Episode 272: Creating a Sound Business with Julian Treasure

Have you ever thought that sound is as important as images when it comes to branding? Merging music and branding in the right way that corresponds with your brand is also as important as the business itself. In this case, Julian Treasure might have a lot of things to say about the importance of communication and the sound of your brand.

Julian Treasure is a sound and communication expert, author, and international keynote speaker. His five TED talks have been viewed more than 130 million times, and one of them is the sixth most viewed of all time. He has been widely featured as a sound and communication expert in the world’s media, including TIME Magazine; The Economist; The Times; and many international TV and radio stations and podcasts. He has been honoured with both Toastmasters International’s Golden Gavel Award and the International Listening Associations’s Special Recognition award.

In this episode, Julian Treasure talks with Adam Stott about the importance of creating the right sound for your business. Julian shares how vital listening is as an international speaker. LISTEN to learn more!

Show Highlights:

  • Life as a drummer for different bands
  • Starting a business after working as an Ad manager on a computer magazine
  • Exploring and designing the “sound” of businesses
  • Importance of listening and sound when it comes to branding
  • Why consistency of sound with your branding is important
  • How powerful our voice is when it comes to engaging people

Check out what Julian Treasure does on the following websites

Join the Ultimate Three Day Business Event and learn more Business Growth Secrets
Be part of our Facebook Group Big Business Events Members Network
Connect with me on Instagram @adamstottcoach


Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.

Adam Stott:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to this very special episode of Business Growth Secrets. I’ve got an amazing guest here with me today, that is really going to help us lift the lid on communication and listening skills. This gentleman is joining me. Julian has over 150 million people he has directly influenced through his TED Talks. He’s had a number of TED talks, and a number of TEDx talks. And one of his TED Talks is the number six of all time. So we have a real expert with us today. And I’m super excited to hear from Julian about his journey. So my guest today is Julian Treasure. So I’m super excited. Welcome, Julian, how are you?

Julian Treasure:

Good. Thank you, Adam. Yeah, glad to be here. And I’m very well, thank you very much.

Adam Stott:

Perfect. So really looking forward to learning about your journey. Obviously, how you got to where you are right now. Myself being a speaker, I understand the power of speaking and communication well, which creates major changes in my life. And I think that for business owners being able to get out there and use their voice is incredibly important. So I’m really excited to hear your take on this. And I think it’s going to be a really awesome episode.

So thanks for coming on, I want to start off by understanding how you got to where you are. Now you’ve written multiple books, you’ve done multiple TED talks, TEDx talks, and you’ve really developed a big expertise in a certain area. You know, what did the journey start out for you? How have we got to where you are now? So people can understand because a lot of people starting out, they don’t know how they’re going to get there. Don’t know how they’re going to do it. So we are really good to hear from you how it all started?

Julian Treasure:

Yeah, well, like a lot of entrepreneurs. It certainly wasn’t planned from A to Zed Definitely not. I started out as a musician, actually. So I drummed in bands in the early 80s, made records and did John Peel sessions, that kind of stuff. And then got very broke, as you do as a musician, most musicians do. Very few, very few make it. So I got a job selling advertising space for a magazine publishing company, selling ads in a computer magazine. Then went on to become an ad manager in that company, and then left that company with a few others to start a new company. That was back in ‘83, I think, which was a new magazine. 

We went through the whole process of starting a business and recruiting people and so forth. Then that got bought by a big American company. I left in 88, to launch my own business, which was producing contract magazines. That is to say, magazines that you produce for a client. So it’s just like advertising except it’s in the form of a magazine. And rather more interesting probably, than a lot of advertising. It has to be high value content.

So this is what’s now called branded content. Back then we called it contract publishing. I focused on the computer industry and won a bunch of contracts, including Microsoft. Which back then was a warehouse with about five people working around it in the UK. So it was a very different beast, still very big. We grew with them and with Sun Microsystems and apple and then we went orange. It became a kind of much broader, went on to win Lexus, and so forth. And that company grew quite rapidly. It was in the Virgin Sunday Times virgin fast track 100, twice in successive years as one of the 100 fastest growing profitable companies in the UK. 

I sold it eventually in 2003 to a big American Marketing Group, which was a very painful experience, I have to say. I now say that if you asked me what my regrets were in my career, that would be the one. When I sold that didn’t do so well out of the shares, not through any fault of ours, but because there were irregularities in the accounts of the people who bought us. I then launched a company called the sound agency. Which was designed to bring together the two houses of me the listening side, that’s what musicians do to the world.

If you’re playing in a band or an orchestra, you have to listen to a multitrack in an attentive way. You have to listen to all the other instruments simultaneously. So it gives you this kind of attentive listening, and I had long realized the world didn’t sound very good. Then I’d had 20 plus years in marketing, dealing with brands, big brands, marketing, communication, and customer experience in a way.

I realized that lots of these brands had never thought about the question “How do we sound?”. They have books, brand Bibles, which are huge and are all about logos, and typefaces and colors, and so forth. Not a page about sound, which is very strange when you think about it. Because we experience the world in five senses, not just one. So I launched the sound agency to ask that question, “How does your brand sound”? and provide some effective and profitable answers to that, and that was in 2003.

So sound kind of really became my life. And it still is, starting with the sound of organizations. And I gave a TED talk in 2007. I think the first one was, what was it 2009? Yeah, 2009 2007, I wrote a book called sound business, which was all about using sound, intentionally designing your sound as much as you design the way your organization looks, and every other aspect of it. Then in 2009, I got the chance to give a TED talk, which did quite well, it was called The Four Effects of sound. And we can go into that, if you like in a minute, the way sound affects us. 

I gave four more TED talks in successive years after that, and became, you know, quite, I guess, proficient at designing for that format, and delivering something of interest. As they went on, I started to focus on personal sound, because it became clear to me that, you know, organizations mostly sound pretty bad, because they’re not listening. And that’s what happens if you put a bunch of people who are not listening together in an organization. It all came down to listening.

So I did a TED talk about listening, that was my third one, then one about a plea to architects to start designing spaces that sound as good as they look, because they don’t think about sound at all, they don’t design for the ears. And then the final TED talk was about speaking, which is the one that went ballistic. And it’s quite interesting, actually, that one went about speaking and said five times as many views as the one about listening, which says something, I think about the world that we live in. 

So right now, I’m engaged in writing a new book all about the wonders of sound. My second book came out about two and a bit years ago, three years ago. And that was about communication skills. It’s called How to be heard. And I’m very proud to say it won both of the global Audio Book Awards, big awards in America for Best Business audio book when it came out. And we recorded it up in Orkney in a tiny little studio, which normally has a couple of blokes with fiddles and rubber wrong. So it was very nice, very, very gratifying as a cottage industry really, to make that breakthrough.

So that’s how I got to where I am now. And I’m writing a book all about the wonders of sound, which I’ve been commissioned to write by co-workers, and that’s coming out on March 24. Give or take. And I’m having a wonderful time writing that. Good.

Adam Stott:

Well, it’s good that you’re enjoying it, because it can be quite an arduous task writing books, right? It’s good that you’re enjoying it. So I’ve got so many questions actually from everything that you just shared, so many that kind of leap out on me straight away. How do you get a TED talk, because there’ll be lots of people that want to do that, but we can go on to that a little bit later.

I think the things that really stand out to me is that you really found a niche in your area, and you really branded yourself and attached yourself to sound because you love it, because you’re passionate about it. And by attaching yourself to that, you know, became the expert in it and started to build forward it would you say that’s about right. Was that purposeful intent for it to happen by accident? Did you just follow your passion? What happened to them?

Julian Treasure:

Yeah, it was definitely following passion when I started the sound Agency, my first leap, starting the magazine company that was more rational. Because where I was working before, we had a couple of those magazines that clients were paying for us to produce. So I could see the model. And I just thought, well, this is potentially a huge market, and it turned out to be, and it’s now a billion pound market in the UK, and it’s the biggest part of the magazine industry now is paid for contract magazines back then it was very new.

So, yes, I think it was a joy to me to bring together the the listening side and the marketing side in the sound agency, which is still a relatively small business, I’ve never put the energy into grow that to the degree that we grew the contract publishing business, which ended up with offices in Seattle, and Munich, and employing 150, people and so forth. I really enjoy working in a small business, I have to say.

Adam Stott:

It’s really interesting that you say that you didn’t put the energy into the growth this side, you kind of did that with the first business. And then with your passion for building that passionate business, you hadn’t grown it as much. I find that really, really interesting. Was that just because you felt like you’d been through the ups and downs before? And, you know, you’re actually just saying you enjoy working in a small business, right, is that how?

Julian Treasure:

Well you know, there are phases as you start a business. So you start off working on your own, and then you assemble a small team, and it’s like a family isn’t it, and you’re all, you know, you go out to lunch together, you work in one small room together, everybody knows everybody. And the moment I think you get past about 12, it changes because when you go out to lunch, there are two tables.

Now there’s the boss over there, and there’s the other people over there. It is a different vibe, isn’t it. And then when you get past about, I don’t know somewhere north of 50, you start going “Who’s that?” When we read, we recruited him yesterday. You kind of lose that intimate feeling of it being you know, something that you have fashioned, and that’s got your DNA all through it, which is really important. By the way, I mean, it’s very important to let go, try and read and recruit people better than you are. 

So it’s all moving upwards and let go, let go, let go and just do the things you can do and bring together a great team. But once you get past, like 100 people, you’re into running a business, it could be making sausages. In my case, it was magazines, but I didn’t get involved any more in the creative side, or the client handling side. Very much there were people doing that. And so it was all about accounts, and you know, governance and all that kind of stuff. To be honest, I can’t stand that.

So I’m very happy being back where I was, which is really being front of house with clients being very involved in the sound that we design for clients. And having a small team. The acronym I’ve got now for this company is an ironic one, it’s vast, which stands for Virtual, atomic, scalable, and team based. It’s been virtual for over 10 years. 

So really, the pandemic didn’t affect our way of working much at all, we’ve worked from home for a long time, using the tools and technologies that are available. Atomic means the center is tiny compared to the size of the whole thing, you know, an atomic nucleus. The old analogy is if you are the dome of St. Paul’s is an atom, the nucleus is an orange in the middle of it. And that’s the kind of power that you can get with a powerful nucleus and a team of freelancers.

Scalable means we’re like a film company, we can flex up and down very quickly. And team based, everything’s got to be about teams. It needs to be assembling teams, the right team of people to do the right job. And that’s made much more flexible by having freelance composers so that we don’t have a house style. We don’t want to impose that on people. Transparency is very important to us.

Adam Stott:

I’ve referenced it because I really want to say how can small business owners start to think and use this within their business? I mean, I was watching a great program actually, I mentioned this to some of my clients before, called undercover Billionaire which was very, very reality based but there were lots of business lessons in it along the way. And one of the contestants on this undercover billionaire principle is a billionaire who goes in and builds a business with $100. They got to build a million pound business within 90 days. Right. 

And one of the ladies who was from a musician background. The first thing she did was get into a studio and develop the sound of her brand, which I thought was very, very interesting. You know, having watched that many times, and all the other people have been on it. No one’s ever done that, right. And it was interesting that she really wanted to develop that sound. Why should a small business owner starting out, put some focus and attention into this area when there are so many other things, but just like to hear your take on that? 

Why do you feel it’s a really important thing to develop? We, myself, we do have a sound actually, for my business, my introduction videos, my podcasts, everything is matched. You know, I’m not saying that I’ve thought that far enough. So because I would imagine that I haven’t based on your philosophy. So I’d like to understand that a little bit if we could. 

Julian Treasure:

Well, first of all, I’m not sure I would recommend every small business owner to invest time and money. And it totally depends on what you’re doing. I mean, there are products where sound is very, very important. So you know, if you’re setting out to make motorbikes or cars or something like that, the sound of it is probably very important unless it’s electric. But even there, when we’re talking about electric cars having to make sound there’s rules coming in from the EU to force him to do that, because the dangerous slow speeds are so quiet. So it depends on how much sound matters in your business. I would say a minute, yes, if you’re podcasting, then it’s crazy not to pay attention to it. 

If I’ll give you another example of this. And we take the human voice, for example, which I’ve spent a lot of time on now. If you know, I coach people in speaking skills, I give talks to a roomful of 2000 CEOs and senior managers. And I say how many of you speak in public as part of your work? A forest of hands go up? Okay, how many of you have had formal vocal training? Five or six? I just wonder why? What is going on with these people? You know, if you’re podcasting, if you’re standing in front of rooms of people, it may be your team, your organization may be clients or prospects, and trying to persuade them and inspire them. Your voice is a critical, critical tool. 

And yet, so few people who use their voice in those very important situations have invested any time in mastering that skill. Well, that to me is madness. And it’s the same with an organization, you know, yes. If you’re going to podcast yes, if you’re going to be putting videos on YouTube about what you do, I think any great brand is about consistency. And when I say consistency, that’s not just over time, it’s also across the senses.

So whatever you’re doing in sound needs to reflect what are the visuals that you’re using? Or what’s the brand personality? What are your brand values? You know, it comes back to being very clear about who you really are? And then simply asking the question, you know, if we have the values of passion, excitement, and dynamism, and well then having a really laid black laid back soundtrack, you know, some dinner jazz behind the video is just not going to be right is it? 

So it’s about being consistent in using tempo and the kind of chords that you might use in music in the right voice, the right pacing of the right voice and the sound effects, you might want to use soundscapes in branded spaces. And when we spend a lot of time at the sound agency, designing soundscapes in places like shopping malls, are right up to an including Mall of the Emirates and dozens of malls across the Middle East, where, you know, traditionally they’ve played really inappropriate canned music through lousy sound systems, which is just not a great sound. 

And it doesn’t help speed people up. Actually, if you play fast paced music and retailers want dwell time, they want people to slow down and stay there. Ideally, unless you’re McDonald’s, in which case fast paced music is absolutely right, because people true faster, and leave faster, and that’s what you want. So very much, it’s very much about being intentional, and understanding the ways in which sound affects people and how important sound may be in your business. You know, if you’re a firm of solicitors, then if you’re marketing in a kind of traditional, subtle, understated fashion, you probably don’t want loud rock music on your website, or indeed any other sound, you might want to be just quiet and reserved. So it’s about appropriateness all the time.

Adam Stott:

Okay, love that answer. And I think there’s some really good examples about how people can really use that. What do you want to be known for to match the audio and the sounds who actually want to be known for what you want your values to? A and B already into your brand. So I think that’s some great, great points that you’ve given there, Julian? Absolutely. So why don’t we talk a little bit about the TED Talk? 

Obviously, you’re one of the most successful people I’d imagine in terms of TED Talk history. Being that you’ve done multiple of them, you’ve got the Sith best. What would you put that down to? Because you know, success is never an accident. Did you do sales? Did you do a lot of public speaking training? Or did you get mentoring coaching? How much time and money did you invest? And how did the opportunity come around about 11? Questions there for you June. 

Julian Treasure:

You know, I started going to Ted in 2003, when I sold my previous business, and I happened to have a connection with Chris Anderson, the head of Ted, because he’d been in magazine publishing as well, he started the magazine publishing company called Future and then sold it to I think Pearson and then re bought it and resold it. And it’s now a hugely successful company run by a completely different bunch of people.

So I knew Chris a bit from there, and and I went, you know, he said, I’ve just bought this thing called Ted come along. And I went and absolutely loved it. Because TED is all about connections. It’s about making connecting ideas. You know, the strapline for Ted is that his ideas are worth spreading. And it’s also about meeting people. Less so now, I have to say, you know, it’s not a cheap thing to go to. And it used to be that you stand in the queue, there’s always queues at TED, and you talk to the people next year, what do you do, I’m just writing a book with the[00:21:31-00:2133]. Oh, that’s nice. You know, that’s the kind of conversation you have at TED a lot at the time.

Now, people stand in queues, and they’re all holding a device and doing their email, which is, I think, very sad. Comment on modern societies and connection as well, and the effect of technology, particularly, you know, using our fingers and our eyes all the time to communicate with people instead of speaking and listening. Which, you know, if you think about it, we don’t teach in school at all, which is mad as far as I’m concerned. 

So I mean, I have loved Ted for a long time. And when I got a chance, in 2007, to pitch for doing a TED talk I did. Now, you know, people misunderstand Ted, they are always wanting people who’ve got something to say. But you need to understand a couple of other things. One, you may not sell. So you cannot go on to Ted and just stand on a stage and talk about your business and how great it is, or your idea, unless it’s an idea worth spreading. And there’s a sort of altruistic benefit to people in understanding it.

So it might be a new technology, that’s fine. It might be a new idea or a way of seeing things, that’s fine, too. They’re very kind of focused on ecology, if you like in the round, what’s good for humanity, what’s good for the planet, what’s good for society, and, you know, for kindness, happiness, wellbeing, all of those things. So anything that resonates with any of those is gonna go down quite well. 

The second thing, well, the two other things apart from you can’t sell art. First of all, it’s got to be an idea worth spreading. So you have to have an idea that’s going to move people from where they are now to somewhere else. And if you haven’t gotten that, then don’t try applying for a TED Talk. If you have got that. And it’s really fascinating, so it’s worth having a go.

And the second thing is they will ask you to send them videos of you talking now, if you haven’t done much public speaking, it’s a big ask to get a TED talk, you might be better off engaging with local TEDx, which are the foothills of Ted, you know, self organized events all over the world, there are 1000s of them, not run by Ted at all. Where you can ask to do your talk. And if it’s successful, Ted will see it. 

So it’s a feeder, if you like Ted. So it’s got to be an idea worth spreading, not selling, and it’s got to be well presented, you need to be able to talk and to answer your questions about me. Yes, what by the time I did that, in 2009, I’d been running a business for you know, 20 years. And I stood on stage. I’d been the chair of the association of publishing agencies, a director of the periodical Publishers Association, I’d stood on stages for you know, hundreds of times talking to audiences. And yes, I had taken that need seriously and trained myself in public speaking skills, platform presentation skills. And I’ve done several courses, you know, big multi day very intense courses. 

Where, you know, for example, you spend the whole day not being allowed to move your hands and speak to people and engage them you know, that kind of very intense level of detail, how to design great content, how to use your voice heard To use your gestures, how to design, how to use stories, how to all that kind of stuff? Yes, I had done a lot of training. So I guess the very first time I did a TED talk, I was proficient in the skill of public speaking by that time, which helps enormously. 

Adam Stott:

How valuable is this skill, dude? 

Julian Treasure:

Yeah. I mean, I know how highly I value this skill. How highly do you value the skill of speaking? And I think refining, there’s only one skill, actually, Adam, that I think is more important than speaking. And that’s listening. I think, taken together, those two skills are absolutely fundamental in determining our outcomes in life, whether you’re talking about in business, or at home, in your relationships, I mean, what’s the biggest complaint in relationships, he or she never listens to me, you know, our listening skills are shocking.

We don’t teach it in school, we don’t talk about it in schools. And this is mad, we’ve been using complex language for more than 100,000 years, writing only was invented four or 5000 years ago. It’s very recent. And yet, it’s taken over completely, you know, you’ve now got young people who are much, much more likely to send an instant message or a text to somebody than they are to engage with them face to face, it’s less scary, I suppose less chance of rejection, or, you know, upset or whatever it might be. But text has taken over so much. 

And now email, culture, texting, instant messaging, all of this stuff has taken up so much of our time and engagement, we spend a lot of our lives head down looking at a screen tapping away. When I think you could describe, you could do a job definition for a vast majority of the people in the Western world in two words, answer email. That’s what most people do all day. And, again, I think we are losing so much your voice is an extraordinary instrument. It’s the instrument we all play. And it is the most powerful way of engaging, inspiring, and building a team and bringing people with you, which after all, as an entrepreneur is, you know, this is one at one, you can’t do much on your own. You need a great team. 

And if you don’t have a great team, you know, you can look at what’s just happened with it was FTX, the company that’s just gone belly up, where you know, the guy put together, obviously the wrong team and didn’t have the right advice and didn’t have people going, hang on, you can’t do that. Well, you’ve got to have a lot of those people in business, you may not like them, but having people who sit around the board table and go hang on is really important, I think.

Adam Stott:

Slowly, we’ll usually ask the guest Julian, what’s your biggest Business Growth Seeker? I think that’s probably just been given. Right? Yeah, taking a minute question.

Julian Treasure:

Communication, absolute skills, understanding, you know, that I mean, I have a whole course on this for seven and a half hours. And I’ve written a whole book about it. So this is, you know, we’re not even scratching the surface in the time we’ve got available today. But the most important thing, if I just pick out a couple of them to understand, first of all that speaking and listening are circular in their relationship. It’s not a straight line. 

So the way I speak affects the way you listen, there’s a dynamic here all the time. The second really important thing to understand is that everybody’s listening is unique. So dear listener, your listening as a unique is as unique as your fingerprint, your irises, your Voiceprint, because everybody listens to a test set of filters that we develop throughout life history, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, expectations, assumptions. And not only is your listening, unique, but it changes through the day. We all know that sometimes we’re tired, sometimes we’re happy or angry, or whatever it may be. 

So the critical question to ask is, what’s the listening I’m speaking into. And the biggest mistake I see in communication from many, many chief execs or entrepreneurs is assuming everybody listens like I do, they do not. And once you get that, it takes your communication to a whole new level. 

Adam Stott:

Fabulous. Well, look, I’ve loved the conversation. I think you’ve dropped so many valuable points here. Business owners really like the conversation around sound but I’m a big believer, big, big believer that if businesses want to grow, they need to use their voice. They need to get out there, speak their message and communicate. I think it can differentiate them. So it’s great to hear your points. It’s been really successful in that area. Now and where can people get in touch with you Julian if they wanted to learn more about the things that you’ve got to surround sound around speaking around community occasion, you mentioned to me earlier that you’ve got a great asset, I believe on your website, Julian treasure.com. Do you want to mention that for us?

Julian Treasure:

Sure, yes, if it’s about communication skills, then Julian treasure.com is a good place to go. And if you go there, you can download an absolutely free 20 minute video where I pull apart that number six TED talk of all time, where the top American speaker coach is called Neil Gordon. And we’re basically asking the question, why was it so successful?

What do they do, right, and there are lots of lessons in there for anybody who wants to deliver a powerful talk, whether a TED talk or any of the talk. So that’s available, juliantreasure.com. And you can also find that about my books and my course, which is available online, and so forth. If it’s about business sound, then the sound agency.com is where to go. And the sound agency is all about creating Sonic logos, soundscapes in physical spaces, and really designing appropriate sound for a business.

Adam Stott:

Been a wonderful guest. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, Julian and I really hope everybody listening has really and hopefully they were listening. I hope everybody listening is really under some of the key points there about speaking, communication, listening, aligning sounds, your brand, there were so many treasures in there, Julian, excuse the pun. So some great, great, great work there. And if you’re listening today, of course, don’t forget, share this podcast, just take one moment, move your finger to go and press the share button wherever you’re watching. And share this with a business owner or somebody that wants to become a business owner so they can grow. 

You know, the podcast is completely free. We bring these amazing people to you continuously because they’ve got a message to share. They want to make the world a better place. And just at the end of this podcast, you can make somebody’s life a little bit of a better place by hitting that share button sharing this podcast with them. Thanks, everybody. And I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. 

Hi, everybody, Adam here. And I hope you love today’s episode. I hope you thought it was fabulous. And if you did, I’d like to ask you a small favor. Could you jump over and go and give the podcast a review. Of course I’ll be super grateful if that is a five star review with putting our all into this podcast for you, delivering you the content giving you the secrets and if you’ve enjoyed it. P

lease go and give us a review and talk about what your favourite episode is perhaps every single month, I select someone from that review list to come to one of my exclusive Academy days and have lunch with me on the day meeting hundreds of my clients so you want that to be yo then you’re going to be in with a shout if you go and give us a review on iTunes. please of course do remember to subscribe so you can get all the up to date episodes, place and love and I’ll see you very very soon. Thank you.

Leave a Comment