Book Review: Sound Business by Julian Treasure

Julian Treasure is the Chairman of British company The Sound Agency, described as ‘the world’s leading business sound consultancy’. “Business sound” may seem like a strange concept, and it is precisely for this reason that Treasure wrote this book, which claims to be the the ‘first book to map the unexplored land of sound in business’.

Treasure, who is well-known for his TED Talks on sound (1, 2, 3) intends this book to create awareness in businesspeople of the various sounds their businesses make, their causes, and – most importantly – their effects. Treasure believes that sound is a largely untapped field in business, with great potential for improving a company. Consider branding – how many companies have associated visuals beyond logos into consistent colour schemes, distinct product design, and even recognizable fonts? But other than ad jingles, most companies have not extended their brand into audible forms.

The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with the basics of sound, and serves as a brief, yet comprehensive and accessible introduction to such topics as music theory, music cognition and acoustics. The second section is an examination of how sound affects people, and gives examples of how companies have used sound branding and sound management to optimise their business practices along with some of the rules and procedures The Sound Agency use when dealing with clients. The final section gives more details on methods businesses can use to improve their sound and provides case studies of how a dedicated sound strategy has affected various companies’ performance.

Overall, this book is extremely interesting; anyone who watched and enjoyed Treasure’s video lectures should find it worthwhile. Though it is aimed primarily at a business audience, it contains plenty of information that is relevant and useful to people involved in music. I initially approached it from the perspective of a composer; and though it is by no means a compositional manual, Treasure and his agency have written musical tracks, programmed generative soundscapes, and created musical installations, and the explanations of the method for composing these and how they were approached is a valuable insight into how this music is created.

“Business sound”, as defined by Treasure, is a very broad concept; literally all of the sound that a business creates in any of its activities. This ranges from the noise of ringing phones in the reception area, to the sound of their advertisements, to the sound their products make. As such, the book sets itself a demanding task; as well as explaining the concepts presented in the first section in layman’s terms, the book must cover every possible aspect of sound that a business can produce, and the benefits of controlling and harnessing this sound. At times, it feels like the book is trying to cover too many different topics but ultimately Treasure overcomes this difficulty and presents a well-laid out manual. The claims he makes are impressive – ‘increased sales, happier customers, more productive staff, more effective marketing, an enhanced brand, higher profits and more valuable equity’ – but he justifies them well through describing the results of experiments carried out by his own company and others, and through the case studies presented in the final section.

For those who fear that this approach will encourage a constant barrage of loud, obnoxious, advertisements and jingles, quite the opposite is true. The book makes a big deal out of the importance of silence, and continuously encourages a considerate, thoughtful approach to sound (one of the book’s Golden Rules for sound is “make it optional”).

I find a few criticisms must be raised. Treasure occasionally makes claims that seem highly unscientific; he mentions near the start of the book that ‘there are disease models that postulate that all illness results from systemic vibrational disharmony of some kind’, or ‘…we humans, like everything else in the universe, are composed of essential vibrations. The principles of entrainment and resonance tell us that one vibration can affect another, so it seems eminently reasonable to speculate that sound vibrations will affect the vibrations within us… Every advance in quantum physics, seems to move its frontiers further into contact with metaphysical concepts…’ and at that point, I breathe a heavy sigh, as misinterpretations of scientific advances has long been a favoured tactic to justify dubious new-age beliefs, and “quantum” is the current favourite buzzword to use. These points also seems a little unnecessary to me; he makes a perfectly good case about the importance of sound based on the experimental results he references (and he promotes constant experimentation, as another of his Golden Rules is “Test it and test is again”), without needing to resort to new-age babble. Also, at the end of the book’s second section, he makes a few startling claims about the negative effects of certain kinds of music, but I will deal with this in a separate article.

However, these criticisms don’t take away from the central point of the book. Sound Business is a concise and convincing guide for businesses who want to exploit sound to improve their operation, as well as a handy layman’s guide to sound in general.

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2 responses to “Book Review: Sound Business by Julian Treasure

  1. Pingback: Sonic Flurry | First in Sound Logos, Audio Identity & Sonic Branding » Blog Archive » Book Review: Sound Business by Julian Treasure | billmcgrathmusic

  2. Pingback: Response: “The Negative Effects of Rap and Heavy Metal Music” | billmcgrathmusic

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