Big Sync's Dominic Caisley on Finding Great Music for Brands

Plus, his favorite recent projects for Unilever and more

Since launching in 2013, Big Sync Music has gone from strength to strength. Its global partnership with Unilever sees them providing music strategy for the consumer goods giant's 400 brands worldwide, and their enviable client base also includes organizations such as Diageo, L'Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and Samsung. With a formidable team operating across seven major cities worldwide, they are the world's first global, full-service, creative music licensing agency to work directly for brands and ad agencies. 

Earlier this year, the company made headlines when it was announced it had been acquired by music licensing platform Songtradr, a deal that would allow them to leverage Songtradr's technology and data intelligence and gain access to a wider pool of musical talent. I recently sat down with CEO and co-founder Dominic Caisley to gain insight into their unique working methods, the importance of data and technology in driving their creative process, and the evolution of music supervision and the music-brand relationship. 

Can you describe what Big Sync does and who you work with? 

We're a full-service music agency and we help brands and their agencies create, find and license music for use in all of their comms. That could be using a famous song, emerging artist, creating a song from scratch or finding a library track that fits the brief and budget. 

We work with Unilever's portfolio of 400 brands worldwide, and we also regularly work with other clients including Diageo, L'Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and Samsung. Our offices are in London, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sweden, Paris, Sydney and soon Turkey, India and Argentina. Our music supervisors keep their ears to the ground for new talent, and we talk to record companies and publishers in pretty much every territory. 

When you first start working with a client, what do the discussions typically look like? 

However small or big the job, we try to meet a client's music needs from a cultural, creative and commercial perspective. We're a bit different in that we like to work alongside brands as well as their creative agencies in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way. It's a method which we're really proud of and that's evolved since we implemented it with Unilever in 2013. Ultimately, we all want to create the most relevant content we can, so our first goal with any new client is to really get to know a brand's personality, its audience and the core messaging. So we hold music workshops and sound sessions with the key brand leaders plus the strategic planners and creative thinkers to make sure that the brand and audience is examined from every angle and we use our music data and analytical tools as part of the process. Getting this right early on, understanding the brand, creating its music personality and then a set of guidelines to work from provides a strategic bedrock from which the best creative work can emerge.

What have you learned from your unique relationship with Unilever?

We have learned that every brand is different in their creative and commercial requirements, so an understanding and appreciation of local and global needs is paramount. Our relationship with the brands' teams allows us to involve them in the music discussion and have a clearer strategic and tactical plan. We have also learned that content creation and the music licensing landscape is changing and we have had to adapt with it. For example, branded content is being created from global TV campaigns through to six-second social media posts, and so there is an emphasis on impact and cost. 

Also, Music Recognition Technology (MRT) means we now need a tighter control over where content is hosted and broadcast. We work closely with the brands and their media buyers to ensure the most appropriate license is secured.

Since its inception, Big Sync has been grounded by five principles. Can you talk us briefly though each one?

1) The music must come first. It's been well documented that music is an integral part of the production, so why compromise the entire production just to save a few pounds? 

2) Respect the talent. Musicians, and music supervisors, have the right to be treated fairly and their contribution valued appropriately. 

3) Brands are people, too. They are very much part of the creative process, and we need to take time to establish a relationship and understand their needs.

4) Ideas can come from anywhere. We are not precious about where the idea for a great track comes from and positively encourage a collaborative approach backed up with empirical data.

5) Think big. Think about music early in the creative process. Think about the various routes to market available to you, and think about the potential impact music has on the overall effectiveness of the campaign and on your audience. 

There are so many digital advertising platforms and mediums now. How does that dictate the creative?

Content is evolving all the time to suit consumer behavior and today's fragmented media landscape. Brands are producing more and more highly targeted, data-driven content to try to be more relevant to those consumers on the many platforms they could be watching and listening from. Music is playing an increasingly important role in helping to achieve consumer engagement. We help provide music solutions that have to work on a variety of different platforms from global TVCs to "how to" videos and social media content. From a social media perspective, we may have only six seconds to get the musical point across, whereas with long-form content we need to make sure there is enough music to really tell the story throughout the piece. We work in all forms of music, from well-known international hits to production music to bespoke, original composition. It's important that we advise our clients on the most relevant route to market that matches the broadcast platform and then the most relevant and value-led license to meet their needs.

Can you talk us through some recent projects/campaigns where music played a central part creatively?

We recently worked with Kelly Rowland to create a new song, "My Hair My Crown," for some new short-form content for Dove. That track was then also released as a single by the artist and Sony Records, and has had over a million streams on Spotify plus several million views on YouTube.

Using a celebrity brought equity to the campaign, but the artist's involvement ensured credibility and earned media. We've also worked with the producer Martin Garrix on a long form video for him and his record company to use to promote his latest single "These Are The Times." That content included the Axe logo and product placement, and Axe were also able to use that as short-form content for advertising purposes.

But it's not always the big campaigns that are the most creative. We are proud to be able to find the perfect music solutions for brands to meet every budget, like with this recent award-winning campaign from Pond's Men called "Bodybuilder." The budget was tiny, but our music supervisors were delighted to discover an existing track from a production library that fitted the bill perfectly. The '80s-style power ballad helped carry the humor with its over-the-top lyrics of passion contrasting with a cringe-worthy situation. It's one of my favorite projects.

Big Sync was founded in 2013, and so much has changed since then. What are the most notable developments you've noticed in the way brands/advertisers approach music? 

Our role as a music supervisor has changed because our clients now want more from music and artists than just the license deal, so we're now working with brands to come up with sonic strategies, incorporating talent, working with artists as brand ambassadors, and negotiating endorsement deals.

Content is also becoming more localized, so the music needs to be relevant to that market using real music and real artists. That's why partnering with Songtradr is so exciting, because it has given us access to over 1 million tracks across 190 countries. We're able to access this global jukebox of tracks and brilliant artists at a really great price, which makes it a superb alternative to library music. 

What are your hopes for the future of music supervision?

For us it's about music discovery—finding the best quality, and most relevant music. We want to increase our knowledge of music all over the world and find more ways of expanding our network of artists and composers as well as growing a deep understanding of local needs on behalf of the brands and agencies we work with. None of us liked reading last year's Deezer survey, which claims we stop discovering music when we reach 30. All music supervisors should be striving to achieve a better understanding of different music and to expand their comfort zones. Technology can help with that. 

Music supervision is first and foremost a creative endeavor and a "human" process, although data and technology plays an integral role in Big Sync's success. Can you talk us through that?

Access to data is really important for us so we can inform our brand and agency partners in the planning stages of campaigns. Songtradr is able to give Big Sync access to listening data of over 1 million tracks worldwide, which is crucial for us in understanding and comparing what people are listening to from city to city or country to country, the nature of that music, when they're listening to it and how they are listening to it. Data also helps us to price benchmark and validate the choices that are made. 

We embrace any new technology that helps us to understand how our clients' audiences are listening to music and always look at any tools that have the potential to help us meet music challenges head on. But at the end of the day, while using data and filters to help us narrow down the music is obviously a great help, for us it's always coupled with music supervision skill and experience. Our music supervisors, the human beings, are still listening to the music. Tech and A.I. only works optimally where there is also a human element.

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Emma Griffiths
Emma Griffiths is Synchtank's marketing manager and the editor of Synchblog, Synchtank's music industry blog which provides insight into the management and monetization of music copyright.

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