Speaking the Universal Language

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No matter where we call home or what language we speak, we as humans are able to interpret the emotions present in music – It’s a legacy of our evolution and it’s no surprise music is often referred to as the universal language.

What becomes much harder is the subjective nature of describing music.

Deciphering a brief

3 years ago I set up a company called Shibui Music which crafts bespoke composition for moving image. I’d say nearly all of our work was for short-form TV ads or online campaigns. Working with agency creatives and producers became extremely familiar as did the challenges around interpreting feedback and realising their vision.

Being able to decipher a brief and drill down on what your client really wants is a valuable skill and equally, from the agency side, being able to write clear and fluent briefs saves bags of time.

The creative collaboration and process of getting to that perfect version is largely an enjoyable one and there were many times we succeeded quickly, however, there were also times we totally didn’t and it was a much longer drawn out process.

A matter of subjectivity

The struggle came from communication and an inability to get on the same page and understand the language used in the correct context. As we all know, music is subjective and your ‘Jazzy’ may not be my ‘Jazzy’.

I think talking about music will always be this way to an extent, but what I want to explore in this experiment is what the common and reoccurring elements are behind each term (if any).

5 terms

After a quick post on a number of composer facebook groups, we pulled together a large list of terms composers tend to come up against.

For part 1, we drilled down to just 5:






Our experiment

Our experiment is simple. We have created a form for musical participants (composers) and then also non-musical participants (creatives, directors, producers etc).  The next step is for you to fill in what each musical term means to you.

My goal for this isn’t to define the correct way to talk about and describe music, but hopefully, find some correlations which act as an extended dialect for speaking and describing music more effectively.

So, without further ado, here is the form:

powered by Typeform

If you experience technical difficulties while filling the form, try the direct link instead: https://shibuimusic.typeform.com/to/UcU0m4

Coming up next

In part 2 we will analyse the responses and explore any interesting correlations or surprises that have occurred. Maybe I’ve had ‘Edgy’ wrong all this time…!

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Simon Whitehead

Simon Whitehead

Simon is an electronic musician and founder of Shibui Music and Sparks.fm. Since beginning his music for advertising career just 3 years ago, he has worked on campaigns for Google, Toyota, Adidas and Sure For Men to name a few. Simon is now exploring new and innovative ways to incorporate technology into the bespoke process with Sparks.fm. You can reach simon at simon@sparks.fm.

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