I remember being a nerdy fifth grader living in Key West, FL. My dad was in the Navy and we moved around quite a bit, so I was always around lots of new, interesting people. Fifth grade was when I started figuring out what kind of music I liked and didn’t like. I had tapes and cardboard cover singles of Bel Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Jodeci, mostly R&B music. Then one afternoon at a friend’s house, I heard a group called NWA, and I’ll never forget hearing the first line “Straight outta Compton, crazy motha…named Ice Cube!” I was uncomfortable, shocked, nervous, and fascinated. I’d heard rap music before, but never like this. I was totally hooked. I didn’t understand the political or social implications of NWA, but it was where my love for hip-hop first began.

When I heard they were making a biopic of NWA called Straight Outta Compton, I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to see a sensationalized movie filled with exaggerations. But, I did want to see a re-creation of the context that helped create the music. I knew about it and had read about it, but I’d never seen it.

After hearing that Ice Cube, Dre, and Eazy E’s widow were overseeing the project, I was all in. And, I loved it. It really brought me back to that moment in fifth grade when I first heard those lyrics.

It was powerful for me to see the environment the music came from. You really can’t understand “F The Police” without seeing what happened to black youths growing up in Compton. You have to understand one to really understand the other. Context is key.

In the last few months, I’ve been reminded how important context is to Music Design. Before you can select music for a brand, you have to have a frame of reference for who that company is. What is their history? Where did they come from? Where do they want to go? What is their purpose? Who are their customers? Etc.

As the newest Music Designer, these are questions that I’m learning to ask everyday. I’m not simply selecting music that will work in one location or a random store; I’m selecting music that will help tell the story of a brand. It’s fun to think that I can help a company have a positive impact on their customers by selecting music that helps provide a proper context for who they are, and who they want to be.

– Submitted by Matt Powell, Music Design