The power of positivity. As in music, so in life.

By: Rajeev Raja

The year was 1986. And our band Colossus in Bangalore had built a pretty good reputation for itself in the Jazz-Rock space.

But never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate what was to happen next.

To our absolute delight we were invited by the organising committee of the first ever Jazz Yatra in Bangalore, to open the festival as it was the tradition to kick off with a local band.

 Needless to say we had millions of butterflies fluttering and dancing merrily in our stomachs as the day dawned bright and clear.

Performing on the same stage as us were some giants of Jazz such as the famous pianist Kenny Baron and we were pinching ourselves to make sure we weren’t in a dream. The sound check went off without a hitch and and we were nervously waiting for the curtains to go up.

Suddenly we heard a commotion backstage. An Australian Jazz band, whose delayed flight kept them from being present at the sound check, were complaining in typical Aussie manner with a few cuss words being thrown around.

Curious to see what their problem was we gathered around and discovered what their grouse was. The piano was tuned a semi-tone or half note lower from concert pitch. The rest of the band were refusing to play as their material was fairly complex and transposing on the fly to compensate for a differently tuned piano was a virtual impossibility.

It was at this moment when things hung perilously in the balance, that a remarkable thing happened. The leader of the band, who was also the pianist, stepped up and said in a quiet voice: “Easy lads. Let’s not lose our sense of humour. I’ll transpose as we play”.

I was stunned. This was true leadership. Calmness in adversity. And later while watching them play a magical concert I realised that one’s approach to life defines how well one participates in it.

Through the years as a creative director in advertising and as a musician performing in India and abroad, whenever I’m faced with an impossible situation and everybody around is losing their cool, these words always play in my ear:

“Easy lads. Let’s not lose our sense of humour”.

This blog is about my musical experiences over the years and the different life lessons I’ve gleaned from them.


The power of five : the unifying quality of the pentatonic scale and the role of music in creating a sense of community and belonging

By Rohini Raja

Communication or language at the heart of its existence in culture is about a feeling of one-ness. It’s role in creating one-ness and a sense of community between people, has been ruled by community agreement. Community agreement is a state in which a community comes agrees upon the meaning and association of words within that said community.

Conflict usually occurs between cultures because of the existence of diverse communities within that culture with differing community agreements. How then does one find a common emotional and cultural language for all of humanity to truly feel a sense of belonging to each other?

Could music be the answer ? 

Music has its own language based on community agreements too. It is made up of 3 fundamental elements : melody, harmony and rhythm. The melodies and harmonies are derived from 12 distinct pitches that are organised into scales.  While there are different cultural expressions of music using these scales, we have discovered a fundamental scale which has universal appeal across most cultures. 

This is the Pentatonic scale; unique scale that is made up of only 5 notes, and yet interestingly, has great unifying powers and cross cultural resonance. Some of the greatest global hits of all time have been built around the Pentatonic scales.

In an interesting session on science and music, Bobby Mc ferrin introduces an unsuspecting audience to the wondrous and powerful universality of the Pentatonic scale. He starts with giving the audience two notes and then has them spontaneously sing the third one. And everyone sings the same note together feeling instantly connected. He then talks about how in every session that he’s conducted across the world he has received this universality of response.

Here’s a thought. With only 5 notes, it is truly possible to communicate to the entire human race in one voice. The power and magic of music and this scale comes alive, in cutting across language barriers and walls that divide and separate us both culturally and emotionally and creating a universal intuitive yet scientific language of communication. This forms a deeply pure and spiritual collective sense of one-ness and belonging in the world that no other medium can truly create.


Remember when Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder got together to create awareness for AIDS?

That’s What Friends Are For

By: Rohini Raja

In 1985 Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder came together to release a charity single called “That’s What Friends are For”, for the American Foundation for AIDS research. The album raised over $3 million for the foundation and landed at #1 for four weeks on ‘The Billboard Hot 100’. It even culminated into a 1990 benefit concert, ‘That’s What Friends Are For Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert’, which raised over $2.5 million for various AIDS organizations.

Music and sound are very interestingly integral to the evolution of human consciousness and the elevation of society. This particular musical movement paved the way for inclusivity, love and acceptance to become pillars of the modern-day social fabric. And all through the power of sound! Who would have thought! So the next time you hear a sound or a song, think to yourself, how has this led to my evolution as a person towards being more compassionate and inclusive towards people different from me? 

This World AIDS Day, we salute these music heroes for their contribution towards society through the powerful medium of sound. 

Keep smiling, keep shining

Knowing you can always count on me, for sure

That’s what friends are for

For good times and bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more

That’s what friends are for

Article reference: ’12 Songs About HIV/AIDS That Were Part of a Movement’

By Tracy E. Gilchrist


On Music and Mental health

By: Revati Raja, MSC

One of the hardest parts of communicating and connecting with your emotions is not knowing how to reach out to others and explain exactly why you don’t feel alright as well as feeling ashamed for being human and vulnerable.

This is also a huge reason why alot of people dont reach out for mental health support. A large cause of suicide is a sense of mental paralysis that stops you from facing and connecting with and resolving the pain inside.

 The key factors involved in the decision to take your life involve, feeling too overwhelmed by a traumatic experience and strongly believing that suicide is the only way to end your pain. So really in that moment, you want the pain to end, not your life.

Through the practice of self-compassion in therapy, clients learn to develop compassion toward themselves and toward others around them. A little empathy and compassion can go a long way in making you feel less alone. The question then becomes, how do we find a tool to release our emotions when our feelings seem too hard to explain and practice self compassion?

Awareness is one such tool. And awareness often develops more in fluid rather than crystallised spaces, gentle fluid spaces like music where our emotions can flow without judgement from ourselves and others.

Are you aware of what music calms you?  What music triggers emotions you’re not yet ready for but could bring yourself to face in the warm embrace of a melody? What music helps you get closer to yourself? What music brings you inner peace?

My observations through my years working as a mental health professional is that the combination of music and therapy can do wonders to heal the human mind and help it grow fundamentally. I have often used rhythms and melodies to help my clients express emotions that they can’t put into words. While music is certainly not a substitute for therapy, it helps you connect with and respect your vulnerability as a human being which is key to benefitting from the process of therapy.

Be aware of the tools you have at your disposal so that you can channel your inner power through truly the most powerful fluid tool for a healthy mind – music. Today is about prevention and the first step towards prevention is awareness. Suicide is not the answer.

“When you’re down and troubled

And you need a helping hand

And nothing, nothing is going right

Close your eyes and think of me

And soon I will be there

To brighten up even your darkest night”

(You got a friend- James Taylor)


The sound of money

A bank tries to differentiate itself through music. Will that be pure melody to consumers’ ears?

It’s rare to see bankers sway to any other tune than cha-ching, the sound of money. At HDFC Bank’s central Mumbai headquarters, about 200 executives led by their managing director Aditya Puri assembled for a session that would last for an hour.

Holding centre stage was Rajeev Raja, co-founder, Brand Musiq, whose firm specialises in sonic branding, the art of creating brand recognition through a signature tune for the brand. To drive the point home, Raja plays the Airtel tune created by AR Rahman on his flute. “Who can guess the brand?” he asks. A lady banker enthusiastically shouts out the answer and gets a bar of chocolate as a prize.

Next, Raja takes the audience on a tour on how music can bring images to your mind. He asks every member of the audience to close their eyes and plays the Raag Hamsadhwani. He then asks members of the audience to spell out the images that came to their mind when they heard the tune. Most people in the audience come up with similar answers, like the onset of dawn, flowing river and so on. Raja has underscored his point – music brings associations and imagery to mind.

Hence last week HDFC Bank got its employees together to launch its sonic branding or musical logo (Mogo). Set to the tune of Raag Bilawal and Raag Shudh Kalyan, the first raga is an expression of innovation and dynamism while the latter reflects the caring, humane nature of HDFC Bank. In the brand anthem, contemporary western instruments such as the piano and guitar are used along with the sitar, to create a blend of global aspiration and Indian earthiness.

The Mogo will be used across multiple touch points such as ATMs, phone banking, mobile banking app and the website. The objective is to create a distinct brand imagery where the Mogo helps form an emotional connect with consumers across platforms. A company statement says that the musical logo creates a sonic imagery of a brand that’s in tune with the evolution taking place while remaining true to the brand’s core values of operational excellence, customer focus and so on.

The Mogo is to be present across touch points in the bank’s journey from hi-tech to hi-touch, says Kartik Jain, executive vice-president and head, marketing, HDFC Bank. “The intention is to create an emotional engagement among various stakeholders ranging from a farmer in rural India to urban city dweller and from a government employee to a corporate one, through the use of sonic branding across platforms,” he adds.

The exercise started with the bank holding focus groups to understand the brand essence and attributes. The brand essence that came through was ‘everyday evolution’ with an underlying message of ‘caring’. The brand was also associated with the avatar of a sage and creator followed by the attributes of courage and caring. Based on this feedback, the agency looked at which instruments would best connect these attributes. The sitar, piano, guitar, santoor and dilruba were all tried out. After that three different sets of music compositions were researched with customers. The customers had to come up with their perceived visual representations of the music. The chosen tune was selected because it had all the right attributes of caring, surprise and joy. The first reaction from employees was that the Mogo was extremely soothing. The Mogo has been adapted to ringtones and caller tunes. The entire composition will be played in bank lounges and so on.

Raja says that every time BrandMusiq executes a project, the proof of concept comes through very clearly. In the past, the agency has worked on brands like Vistara, Mahindra Holidays and Cadbury Eclairs. It will soon unveil sonic branding for Lenovo. Raja, however, says that a Mogo is much beyond an attractive signature. “If you execute it strategically, then you can unlock much more than just brand recognition,” he says. “Sound evokes a million words and images,” adds musician Merlin D’souza who’s worked along with Raja on this project.

Much like a new-born baby, the Mogo might evoke positive reactions, but a brand manager advises caution. For companies that have a substantial subscriber base running into millions like Airtel or a HDFC Bank, a Mogo might work. But for brands who do not have such numbers, it’s very difficult to justify the marketing spends behind popularising this signature tune. HDFC Bank’s Jain sees an advantage. For a brand that’s often faced with the gargantuan task of taking its message across India and translating brand literature into several languages, music is the big unifier. No one has ever heard of a CMO getting sacked for a poorly translated brand message (that too in a language the CMO did not understand). However, if such a situation was to arise, music could always come to the rescue.

Are logos with sound the next stop for companies?

HDFC was facing a perplexing challenge in its journey from hi-touch to hi-tech. “With fewer interactions at the branch, getting emotional connect for the brand was a challenge,” admits Kartik Jain, head – marketing, HDFC Bank. The bank turned to an unlikely solution: deploying sound in a structured-manner. The bank hired Soundmusiq for an intensive sonic branding endeavour which has been recently rolled out across touchpoints. These include all ATMs with a sound card, NetBanking, PhoneBanking IVR and hold music, YouTube videos, Mobile apps, employee caller tunes and ring tones.

A leap of faith for a brand that has been wary of splurging on print and television. It rolled out a TV campaign after a gap of nearly five years. Sound evokes memories, can help create an emotional layer. At the same time, the mnemonic is fundamentally digital, thus putting it in a sweet spot.

The banking brand is not the only using sound to give it a distinct connect. Lenovo is in the midst of an extensive sonic branding project, touted to be a global roll-out. Bhaskar Choudhuri, director – marketing, Lenovo India refused to share details, but believes very few brands use sound in a strategic way. Being under-leveraged and under-populated, gives brands an opportunity to make a distinct statement. “For a relatively new tech brand like us, it provides an opportunity to leapfrog,” he adds.

With increasing visual clutter, brands are realising the importance of properties that communicate and strengthen core values, not necessarily via TV. Says Richa Arora, chief operating officer, consumer products business, Tata Chemicals, “Over time, sonic identity will subconsciously acquire a deeper meaning.” Tata Chemicals has already implemented sonic branding for its newly launched Tata Sampann brand and is close to a roll-out for the flagship Tata Salt Branding via sound is relatively unchartered terrain the world over. In India, Rajeev Raja co-founded India’s first specialised outfit Brandmusiq after many years in advertising. For Raja, music was always a key driver (he performs with retro rockers Wanted Yesterday). But he’d hit a stage where “I had to decide between ‘same-spot bicycling’ or trying something new.” And so Brandmusiq launched in 2012, specialising in sonic branding through creation of a mogo (musical logo) and mogoscape.

A mix of art and science, it’s a three stage process: Brand Discovery in which brand-owners articulate the brand’s vision, persona and values, within a structure best suited to creating a sonic identity, followed by Sonic Moodboards, in which “we present ‘sketches of sound’ to initiate an understanding of the ‘zone of sound and instrumentation’ that the brand can operate in which best reflects its persona and values, shares Raja. The final stage is Mogo/Mogoscape creation in which the final sonic identity is created. It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more.

In a cluttered, over-exposed world a sonic identity could provide brands a layer of emotion and recognition sustainably and memorably, the Holy Grail for all brands. “Nearly every brand is a multi-platform brand now, and the sonic opportunities are limitless. Just think that all the customers are now walking around with a speaker in their pocket!” says Joel Beckerman, founder of one of the oldest sonic branding agencies, the US based Man Made Music. (Read – Making The Right Sounds)

Richa Arora of Tata Chemicals sees the mogo as a longterm brand asset, to be deployed the way they would a logo or visual identity: consistently across all communications and consumer touch points: From TVC, radio ads, digital to events, activations… even ringtones, she shares. The mogo in its ultimate form goes beyond an audio mnemonic to creating an audio signature. One key challenge is people confusing it with a jingle which really are two separate things. “The issue is to shift the benchmark of brand owners from a tactical ‘jingle’ to owning a strategic long term ‘sonic identity’ as an asset”, says Raja.

Joel Beckerman, of ‘Man Made Music’ creator of sonic identities for AT&T, HBO, Imax, Southwest Airlines etc, shares his vision for this niche form of branding

Why Sonic?

Man Made has been in business 17 years. Our work has always been about sonic branding — even before the term was fashionable. We’ve moved from a communication focused to an experience focused world. Brands need to make emotional connections with al l their audiences. It’s as if Apple showed the world that loved brands do better business. General market brands in technology, communications, airlines, retail, restaurants — even financial services — approach us to tap into our entertainment expertise and help tell their story with music and sound. It is an incredibly efficient shortcut to emotion. Every brand is different, and everyone has different sonic opportunities. There are no cookie cutter solutions.

Why Sonic Now?

Nearly every brand is a multiplatform brand now, and the sonic opportunities are limitless. Just think that all the customers are now walking around with a speaker in their pocket! Usually people come to us just looking for a sonic logo as a sign-off for their advertising, or a sound for their app. We introduce them to our approach which is about creating a sonic strategy for the brand and giving them an authentic voice that delivers on their brand and business objectives and that’s where the fun begins.

What are the major challenges?

When brand strategy is either unclear or emotionally flat, or when key stakeholders have very different visions. We need a clear, powerful story to tell to create work that is meaningful and will stand the test of time. It also can be a bit of a challenge when key stakeholders are not involved from the beginning. Many CEOs, CMOs and even COOs have been involved in our workshops. We’ve learned so much about some brands from executives who might not consider themselves ‘creative’. Nearly anyone can identify when music and sound feels right and synchs with their vision of the brand.

HDFC Bank gets into sonic branding, gets new ‘musical logo’

For the first time ever, HDFC Bank is introducing a sonic branding activity. The bank is set to launch a musical logo, that will be used across its multiple touch points like ATMs, phone banking, mobile banking app and the website to name a few.

Rajeev Raja’s Brand Musiq has created the musical logo for HDFC. The company believes that the musical logo or MOGO will help to form a powerful connect and recall among its various stake-holders across platforms.

“The MOGO has been created keeping various aspects in mind. One, the core values that HDFC Bank as a brand stands for in the minds of customers and second is the dynamic nature of the business today. HDFC Bank today is known as the premiere digital bank in India built on a solid foundation of trust and reliability over two decades. The digital element signifies the contemporary and youthful quality of the bank, which is constantly adapting to meet the needs and requirements of the target audience,” said an official spokesperson of the company.

Here’s the MOGO: