Music Curation / BGM (Background Music)

Jan 22, 2021

In a conversation with a client last year, I asked what their favourite hotel was. The response (One of Paris’ most classic and luxurious hotels that shall remain nameless) was determined not just on the quality of their cocktails, or the number of Michelin stars held by their chefs, but by the effortlessly ‘cool’ nature of their music curation. Music Curation - or BGM (Background Music) - is everywhere; from your local supermarket to luxury hotels, from the lobby in your apartment building to your Dentist’s waiting room. BGM has long been considered an after-thought, quite literally ‘elevator music’ to simmer away in the background, but for those of us at Syn for whom background music is at the forefront of our minds, it is a complex balance that has the ability to alter the atmosphere of a room as much as light, space, decor or anything else can.

Music is being ever increasingly consumed. A 2020 study by American music streaming company Pandora showed that during the Covid-19 pandemic, 82% of participants in a recent study agreed that music was a mood enhancer, whilst 67% agreed that it was a welcome distraction. Whilst these figures relate to personal consumption in a ‘work from home’ environment, it stands to reason that these figures signal an ever more musically savvy , engaged and ‘ready to be wowed’ audience just waiting to get back out there and enjoy BGM in a hospitality environment. Perhaps more than ever, we can see the vital role music plays in impacting people and leveraging emotions to create more effective environments; in the words of Leo Tolstoy, ‘Music is the shorthand of emotion’.

If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that hospitality is not something to be taken for granted. The ability to meet with our friends and family over a drink, or enjoy a meal together, is one of life’s biggest joys. But where does music fit into this? Can the song that’s playing while you sip a martini really have that much of an impact on the experience as a whole? In a study by ‘Rightsify’ on ‘Music & Hotels’, their study saw a 40% increase in revenue on drinks when slow music was played in a bar or hotel environment, as opposed to fast-paced music. This has a very direct emotional relationship; slow music makes people slow down, therefore spending more time in a bar, and therefore spending more on food and drink. Another study conducted in a cafe in Stockholm, Sweden, showed some equally fascinating results, this time relating to volume. The study showed that participants were 10% more likely to make healthier food choices from the menu when exposed to quieter music (c.55 decibels), than when listening to louder music (c.70 decibels). It goes to show, perhaps effective BGM can not only provide a good night out, but a healthy one too!

In 2017, Syn’s CEO & Creative Director, Nick Wood, was commissioned by the Shangri-La Tokyo to compose original music for a number of different locations within the hotel. As part of a soundtrack called ‘Tokyo Horizons 24’, Nick Wood composed a number of distinct versions and themes to interpret the four seasons (something of huge cultural importance in Japan), enhancing different venues within the hotel and engaging with guests in unique and differing ways. Nick Wood continues, “By introducing this sonic branding package to the Shangri-La, we are hoping their sound will become as recognisable as their fragrance. With the use of sound and music, I went to work creating a discreet, soothing, conducive, ethereal atmosphere that was in line with the Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo promise and values.”

At Syn, we’ve been creating bespoke music playlists for commercial spaces for nearly 30 years. Whether in London, Melbourne, Hong Kong or Tokyo, we’ve curated bespoke music for some of the world’s most iconic locations and hand-picked thousands of minutes of music to bring character and sonic identity to our client’s spaces. In 2019, Syn was hired to curate the music for Maybourne Hotel Group’s London hotels, including the historic ‘Claridge’s Hotel’ in Mayfair. Curating music that honours the pristine heritage of a hotel like Claridge’s, whilst breathing fresh, contemporary music into a modern environment, is a challenging and deeply rewarding undertaking. Before we look into the crotchets and quavers of music curation, what exactly is BGM and how does it work? For this example, let’s imagine we are curating music for a Bar in the hotel or hospitality sector. The process generally starts with a site visit from one of the Syn creative team, who will meticulously gather references from the sight, sound and smell of the location in question. What is the ambient noise in the room? What is the menu and does it have a theme? How is the lighting arranged and does it change throughout the day? These are all important questions when pinpointing the creative direction of a space. Working with the local team - in this example the Food and Beverage Manager, Bar Staff and General Manager - Syn will gather musical ideas and encourage communication across the board to get a clear understanding of the ‘sonic universe’ we are trying to evoke. Once these references are gathered, Syn will create a sample playlist of 5-10 tracks that give a cross-section of the playlist we are considering. As always, communication is key, and we will then use feedback and revisions at this stage to pursue a full-length playlist for the location. Working alongside a partner based in the UK, Syn then delivers these playlists via easy-to-use, discreet mini-PCs that are operated remotely and require nothing more than an Internet connection to provide music 24/7.

You may well ask at this point, aren’t there Spotify and Apple Music playlists that do exactly this for you? The answer is complex. Whilst DSPs (Digital Service Providers) like Spotify and Apple Music have a fantastic selection of playlists by genre and listening experience for personal consumption, these are not legally permitted for commercial use. Adding to this, whilst algorithms are becoming ever more adept at creating playlists that accurately reflect listener’s expectations, there is nothing that compares to hand-picked, highly bespoke music curation from one listener, to another. Our team of music experts consists of composers, music producers, singers, instrumentalists and other music professionals that select every, single track that forms our BGM playlists. The common theme here is that we are music lovers, with a deep and diverse knowledge of music and how to influence emotions through the use of music and sound. Yes, there are shortcuts (such as using algorithms or pre-existing playlists to create ‘plug in and play’ BGM playlists) - and there’s nothing wrong with that - but Syn’s commitment is to create unique music for unique spaces.

So far, we’ve looked at music curation for spaces in the luxury lifestyle sector, such as hotels, bars and restaurants, but the opportunities for curated music do not end here. In 2020, Syn welcomed an opportunity to start working with ESR, APAC’s leading logistics real estate platform. With over 18.7 million square foot of logistics facilities across APAC, ESR provides modern and comfortable facilities for its staff in the form of staff lounges across their sites. Syn was tasked with curating bespoke playlists to create fun, restful and replenishing environments for ESR’s staff to rest throughout their busy day. Starting with locations across Japan, Syn’s creative team developed playlists that combine local authenticity with globally known artists. Working closely with ESR’s management team, Syn has curated hundreds of hours of playlists to entertain, encourage and engage with ESR’s employees.

Looking to the future, there are endless opportunities to use music and sound more effectively in commercial environments. If - as we’ve seen - music can be an objective tool in leveraging emotions, where else could the role of music curation be significant? The last 12 months have seen the eyes of the world focus on hospital environments perhaps more than ever, are there opportunities here to curate playlists that entertain and heal? There is music and sound all around us; next time you order a coffee or are stuck on hold to your internet provider, consider the music that’s playing in the background. Ask yourself, how does this make me feel and - perhaps more importantly - is it intentional? If the answer to both those questions is ‘nothing’, then you recognise the value of BGM and its role in our everyday lives.