1985, the year I started listening

Our Head of Creative Development, Sam Crowther, writes about the significance of communicating through audio and the defining sounds on his personal journey.

1985 wasn’t the year I was born.

I’d already been around for over a decade by then, but it was the year I started listening to the world. Of course in a literal sense, we start hearing well before then, even before we’re born the ‘thump thump’ of our mother’s heartbeat is hugely reassuring. Those early years of childhood are preparing us for the world. Our parent’s voices introduce us to language and they also give us a personal sound to identifies us by. A sound we’ll react to more than any other sound for the rest of our lives….our name.

We’re quick to learn the significance of emotion in communicating with sound, you only have to witness the different ways a two-year-old toddler says ‘no!’ to realise the range of emotions that can be behind one, simple, short word. No, I’m talking about a moment when we fully, consciously understand the world of sound and specifically its significance to us as emotional creatures.

I was eleven years old and it was Live Aid.

It was a lovely summers day so we had the radio on outside and the tv on inside. My sisters sat glued to the tv all day while my elder brother and I were out playing cricket with it on as a soundtrack but the one moment that really caught our (and everyone’s) attention that day, was Freddie. At that moment I understood the connection between communication, voice, language, emotion and music. They’re one of the same.


It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.

A phrase that beautifully sums up the significance of sound, emotion and memory. If you wrote down what Freddie says it makes no sense and no elaborate use of adjectives can ever truly do justice to what you feel listening to it. It’s seared in my memory, in a way the Beatles or Hendrix did for the generation before and artists like Bieber and Adele are doing now. You will probably be thinking of the track, performance or artist that did it for you too. It’s no surprise music becomes so important through our teenage years, it’s the point we start working out what it means to be an emotional human being. The point we understand we can influence others and define who we truly are.

So we start listening to music, friends and media more and our parents less, because defining who you are means you need to start breaking away and learn independence. Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Mad Max also had significant impacts on me at that time. I started skateboarding, took an interest in DIY technology and aspired to ride a motorbike (which I’ve done ever since) and again the soundtracks are seared in my memory. However perhaps more significantly for my career is that brands understood the emotional connection sound can deliver.

We heard it through our speakers.


1985 was also the year of this iconic ad. The 50’s imagery is very powerful but it’s true impact came from the soundtrack, Marvin Gaye’s break-up song, ‘I heard it through the grapevine’. It began a decade of Levis’ ad soundtracks topping the charts and thus radio playlists, particularly those of the non-commercial but hugely influential, BBC. I heard the emotional values Levis wanted me to feel many more times than I saw them, they’re just blue jeans right! A brand using music to muscle its way into the soundtrack of my generation, whether we liked it or not.


So 1985 was the year I started listening, taking an interest in the way sound, music, culture and brands mix. Most people don’t analyse it in any depth, but subconsciously it is as much a part of us as our DNA. This was the first step on a personal journey that has led me to Creative Development at A Million Ads and this blog post. In future posts, I will explore and explain how and why personally relevant sound is so powerful with reference to research, theories and campaigns from the past, the present and with an ear on the future.

Sam Crowther, Head of Creative Development

Sam Crowther

Sam is fascinated by sound, particularly understanding how and why it affects us in the way it does. As well as developing the understanding of how we apply dynamic personalised sound within ads Sam tests the creative boundaries of this format to make them more human.