Background music is often thought of as being a passive listening experience. Soft, unobtrusive muzak heard in airports, hallways, hotel lobbies, and other transitory spaces. It often fills a void in common spaces, its quality irrelevant. It is all function and no form.
Yet background music has the power to transform environments, lift spirits, create a sense of community and comfort, and enrich both guest and brand experience. A well-curated music strategy cultivates an engaging atmosphere, drawing guests into the space in an organic way. It not only complements the design (interior, lighting, scent, F&B menu, uniforms, et cetera) but enhances it, creating and amplifying the conversation between place, guest, and culture.
For hospitality businesses, uniting these three elements – place, guest, and culture – is essential. Where guests, music, and space meet, a community is formed. And after all, isn’t community what hospitality is all about? As such, hospitality businesses should strive to create a rich, tight-knit community centered around their business. Music is the key to doing so.
Below, we explore the positive effects of background music—from its communal effects to the aesthetic improvements to how it boosts the bottom line. We also discuss how, on a higher level, background music can encourage guests to engage with arts and culture, while simultaneously elevating your brand.
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1. Music creates a vibe.
Studies show that sound triggers an emotional response faster than any other sense. The auditory experience in a hospitality setting is just as important as visual design. While guests take stock of an interior’s visual look upon entry, they will also just as quickly notice the space’s different sonic qualities–ambient sounds from guests splashing in the pool, others laughing at the bar, or the surrounding natural or city ambiance, and that excellent song soundtracking their arrival to the lobby
Background music is a tool for creating an atmosphere, a vibe, and a personality of a place. There is both scientific and artistic evidence supporting this more considered approach to background music.
“Businesses with music that fits their brand identity are 96% more likely to be recalled.”
2. Music is design.
Background music functions like interior design, influencing the aesthetic and sensory experience of a space, whether we realize it or not. The creative side of background music has a long history. In 1917, French composer Erik Satie referred to a series of short works as “furniture music.” Drawing a clear parallel between his music and interior design, Satie envisioned this music as being heard though not necessarily actively listened to.
Much like interior design, with its lights, colors, materials, artworks, and furniture, music enhances social interactions. Brian Eno later took this idea further with “ambient music,” which he felt could induce a sense of calm while also creating “space to think.”
On the research side of background music, several findings prove informative for hotels, restaurants, bars, and other hospitality establishments.
In 2017, Sweden’s HUI Research found that background music that was a good brand fit helped create a range of positive emotions in customers. The same study also found that sales increased by 9.1% when playing music that matched the brand instead of random music selections on streaming platforms. Yet another study discovered that older guests tended to tip more if the background music created uplifting emotions. A year later, the UK newspaper The Telegraph reported that guests left 4% bigger tips when the background music featured many “happy tracks.”
“When people appreciate music at a business’s space, 4 out of 10 reported staying longer. Further, 31% of all people return, 21% recommend the business to others and 14% also say they buy more.”
3. Music fosters community.
Music is a vital force in communities. Where there is music, there is vibrant and meaningful social interaction. And when this all comes together in the right space, enhanced by thoughtful musical design, there will be immediate and lasting social bonds. When played in public spaces – hotels, restaurants, retail, bars, and even office spaces – music can inspire discussion, collaboration, and other social interaction.
In these scenarios, bar patrons can bond with each other or the bartender over a local band they both love, while hotel lounge guests strike up a conversation over the interesting background music. The right background music can help a hospitality business act as a facilitator in exposing guests to its community.
4. Music influences.
When a hospitality business chooses what music to play for their guests, they’re sending a bold signal, whether they like it or not. The music, has embedded within it dozens of subconscious clues that signal to the guest information about how they should feel, behave, the appropriate, energy level of the room, is this a classy place or an underground stylish place, should we be mingling with other guests or keeping to ourselves, staying longer, or rushing out? Music has a direct influence on all of these things.
5. Is this music local?
Most businesses default to playing international (read: Western) Popular music, but when we start to localize the music experience, exciting things happen. Guests are suddenly far more aware of their geographic location. They’re reminded that they’re at a resort in Bali, which is showcasing local Balinese Gamelan music, rather than any other run-of-the-mill resort that could just as easily be in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
Picture a Chicago boutique hotel hosting a showcase for the city’s local underground indie music scene, while a trendy bar across town plays the city’s popular Footwork style of music. Or, in Mexico City, a Michelin-starred restaurant plays music from the country’s rich ranchera and baladas history. Hop over to Berlin to find a hotel with highly curated playlists showcasing the city’s signature style of techno.
In each of these scenarios, thoughtful music curation creates a sense of community and invites guests to join in and explore. This enriches not just the guest’s sense of local life and positive feelings about the space, but the brand’s identity and cultural cache.
“Even if rights organizations’ fees are paid, businesses cannot use Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, or other consumer streaming services in a commercial setting.”
6. Music is universal.
Background music with a cultural spirit needn’t always be hyper-focused. Indeed, the right considered, international style can welcome guests from afar with cultural cues that set them at ease while also welcoming them into the local community.
The Harmony Hotel, in a small surf town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, has an excitingly eclectic soundtrack, touching upon Latin Electronica, Reggae, Bossa Nova, and much more. The sum of these seemingly disparate parts form cultural touchstones that signal to guests they are among fellow international creative community members, while also reinforcing their sense of place in a Latin American surf paradise.
Or take Lallapalooza, a wine bar in downtown Monterrey, California. Known for its jazzy and funky atmosphere, it uses multiple genres and eras of music to create a mood more complex and interesting than you’d find at most any average wine bar with a general playlist. Your uncle’s smooth jazz this is not.
A final example, the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, invites guests from all over the world to their New England beach community for rest and relaxation. Their soundtrack pulls from a diverse canon of indie, folk, singer-songwriter, and alternative music spanning several decades, regions, and styles. Yet it creates a cohesive and immersive atmosphere that roots the guest experience in this small seaside town.
Resort, inn, or bar, the takeaway remains the same—local hospitality companies can, with a thoughtful and creative approach, elevate their regional and local cultures while still tapping into international currents.
Enhance your brand with music.
The topics we’ve touched on above lead us to a more all-encompassing point—the right background music elevates a hospitality business’s brand. Atmosphere, community, and engagement with arts and culture are critical parts in building that brand identity.
While we know that guests enjoy such offerings, how exactly do they elevate a brand?
An international study found that businesses with music that fits their brand identity are 96% more likely to be recalled than those with random tunes or none at all. And if a brand is remembered, then there is a good chance guests will return or recommend it to friends or even acquaintances.
In a 2011 survey, Heartbeats International found that when people appreciate music a business’s space, 4 out of 10 reported staying longer.
“Further, 31% of all people return, 21% recommend the business to others and 14% also say they buy more,” Heartbeats International reported. “In other words, music is very important to businesses.”
Interestingly, the survey’s respondents placed more importance on the sound fitting the business’s brand than their own personal tastes. While this is far more important to the 18-24 demographic, the 25-64 demographic also responded favorably to a brand playing the right background music. On the other hand, the wrong music or even silence creates a negative impression of a business’s brand.
Hospitality brands need great background music.
The auditory part of a guest experience is just as important as the visual part. And if, as a hospitality business, you hire interior designers to create an atmosphere for your space, then you would do well to have a similar approach to background music.
As Brian Eno said, background music is an opportunity to create a space for thought and positive emotions, whether that’s a sense of calm or elation. Background music can achieve this for hospitality businesses. A finely-tuned, curated playlist can help foster social interactions and engage guests, not just with the space but the greater community, general environment at large.
Ready to get great music for your hospitality business? Get in touch here to see how we can help.