What is an Anchor (and how a musician can benefit from it)?

In this article, after a short historical introduction about conditioning, I will speak about Anchoring, the many types of anchor you can create and how you can use them in your music and marketing.

Let’s start with a small quiz:

If you read the name Pavlov does it look familiar? it could or not…
but if I ask you if the name Pavlov ring a bell in your head what is your response?  is it more likely now you remember.

Why is that? I leave this loop open for an other time (or ask in the comments 🙂 Let’s start speaking about Anchor / conditioning and then let’s see how you can you for your musical career.

1900: Classical Conditioning

Pavlov Dog & Conditioning

By now you probably remember the story: Pavlov makes a sound before feeding the dogs… Since the dog are excited by the food they start salivating… and after a while dogs didn’t even need the food to salivate. Now the sound is enough for them to salivate.

And we human are not very different from Dogs in this matter.

Whne we hear a sound and we have a feeling, then everytime we hear that sound we re-live that feeling… interesting isn’t it?

Definition of Classical Conditioning

I take this from wikipedia which uses more difficult word to express this simple concept:

“Classical conditioning is a learning process in which an innate response to a potent stimulus comes to be elicited in response to a previously neutral stimulus; this is achieved by repeated pairings of the neutral stimulus with the potent stimulus. The basic facts about classical conditioning were discovered by Ivan Pavlov through his famous experiments with dogs.”Wikipedia on Classical conditioning

Moving forward into the 70s: Neuro-linguistic Programming and the art of Anchoring

Pavlov’s experiments was done at the end of 1800.. since then a lot happened:

  • His studies were accepted by the mainstream “science”
  • His studies sparkled into the basis for the some psychology approach
  • Some stuff those fuckers teaching at school  still use to teach kid: re-inforce “good or bad” behaviour with praise or punishement are a ill formed use of the classical conditioning

In the 70’s In California two guys (Richard Bandler and John Grinder) and their study group (lead by Frank Pucelik) further developed the classical conditioning into a form of art, calling it Anchoring.

Again from wikipedia:

“.. NLP teaches that we constantly make “anchors” (associations) between what we see, hear and feel and our emotional states. While in an emotional state if a person is exposed to a unique stimulus (sight, sound or touch) then a connection is made between the emotion and the unique stimulus. If the unique stimulus occurs again, the emotional state will then be triggered. NLP teaches that anchors (such as a particular touch associated with a memory or state) can be deliberately created and triggered to help people access ‘resourceful’ or other target states.”

These Anchors are created naturally but can be created artificially, like Pavlov did. That’is why when you listen some old song you get that “the old time was sooo good” feeling… and that is why master communicator use recurrent sentences and manierism.

You can learn a lot about Anchoring in the wonderful book by the above mentioned Bandler & Grinder – “Frog into prices” ( you find for few buck on Amazon)

What kind of stimulus and what kind of state?

If Pavlov experiments were done on “sound ” sensory channel.. you can anchor (and be anchored) on touch, smell, taste, words, even on spatial position.

Let’s say that your grand mother cooked a shitty apple pie but you remember that time spent there was great and joyful (= your state is “great and joyful”). It s likely that when you smell the apple pie 20 years after you will feel great or joyful (or you will remember how joyful you were). That happens all the time.

The stronger the state you feel the stronger will be the anchor… the more the anchor will be fired without the context /state, the more it will lose its power. (you are collapsing same anchor to diffrent states)

How to create artificially an anchor?

The term “artificially” is – of course – wrong: we keep anchoring each other, willing or not; only we are not aware. In this case we add the awareness and the williness to create them

read the “Inconscius competence model” article

As you can imagine you can anchor “everything” to “everything”…  you just need to build it:

  1. Find a unique signal (which will became the trigger)
  2. keep your eye open (awareness)
  3. the desire to do it consiusly (the williness)
  4. drill it on yourself before going “public”

How to anchor – in real world

Let s do it on ourself – it s easy and safe.Read the following instruction, close your eye and do it.

  1. The unique signal that will trigger the anchor is a gentle pressure of index finger on your chest (lets say 5 cm above the right nipple)
  2. Think about a time you were very happy and joyful, keep on thinking and feel the sensation of happiness, smile, hear the sound you were hearing, move like you were moving… when you feel the state of happiness is coming smile more, and pump the state as much as you can (without forcing of coz)
  3. when you are expericing happiness, anchor the trigger we decided on step 1
  4. keep the finger on you chest for few seconds and take away before the feeling is fading
  5. now stand up move shake… go back to a “normal” state
  6. Ask yourself: what is my happiness level (from 1 to 10)?
  7. fire the anchor: are you feeling some kind of change inside you?
  8. repeat step 2 to 7 until you can feel “happy” just by touching your chest.


Everytime someone has an useful emotinal state keep your sense open.. when you see the peak is reaching make some unique signal (can be something as subtle as a head movement) that will be associated. Sometime once is more than enough, others you need to re-inforce it.


When to anchor the trigger to the state.

For many reason I am not to describe here it’s best to anchor a state a little before it reach “the peak” – see the diagram:

best time to anchor


Three Example of real life anchoring

  1. Everytime your boss is doing a good business and you can see he is happy about the deal, do something/ say something in an unique way… and next time you are asking a rise… fire that anchor.
  2. A friends of your is crying, sobbing and sad? It s ok to help, but don’t stay in the line of eyes… she could anchor that state to you!
  3. You are feeling great and happy? have you thumb to touch a part of your body. do it everytime you feel like that and in few weeks the touching alone will trigger the greatness and happness

Manipulating, collapsing, stacking

if you see an anchor like a signal-response act… you can image how easy is to manipulate it:

you can add a new trigger to older

So what we have learned so Far?

Before going into next chapter let’s summarize

  • Any stimulus (what you see, touch, heard, smell, taste but also what you remember and position in visual space) trigger a state that was anchored before.
  • More often than not the above mentioned anchor are contextual.
  • To have a clean, strong Stimulus > state you need to “charge” the anchor by repetition or by  association in the right moment to a strong state

Basically we are a walking anchor 🙂


  • If you can make your sound and stick it with something memorable, enough people will love it forever.
  • You can also “steal” sounds from other and enjoy success, but it will probably fall into the cliché, which is usually bad (when this happens usually the music genre is going to collapse in a couple of years)
  • If you have an hit track, do a quick follow up – different enough to have people dance but similiar enough to gain (and reinforce) the anchor. – I speak about this more in this article: Play it again, Sam: the psychology of Follow up

Let’s see one of the reason why you love Big End show at the Festival (and promoters do, too)

Note: with this analysis I don’t want to banalize the incredible work there is behind the organization of a festival, nor i want to mean that is the ONLY reason why they are a great experience. I am not even saying this is the best way to do, nor that all promoters do like this or should use this strategy.

My point here is giving a different read on the way the End Shows are usually executed, and give you a couple of new eyes to see it, too.

Let’s revive the Festival Experience.

During the day you have a roller coster of great emotions: great music (=happiness), a lot of nice looking girls/boys (=sexual arousal – a strong basic state), a lot of people loving the music you love (= sense of being part of tribe – another powerful & basic state), and many other states happen during the day.

You are likely to anchor these states

  • auditorialy (the sound itself)
  • kinestetically ( the feeling of the base in your stomach)
  • visually ( the infinity river of colors and people moving in a party).

in the evening all floors close down and you are invited to the main room for the final show.

And often there is no fucking Dj playing (or they are in a small hole in the wall :-)!

When you arrive in the main floor: you have been standing dancing whole day, you are tired (your defense are “lowered” and more prone to be get bypassed), nevertheless all the people togheter dancing, jumping having fun are able to enlicit in you a “resilence” state and so you dance, jump and have fun. R Resilence is a very powerful state and is very rare to obtain, hence it s more valuable than a normal “joy” state.

10 minutes into the end show: twilight comes and darkness is finally here: it s time to fireworks and light show!

your state – already “high” – is pumped, and pumped and pumped. You are probably re-living all the state and emotions of the day and stacking them all!

and while you are living this Super state where are you looking? the main stage wall with logos!

How do you think this anchor will be? Powerful or weak?

What do you think it will be Anchored? a Dj who played 4 hours before or the show/logo/festival?

After Party Video

For these very reasons an after party Video is very important to do. and it s very important to do them in a timely way. It lost a lot of “emotional value” with time.

If done in a proper way and time the video /sound Logo / brand will be itself an anchor to the emotional state… and should the promoters fire one of the above mentioned anchor when they advertise the next party, it s very probable that the state is evoked, too.

How can a Dj benefit from this article?


Greetings go to: