Music Curation: The Most Important Decisions are Made Between the Headphones

It may seem unnecessary for brands to dedicate a person or team to curate their music, as opposed to an algorithm. But it’s surprising how much a brand sound differs when created by an expert music supervisor. Although the possibilities for a brand’s musical expression are indeed endless, doing it effectively is no small feat because, despite the unbelievable amount of information at our fingertips, search results work to produce consensus favorites—not uniqueness.

But how about searching for “unique and hip Halloween-sounding music from 2016, that appeals to a female and male demographic between 20 and 30, for a company whose brand personas include Individualist, Cutting Edge, and Trend Setter, and whose customers look to their brand for the latest trends in fashion and music”? Google that and you may come up with an article about a “One Way Ticket to Bombay” and “#53 Dogs” from the site (By the way, the correct songs that you’d be looking for are, “Black Fly On The White Wall,” “Strange Brush,” and “Lafayette” by indie electronic artist Pillar Point.)

Not only can you not “Google” for something like this, these are the exact type of songs that even the best technology could only reveal after the fact, after a human has listened to the song, taking into account the vibe, lyrics, and the current cutting-edge and trendsetting nature of an indie artist like Pillar Point—only then deciding that the songs are fitting for a particular brand and theme.

Now imagine doing this for each brand’s unique versions of floor-sets, themes, and campaigns, which are far subtler, fluid, and less straightforward than “Halloween.” For instance, what does “autumn” sound like? And not just the season alone, but autumn for restaurants, men’s retail, bakeries, coffee shops, teen fashion brands, sports retailers, and the numerous individual brands that make up these categories? Here the seemingly endless amount of information and algorithmic data may be of some, but likely very little, help.

Many record labels are using data and algorithms to help them find the next Adele, but the keyword is “help.” To paraphrase Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix, Netflix makes programming decisions based 70% on data and 30% on human judgment—but the 30% is most important. If all it took to produce a hit song or chart-topping artist or record-breaking TV show was following the numbers, then the industry’s batting average would be 100%.

“ Netflix makes programming decisions based 70% on data and 30% on human judgment—but the 30% is most important.  ” Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix

Curating in the Information Age

As it stands today, the slate has essentially been wiped clean by the abundance of information and the fact that most everyone has access to most everything, including most of the recorded history of music. This information is much like paint: we have access to all the tools and colors, but we can’t all be Salvador Dali.

It’s what one is able to do with the tools that is the real craft. Similarly, a music supervisor uses data and technology to research songs and artists, but many of their decisions are based on the human experience—can this song move me, and can it move a specific brand’s customers? Does this song or artist have that unquantifiable “it” quality? At the end of the day, we’re back to the essence of what all music and art are about: an unquantifiable spectrum of humans, their experiences, and their emotions.

It’s about what algorithms and data lack.


About PlayNetwork

PlayNetwork is the leading global provider of music and entertainment media experiences for brands worldwide. We partner with over 400 brands spanning 110,000 customer locations in more than 110 countries, our work reaching 100 million people every day. This post is a part of our series: Crafting a Branded Sound: How Music is Chosen for the World's Favorite Brands. To learn more about PlayNetwork, visit