I spent the long weekend mourning a man I never met but counted among my closest friends.

As one of the co-founders of Steely Dan, Walter Becker had a stranglehold on my psyche.

Steely Dan’s music, as Benjamin Cannon tweeted Sunday, “is deep and weird and lovely.”

It’s the soundtrack to deep and weird and lovely lives, ones that are strikingly complex, always unpredictable.

“Yes I’m going insane and I’m laughing at the frozen rain.”

Music and Memories

Becker died Sept. 3. It was a day after my birthday, making the loss somehow more personal.

You see, Steely Dan — Becker and co-founder Donald Fagan — are deeply entwined with every one of my significant memories.

Their music has served as a life jacket, of sorts. It’s added melody and buoyancy to the best times. And it’s kept me from drowning when I was so lost I routinely asked, “Where the hell is bottom?”

The question I can’t easily answer is why.

From a Customer to a Fan

I can tell you this: Steely Dan created a sustainable relationship with me. That’s interesting because no other business has ever come close to creating anything of this intensity and duration.

I’m not particularly brand loyal. I buy what’s on sale. I’m eager to try what’s new.

But Steely Dan transformed me from a customer to a fan. And this was long before we understood the mechanics of customer-centricity or how to optimize customer experience.

  • I was listening to a Steely Dan song when a driver rear-ended the brand new car I had just picked up from the dealer.
  • I sang Steely Dan with my children every day on the ride to school.
  • I bonded with the man who is now my son-in-law by indulging in post Thanksgiving dinner wine and Steely Dan.

‘Sonic Branding’

Whether you fell under the spell of a band that elevated quirkiness and snark to high art or found your musical passion in something more mainstream, one thing is true.

Music is magical.

Ruth Simmons, CEO of soundlounge London, a music consultancy, maintains a well-chosen piece of music can help create “sonic branding” – a sound that triggers a link to a product and name, services or benefits.

About 15 years ago, Simmons publicly posed what she now calls “an obvious question.”

“You know what your brand looks like. But do you know what it sounds like?”

Simmons suggests brands need to incorporate music in their advertising and marketing. They also need to understand “the way consumers hear and process music and how this influences the depth of emotional response to the brand and how that impacts on the music ‘stickiness’ to the product,” she said.

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Music Connects With Customers

As Live Nation President Russell Wallach wrote back in 2012, brands have leveraged music in marketing for a long time, producing iconic spots such as Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ commercial in the 1970s.

“There’s no denying that an effective way to a consumer’s heart is through their ears.”

Clara Gustafsson, a senior lecturer in marketing at Lund University in Sweden, suggests there are many reasons why businesses and brands place a high value on audio branding. It offers many benefits, she found, from creating a memorable brand identity and boosting brand loyalty to inciting emotions in people and impacting people’s moods.

Personal Obsession

And that brings us back to Walter Becker, Donald Fagan, and Steely Dan. How did these musicians speak to me without knowing me so well, for so long?

I’ve spent the past 24 hours obsessing over my obsession with these musicians, attempting to gain through introspection what I’ve failed to grasp from logic. It’s been an interesting exercise, fueled by listening to a new to me, unreleased song from The Dan. On repeat.

“Pour out the wine, little girl. I’ve got just two friends in this whole wide world.”

Beautiful Music

As a teen who upended academic excellence with strategic rebellion, Steely Dan was an affirmation. Through the band, I learned it was possible to be smart, authentic, acerbic, and enveloped in existential despair.

“I recall when I was small how I spent my days alone. The busy world was not for me so I went and found my own.”

I would have had the lyrics to one of their songs tattooed on my forearm if I were more bodacious (and less afraid of needles).

“Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again. When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more.”

Rest in peace, Walter.

“I was born and raised and lived and loved and died today. But when I saw the lights my work was here. Hooray.”

Live in peace, Donald.

Walter Becker's music was laced with innuendo. Photo by Fred von Lohmann

Walter Becker’s music was laced with innuendo. Photo by Fred von Lohmann

Noreen Seebacher is the content evangelist at Arke, where she researches, writes and continues her long career in news reporting as a brand journalist. Noreen lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband, her dog and four formerly homeless cats.