Al Jazeera rebrand gives new attention to music in presentation

When the Qatar-based media company Al Jazeera relaunched its news channel late last year, it adopted a risk-taking approach that prioritized delivering modern, compelling storytelling to a market with a notably young relationship with independent news coverage.

Essential to the rebranding effort was a newfound reliance on music, according to Mohamed Moawad, manager of output at the company.

“Before this relaunch, we haven’t relied heavily on music,” said Moawad. “Now we are really giving attention to the music because it’s part of this concept of making sure the news delivery is compelling. The music is there in every show and it helps build the show’s identity and relates to the show. We considered music a very important element in building this concept.”

Al Jazeera commissioned Stephen Arnold Music to oversee the sound of its brand overhaul, which included new music across all morning, daytime and evening news programs, idents and promos. The project marked the continuation of a creative partnership that has lasted over two decades.

Driven by propulsive strings and suspenseful horns, all recorded live with organic instruments, the gripping new musical direction is fitting for our current tumultuous news era.

For the project, the composition team at Stephen Arnold Music composed a total of 26 pieces of music ranging from programming themes to brand promo themes, most of which were fully orchestrated. The music also serves as an audio toolkit for brand identity and promotions.

“They wanted to do a complete re-invention of how they present news, from the presentation and content standpoint to the visual graphic and set standpoint,” explained Chad Cook, Stephen Arnold Music’s vice president of creative. “The music was an integral part to guide what they call another innovation moment in the MENA region, which is Al Jazeera reinventing itself into the future.”

The MENA region is a grouping of countries located in North Africa and the Middle East that stretches from Morocco to Iran. Founded in 1996, Al Jazeera was the region’s first independent news channel. Compared to the rest of the world, MENA’s relationship with independent journalism is startlingly new.

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“The whole organization, the whole concept, the whole mission is taking risks in a region that has no previous experience with news coverage,” explained Moawad.

Al Jazeera provides MENA with news 24 hours a day. Perhaps the most complex and impressive feats that Cook and the rest of the staff at Stephen Arnold were crafting music that would fit the emotional subtlety of each moment in the 24-hour news cycle.

“They structured the rebrand in a way that asked how an audience would engage with a 24-hour news channel,” said Cook. “Well, in the morning, you want to know what’s going on, what happened overnight. ‘What do I need to know today as I’m getting out the door to go work?’ So they wanted to match the way the audience consumes the information and the programming through the daypart.”

“The morning has its own kind of energy. It’s energetic, it’s vibrant. It has a little bit of seriousness to it but it also doesn’t make you want to feel like you’re starting the day with overly serious news and things that are a burden. So there’s a brightness and energy to the morning, even though in morning coverage you’re going to have serious events that you’re covering sometimes. But the DNA of the sound and visuals was meant to be very engaging, energetic, still with a news credibility to it but not overly dramatic or something that might make you feel some sense of foreboding or heaviness.”

The music shifts and evolves throughout the day, from the refreshing vibrancy of the morning programming to the inquisitive, analytical energy of the afternoon to an initial burst of urgency that gradually fades into a more laid back interpretation accompanying the evening segments, which are aimed at helping the audience digest the complete news of the day, according to Cook.

“There was an absolute direct musical tie-in with how they cover the news throughout the day. We defined specific tones, audience behavior, the kinds of stories that they would cover in every single hour and show and how to best match the pacing, mood, and presentation to that audience in that specific show.”

“Of all the projects that I’ve done, it’s probably the most in-depth, where we’ve really looked at audience behavior, why they would be watching that show at that specific hour, and what they’re hoping to get out of it and how the music can really support the presentation of that.”

At the heart of Al Jazeera’s rebranding efforts was a desire to modernize and make its news delivery more compelling and innovative. The initiative was borne out of the findings from a large focus group and research project the news media company launched to learn more about how viewers were interacting with their programming, resulting in new studios, motion graphics and even directing style.

“People want to watch something compelling, something entertaining. They’re not interested anymore in watching a newscast or a broadcaster presenting the news only reading from the teleprompter without engaging the content. The audience wants an interactive experience with the news they consume. They’re interested to know more, not just about what’s going on.”

Cook describes Stephen Arnold Music’s undertaking in creating the music for Al Jazeera’s brand overhaul as logistically ambitious. The music was recorded over a five week period and featured violins, violas, cellos, trombones, trumpets, bass trombones, and French horns.

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“The music was composed and produced in rounds – we would get 5-6 themes written and approved. Then, we’d bring out the players and spend a week recording each of the five rounds of themes. After that we would pass them along to our post-production team for final mixing and editing. It was important to allow for several weeks in between each round of recording sessions because this is live orchestration and it’s very complex––these are symphonic scores, with all sorts of harmonies, voicings, articulations, counter-melodies, and instrument overlays. So we really had to be strategic about the form of these pieces, and would work closely with the Al Jazeera creative team to make sure every aspect of the compositions would work in terms of application and functionality.

A major aspect of the musical rebrand was an audio toolkit of 10 brand promo cuts representing core values of Al Jazeera’s brand, including boldness, confidence, inquisitiveness, and introspection. But, like the complexity of a thoroughly reported news story, Cook noted that a key part of his team’s mandate was to reflect subtlety and nuance within the music.

“The mission was to reimagine and innovate their iconic sonic brand – to take telescoped and abbreviated bits of it, to change notes at the last moment unexpectedly, to put it over chord structures and utilize voicings that hadn’t been used before. In a way it was an evolution and a remix of the familiar—like the same person inside but with new clothes and a new look. We wanted to create these little endearing moments that are hinted at but are then followed by a more substantial expression of it.”

“So, you hear all these interesting bits and pieces in the promos. Sometimes it’s the full melody. Sometimes it’s a little bit of the melody. Sometimes it’s the melody starting that then takes an unexpected left turn. Our goal here was to take the core of what the audience knew but re-imagine it and present it in a new and fresh way.”

Explore more of our in-depth look at the relaunch of Al Jazeera including the new scenic design, motion design and directing style.

About
Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire is a writer and musician currently residing in northern New Mexico. In addition to his work covering the music industry, he writes personal essays and fiction. He makes music under the name Straight White Teeth and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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