Sonic Branding Glossary

Understand the language of audio branding: definitions for all the commonly used words and phrases in this emerging field.

Audio adaptation

The pieces of music that are derived from your brand sound and that specifically fit the unique psychological and needs of each touchpoint.

Audio branding, music branding, sonic branding…

The big one! It is how you sound to the world. It’s both a system and a discipline. You want people to recognize your audio brand, no matter where they hear it, whether their eyes are open or closed, whether they’re listening to a radio spot, visiting one of your locations, waiting on hold with your customer service center, or watching a how-to-video.

Audio DNA

A short (under one minute) original composition that captures the values, personality and aspirations of the brand as well as defines the musical vocabulary of instrumentation, tempo, melody, harmonies and rhythms that the brand will use across your multiple audio touchpoints. It’s your musical bible.

Audio touchpoints, brand experiences

Points of employee and customer contact that create big and small auditory brand experiences. An audio identity unifies them so that when your hear it, you attribute the positive experiences to the brand.

Audio identity

The bad news is that you have one of these, whether you manage it or not. It’s the sum total of the audio impressions your brand makes. And it leaves its effect on your visual brand as well.

When you have a good one and manage it reponsibly, its a powerful brand assett.

Audio style guide, audio brand guidelines

This handy compilation of guidelines catalogues all the audio elements available that are based on your audio DNA and gives you the rules of the road. Some are interactive, so employees, partners, and agencies can hear samples of each piece.

Audio brand management

Establishing and maintaining audio guidelines. Managing and nuturing one’s audio brand.

Automotive sound design

The creation of soundscapes and functional signals for physical objects or spaces, in this case for cars and car shows.

Background music

A touchpoint. Music composed or picked to play in the background, whether it be in a waiting room, in a store or at a meeting.

Brand authenticity

The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful to itself, true to its consumers, consistent, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves, as well.

Brand anthem

A rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular brand.

Brand voice

This can literally mean the person’s voice that stands for the brand but, more often, it means the way in which the brand speaks to its audience throughout its communications. e.g. It could be authoritative, playful, erudite or simple–or some combination of those.

Branded playlist

A collection of recorded songs or pieces of music chosen to be part of a brands’ physical environment. These are chosen based on a communication strategy and come with guidelines. The collection often is interspersed with “brand winks” that bring the audience back to the brand every few songs.

Closing music

A touchpoint: Music played at the end of an event, when people are leaving. The goal is to keep the memory and motivation alive.

Content library

A bank of all the musical adaptations of the audio brand that have been created for a specific brand. It allows employees and marketing and brand specialists to share each work and, often, repurpose it.


The visual (animated) and audio logo combined, usually about 2.5 seconds.

Environmental sound design

The design of the soundscapes for physical spaces like shopping centers, spas, airports, or expos, where music and sounds are used to create the environment you strive for. For instance, the soundscape is designed to make the audience feel comfortable, relaxed, awestruck, or amused.

If you already have an audio brand, you can drop little hints of that into the sound of your environment.

Event sound design

A touchpoint: branded soundscapes to add impact and meaning to physical spaces, in this case for events/ meetings/expos.

Customer service line music, call waiting, on hold music

Branded music for pre-pickup and on-hold that aims to give callers satisfying brand experiences and, in the best cases, discourages them from hanging up. Sometimes on-hold includes ambient sounds and scripted recordings by voices that best capture the personality of the brand.

Functional Sound Design

Sounds that indicate action or interaction between humans, machines, vehicles, appliances and robots. These are intended as non-verbal auditory cues that communicate a situation, activity, or mode. For example: open, shut down, power on/ power off, error, download, movement, battery charging, …

In Sixième Son’s world, those are adapted from the brand’s audio identity.


Harmony occurs when simultaneous notes made by different voices or instruments combine to make chords. This can lend a pleasing richness to the music.


A touchpoint: The music that begins a video or podcast and alerts the audience to the brand. See ‘branded content’.

Impact, effect, influence.

To sway an audience’s emotions, preferences, comprehension or behaviors.


A rhythmic quality that catches your attention, connects emotionally and makes you want to dance.

Musical brand activation

Using your branded music universe to animate your various internal and external touchpoints. Sometimes, refers more specifically to in-market promotions, concerts and events.

Musical coherence

The idea that all of a brand’s sounds derive from the same musical root and reinforce each other. An expo booth may remind the attendee of a brand video and the app opening signal . Just as the brand colors unite a brand’s interactions , the brand music does the same.

Musical narrative

Conveying a story to consumers through the use of sound and music. Having the emotional content of the music support and enhance the various stages in the flow in the story.

musical metaphor

When a word or sound that ordinarily designates one thing is used to illuminate another this creates an implicit comparison between the two. It’s symbolic, not literal. 

In music, you can draw upon many associations to lend meaning to a brand. Think of the brand meaning conveyed by sophisticated jazz vs. a toy piano, by a kettledrum vs. a rainstick. 

Musical vocabulary

The musical universe of a brand. Your “vocabulary” reflects you choices in the process.
It includes instrumentation, melody, timbre, rhythm, tempo, voice. It allows your brand to sound like itself without repeating the same piece of music over and over.

Musical interstitials

A touchpoint: Transitional brand music that brings the viewer back to the brand, especially used in programming and branded content.

Musical transitions between speakers

A touchpoint: A few seconds of brand music whose style may signal the topic of the next speaker, e.g. Technical, Human Resources, Industrial.

Mood board

The playlist of carefully selected music designed to evoke given values. These are produced by audio brand strategists in order to prompt discussion and choice of the musical ingredients that will eventually go into the composition.

Musical theme

A recognizable melody, upon which part or all of a composition is based.


A touchpoint: The music that ends a video or podcast and leaves a brand earprint.


The ability to bring a brand to mind by simply hearing the audio logo or an adaptation.

Retail music

A touchpoint: music played in stores, malls, even parking lots and restrooms associated with them.


A touchpoint: The sound made by a mobile device when an incoming call, text message or email is received.

Sound design

When Sixième Son uses this term, we often mean the manipulation of sounds or the addition of sound effects, but it’s an evolving phrase.

Another usage refers to creating the sounds that are used for devices or vehicles. And a third for adjusting the sound that an instrument makes. For instance, near a display of electric cars, you might manipulate audio to make the music feel more electronic and near gasoline-powered vehicles let it sound more acoustic.

Or, in a video, sound design can add the sounds of people eating in a restaurant or walking in a rainforest. It also can refer to creating an appropriate sound for the medium, that sound will be different for a mobile phone than for a giant theater.

Sound icon, signal

Similar to the audio logo in length, “sound icon” refers to all the short sounds associated with a brand. For example, the sound of a Mac or PC turning on.

Sound icon, signal

Similar to the audio logo in length, “sound icon” refers to all the short sounds associated with a brand. For example, the sound of a Mac or PC turning on.

Sound mixing

The process by which multiple sounds are combined to create an effective balance. e.g. music and voiceover

Sung slogans

A short and memorable phrase sung for marketing and advertising purposes.


A succession of musical notes forming a recognizeable musical pattern, no matter what instrument or key its played in.

TV spot audio/ music

A touchpoint: Music for TV and radio. Ideally, branded music scored to a the narrative of the commercial

update, revision

Re-addressing an Audio Identity to make it fit new brand values or new target market, while still keeping it recognizable.

Walk in music

A touchpoint: Walk-in music for a conference or meeting.


Also called Brand Winks and Clins d’Oeil, are short reminders of the brand woven, now and then, among the music being played in brand environments.

They often include the audio logo and a further sound, words or song segments that bring out the personality of the brand. The intention is to lightly and, often, playfully bring attention back to the brand.

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