” the areas you think its strong in, use tags for the underlying elements that make it stand out from the crowd, rather than looking for the “sounds like classic venezuelian electro-pop” button… that way the song will play to its strengths when appearing agaist others in a music search. And If you’re one of our music supervision partners searching the catalogue on behalf of your clients, chances are a few of the buzz-words from their music brief are already in our taxonomy, but for those that aren’t just try and think about the ingredients that make “deep vocal house” might be described as an “eletronic & synthesized” jellybean, a “4x4 straight beat feel” jelly bean, the bean of “soulful vocals”, perhaps a “minimal purity” is the jellybean you’d like to see present in your final selection of songs, but usually by reading the brief, looking at the context and getting into the creatives mind and what they’re trying to acieve in this campaign, the effect they are trying to illicit in their audience… we’d like to think that our elemental approach to music categorisation is actually more useful than trying to reverse-pigieonhole tracks out of a library from a specific music brief. In any case, if the brief in question reads nothing more than “melodic hard rock please” you might want to revisit your client supplier relationship ;) Now go find some “Operatic Bubble Gum Pop” with a “Vintage Jazz” feel. And of course if you can think of a base element that we’re not covering, hit us up with your suggestion of accompanying icon and we may well include.


About Echo Music

Music licensing, creative supervision, we are the discovery platform for breaking artists. What's different about us? We're a community and as such use crowd-sourcing technology to ensure precision curation of our catalogue. Using an ever evolving vocabulary of music, all our songs are rated and reviewed not just once, but over and over, and by genre specialists. Giving us a highly curated & quickly accessible catalogue.

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