Interview: Rehab’s Sound of Color

Nathan Brown and Sean Leman  

Nathan Brown and Sean Leman
Company: Rehab
Location: San Francisco, CA

Music is a popular source of inspiration for creating colors and what if the tables were turned with color being the source of inspiration for music?

What is the sound of color?

This abstract question is exactly what Rehab and GAP proposed to 5 music artists — DNTEL, Swiss Beatz, The Blakes, Marié Digby, and The Raveonettes. Then, the music was delivered to video directors, Chris Do, Mary Fagot, James Frost, Tom Gatsoulis, Russ Lemourex and Ryan Ebner to interpret the music and create video. The results can be found at

Nathan Brown, Executive Director of Rehab and Creative Director, Sean Leman took a breather to speak with us about Sound of Color and non-traditional delivery of content.

CL: Please share with us a bit about Rehab’s background:

SL: Rehab was founded in 2002 by Sean Leman and Nathan Brown; both of us had worked at traditional production companies before and felt that the model could be improved upon. We believed that we could be more nimble, more adaptable, and produce work in a lot of different spaces (online, commercial ad campaigns, features, etc.).
NB: As we move forward, we’re continually looking for ways to evolve traditional models of entertainment and advertising.

DNTL “Turning Red” | Red


CL: Tell us your criteria for how the music artists and video directors were selected:

SL: Everything about Sound of Color was meant to be counterintuitive, as we really wanted the project to challenge the way people look at color. Obviously we wanted diversity in the kinds of music represented, but other than that we had few defining criteria. Mostly what we looked for were artists and directors who were enthusiastic about the project, and we found that enthusiasm pretty consistently. The hard part was narrowing down the list. In some cases, people’s availability did that for us. In narrowing down the list, we selected people from diverse backgrounds, genres, and vision.
NB: I would add that a good deal of exploration was made into the philosophical approaches of the bands’ songwriting and creative processes. We sincerely wanted a diversity in approach and methodology.

Marié Digby “Paint me in your sunshine” | Yellow


CL: The bands were assigned colors – red, green, blue, yellow, black and white. Describe the thought process behind the decision to assign and why limit to these colors?

SL: We assigned colors to avoid the same problem the characters in Reservoir Dogs faced: if given the choice, everyone would want to be Mr. Black. We ‘limited’ our color choices to the most ubiquitous colors in everyday life. For that reason we didn’t assign hues (no ‘cherry red,’ etc.), but only primary colors. This also left the artists with a huge canvas to work with. We hoped the artists would create or take on their own hues, and they really surpassed our expectations, from Swizz‘s take on candy green to Dntel‘s interpretation of red as embarrassment.
NB: Perhaps if there’s a Sound of Color 2 we’ll ask for 5 interpretations of beige…

CL: Were the video directors aware beforehand of the color assignments?

SL: No, and this was pretty amazing. Directors signed on to the project without knowing who the artist was, what the track would be like, and what color they would get. They jumped in, which to us spoke volumes about their enthusiasm for the project.
NB: However, in most cases the directors new their color prior to hearing the final music track. This allowed them to express their own interpretation of the color and not just a visual representation of the music.

Swizz Beatz “Candy Green” | Green


CL: According to Advertising Age, the artists were given few constraints. Why the generally hands-off approach in the creative direction?

SL: We’ve found that when people with a vision are given a lot of freedom, they typically produce work that’s surprising, innovative, and inspiring. Because the creative goal here was to challenge people’s notions and beliefs about color, we wanted the artists and filmmakers to have a lot of latitude.
NB: Passion projects emerged from this freedom. As a company that is often asked to execute the visions of others, we are very keen how liberty influences creativity.

CL: After 30 days (beginning Feb. 15, 2008), the music rights revert back to the artists. How does this kind of contract and relationship benefit both business and the greater creative community?

SL: It’s actually a really old model. Consider the works of art that were paid for by the Medicis, or the collections of art that were amassed and shared with the public by corporate giants. It benefits the creative community by enabling artists to not only create the work but also get it in front of large audiences; it benefits the businesses by giving them a very real way to give back to their customers. The best corporations in the world – the best brands in the world (among which I would count Gap) – understand that they’re more successful when they give back to their customers. Sound of Color is a great example of that.
NB: We’re all artists and respect ownership and intellectual property because we have personally experienced the ugly side of this equation. Also, it’s no secret the music industry is in a bad space. Given that, the SOC model was adapted to be as artist-friendly as possible to thrive despite current industry frailty.

The Blakes “Magic” | Blue


CL: You are a big fan of COLOURlovers and used CL for inspiration when developing the Sound of Color concept. How did you find inspiration?

NB: Color is one of my life’s greatest inspirations. Whether it’s for Rehab’s projects, the furniture line I design, or what comes out of the closet on any given day. COLOURlovers is without question a go-to destination for me when seeking general inspiration or a specific catalyst.

CL: What do you think companies need to understand about delivering content via non-traditional mediums?

SL: I would say that the biggest challenge is developing the content itself. Compelling content will find an audience no matter how it’s delivered. Non-traditional media is simply an avenue for content. The companies that will succeed in this new non-traditional space are the companies that can recognize good content that will resonate with their audiences. The distribution is relatively simple; crafting the content is the challenge.
NB: Perfectly expressed.

The Raveonettes “Black/White” | Black and White


CL: Wired magazine recently published a story about Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor’s collaboration with 42 Entertainment. The similar and core ingredient in both of these campaigns seems to be discovery and exploration. Share with us what makes this process valuable?

NB: There’s a lot of smart people experimenting with ways to innovate entertainment beyond the standard push models. Trent has been a vanguard in all he does. There is definitely a connection between what he’s doing, what we’ve done and what people like one of our frequent collaborators, Vincent Moon, is doing with REM’s site. There is great reward for motivated content exploration.

CL: After completing Sounds of Color, how has your perception of color evolved and how will that apply to future Rehab projects?

SL: When we started this project we immersed ourselves in color theory, and even as visual people we were surprised and amazed by the depth of information about color: its history, its psychology, its emotional impact, its symbolism, etc. Our understanding of color has taken a quantum leap, and I believe it will inform everything we do moving forward.
NB: It reminded me of the power of perception and the very personal nature of color. My red is very different than Dntel‘s. My yellow is not your yellow and your blue is not mine.

Author: cococello