The Evolution of Music in the Hospitality Industry
By Derrick Garrett Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Roundhouse Multimedia | May 12, 2019
There have been many areas of evolution in the hospitality industry. The bed has been one area of focus, as I mentioned in my previous article. It is a part of hotels' upfront marketing, has created a buzz and driven business in some well-done cases. Look at telephones; they have always been in the rooms and once cost a fortune to use them. Now most calls are free. The all-inclusive resort market as a whole has quite possibly experienced the greatest evolution over the past two decades. What was once a quick fix for cheap getaway is now the extreme opposite.
The emphasis has shifted away from the price point; it is now experiential. Long gone are the endless, tasteless buffet menus on a limited rotation. If it wasn't for the fact you don't get a check at the end of a meal, you would easily forget you were in an all-inclusive setting these days. The à la carte restaurants in the all-inclusive arena are varied from French to Mexican, Italian to hibachi, with excellent choices, cuisine and tableside ordering.
There can be parallels drawn between the evolution of all-inclusive resorts and music in the hospitality industry. Just as three repetitive buffet meals a day will no longer cut it, neither will the same playlist streaming throughout every area of the resort on repeat. The à la carte restaurant approach needs to be applied to music in the hotel industry.
The same music for the lobby and the pool and the sushi restaurant and the spa and the breakfast buffet and the gym and the lounge and the bar is… have I begun to make my point? Repetitive. Music needs to be part of the upfront marketing story and strategy, just as the bed and restaurants are. It's part of the experience. Music is much more a strategic part of the story and branding – a driver and influencer – than people give it credit for. It drives the guest experience and revenue when done right.
We Need Music vs. What Kind of Music Do We Need
Music at hotels is not new. There has always been music, but not necessarily the right music. It was background music, both literally and figuratively. More of an afterthought than a strategy. Those who have their arms around – and ears in tune – with the true branding experience know that music is as important as the artwork.
The line of thought used to be "we need music," but what type of music we play doesn't really matter. That has changed. Music is being used more strategically. A party vibe for the pool. A relaxed vibe for the lounge.
The music is not often a talking point, but it should be. It's taken for granted. When there is a power outage or other glitch and music goes off, the silence stands out. Once it's missing the importance becomes more evident.
From CDs to Streaming
One of the first instances of bringing music into the branding of a hotel came with the advent of the hotel CD. A number of properties created braded CDs with many of the songs that they played at the hotel. These were sold as way for people to bring a part of their vacation experience home with them. This clearly spoke to the importance of music when it comes to connecting with your on-property experience. It *was* a part of the experience and a memorable one at that, which could easily be brought home (much easier than any bed, artwork or favorite meal).
Just like a photo evokes a vacation memory, so does a song. With music you can be anywhere, hear the song and be back in that place (mentally). It's significant and understated at the same time.
The branded radio channel was next (via an app that guests could download). Not only does it allow guests to listen to the music, it allows the brand to continue to communicate with guests. Brands were able to infuse messaging, from special offer to upcoming event, into these channels and have a voice and continued connection with guests.
It's interesting that properties tapped into branded CD and radio channels, quite certainly a nod to the importance of music in the hospitality industry, yet there has never been a measurable case study done about the impact of music and sound in the hotel world. Try this: Turn all of the music off at your bars, in your restaurants and beyond. See how the mood is and how the outlets perform. I can guarantee you'll quickly see what a huge part it is of the guest experience. And how it impacts the bottom line. As I said in my last article, the right music makes guests want to linger longer.
So Important, Yet An Afterthought: Music & New Builds
Imagine if you decided where you would put the bathrooms in the guestrooms after most of the construction was done. Or figure out where your signature restaurant would be after much of the building was completed. Would you wait until you were nearly ready to furnish the rooms to decide on the bed and other accessories? When designing a new hotel each and every detail is considered, reconsidered, sketched out, designed, redesigned and gone over. And over. Except the music, or more specifically, the sound system and speakers.
In most cases I have seen with new build hotels, the music is part of the conversation after the construction is completed. Much closer to the opening date. And that's too late. Just as the beds or restaurant placement cannot be an afterthought, neither can the music. There are a few forward-thinking brands that we are currently working with in the development phase on the music architecture component and they are well ahead on sound front.
When you are spending hundreds of millions on gorgeous spaces, but the speaker placement is an afterthought, that's a problem. The wrong color on the walls is the equivalent to the wrong speaker placement in the room. When done incorrectly, the sound will be bouncing all over the place. No, you don't have to design your space around the music, but there are subtle and smart strategies that can be implemented in the early stages that offer the proper solution to achieve the sound quality that is needed.
After the fact is too late and can be costly to truly remedy. The time to think about speaker placement and how music will play out in the hotel (no pun intended) is when the architects are drawing up the plans. As I often say, sound is the most underutilized of the five senses in the hotel industry.
It's Never Too Late
Existing properties that have not focused on music, do not fret. It is never too late. While it's ideal to incorporate the sound system and music into the equation early on, there are ways to improve the quality of the sound throughout your hotel, which ultimately improves the overall guest experience.
Take a hard look at the sound systems. Do they speakers need to be replaced? Can the placement of any of them be adjusted? In a room with high ceilings can you add something to the wall that helps absorb the sound and prevent it from bouncing?
You can play the most incredible playlist ever, but if it's being distorted, you've missed the mark. You can't have one foot in and one foot out. Do it right and if not, you might as well turn off the music.
You can also look at where you are playing music. It's a given in certain areas, the pool, a restaurant, the spa. In the past it wasn't usually played in the lobby. There were a lot of quiet areas. There is no magic answer to where you should have music and where you shouldn't. A deep, strategic brand dive is needed to truly answer this question and create the most effective sound plan.
People Are Now Listening
Yes, there has been music in hotel for ages. There was not a focus on what music was played. As music became more and more a part of everyday life (thank you transition from CD player to iPod), people payed more attention to music. Period. And this included what was playing in hotels.
Then people started listening to what was being played where. News flash: Sinatra in the hibachi place wasn't working out well.
The Next Hospitality Evolution
The bed, the hotel scent, the lobby lounge concept, free WiFi. We've seen many positive changes in the hotel world. The next evolution needs to be how we think about music in the hospitality industry.
Music is deserving of a strategy, a plan. Music done right can turn into money. An enhanced vibe at a bar or restaurant can absolutely be achieved with music. In fact, it might be one of the fastest fixes (surely easier than changing the menu or getting a new chef). What's playing, how loud it's playing, being tuned to the space, times the volume is adjusted and more needs to be as much a part of the property's plan as the F&B strategy is.
If you aren't paying attention to all of these factors, you need to be. Remember, the all-you-can-eat buffet mentality is dead. And one-playlist-fits all for every space is too.
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