Why Your Smart Appliances Have Built-In DJs
Home electronics firms are using sound to brighten the domestic experience.
I must confess, I find myself engaged in few conversations about home appliances. Indispensable they may be, but my passion they are not. Yet, I recall chatting to a friend a while back about his new LG washing machine. After delivery and installation, he was delighted to catch up with the titanic mountain of laundry that had accumulated since the family’s old machine kicked the bucket a few days before. His delight cranked up a notch or two after discovering the ubiquitous mod con’s ability to sing cheerily while going about its job. This, my friend spiritedly argued, brightened up the domestic drudgery of his Saturday morning.
I smiled widely throughout the story, nodding and raising my eyebrows at just the right times, but none of what he said came as a surprise to me. Many electronics brands are synonymous with certain sounds, and it’s no different when it comes to home appliances — not just washing machines, but also fridges, ovens, microwaves, tumble dryers, and so on. These gizmos no longer simply beep or ping when they’re finished doing what they do — they now play jaunty and appealing tunes, all carefully composed by experts to enhance the user experience and increase happiness accordingly.
Not convinced this effect is possible? Companies like LG certainly are — and justifiably so. Such companies have long exploited sound to help users feel a connection with their home electronics, and also to let users know that things are in good working order. They do so based on the results of countless studies over the years, proving that sounds — customised sounds in particular — can influence consumer purchasing behaviour and lead to brand loyalty.
At first, home appliances were only capable of making monophonic sounds, usually relating to the progress of the task in hand. Thanks to digital advances, they can now make high-quality audio tracks. On the whole, most of these audio tracks are relatively simple jingle-style melodies, but LG has gone one creative step further with its use of sound. On its website, the South Korean home electronics company asks the question,
“Have you ever heard the sounds of a happy family in a happy home?”
Of course, LG is looking for you to answer in the affirmative, made clear by the statement that,
“Those very sounds can be heard from the home appliances as well.”
To create the playful sounds of its home appliances, the company hired a duo it believed could best express them in their truest form. That duo comprises Nick Bertke (aka Pogo) — a South-African born, Australian electronic, plunderphonic musician — and Josh Kershaw (aka Jeesh) — a British underground electronic musician. Best known for his mash-ups of sounds, quotes, and melodies from movies, TV series, and other sources, the former teamed up with the latter, both turning their hands to composing music by sampling the sounds made by LG appliances. These sounds include the cheerful tunes played by its washing machines, the crackling of bacon frying in its ovens, the gentle clicking of its fridge doors opening and closing, and many others.
That’s some outside-the-box thinking, don’t you agree? Just what those of us immersed in the digital world like to see. You can listen to the chilled-out melody, which is sure to cheer you up — just like LG wants — below.
LG isn’t the only home electronics manufacturer upping its sounds game by moving away from simple — and now comparatively archaic — beeps and pings to promote a stronger bond between customers and their appliances.
Whirlpool and KitchenAid both hired Audiobrain, a sound consultancy specialising in sonic branding and interactive audio. The agency collaborated with these American home electronics companies on the creation of sonic identities and branded product sounds, developing an audio strategy for each, including the composition of sonic logos and the creation of bespoke product sounds.
For Whirlpool’s smart washing machines, Audiobrain devised a number of notification sounds, including fingertips drumming on denim and a bubbling harp melody before a cycle begins. For KitchenAid’s smart oven, the agency created a start-up sound played on the mbira — an African thumb piano — and a digital timer that replicates the sound of a clinking spoon.
Just like the monophonic alerts of older appliances, these sounds relate to the progress of their varying tasks. The difference now, though, is that chores and unpleasant noises need not go hand in hand. Instead, these necessary evils can involve a greater sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. Naturally, it’s all psychological. How many of us actually enjoy undertaking household chores? Some people, I imagine. But, for everyone else, where’s the harm in solutions adding the slightest spark to menial work?
I don’t have a smart oven at home (yet, I might add), and I refuse to set the built-in timer whenever I’m cooking anything. Its notification sound is horribly piercing, so I’d rather use the alarm on my smartphone, which gives me better control over my environment. The same goes for waking up in the morning. I no longer use an old-fashioned alarm clock with a jarring ring or buzz, but a gentle smartphone melody that progressively loudens until I stir from my much-needed slumber. This way, I avoid feeling like I’ve been slapped awake after being shot with a tranquiliser dart. If we can harness the visceral nature of sounds to improve unappealing daily moments, whether it’s undertaking chores or getting out of bed in the morning, then I approve — even if it’s all in my head.
There’s little doubt more and more home electronics companies will follow in the footsteps of LG, Whirlpool, and KitchenAid. However, the idea of a smart home singing at me from every direction? That’s absolutely the last thing I need or want. To that end, some degree of selectivity is probably advised in choosing devices with built-in DJs.