Corporate Music – How to Compose with no Soul

Are you an executive making a video pitch
to win a new business? Perhaps you’re a team leader producing an internal video to
motivate your staff? Or you might be an advertising firm creating a public relations campaign
to convince people that oil companies care about climate change? Well, whatever it is,
corporate music has you covered. Because no matter the product, no matter the event, it
has the ability to touch each and every one of us. When we learn. When we play. And even
when we turn off. It has the power to inspire joy and sometimes heartache. It can fill us
with wonder and bring us back down to Earth. And whatever journey your on – it holds your
hand all the way. Helping you ideate and innovate to achieve above and beyond, forever. OK, I’m sorry for doing that. Let’s take
a moment. Let’s breathe. OK. Here we go. Corporate music… why does it exist? No matter
how much of it I’m exposed to, I always seem to come away feeling either baffled or
irritated. When it’s trying to be inspirational, it only ever succeeds in making me feel sort-of
tired and jaded. If it tries to come across as emotionally charged or poignant, it ends
up sickly sweet and desperate. And I don’t think I’m alone here: most people I know
seem to feel the same way, which makes Corporate Music a unique phenomenon when you think about
it – a genre that manages to thrive despite being both unpopular and ineffective. And
I’ve not witnessed anyone ever jumping in to defend it either. I mean – usually when
you criticise a style of music, you’d worry that you might hurt some people’s feelings
[Clip of Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people too, my friend”] Oh yeah… I forgot
about that. Thanks Mitt! So what do I mean by Corporate music? Well,
it’s not exactly straight forward to define. I want to first be clear that I’m not talking
about Commercialism, which is when artists allow financial interests to infect their
music. Corporate music is different in that it’s transparently created to be a backing
track that helps someone sell something. It’s mainly used in that weird world where businesses
advertise themselves to other businesses, or in videos created by massive corporations
in order communicate with their thousands of employees. Let’s deal with this side
first – the insular business side – before talking about how it can spill out into the
real world. So Corporate music isn’t exactly a genre
in the traditional sense because it’s not bound to a specific style or set of instruments.
I think it’s more accurately described as something that can harness the trappings of
a style – taking its surface level idioms and cliches, while deliberately leaving behind
any emotional authenticity. In other words, I think Corporate music is something designed
not to resonate with us emotionally. And I want to clarify what I mean by this before
we dig into some examples. So… let me share a story. A few years ago – I was working as a designer
in a really horrible corporate studio in London. And one morning, on my way to this studio,
my train malfunctioned and I found myself stranded at Tottenham Hale station – which
for anyone who doesn’t know London well, is a pretty joyless place. So, to pass the
time, I grabbed a book I was reading called ‘Dialectics of Enlightenment’ by Theodor
Adorno and Max Horkheimer, written in 1944. In essence – it’s a critique of how our
thinking has been affected under late capitalism. One of its observations is that modern society
is nowhere near as enlightened as it thinks it is and that the most rational among us
are still trapped in systems of thinking that are magical in nature. And they’re talking
about actual magic here. One of the examples they point to is the ancient practice of human
sacrifice – a transaction that offered a human life in return for divine favour. Adorno and
Horkheimer compared this with the thinking process of a modern worker caught up in the
machinery of capitalism – being forced to work for an employer with no real financially
plausible alternatives. They felt that – along with this physical obligation to be at work
– workers were also forced to actively practice what they called the ‘introversion of sacrifice’.
And so… hold on… let me read that again… ‘the introversion of sacrifice’? What..
what on Earth could that mean? Well… I didn’t know. I just stood there,
stranded in Tottenham Hale station trying to comprehend what this could mean in concrete
terms. Did they mean that we simply sacrifice our time in return for money? That seemed
like a pretty obvious observation and I felt was missing the point. So after about twenty
minutes, I put the book away and just stared out into space at all the tired and irritated
looking people around me, and the generally ugly atmosphere – with all it’s electric
wiring and massive billboards hovering above us. My overwhelming feeling at that moment
was “oh, man, I really wish I could exit this dump and go home”. And then I looked
up at the billboards and focused on one that was advertising a fashion line promising to
help you look snappy at the office. And it was at this moment that I started to think
of the ways that I was trapped: not just in location but also in spirit – and I began
to then slowly empathise with this idea of the ‘introversion of sacrifice’. It’s not just that I have to be where I
don’t want to be, it’s that I have to act in a way that I don’t want to act – where
I have to lock my personality in a little cupboard and replace it with the personality
of the company, with its dull, quasi-friendly, airplane food communication style. A little
piece of my spirit in return for the means to go on existing. And when I thought about
it like that, it did seem like a pretty significant sacrifice. With all our amazing technology,
even those among us who are privileged enough to work in well paid jobs still feel de-humanised
and machine like. And it’s in this spirit that I want to return
to corporate music, which I think of as the audio equivalent of the workplace hive mind.
and it also seems to be bound by similar rules – it can’t be too artistic or experimental
and needs to keep things ‘nice and sensible’. In fact, if it was legitimately genuine or
heartfelt, it would be kind of embarrassing to watch in the company of your colleagues
because authentic, heartfelt expression doesn’t sit will in an environment where emotional
displays are frowned upon. So instead, internal workplace music tends to be an empty husk;
only dealing in the most conventional and surface level cliches while actively avoiding
edginess or unpredictability. It resembles the environment it is created in. Take the music I wrote for the introduction
to this video, which I based on something I’m sure you’ve been subjected to a thousand
times: the ‘inspirational’ video. Let’s begin with the harmony – where I’ve used
one of the most unoriginal progressions in existence (E Major: I, V, iii, II). It’s
your absolute go-to if you want to sound deep – in the shallowest possible way. And pay
attention to the fact that this progression never changes once. This is an essential rule
when writing corporate music: avoid development at all costs. Now since our harmony is standing still, we
need to give the illusion of development by using another classic trick: which is adding
a new instrument every two bars. First you hear a bass drum, then the bass. Then a repetitive
melody which never threatens to destabilise the key. And then – with a big burst of drums
and vocals, the music hits its peak. And because I wanted it to sound extra inspirational,
I threw in some meaningless vocal ticks too. To make it sound sort of… spiritual or something.
The vocal tick I decided on the phrase ‘Bo-ba-whey’. So that’s our peak, achieved through loudness
rather than any attempt at musical development. Nothing happened. No story was told. Humpty
Dumpty sat on the wall.. Humpty Dumpty … sat on the wall… he’s just going to sit on
the wall… still there… still there… this is the continuing story of how Humpty
sat on the wall… He’s sitting on the wall. Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. I go to bed
– he’s on the wall. The next day, I have my breakfast… I look up and… he’s still
there on the wall. He’s still there… he’s still there…
still watching… HUMPTY: “Hey Tantacrul, enjoy your day at
the office! TANTACRUL: “OK… thanks Humpty…see you
later” HUMPTY: You will see me later. I bet you’ll
never guess what I’ll be doing? TANTACRUL: “Em… are you going to be sitting
on that wall’? [Silence] [Part of Humpty’s face suddenly cracks] The next type of corporate music I want to
talk about, is in such high demand, it has to be produced in industrial quantities. I
call it ‘nothing music’. Nothing Music comes into play when a business doesn’t
want to communicate any type of emotion. They just need something that sounds like music
in their videos because the alternative is silence. You come across this more in uncontroversial
industries, like accounting or tech support. Again, I’m going to create my own pastiche
of this style – which primarily takes its inspiration from the kings of nothing music
and fellow Irish compatriots: U2 – and specifically, we’re going to be drawing from the grand-daddy
of genericism: the Edge, with that incredibly lame guitar delay effect he’s known for. A great technique for nothing music is to
open with an ostinato phrase that repeats right until the end. This one noodles away
uninterestingly in the key of D until joined by some piano chords. D, going to G, going
to C followed by a really cowardly retreat back to D. And the coup de grass: this melody. And with that, we’ve achieved near complete
harmonic inertia. This exact process can be followed to write
nothing music in no time. And to recap, let’s look at a different
example I put together in about 20 minutes.. First you need ostinato. [HoloLens Music] Then you add two or three chord change – in
this case, I’m just moving the root note of the chord in the bass. Then you add a pestilential melody, which
keeps restating the same phrase with only minor differences There we go – vintage nothing music — So one of the unfortunate consequences of
businesses creating this kind of music for internal advertising is that corporate hacks
get so used to it. It’s not long before it begins to affect how they communicate with
their customers. And nowhere is this more evident than in the world of Tech. The purpose of this kind of music is to help
sell the idea that product being sold is the culmination of some kind of profound altruistic
endeavor aimed at the betterment of humanity. The inspirational music written for this style
of advert usually requires a decent orchestral sampler because you can believe you’re going
to be hearing a lot of string sections playing spiccato. And when they’re not going the ‘we’re
making the world a better place’ route… then … sigh… they instead go for the ‘isn’t
life just awesome!’ route. This is probably the most irritating of all and you can expect
to hear one of two different sounds. The first is whistling… Hey! Have you got a really trivial inconvenience?
Well here at [INSERT NAME], we’ve designed a ludicrously expensive gadget to help – until
it breaks or until we design something even more expensive. Let’s make the world a brighter
place by wasting our disposable income! But the most common and egregious ‘isn’t
life just awesome!’ instrument of them all is… the Ukulele. Now, since I don’t have
a Ukulele to hand, I asked fellow YouTuber David Bruce to record himself strumming the
lamest progression he could think of on his one. Here’s what he gave me… Perfect.
And from that we get this! Now although most inspirational ads try to
be vague about the social good their product will bring about – usually sticking to phrases
like ‘Me, You, Everywhere, Inspire, yada yada’ – others go a bit further by pretending
to support an actual cause, like Audi, who’s advert seen here pretends to care about equal
pay for women. This advert landed them in hot water after it was pointed out their entire
executive team were men. Oh dear. And after taking a deeper look, I discovered it was
created by a company called… uh… ‘Cause Marketing’. The-there are marketing companies
you can hire to help you pretend you care about causes? How can these people survive
without punching themselves in the face? So, to finish up, let’s look at the most
outrageously cynical marketing campaigns of all: those by oil companies pretending to
care about the environment. An issue this sensitive requires some big guns. For this
you’ll need monorhythmic piano chords. Every year the destruction of the Amazon Rain
Forest intensifies. This makes us sad. Here at Shell, we are sad. And that’s what corporate music is. Pretending.
Pretending to be something a human would write in order to communicate an actual emotion.
Pretending to be anything other than a creative stillbirth – the product of a thousand unimaginative
decisions. And no matter how hard it tries, it just can’t help but reflect the banality
and inauthenticity of the corporation that commission it. And that, I suppose, is the
one emotional insight it’s capable of providing… it is a pretty accurate portrayal of what
corporate life is really like: dull, hackneyed and completely lacking in substance. Here’s some Monster truck music.

Hey everyone – I'm sure you've noticed that there's been a large gap between my videos recently. The reason is that I have a lot of other bits of work going on to pay the bills. Although my channel is still growing nicely, it's is not yet at the level where I can dedicate the sort of time I think it deserves. Humpty Dumpty animations don't come cheap! So, if you have a bit of spare coin, I'd ask that you please consider become a Patron to support my channel. If not, don't worry. Thanks a lot for watching, regardless!

Amanda Palmer and Andrew O'Neill beat you to it on the role of the ukulele in corporate music…

Dude, you've actually named my thoughts about this shitty genre and literally stripped off all corp-bull from ANY bigger company that you are forced to direct to your boss by his first name.
idk whether it's God or yt's algorithms, but i definetely needed this video to find internal peace and deep think about my work-life balance. Thank you, whoever you are mate.

I think there were too much emotions in the ukulele playing. Too much despair. You can see the pain in David's face. -11/10

I usually love your videos, but it seems you have a fairly closed-minded perspective on musical stories told through variation in timbre, loudness, and rhythm. It's really not that this music is incapable of expressing emotion; it's that you seem to actively avoid receiving any of it.

what's the alternative? i hate it as much as the next guy, but do you expect musicians to sell their most innovative stuff to commercials? do you have any ideas, or just complaints? at the very least, maybe some basic tips how to avoid these cliches?

This music never bothered me before, I guess I didn't really notice before, now it drives me insane. Though this type of music isn't nearly as bad as what they do with drug ads; where they unironicly change the lyrics of existing music to something that mentions the drug.

Woke bullshit is ruining everything ! 🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡🌍🌍🌍🌍🌍🌍

Note to self: Use the monster truck music for my next corporate video production and see if any of the higher ups find out

I love you, man. This is genius.

It's truly enjoyable when someone just points out everything you've been thinking about without you even knowing you needed to hear it from someone else. Makes one feel less alone in this world!

I mean without any joking, corporate music is intended to annoy us. It is designed to grate on us because we have feelings. And it's designed to not do that to people without feelings; the people much better suited to the casual sociopathic business world.

I'd love to see a video on the corporatization of so-called "indie rock" that's used incessantly in commercials these days. Your "Imagine Dragons", your "OneRepublcs" and what not that are in every single car, phone and everything else ads.

I wish you would have added another 15 minutes on how genres like vaporwave and mall soft are taking this soulless music and making it listenable.

Jesus this video was waaaaay too high quality…I think we live in the future when a YouTube vid has higher quality than movies 10 years ago!

I was just thinking about moving to the city and getting a corporate job, for money, and other advantages . …you may have changed my mind……

I’ve now been inspired to write corporate music that gets more and more atonal and discordant as it goes on… and sell it to companies with only the first few seconds as preview.

the emotionless music is like 99% of the reason I hate advertisements. There's so much good music out there why you have to make the least musical music I've ever heard in my life.

The only purpose I've found of this style of "music" is using it to simultaneously drown out other noise, while allowing me to drown it out.

If a iv-I-vi-V has no story, does a repeating melody over a drone somehow have…less than nothing? Do traditional Indian lads get a similar sense of annoyed ennui by listening to the same raga over and over?

Consider that you may be stuck before the beginning of a Hero's Journey.

Man, I actually bet AI would make music better than this; turns out we don’t need robots or computers to make soulless music after all.

Ohhhh come off it, the Edge is only "Generic" because everyone has copied U2 because they appeal to such a HUGE number of people. You can't call the progenitors of a genre or style "generic" because they're THE generators. It would be "Generic" if it were merely copying something else and sounded totally derivative. Also…the Edge has LOTS of riffs that don't use delay in the same way as some of U2's bigger hits. The constant shitting on the Edge, while I appreciate it's lighthearted, is kind of annoying considering that alt-rock and indie-rock everywhere sucked up U2's impact on the music world and copied it. In other words, calling the Edge generic for his frankly revolutionary use of delay and style that no one else had ever done is like calling Eddie Van Halen generic for tapping on his guitar so much when it's the reverse, HE'S THE ONE THAT STARTED THE CRAZE among guitarists. Progenitors cannot be generic, it's just logically inconsistent. Only people who have only heard radio U2 hits think the Edge is generic 😉

Now, I really love what you're doing here. But I feel like this video would have been snappier if you had played it as a straight parody first before delving into the philosophy involved. Great work, though, as always!

I honestly don't mind a lot of the stuff he plays in this video other than it's a bit too happy. Maybe because I am a big fan of ostinato and I tend to listen to instrumentation and timbre more than harmonic content. I think the "nothing music" example he wrote is actually pretty catchy.

i feel like you kinda failed at making nothing music; like that sample is not the most interesting thing ever, but it didnt deliver on the kind of muted despair that corporate music produces in listener

If for some reason you still need corporate music but don't want to waste twenty minutes of a composer's life to make it, check out They're thoroughly automated this process to get a tailored piece of bland nothing music procedurally generated to perfectly match your project (by that, I mean choose from the obvious "genres" of instrumentation and intensity, select tune length, and choose when or whether you want a climax of complexity in instrumentation). Good stuff. Let those composers run free.

Deconstructing garbage corporate tunes was entertaining but for me the real takeaway was the bit on sacrifice and what it means to work in a corporate environment. Really resonates with my current introspection on what makes us insidiously unhappy as office people working suposedly coveted jobs… Did not expect the answer coming from one of my fav all things music channels. Thanks for sharing that thought Tantacrul.

I forgot how much I hate all this Corporate Music until this video came along, and now I am feeling the same discomfort I feel whenever one of those horrible corporate inspirational videos plays.

Also that footage at the concert where everyone has their phones out… That's not inspirational, that's a fucking nightmare. Why any corp would use that footage is beyond me.

Despite not being much of a U2 fan, I didn't have much sympathy for the Edge guitar = lame bit. But you redeemed yourself by recruiting David Bruce on ukelele. So, thumbs up! 😎

I think they want the music to suck, because if you like it and never hear it again you'll always be chasing that musical high in lackluster workplace. In the end, it's just work music and they want nothing to do with it after the meeting or comercial is done.

I feel so bad for U2. They make Joshua Tree, one of the best albums ever created; the sound gets hijacked by entities described it this video; we spend the next several decades shitting all over the guitarist as if it's his fault.

This is brilliant,- been looking for a new style to immerse myself in as a musician,- might just have found it,- new millionaire on his way for sure. 🙂

Maybe is my music iliteracy talking but I failed at figuring out what was wrong with your example of "nothing music", I actually kind of liked it, unironically. Then again I tend to like U2's stuff so maybe I just have sh*t taste when it comes to music.
To me all of this came of as, well, very jaded.


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