An interview with Karsten Kjems (Video Podcast)

Arek Dvornechuck
16 min readApr 24, 2023
An interview with Karsten Kjems (Video Podcast)

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Intro

Arek Dvornechuck: What’s up branding experts? — Arek here at Ebaqdesign, And welcome to On Branding Podcast. and my guest today is Karsten Kjems. Karsten joins us from Denmark he’s a passionate sound designer, so he specializes in audio branding and he has over 20 years of experience creating logo sounds, brand music, and sonic branding in general for companies like, Carlsberg, Volvo, ASUS, Jabra, just to name a few.

So on today’s podcast, we are gonna talk about the power of sonic branding. Hello Karsten. Thanks for joining us today.

Karsten Kjems: Hello, Arek. Thank you for allowing me to join your podcast.

Arek Dvornechuck:Thank you so much. So when it comes to branding, Sound is almost like an overlooked thing, right? Some brands use it and some brands don’t but can you talk to us about the importance of sound when it comes to branding? Why is it important, and why we should develop?

Besides focusing on visuals, we should also focus on how our brand sounds and whether it is logo music or brand music, or commercials for other purposes.

Karsten Kjems: Definitely, first of all, I believe that sound and music are just as important as visuals, especially in addition to space. We only have two senses we have seeing and hearing, and if you don’t capitalize and utilize the soundscape, we are actually missing out on 50% of the bandwidth. So I believe that sound and sound-to-sound user experience with sound is very important to create a cohesive, and emerging brand experience in today’s world. Also, I believe that we see and evaluate as much with our ears as we do with our eyes. I’m what you call very sensitive to noise, so I can actually hear you just by your room, Arek. I can hear that you’re sitting in a room around 10 to 15 square meters. You have yo have not noise canceled any of your backgrounds.

So there’s some kind of room echo in your podcast. So just by hearing your voice in that room, I can have an understanding or are you sitting in a big concert hall or this minor office? The blue one you can see on my back screen here is the sound absorber. We are trying to create a really good soundscape in our office rooms. This is one of the studios here. We evaluate and hear instantly with our ears. Perhaps you have noticed once you go into a restaurant or a clothing store and just you went in there and suddenly, the music was too loud or the music wasn’t your style. You said, ah, this doesn’t feel right. Let’s go again. Even though you haven’t even tasted coffee or tried to drink or tried the clothes, it doesn’t feel right cause your senses instantly, is too hot. Is the music the wrong music? I believe, and that is substantiated by data, that music is a strong personal identification for who we are and also brands. So that’s why it’s very important for brands to know that it’s not irrelevant how you use, or sell the music in your marketing and communication.

Arek Dvornechuck: I totally agree. Basically just some key takeaways we like to see things, right? Visuals, where we see, are probably the most dominant sense But how we experience brands when it comes to sound and music also is very important.

So can we can you just talk to us about maybe some of the most iconic sounds? Obviously, something like McDonald’s we all know by the way, I just wanna mention this sorry I’m jumping from subject to subject, but I’ve looked at your portfolio and I love the way you present your work. You always have a logo sound, basically, and then you have brand music, right? So what are sonic sounds I would say that back in the nineties as well? And the version you’re hearing today is actually the sixth or seventh generation of the same old logo, but they keep, tweaking it and updating it just like you do with visual identities.

They have a small tweak in terms of flatten the logo or make it more 3D or some add some instruments, but still the same core melody. Also, you have the Netflix Bum bump, which is going pretty known and also it was updated last year I think by Hans Zimmer, the German film composer, because Netflix is a major media company today. And they also release their own films on their own platform and when have this release of their own premier films, they have a long intro with the Netflix back on, just like MGM Roar with the Lion, et cetera. So there are several brands out there that have been there for many years. But I also think that, I believe that the future of this will be more subliminally.

Meaning that, for instance, if you put on your headset and you have a power on sound there, that’s a sound you hear daily. So people are moving away from the major broadcasting scenes to more product sounds. Especially we are doing some work with for some car brands as well. And a car today is primarily a driving iPad. All the sounds in within an e-cars today are. Electronically produced. They’re designed. So the turning left, the left sheening lane shifting sounds forward, collision sounds, or your back seat belt is unlocked, et cetera. You’re running low of power, et cetera. All these information sounds has to create meaning so the audio landscape is getting more and more complex.

Whereas in the old days, you have gone on tv, you heard the ba bam, bam, bam, always Coca-Cola, and you would know who was. But today, brands have to be a lot more conscious about how to use cells because all these landscape and meat landscapes has evolved massively. So that’s why it’s, yeah.

Arek Dvornechuck:That’s a good point. So basically, you’re saying this, okay, so it was just fewer logos. The sound can work just as a logo for a brand. If we see the big M on the side of the road, we know it’s McDonald’s, but if we have our eyes closed and we hear somewhere coming from another room, this parm Pam, we immediately know that this is McDonald’s. Because we’ve heard this over and over again. We saw some commercials so obviously the obvious use for this, for brand music or even if it’s something simple as logo sound, it just takes a few, it is just a few seconds. Few seconds, right? We can obviously use it in commercials, but you are saying that the landscape evolves these days and I totally agree because now, like for example, this is what I’m trying to figure out with my podcast too, I should have some intro and outro music.

Karsten Kjems: Yeah, but don’t you have that?

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, I do have some, but I need to work on that. Definitely. Maybe we can work together. We can talk about that. I always wanted to develop and design a professional brand of music for intra-outro and for my logo animation. I have some, but I feel like it could be done much better, especially when I look at your portfolio. I was very impressed. How you break it down, how you actually, you show us, some of the strategies, how you came up, like why you use these melodies, right? What, how did you compose the whole thing, right? I think it’s a great segue to also talk about that, right? So we’ve talked about, how you can use it, you can use it for your podcast, you can use it for your YouTube intro outro, right? Whenever you use the logo in commercials, right? But I wanted to talk about the process now. So can you just talk to us about a typical process? How does it look like when a brand comes to you? Some company comes to you let’s say it could be a car brand as you mentioned, or it could be like a, an another brand. Do you have like a step-by-step process? Can you talk to us about that.

Karsten Kjems: Sure. For larger brands when they come to us, it depends on what department. Some larger brands come to us from the product side to say, we have these products. And we need to have some really good user experience. Come help us with that. And some other brands come to us from the marketing department and say, we need to go on TV or on YouTube. We need to have some films. Can you produce a strong or logo for brand or some brand music? So we always challenge the client to say, where is the sound going to be used? Have you thought about the whole user journey? So we start with the analysis of the brand. Also, a competitive silence analysis is very important. We need to know how the other brands out there sound so we don’t make a copycat. We start with the client. We always ask, what is it they want to achieve? Is it recognizability? Do you want to be recognized just like in McDonald’s until then you have to be very persistent by using the same sound over and over again in all your touchpoints? For that instance, if you go back to, a headset company like this one here, I don’t listen to this brand’s headsets commercials every day. But I listen to the UX sounds every day because I use the product daily. So the client sometimes misunderstood. Where are we using sound? Where are our clients or users hearing our brain mostly, they don’t hear us on TV that much anymore on radio. They hear it in their product, in the app, in the car, or in the headset, or your microwave. Also says different sounds. So we’re trying to educate them and move them to a more holistic scape of sound experience. And sometimes they think, they come to us and say, we need an order logo, but they end up with some UX sounds. Sometimes they come to us asking for some UX sounds for product, but we end up creating both an order logo for their commercials, but also the products. So they start with a discussion of what their ambitions are. Their visions as well. And we have come to agreement, we start the actual creative process where we convert the values and visions into musical relatable terms. And that’s quite complex. So how does innovative or modern or futuristic sound like, or we wanna be experienced as Hero, how does a hero sound like? So there are different metaphors we can use and we can both use quantitatively and quantitatively research to find out if you want to be experienced as the rebel. Then you should probably sound like this. Because it’s very important for a brand that is, that there are consistency throughout their different brand touchpoints. So it’s, it is quite a complex thing. We don’t have anything in stock. We always handmade and produce everything from the bottom up and over. Over several iterations, we figure out is this too innovative? Is this too joyful? Is this too modern or is this too whatever? Then we find the right balance and the client says Yes.

Now here it is. And often a client also has some motion graphic and innovation of their brand name. So we to justify that to the visuals or the visuals need to appear adjusted to the sound. So that’s the hint of the egg but if you look to the back and forth and you can see the ACEs case on the website, the computer. Actually it took I can ask you, Eric, how long did you think it take to produce an or like a company for that?

Arek Dvornechuck:that’s a good question. It’s probably the same question as if you ask a designer how long it takes you to design a logo, you can probably, I could probably say, Hey, I can design a logo in five minutes. I can execute in five minutes. But getting to that idea and knowing what to do.

That is the most time consuming part. So it can take me weeks or even months if it’s like a full brand identity, with a star guide and everything. Yeah, maybe the execution since you have so much experience, once you know what to do, you can do this. I If someone told you, Hey,

Karsten Kjems: Then it’s

Arek Dvornechuck:yeah, recreate this, then it’s easy. But coming up with the concept, polishing this fine tuning the sounds as you mentioned, right? Thinking about what

Karsten Kjems: It take months. So it took actually two to three months to get to the right solution. But then when we got it, then you can say, wow, yes, here it is. But behind that one solution, we have 99 sketches, demos. That didn’t work. So it’s a very refined process.

And also we need to document why do we sell like this? And there’s also need to create guidelines. And so after we have delivered the order logo, the companies also need to know, okay, now we got the order logo. How should we use it on TikTok? How should we use it on in a radio commercial? Is that the same version we can use here that’s in TikTok?

should it have more engagement or more instruments for that platform, et cetera. So it’s kinda like the visuals. You have different visuals for your Facebook, for your TikTok, for your banners outside the company, for your cars, et cetera. So the order logo today has to be really flexible, So we call that flexible consistency in sound.

It’s still the same audio logo, but it’s slightly modified to fit the different channels because you have different criteria for the different channels. If it’s a cinema, we can use 3d, you mean surround sound or logos. Whereas many platforms people play on their phones has to be optimized for that version. And also in terms of length and duration. So yes, it is getting much more complicated. In old days, they’re only TV and radio. That’s it basically. And perhaps cinema today, especially in our part of the world, Northern Europe TV and commercials are going down, whereas social media, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, product sounds, are growing a lot more.

So it’s getting more complex for the clients to use sound to create that kind of recognition that they want. Because basically Arek, our clients doesn’t want sound, they want brand equity. So we actually don’t produce all local sound design. We create brand equity with sound.

So if I can ask you a question here, if you were to buy McDonald’s brand of me, let’s say I own McDonald’s. You wanna buy McDonald’s and we figure out a price. Let’s say just for the case of it, a hundred billion dollars. Here I go, here’s McDonald’s. But I say to you, you can have the whole McDonald’s chain everything except the sound logo, because they’re gonna use that for another brand next week. So how much would you pay less for the McDonald’s brand if you don’t get it? Ba

Arek Dvornechuck:That’s pretty iconic. Yeah.

Karsten Kjems: What’s is it worth? I’m just trying to have this, rhetorical question,

Arek Dvornechuck: it is worth a lot. I was just saying the logo is worth a lot, right? These things are inseparable. And I get what you’re saying. It, you’re building brand equity, so for every company, It’s like with the logo, like with the visuals, right?

That’s what it is. If you wanna buy a McDonald’s, you see what happened in Russia, right? Like you had to redesign everything it does but it’s not McDonald’s anymore. It’s, it is another brand, right? Even if they use their, they’re all like the same ingredients and stuff like that, right?

Karsten Kjems: Excuse me. Would McDonald’s be the same brand if it didn’t sound like bam. Would it then be McDonald’s anymore if another brand used that zone with different visuals? What is McDonald’s and is it the sound, the logo? Can you see how confused people will get if you suddenly hear the sounds and you see a different logo, you say, oh, that’s not McDonald’s, or McDonald’s sounds differently.

What is it? So the value from McDonald’s is very high in terms of sound music, and if you want to create really strong brand equity with sound and music, brands need to capitalize the oral landscape. And not all brands have understood or are aware of how many brand touchpoints they have with sounds, perhaps a brand have an app and they have millions of users of that app.

So people are daily interacting with those sounds in that app. So that can create a really strong brand equity as well. We are educating the market as well because as you told me, the process, people come to us from one department of the company, and they need sound for an app or sound for a commercial.

Or sound for a product. We are saying that’s fine, but what about the other side of your company where I call you up on the phone, you are on hold music. That sounds like Western music in your app here. It sounds like an IT company. And on the website I see something different. Who are you? I get confused. So consistency is king.

That said, Arek, it’s very important for me to say that we believe that silence. ,is king. Whenever you break the silence, it has to create more meaning than the silence it sells. Otherwise, we are creating noise. We see so many people here in Europe, perhaps also in the US, that are going to retreat, going to the forest because there’s so much noise.

We get bombard the signs people are hearing, wearing these, in ears with anti-noise cancellation, we are trying to omit, you know, push away all the noises. So if you need to break through, It has to create meaning what do you do if you have a product in your house that keeps, let me ask you a different question.

Are there any of your house appliances or products you know of that are, that annoy you sound in the car or in your house or, and to work something is really, why does it always, scream at me? Can you come or something?

Arek Dvornechuck: You want me to come up with some examples of brands that I like, hear every

Karsten Kjems: No, just a sound. A sound that annoys you.

Arek Dvornechuck: a sound that annoys me. I don’t know. Probably like when you take a subway, let’s say, and the doors closed and someone holds the door, it is just beep pee. And it’s really annoying because everybody’s wasting time. Someone is holding the door, right? So that’s probably one of those

Karsten Kjems: So that’s a sound that’s an alert sound. But there also might be, I have a, for instance, I have a tumble dryer. Whenever it’s done, it places symphony. And I was just asking why is my tumble dryer playing a symphony when it’s done. I didn’t ask for that. So my home is getting invaded by, invasive sounds.

Suddenly you have, your fridge can play a sound. We have not, your speakers talking to you. I’m getting bombarded with sounds. But if they don’t create meaning, they can become too noisy. If the sound is pleasantly helping me in understanding and navigating my day, it’s a help. So it’s a fine edge here because the sound is a very powerful tool.

It can create, it can go, it can create direct meaning, but it can also turn you off. And in a basic way to say, oh, don’t shadow me. Turn off. I canceled all the sounds. Or you have no noise, or you have canceled all the notification sounds on your phone because they’re bombarding you too. That’s a challenge.

Arek Dvornechuck: that’s a challenge. So we need to pay attention to that on just make sure whatever we are doing is consistent. And I love it.

Karsten Kjems: create meaning.

Arek Dvornechuck: And create meaning by the way as you mentioned before, right? So it’s all about, about uh, you know, and, and I love how you construct the sound because for example, for ASUS you, we have this logo sound, and then we also have brand music, which is a longer version of logo sound.

Incorporate some of the same

Karsten Kjems: They are in family. They have the same, yes, exactly the same. Same elements.

Arek Dvornechuck: hear that there is this is one brand, this is not like coming from different angles, different personalities. So just to sum up for our listeners, first, you are trying to establish the goals. What is the goal? What’s the point of doing this? Where do

Karsten Kjems: What’s the purpose? What do you want to achieve?

Arek Dvornechuck: What do you want to achieve? You look at the brand holistically, as a whole. And then you focus on those brand touchpoints, right? It can be different things for different brands. And then you try to figure out what do you want to convey through this music, right? So as you mentioned, it could be rebellious, it could be a hero, it could be a magician, it could be a, you could, we could use archetypes or some personality traits.

Karsten Kjems: We do that, we use archetypes as well. We do different pointers and then we challenge the clients to make sure that we tailor-made the sound design needed for this specific brain touch point that represents. This brand as well. And for that process, we also try to play the sound in together with different films that the client already has made so they can see and hear, okay, if we play this music together with our visuals, does that fit? Does it suit us? Yeah. So that’s the creative process.

Arek Dvornechuck: Awesome. So yeah, and then you tweak it, right? So sometimes clients have already, as you mentioned they may have some kind of logo animation, so you need to work with that or you know, you just go back and forth to make sure those things match right. So yeah, that’s about it. I think we’ve discussed, we, we basically covered that.

And I encourage you guys to check out Karsten’s website which is Sonic Minds dk.

Karsten Kjems: That’s right.

Arek Dvornechuck:stands for Denmark. And what’s the best way to connect with you? Is it LinkedIn?

Karsten Kjems: LinkedIn or info at SonicMinds.Dk, we’re very easy to find or just search on Google for audio branding. We are among the findings from Google, so we are pretty easy to find, and yes. So feel free to check us out.

Arek Dvornechuck: awesome. And. Okay, so check out Karsten’s website. I’m gonna leave a link below. And if you have any questions, if you wanna work with Karsten, you can reach out on LinkedIn, right?

Karsten Kjems: No problem.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thanks Karsten, thanks for coming on the show. I really appreciate that.

Karsten Kjems: Thank you Arek. Pleasure meeting you. And I’d like to follow your podcast further.

Arek Dvornechuck:Thank you so much.

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