great minds on music : an interview with sudeep gohil

“Great Minds on Music” is a series of conversations between some of the top names in the business of advertising and Uli Reese, President of iV2. We’ve edited and compiled these interviews into a series we’ve dubbed “Great Minds on Music.” If you’d like to read more from these innovative thinkers, selecting this link will aggregate all the interviews for easy viewing.


Reese: Let’s start by considering how important music is to your work. I know you have a strong musical background: you DJ and you have a SoundCloud channel called, “Deep Mix”. You also have a strategic planning history. How does all that work together?

“We’re getting to the point [in advertising] where there is so much clutter that a sting becomes even more important. People are beginning to think, ‘Actually…I could do something more interesting with the one and a half seconds at the end of every commercial…’” – Sudeep Gohil

Gohil: I’ve always been really interested in music. When I was a kid I used to play in bands. I learned to play bass guitar. I was in a band when I was in Australia, but because I was the bass player I was always at the back. We were playing Hendrix and Led Zeppelin… but I wanted to do something more complicated, like Living Colour….I thought Vernon Reid was the most awesome bass player I’d ever heard. But the band didn’t want to do that kind of stuff. And then I went back to London to visit my cousins, and they gave me  — a tape, I suppose — of Technotronic.

Reese: Technotronic?

Gohil:  You know: “Pump Up the Jam”? And I realized that while electronic music was a kind of niche in Australia, it was massive in the UK. So suddenly I wanted to DJ too. For my 14th or 15th birthday, my parents flew over a set of turntables and a mixer from London as a gift.  Everything changed, because I was in control. I was at the front instead of the back! We’d put on a party in a social club or a town hall and it was just insane: hundreds and hundreds of people. When I finished high school, I realized I could do the same thing on an even bigger scale. We started doing warehouse parties and so on. We were making more money than we knew what to do with!

Reese:  How are old were you while this is going on?

Gohil: 18? 19? It was a really interesting time because I’d managed to take something I had a huge passion for – electronic music – and make money out of it. By the time I was in my early 20s it had developed into a business. My parents were very supportive, but they said: “You really should go to university.” So I opted for a business degree, and I majored in marketing and advertising. But I was still working at the same time. I remember once being asleep at the back of class. The lecturer was playing a very early BBH case study for Levi’s, which I was half sleeping through. He threw a board rubber at me and said: “If you ever get a job in marketing, what are you going to do?” And being the smart ass I was, I said: “I’m gonna work there.”

Reese: So what happens next?

Gohil: When I actually did get a job in advertising, it was in the mailroom, which is where all the great people start, apparently. At least that’s what someone told me. In reality, it was a kind of distraction from all this other stuff that we were doing.  But I continued because 1) I’d become passionate about it and 2) the stuff that I was doing on weekends and evenings had an influence on what I was doing during the day.  So I started in the mailroom, but then I worked in account services, the media department, and planning.  All the while, I was still doing music, meeting people and promoting in the evenings after work. I started to realize that the more I did in the music space at night, the closer it became to the job I was doing during the day. Brands I was working with started to approach me with sponsorship deals. They said: “We know a lot of people come to your music events, so why don’t we give you 5,000 dollars to put a big poster up next to the stage?”  My business partner and I would tell them: “What you really should do is this…” We realized that every time a brand came to us, we were giving away ideas about how they could interact more appropriately with young people through music and events.  So we said: “Why don’t we just do this full time? Why don’t we set up an agency?” And that’s what we ended up doing.

Reese: And that’s when you discovered the power of music in an advertising context?

Gohil: I’ve always been aware of how powerful music could be, whether I was working with it in TV commercials during the day, or in the club at night. If you hear a song that’s associated with something important in your life, whether it’s on a dance floor or at home, it has a really profound effect on you. It brings all those memories rushing back in a way that no other media really does. Even when you hear the jingle of an old TV commercial, you may not remember exactly what the ad looked like, but you do remember it in some way.

Reese:  The research suggests that we remember music far more easily than images. I think brands and agencies are beginning to understand that more and more.

Gohil:  There’s an idea I’ve tried to kick around a little. It was to use an existing quantitative database, something global from, say, Nielsen, and match it with demographics and music purchase sales. If the sample’s big enough — and this is the planner in me digging into this thing — you could probably go to Audi and say: “Audi owners like this kind of music. We’ve done this research and, based on these statistics, these genres or these particular artists are much more likely to inspire your customers.” If you put the two things together, you could paint a really interesting picture of what a brand would sound like if it had a playlist.

Reese: Talk to me about your process. What goes through your mind before you talk to either a composer or look for a track for a spot?

Gohil: I think you can tell very early on what feeling needs to be evoked by the music. Does it need to feel hard or soft or tough, or is it meant to feel relaxing? And based on that, what tends to happen is we just start going through songs and music and new stuff we’ve heard. We find something that we really like, and we say, “it’s sort of this area…” Describing music in words is pretty difficult.  Even the best people find that difficult.  I have a reasonably large vocabulary around music, so I’m lucky. But more often than not, for me it’s just about finding reference material and saying: “It’s a bit like this, but this is the only part that I really like.” Or, “It’s the way that it builds up into this great crescendo, I love the energy at this point.” I think that’s a better way of addressing it rather than trying to write a brief.

Reese:  How do you judge the value of a track? Let’s say you want to license a track by, I don’t know, Coldplay

Gohil: In Australia, we don’t end up with massive budgets.  So a lot of times, even if Coldplay — I don’t really like Coldplay, to be honest with you…

Reese: How about Snap?

Gohil:  Yeah, Snap’s fine. So even if I like Snap and I think theirs is the perfect song to use, sometimes we just don’t have the budget. Fortunately there are some incredible producers in Australia….That’s where the real value comes in: it doesn’t sound like music that’s been produced for advertising. You can tell. I’ve got friends who are producers and DJs and they will sit for hours listening to a four beat loop just trying to get it right. Now, maybe that’s stupid and slightly obsessive, but when you put it all together, it just kinda works. Value is in care and attention to detail and getting it absolutely right.

Reese: How important is it for a company to have an identifiable sound?  To be recognizable with your eyes close?

Gohil:  I think it’s incredibly important. All the best brands have that. I worked with the video games company EA Games for a few years, and at the end of every single TV commercial and at the beginning of every single video game, they had this booming American voice saying: “EA Sports. It’s in the game.” I have to confess that when we started working on the business we said: “OK, you’ve got to get rid of it. It’s annoying..” That was four or five years ago. But looking back I think that was a mistake, because it was so distinctive. Little kids, three or four years old, knew what world they were in as soon as they heard that voice. “EA Sports. It’s in the game.”

Reese:  It became the voice of the brand.

Gohil: Have you ever been to Japan?

Reese:  No.

Gohil: I lived in Japan for a few years. Hardly anything was written in English. I can’t read Japanese. So on the train, I would ask: “How do I know when to get off?” And they told me each station has a special song. Every single station on every single line has a different five second or three second sting. You just have to listen out for the song of your station. Lately I’ve been thinking about that. We’re getting to the point [in advertising] where there is so much clutter that a sting becomes even more important. People are beginning to think, “Actually…I could do something more interesting with the one and a half seconds at the end of every commercial…”

Reese: One last question: How do you know when you’ve had a good idea – the equivalent of a Number One hit?

Gohil: Well, when I used to DJ it was a very visceral experience; the same kind of feeling a band gets when they go on stage and nail a song. But from an idea perspective, I don’t think you ever know how good it is until it gets into the real world. It might look good in my head, or in my notebook, but until people take it and make it their own, you can’t really tell. Ultimately the consumer makes or breaks it.  But interestingly enough, I think you know when something isn’t that good. Or at least not as good as it could be. Which is the thing that makes me excited about going to work. I’ve got this tattoo on my arm, which is “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” the Mahatma Gandhi quote —

Reese: Be the change…

Gohil:  Be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s kind of been my motto for a number of years. At the end of the day, if you don’t think something’s good enough — not the best idea, not the best song, or whatever — you could just sit back and say: “Oh, well, near enough is good enough.” But at Droga we never say that. The combination of knowing when something’s wrong, and knowing you might be able to do something better, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.  Even if I end up arguing with people about it all day.

Uli spoke with Sudeep Gohil, Partner and CEO of Droga5 Australia,  in Cannes during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Sudeep has worked with some of the most compelling agency brands in the world, including George Patterson Bates, BBH and Wieden & Kennedy. At Wieden & Kennedy, Sudeep was the global planning director on Nike, and strategic planner for a number of the agency’s other clients: EA, Old Spice, Coca-Cola and Starbucks. On his return to Australia in 2007, Sudeep joined Droga5 as one of the three founding partners of the agency. Since launching in Australia, Droga5 has grown rapidly, working with UNICEF,  Kraft, Puma, Method, Prudential and  Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. In 2011, Droga5 won the Integrated Grand Prix Award, Outdoor Grand Prix Award and the Titanium Award for the Bing Jay-Z Decoded campaign at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

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