At Faber, we pride ourselves on setting the scene for you to create the perfect guest experience: a phenomenon we’ve named ‘Immersive Hospitality’. And in order to achieve this, we’ve established an expert team of creative and technical specialists. No stone is left unturned in our ‘Experience Mapping’ process and we believe that paying attention to all the little details is what creates the perfect vibe!
In an attempt to give readers a deeper understanding of how we bring our clients’ visions to life, we’ll be interviewing some of the experts we work with. And our very first Industry Insights blog will feature Simon Eltringham from the senior creative team at MusicStyling, a global music branding consultancy for luxury hotels and hospitality spaces.
Creating the perfect atmosphere…
Cut to the scene: You’ve developed your perfect concept and menu, secured the finances, found the right venue and suppliers, and invested in a suitable booking system. You’ve sourced the best furniture, tableware, decor, and uniforms, and have established your branding, web presence, and promotion. You’ve also found a great kitchen and front-of-house team, so you’re all set to open your food establishment! I mean, one of your staff can sort out a Spotify playlist, right? Wrong…it’s actually not that simple! There’s a lot more to a restaurant or hotel’s background music than you may realise. And as they say, ‘if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ (and legally!), which is no more true than when it comes to how your venue sounds…
So Simon, what do you and your team do?
“Well essentially we make businesses sound better! At anywhere from single-site independents to global organisations, we use music to bring brands to life and underpin what’s happening in a particular place. We narrate spaces (both indoor and outdoor) with the perfect soundtrack.”
How did you get into music consulting?
“Well I’ve always been into music and DJed from a young age…While I was studying English at uni I probably went out too much! I’d be the one to DJ at parties and events and was a music journalist for a while after I graduated. The job wasn’t a great payer though and as print journalism started to decline I became a record buyer for HMV. I worked my way up through stores in various management roles to its head office where I specialised in events for ten years. So my day job involved in-store signings and bands playing live, things like that…I was also DJing at festivals like Glastonbury and Exit, and at clubs all over the place”.
“When I left HMV in 2016 I realised that I ticked quite a few of the boxes for the role of Music Consultant. From being a journalist, to DJing, and also having sales-related experience; I could articulate what I was putting together in terms of music concepts.”
“It’s the sort of job that most people don’t realise exists, but I’ve been doing it for about six or seven years now—initially for another company, before moving over to MusicStyling. And it’s not until you’re doing the job that you realise how big music consultancy is in terms of all the companies we work with and all the people involved in bringing sound to spaces. It’s certainly hugely important in terms of design. But it’s often the thing that’s kind of neglected or left until the last minute…”.
I can imagine…So how do you go about creating the perfect atmosphere with music?
“Well it depends on where we come into the picture really…It may be for an established venue that’s currently relying on staff to create playlists. Or it could be a concept that hasn’t been built yet and someone gets in touch to say ‘I’d like to talk to you about music because it’s an important part of our brand’”.
“But it always starts with their story, it doesn’t start with ‘what type of music do you want?’. It always begins with answering questions like ‘what sort of business are you?’, ‘what sort of people do you attract?’, ‘what sort of people do you want to attract?’ (if this is different to their current demographic). Also, ‘what’s happening in the space?’ and ‘does it change?’. There are always lots of questions when trying to get a story out of someone".
"The story is the most important part because it’s what you’re trying to reflect in the music, just as it’s communicated through the colour scheme, seating style, cutlery, and menu design. All of these things are intrinsic to the feeling of a space. And music is exactly the same, also part of that design process…”.
Absolutely! You must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of it then, so has it just been naturally honed over the years?
“I guess so…I mean there are lots of tips and tricks as the world of music is so broad, getting exponentially bigger every day! So if you don’t know something you can usually find it out pretty quickly. And I generally know where to look to find the right kind of thing for any given situation or place. Or if it doesn’t exist, it could potentially be created”.
“Our business has a huge music library, even for records that never made the transition to digital and remain on vinyl—we can source them and make them ready for your playlist”.
“And in terms of digging for tunes, the traditional methods are still good! I go into record shops and chat with people behind the counter. I always listen out in clubs for something new, talk to the DJs, and also keep an ear on the radio. It’s still actually really important for me to listen to the radio in different parts of the world as apps like Spotify use algorithms that essentially lead you down a path of listening to music that falls somewhere in the middle ground of your personal taste. You’re never going to get those fresh discoveries because streaming is based on your habits and reinforces them. It’s therefore good to get out of your comfort zone and try to explore new things. You need an ‘exploratory mindset’ is the best way to describe it; you need to be open to discovering different sounds…”.
I can imagine Spotify would hinder your creativity—and I guess the people who are coming to you want something different to this anyway…
“Well actually, regardless of their attitude towards the music playing in their venue, there are legal obligations that we ensure businesses meet. Services like Spotify are legally only for your own personal use, not entertaining hundreds of customers. Taking that stress away can help people focus on their business, not the licensing and playlist…”.
Of course, I bet the legal side of things can be a minefield! So from a practical point of view, do you consider the acoustics when creating a playlist? Do you assess whether there are lots of hard surfaces or fabric, for example?
“Yes, acoustics are important. And if we’re involved from an early stage even more so, as it means we can advise better. There are lots of situations where we walk into a business that has all hard wooden floors, marble tables, and no soft furnishings at all. And before you even go inside it's loud because of the way that any sound reflects around the space. You have to be mindful of the sort of things you’re going to be playing and that the acoustics can be limiting. You have to work out solutions around that. For example, you can advise on better sound systems which allow the music to be heard well without being turned up louder”.
“There are little tips and tricks that a restaurant could try like strategically installing a simple curtain, for example, which can really change the dynamics and sound of a space—or putting felt underneath the tables (so you don’t see it) to help deaden the sound a bit. It’s not the perfect solution but it can contribute, as can putting sound absorption panels onto the ceiling (done so in a way that is in keeping with the aesthetic). And acoustics can sound better when spaces are more asymmetric, rather than uniform (long, hard, and flat). Stopping sound by putting something in its way so it reflects differently around a room can often stop that loudness”.
I can imagine that even when you have a venue’s story in your mind and you know what it’s about—when you visit, the physicality of the building could have a big impact on your musical choices…
“Absolutely, yes! It's about translating the space…”.
So tell me about your creative process when you worked with us on Legacy at the Grand Hotel…
“So again, it’s about what the people behind the venue are wanting to do…You have a space to work with and a design scheme to work with—what’s that saying? What are you wanting it to do? What are you wanting it to achieve? Are you trying to convey a specific feeling? Are you trying to evoke a certain emotion? Do you want to reflect the historical space? Or do you want to juxtapose against it and have something that’s contemporary? And then you get into the nitty gritty of ‘if you want contemporary, what would that sound like? If you want traditional, what would that sound like?’. ‘Are there any ‘brand standard’ tracks that nail exactly what you're trying to do in terms of the feeling, mood, atmosphere, rhythm, and energy?’. There’s lots to think about…”.
“In terms of Legacy, well its very name evokes a historical context and there’s a nod to the space itself. It’s a room within, quite literally, the Grand Hotel in York. So how much do you want to reference that? Are you focusing more on the food? Or more on the service? Do you focus on all of these factors equally or one more than others? It’s hard to articulate but it’s very much about energy”.
“There are certain key things that are happening at Legacy. People are mainly in smaller groups; it’s an intimate space, so you need the music to underpin that. For a lot of people, it’s going to be more for a special occasion. It’s not somewhere you’re going to be going out for dinner two or three times a week, so you want the music to reinforce that too maybe. There are a lot of things to think about to nail that proposition. And that’s before you’ve even got to ‘what sort of energy do you want? Does it need to be relaxed and bubble away or be quite buzzy?'. There are lots of different ways you can approach it—not necessarily all tempo-driven, but definitely in the mood and feel of each track to create the whole…”.
And once you’ve perfected the soundtrack for a given space, how does your client use it?
“Well this can be completely software-based—so downloaded and then used on their laptop, PC, or tablet—or we can provide them with the relevant hardware. This often includes rack mount players which have multiple channels and are connected to the internet”.
“MusicStyling programmes and curates each playlist and activates them to play at specific times. And it's randomised by our software so you’re not hearing the same song at the same time every day. They don’t even need to press play; we automate everything so that management can be confident that the correct thing will be played, whether they are in the building or not. It’s all timetabled and scheduled, so there’s nothing for them to worry about in terms of music at all. And if changes need to be made we can do that remotely for them”.
“Our system also prevents staff from being tempted to play what they want, which is surprisingly common! I mean, you wouldn’t allow a member of staff to rewrite your menu (unless they were specifically asked) so why allow them to play their personal choice of music? There's the potential of it being inappropriate in terms of vibe, subject matter, and expletive content; I’ve even heard competitors' advertising come on the radio in one location. It’s crazy when you consider that with all the time and money spent on creating the perfect atmosphere—on designing every facet of a restaurant—a member of staff can just come along and torpedo it with the wrong song choices!”
Visit Spotify for a broad and regularly updated playlist of music, new and old, that comes endorsed by Simon and the team at MusicStyling!
Faber and Company specialises in the design and creation of one-off, location-specific restaurants and hospitality venues. From our studio and workshops, we craft Immersive HospitalityTM experiences designed to engage with meaning and emotion. Don’t hesitate to call 0203 3938403 or email email@example.com to find out how the team can help bring your vision to life!