BACKGROUND MUSIC AS A BRAND ASSET
Music branding, a relatively young discipline, has the power to turn the staid background music into a core asset of the hospitality industry.
The Mumbai-based start-up Music Curator stands right at the cutting edge of this discipline, explains its founder, music industry veteran Achille Forler, formerly managing director of Universal Music Publishing.
BY PRIYA PUDUMJEE
How can background music help brand differentiation?
Experience is what differentiates brands. And this is what customers instinctively go for. A brand is made of several parts, or assets, and music is one of them. Neglecting your music asset is like neglecting an interior design asset or an F&B asset. Brands that one cannot identify with eyes closed are mute brands. But when a brand fires on all cylinders across all its properties, then the stage is set for the best experience within the price-band in which the brand operates.
Why is background music becoming an important asset for the hospitality industry?
A lot of evidence has been collected in the last 60 years to show that background music impacts customers’ behaviour. But research in the last 15 years has revolutionised our understanding of how music works: we have a musical brain that is different from, and pre-dating, our verbal brain. Beethoven sensed it when he said that: “Music enters our brain through an entirely different door”. Our ability to remember music is several times higher than our ability to remember pictures. Alzheimer patients who cannot recognize their kin can remember favourite
The traditional offer of genre-based background music has no goal other than to discreetly mask unpleasant sounds – voices, ambient noise – and, at its best, create a kind of emotional ‘feel good’ among guests and staff. You can hear this predictable, bland music everywhere, in a grocery store or in a hotel lobby. This inappropriate approach is still, sadly, the ‘default option’ for most companies.
When music is curated in tune with the other assets of your brand, it becomes the voice of your brand and conveys emotionally your corporate identity. That cannot be achieved with genrebased, one-size-fits-all playlists.
How then should background music be approached?
You have to know exactly what your brand stands for. This itself is a challenge for many companies! Companies that don’t do well are invariably companies that have lost their narrative. When we started out we were lucky to have as clients some exceptional General Managers in charge of renovation or re-opening of acme heritage properties like the Falaknuma Palace or the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Ranjit Philipose and Ashish Kumar Ray devoted dozens of hours working with us at the conceptual stage of the musical identity of their properties without ever
interfering with our creativity.
When you work for timeless destinations like the Falaknuma or Rambagh or Umaid Bhavan, the key is to crack each property’s code while keeping a sonic commonality because they belong to the same Group and the music must reflect that. But when you work with a brand that has little to differentiate it from its competitors, then the key is to create an original sonic foundation that allows continual evolution because in these businesses one year is a very long time; you must constantly refresh your playlists to stay ahead of the curve.
What innovations does Music Curator bring?
We make music the best ‘value for money’ overhead in your budget. Creatively we are second to none but in our business creativity faces two technical challenges: we believe that we have addressed them in unique ways.
One: how do you find the music relevant to your project when no human being can memorize the incredible amount of music available? Over the last 8 years, we have built a unique and growing musical database that exceeds now 2 million compositions, all ear-picked for their quality and suitability and tagged with “contextual” keywords. Context is crucial: you don’t play the same music when the ceiling is high or low, when the walls are made of wood or of glass & steel, for breakfast or lunch, in the gym or around the pool, facing the sea or the city skyline,
during busy hours or down time, etc. Our contextual musical resource is unparalleled in the world.
Two: having built the playlist, the next challenge is to deliver it to the client and ensure that the right music is played at the right time. CDs, iPods, apps have shortcomings and are prone to mishandling by your staff. So we have developed a secure, industrial-grade hi-fi music delivery system that completely eliminates staff intervention: connect our terminal, smaller than an Apple TV, to your audio system and to the Internet and never touch it again. Connect and forget!
Everything is managed from our back-end in Mumbai across time zones to clients in Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, France, etc. Internet outages do not affect the operations because every terminal has the OS, the music and the schedule. We refresh and update playlists by remote.
Give us some insights of how you work?
Music Curator follows around 200 specialized bloggers and tastemakers and we have an international roster of experts and researchers that we can rely on. This network feeds us daily with information and new music that is then tagged contextually and added to our database.
Before adding music to a place you must take a deep breath: understand its history, architecture, the brand, its clientele, the ebb and flow of guest movement, etc. You miss much of Umaid Bhavan if you do not know that Ali Akbar Khan Saheb was its court musician. Thereafter every track is carefully ear-picked and each playlist becomes exclusive. Finally we test the acoustics and calibrate the audio system; substandard installation of pricey hi-fi equipment is unfortunately routine!
Our work in the Falaknuma Palace is now a global reference. The building is the Eastern outpost of Ottoman architecture, with a blend of Tudor and Venetian, and some Mughal flourishes; the founder’s wife was from a princely family on the Bosphorus with Hungarian lineage. We illustrated musically the rich and complex cultural and historical warp and woof of this marquee destination, resurrecting in the process the little known, neglected field of Ottoman court music.
Or just last week, as we sourced all recordings of Amancio D’Silva – arguably the greatest Indian jazz guitarist but sadly forgotten today (he died in 1996) -, we learned that the Maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi, an ardent jazz lover herself, had been his benefactor and gifted him his first professional guitar, an expensive Gibson. As a fitting tribute to both, the Rajput Room in the Rambagh Palace is now the only place in the world where you can hear every day the genius of Amancio D’Silva.
What has been your most challenging assignment to date?
Adding the next track in the playlist will always remain the most challenging act in the decisional process. And I don’t say this in a flippant way. Not all carefully selected tracks in a playlist mix well, one with the other, when shuffled randomly. This can be particularly embarrassing in a spa when the guest is alone with the music: any sudden break in key or tempo will disturb the quietude. We have recently developed our own technique of ‘controlled randomness’ to avoid
such an occurrence.