A few years back, Rothco creative director Rob Maguire and his sister, who teaches young children, found themselves discussing approaches to treating speech impediments.
"She was telling me about how the kids in her class struggled with the material for working on problem sounds—not because it was difficult, but because it was boring," Maguire recalls. "As all good teachers know, boredom is the kiss of death for kids. And it struck a chord with other people in the agency who'd grown up with speech-sound disorders [SSDs] themselves and had to go through these kinds of exercises."
So, "we started looking for places where repetition is fun, and music provided the answer," Maguire says. "You hear a lot of musicians such as Ed Sheeran talking about how music helped them overcome their own SSDs, so we realized there was a crossover here that could do with formalizing."
Based on such insights, Accenture Interactive-owned Rothco and Warner Music developed an algorithm that scanned the latter's massive catalog to find tracks to that could aid kids in their daily speech therapy. Through this process, the team devised "Saylists," a series of 10 English-language playlists launched exclusively on Apple Music.
"The algorithm scans the tracks and ranks them according to a number of rules, such as the proximity and frequency of certain sounds," Maguire says. "It's searching for the kinds of patterns that kids are asked to repeat when they're working on a specific problem sound. Except this way, instead of boring flash-card sentences, they get to sing along to tracks they like."
Each list contains songs designed to address the most commonly challenging speech sounds: "CH," "D," "F," "G," "K," "L," "R," "S," "Z," and "T."
For example, in Sheeran's "I Don't Care," which appears on the "D" Saylist, "there's a heavy use of the word 'don't,' and a healthy dash of words like 'dancing' 'dealing' and 'disappearing,' " Maguire says.
"Don't Start Now" by Dua Lipa also made the "D" list, while David Bowie's "Changes" understandably leads the "CH" set, and Lizzo's "Good as Hell" appears among the "Gs."
For that last one, we're thinking most kids will get a kick out of saying words like "hell" and "ass" as part of their lessons. No boredom there!
"There was a point where we could have pivoted and filled the list with parentally approved tracks, but 'what young people want to listen to' has always rubbed up against what parents disapprove of," Maguire says. "If we were releasing it back in the '80s, we would have taken Madonna off the list—in the '50s, we'd have cut Elvis. We decided to ignore our inner Tipper Gore and trust Warner's instinct about what would get listened to. After all, that was the priority—to make something that kids would want to engage with." (It should be noted that Apple's parental controls allow adults to restrict content they deem questionable.)
About one in 12 people struggle with SSDs, most of them kids, "exactly the same audience that's most highly engaged with popular music," Maguire says. "It's a product that we're hoping gets to them organically, through the Apple Music platform, and through the speech and language therapy community."
As for the process of creating the lists, "scanning 70 million songs returned an absolutely massive data set," he says. "That was where data met curation: There was a huge human effort from the team at Warner Music, along with speech therapist Anna Biavati-Smith, in crafting the final Saylists—taking the highest scoring tracks and collecting them into chunks that people would actually want to sing along to."
Rothco, Part of Accenture Interactive
Rob Maguire: Concept
Conor Cunniffe: Concept
Shane O'Riordan: Concept
Bronagh O'Donovan: Concept
Rob Maguire: Creative Director
Conor Cunniffe: Copywriter
Shane O'Riordan: Design Director
Bronagh O'Donovan: Strategist
Aisling Clarke: Art Director
Sam Caren: Art Director
Niall Eccles: Developer
Jess Derby: Executive Producer
Hannah Gallagher: Post Producer
Cris Schmidt: Designer, Motion Designer, Editor, Stop Motion Artist
Raphael DaSilva: Designer, Motion Designer, Illustrator, Animator
Gabriel Teixeira: Designer, Motion Designer, 3D Generalist
Paul Power: Video Editor
Ray Swan: Agency Creative Director
Jen Speirs: Executive Creative Director
Alan Kelly: Chief Creative Officer
Richard Carr: CEO | MD Accenture Interactive
Patrick Hickey: Executive Chairman
Zara Flynn: Managing Partner Rothco Accenture Interactive
Sean Cushen: Senior Account Manager
Lauren McNinney: Agency Resource & Operations
Clair Flemming: Agency Resource & Operations
Derek Allen: SVP Commercial Warner Music Europe
Michael De Lemos: Commercial Director - UK and Europe at Warner Music Group
Elli Brazzill: Playlist Coordinator at Warner Music Group
Priscilla Kotey: Marketing and Promotions Director | Warner Music Ireland