Making the Sound: YouTube Sonic Brand*
* by Colin Coogan, Wilson Brown
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YouTube, the world’s most popular online video platform, engaged us to craft its first sonic brand. Our objective was to represent YouTube’s brand pillars — human, connected, expressive, and story-driven — and capture the feeling of “diving deeply into the things you love.” Our sound needed to build consistency across products and advertising while being flexible enough to produce unique versions across different verticals.

The final sonic, “Buckle Up,” portrays a microcosm of the Youtube user journey, where a deep dive unlocks a portal to the things you love most. The sound has been universally accepted and socialized across the organization and content platforms, creating the sonic consistency the brand was looking for. Its distinctive structure was later adapted as a unique but recognizable variation for the YouTube Shorts sub-brand, proving that the concept was malleable and flexible enough to create a through-line across YouTube’s entire ecosystem. YouTube Senior Motion Designer Andrew Lebov reflects: “Antfood provided us with a deep audit of the existing sonic branding landscape, identified some space where we could stand out and delivered a flexible sonic system that tells our brand story“.

We knew we would need to create something vibrant, engaging, and easily recognizable so that even if users are turned away from their devices, they know something’s about to pop up on YouTube. We started by digging into YouTube’s brand pillars, and developing strategies to universally convey them through sound. YouTube is:

  • Human: A sound that conveys the emotion, texture and organic imperfection of humanity.
  • Connected. A transforming, transitional gesture that reflects the idea of connecting interests, people and cultures.
  • Expressive. A sound with dynamic textures, ranging from small to large, close to far, dark to bright, intimate to bold.
  • Story-driven. A sound that, even though it’s short, gives a sense of a narrative arc, with a clear beginning and end.

The final output is memorable, hummable, and uniquely YouTube. It was designed to represent a brief microcosm of the Youtube user journey, where a deep dive unlocks a portal to the things you love most. We crafted specific musical elements to achieve these goals:

Deep Dive. The sound starts with rich, diving bass that signifies the irresistible gravitational pull of YouTube. This “deep dive” represents a sonic threshold to the world of YouTube, where you can become fully immersed in the topics that interest you most.

Upward Flourish. Next comes a vibrant upward glissando, injecting a sense of joy and playfulness. This element represents the excitement of discovering your new favorite song, a new creator or a new perspective on something you already love.

Melodic Signature. A two-note melodic phrase echoes the two syllables in the name “YouTube.” The organic timbre feels human and approachable, while the inclusion of melody makes the overall sound more memorable, hummable and uniquely YouTube. The melodic gesture is augmented by a champagne pop sound that suggests celebration and emphasizes the first syllable “You,” thereby matching the natural contours of the spoken word.

Tactile Motion. A subtle tactile element further grounds the sound in the real world, while creating additional forward momentum. It nods to the DIY nature of the YouTube community, and subtly evokes a door being unlocked, illustrating YouTube’s role as a gateway to the things you’re passionate about. Sentimental Harmony. Finally, a warm synth pad plays a major 7th chord. This harmony supports our melodic signature and has a nuanced and joyful tone that represents the way YouTube allows you to explore the things you really love.

To tie everything together, our friends at BUCK created an animated logo, strategically integrating the following components. A quick CRT-style power up serves as a subtle nod to the early YouTube days, its color shifts is a poppy attention-grabbing intro. A quick transitioning into an to an expanding playhead and timeline bar offers a simplified, evergreen nod to YouTube’s iconic user interface. The animation culminates in a punchy left-to-right motion across the playhead and timeline bar to form the YouTube icon, as the logotype slides into the YouTube logo lockup.

The sonic has been successfully integrated into the YouTube app across a plethora of streaming devices and platforms, building equity and helping the brand make its mark no matter where people encounter it. Most importantly, the sonic conveys “dive deeply into the things you love” in a way that is emotive, yet culturally agnostic, while exemplifying the brand pillars human, connected, expressive and driven by story — all in a mere 3 seconds.