“When I walk into a retail establishment, there’s no guarantee I’m going to see the end cap displays or the way a particular line of shirts has been folded. But what I can be certain of is, I’m going to hear what’s happening.”
May 2, 2017
You might not know where, you might not know when, but chances are you’ve heard a playlist that Danny Turner and his team of music designers put together.
He’s the senior vice president of programming and production at Mood Media, a customer experience company that crafts carefully curated playlists for in-store experiences. From hotels to coffee houses, from furniture stores to craft breweries, the company’s reach is wide; their playlists are heard by more than 150 million customers a day in over 500,000 locations worldwide.
“There is no single, larger contributing factor to a positive experience than having the music dialed in just right,” Turner said. “When I walk into a retail establishment, there’s no guarantee I’m going to see the end cap displays or the way a particular line of shirts has been folded. But what I can be certain of is, I’m going to hear what’s happening.”
When Turner and his team of 35 full-time music designers — all of whom are DJs, producers or music industry professionals — step in to work with a new brand, the first step is identifying its personality, he said.
Are they familiar, or adventurous? Is there a degree of comfort, or a spirit of discovery? The inspiration is all over the store’s offerings.
“When we work with restaurants, I spend a lot of time looking at the menu, because I want to ensure the musical selections resonates with the ingredients on the menu,” he said. “If it’s light and springy and airy, I want the musical experience to have a lot of space and a lot of breath, I don’t want heavy, heavy tones.”
From there, it’s up to the music designers to sort through millions of songs to pick the songs that meet the brand’s archetypes — and the more keyed in they can get to the brand and the song, the better the match.
Sometimes, it means breaking away from stereotypes.
“Whoever said every time I go to an Italian restaurant I need to hear Rat Pack music?” Turner said.
These days, with listeners well-accustomed to having on-point music wherever they go, a mere replication of a popular FM radio station piped in over the speakers won’t cut it for a memorable shopping trip or dinner, Turner said. Instead “a musical interpretation” of the brand’s personality and strategy can complement the customers’ experience, Turner said — especially as retailers compete against online shopping.
U.S. Census Bureau figures show e-commerce has been steadily increasing its portion of overall retail sales over the past decade. The most recent statistics from 2016 say e-commerce sales accounted for 8.1 percent of all total sales, up from 7.3 percent the year before.
“At a time when our brand partners are fighting the battle on an ongoing basis to retain that brick and motor stronghold, we realized now, more and more, it’s about the experience,” Turner said.
From a customer’s standpoint, brands can use their relationship to music as an extension of their personality — think back to the mid-aughts when iTunes was still a relatively new platform and Starbucks began offering their free download cards. To me, a teenage girl with her finger glued to the clickwheel, I began to associate the coffee shop with hip new artists and music discovery.
Now Starbucks, along with fashion brands like H&M and Forever21, put in-store playlists on Spotify, just one more way for them to remind listeners of a satisfying brick and motor experience.
As listeners become more accustomed to taking their own music with them wherever they go, Mood Media is toying with new ways to create interaction — and collect data about listener habits.
One major way is a partnership with Shazam, the undeniably helpful song-identifier app that tells users what song they’re listening to. Users who Shazam a song in that selected store get the information they usually well, as well as a branded opportunity for the merchant.
For Mood, the result is potentially more useful data.
“What I love is the stats the information I get back that tell me, ‘Here’s what’s happening,’” Turner said.
But knowing what songs users respond to in a specific setting begs the question — why not just let an algorithm take care of it?
Turner emphasizes that Mood Media’s role is to provide a nuanced, subtle experience, one that incorporates the human capacity for control and taste. A streaming service, he points out, can’t cancel out songs with inappropriate references to guns or violence that may have cultural or social implications in the wakes of national tragedies.
Instead, the metadata can be used for Turner dubs “informed curation,” by determining what makes sense for listeners, the brand and the setting.
“Every song we play across the system has been reviewed multiple times by living, breathing human beings who go through and listen to the song and listen through the lyrics,” he said. “In the world of creating nuanced experiences and brands, subtlety matters.”
This article is a re-post, with small modifications, of “How Brands Are Betting On Music, With Help From Pro Playlist Curators” an article published on forbes.com by Melissa Daniels.
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