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Author Archives: Hazel Buckthorpe

All over the world, the culture of exercise has transformed. Fitness has become a statement of identity to the millennial audience – and music is the heartbeat of the revolution…

Travel back in time five or six years, go to the gym and close your eyes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve travelled back to a Fitness First or a Virgin Active, to a luxury members’ club studio or a low-rent independent above a garage – chances are it’ll sound the same. You’re probably hearing something mainstream with a high bpm – standard-issue workout music. With your eyes shut, you could be anywhere.

Things have changed. Gyms are no longer interchangeable spaces. They have varying demographics, distinct identities – not just different logos, but clear and differentiated brands. All over the world, the fitness scene has evolved dramatically as the millennial generation has come of age, swelling to a £4.7bn industry in the UK alone, and ambitious challenger brands have carved their way into this lucrative market.

What was once a generic service has become a branded lifestyle statement – for today’s consumers, fitness has become a core part of their identity. The Guardian recently reported that ‘millennials claim to enjoy working out as much as going out; gyms have become stylish, social spaces where people spend their Friday nights and Saturday mornings.’ Once people hung out in nightclubs; now they go to the gym.

Uninspired gyms that don’t tap the new community of social-media-smart, fitness-focused self-improvers are on the way out. The brands that have seized this opportunity – like Equinox in the US, VI LAB in Shanghai and Gymbox, KXU or Third Space in London – are thriving. They’ve rejected the mainstream and built an enthusiastic army of fans – and they couldn’t have done it if they didn’t put music first.

The need for music to act as an atmospheric energiser for a workout or fitness class hasn’t changed, but it’s no longer enough just to give people a beat to move to. Today’s consumers expect a fitness soundtrack that forges a clear emotional connection and gets them into the right mindset – fitness music needs a personality.

From boxing-club beginnings, Gymbox has successfully positioned itself as a rough and ready-to-rumble outsider and built a cult, cutting-edge reputation. Gymbox found the roots of its brand identity in the anything-goes London club scene, and needed to translate that into a raw, urban and authentic sound that kept its members coming back for more.

Third Space makes a different proposition – bespoke fitness classes to fit around the busy lives of city professionals – and dips into the characteristics of the luxury lifestyle sector to radiate boutique appeal. Where Gymbox is grit, sweat and exuberance; Third Space is goal-orientated effort, elegance and wellness. Different brands, different audiences – and completely different sounds.

This shift has implications for the wider hospitality sector. Today’s travellers come from cities where the new breed of fitness clubs is already entrenched. If they’re used to the fitness brands of 2018, then stepping into a hotel with a gym offering stuck in 2008 can only be a disappointment.

Spas are now well-developed components of hotels worldwide, and the sector is also evolving. Brands such as ESPA in the UK, Vana Retreats in India, and Mi Xun in Shanghai are expanding their scope in terms of design, treatment range and the depth of the sensory experience they offer – in which music plays a huge part. New-era spa brands have long advanced beyond panpipe CDs and whale song, and are now using music not only to create a relaxing atmosphere, but also to stand out from the competition.

In highly evolved, fiercely competitive hospitality markets such as London, Dubai or New York, fitness presents an opportunity to differentiate, and a number of hotel brands are making inroads into this exciting new territory – and reaping the benefits. Premium hotels such as the Ritz Carlton Gal Harbour in Miami, Gansevoort Hotels and The Berkeley in London have tapped into the trend for group-exercise (GroupEx) classes that has seen brands such as SoulCycle, Core Fusion and Exhale thrive in the last decade – by partnering with them to create a branded fitness offering. In Dubai, H Hotel is one of many hotels that have harnessed virtual technology to deliver immersive, on-demand GroupEx experiences, from a library of hundreds of classes that range from yoga and PiIates to spin and HIIT.

For innovative new gym brands like KXU music is a key part of the brand experience. Music sets the rhythm of the workout; it can motivate you to move faster, push harder, train longer and – crucially for brand longevity – come back for more. The ideal soundtrack is in tune with the intensity of the exercise, the design of the space and the ethos of the overarching brand – as well as being curated to connect with the target demographic. Get that balance right, and you’ll be well ahead of the pack; get it wrong, and you’ll be left panting on the sidelines.

To find out more about our work with gyms and spas contact us at

Madrid is a city full of music. We’ve recently set up a Music Concierge office there. Being always keen to support local independent record stores, we thought we’d ask our man on the ground Freddie Long to guide us around its best emporiums of vinyl….















Vinyl has seen a resurgence in popularity in Spain with record sales increasing by 80% in the last three years. Thanks to this Madrid has seen an increase in the number of record stores. There is now a fairly healthy scene located mainly in the trendy ‘barrio’ of Malasaña which is supported by local DJs, collectors and artists. Here’s my tour of the best ones. Be sure to support them if you happen to visit Madrid!

1. Lost Things

Lost things is an incredible and lovely record shop on Calle del Barco no. 43, very near the famous Plaza del 2 de Mayo, it stocks both second hand books and records. One can find anything from Brazilian folk songs to heavy reggae and traditional Spanish music. It was set up by a friendly record collector in 2014 after he lost his job. The music they play in-store is great and you are very likely to discover some rare band or album you had never heard of. I was very tempted by a Caetano Veloso LP but I have to say it was a little pricey!














2. Rotor

Rotor is one of Spain’s oldest remaining record shops which opened its doors in 1986. It is located in a flat on the 6th floor of a building on Madrid’s main street, the Gran Vía. The store is well stocked with the latest in electronic music and the friendly owner Andrés knows his chops, he will happily help you navigate. I picked up a copy of Omar S’s latest album called ‘The Best’.

3. Is The Place

Right next to Rotor in the same building, one finds Is The Place which was opened a couple of years ago by label owner Alfonso Pomeda – a real guru when it comes to Madrid’s electronic music scene. Apart from running his own Downbeat label which showcases both local and international talents, he also runs several nights in Madrid’s finest clubs. The record store name is inspired by Sun Ra’s 1973 album ‘Space is the Place’ It is decorated with futuristic-style lamps and has the latest in electronic music as well as a decent selection of second hand funk and soul albums.

4. El Almacén de Discos

This is very possibly my favorite record store in Madrid. Located on Calle Minas no.13. It was opened just a year ago by friends Raúl and Roberto. It has already become the go-to place in Madrid for local DJs and enthusiasts. They sell all genres of music from disco, to world music, and all kinds of electronica. They also hold regular events at their spacious shop and even have a recording studio that they rent out to anyone willing to use it. I have bumped into Soichi Terada and Auntie Flo here, who visited the shop when they last played in Madrid. On this occasion I bumped into Raul, a local DJ who promotes events at Siroco one of Madrid’s most iconic clubs.

5. Recycled Music Centre

Just round the corner from El Almacén de Discos, there is Recycled Music Centre on Calle La Palma. This street used to be full of record shops but this it is the only one to have survived the the economic crisis of 2007. The clue is in the name, you will mostly find second hand music with a focus on electronica, they also however have a selection of soul, jazz and hip hop. They have a good stand full of R&S records and another one with records by the classic New York house duo Masters at Work. The shop attendant and label owner, Flavio is a very passionate, cheerful and knowledgeable chap.

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Music has a powerful effect on the mind and should not be an after-thought for brand experiences, says Rob Wood, creative director and founder of Music Concierge.

Music has an extraordinary effect on human beings. Sound is our second-most important sense after sight. When we hear music nearly all of us are affected by it. It might annoy us. It might make us sad. It may delight us. Excite us. Make us cry. It might make us fall asleep, or indeed jump around the room like a possessed James Brown. It has an undeniably powerful effect in many different ways.

Quite why it has such an impact on us is still the subject of hot debate. Scientists have pointed to a combination of evolutionary predispositions, along with anthropological and neurochemical factors. Music’s effect is certainly profound. It influences our emotions, and a basic example of this is how we might passionately love or hate a song or artiste. Different types of tracks can make us feel many different emotions – from music that makes you thoughtful and contemplative, to music that makes you let your hair down and feel carefree.

Music also carries connotations and meanings that affect how we react to what we are experiencing. The most obvious example of this is cinema. Film directors and composers have put the power of music to good use for decades. A character walking down an alley is simply a character walking down an alley. But add pensive strings that build and add tension to the scene and the audience immediately knows to be alert for danger and prepared for a scare.

The connotations and meanings that music conveys can even help us define ourselves. Certain artistes and music styles will speak relevance to a hip 20-something, while others will be a complete turn-off. There is an unwritten tribalism associated with music and its many scenes and sub-cultures. These distinctions need to be navigated carefully if a brand wants to be taken as credible.

As well as touching our hearts and minds, music affects our bodies, for instance by relaxing or stimulating us. That’s why the music in a gym is upbeat and highly rhythmic, and why we don’t want to hear stimulating, beat-led music when having a massage in a spa. This too has relevance for brands in the way they might be looking to influence people’s behaviour.

Those organising branded experiences can enlist the power of music. It can be used to build strong connections with customers, create immersive experiences and even influence what those customers do. Its effects need to be managed carefully so that it has a positive and beneficial impact on the brand experience. Yet it is amazing how often music and sound are an after-thought in branded environments.

The truth is, customers experience a brand through sound whether you like it or not, so it needs to be chosen intelligently and managed well. Here are a few tips for doing this.

Striking the right note: Dos and don’ts

Use music that fits with the brand position. That sounds obvious, but many get this fundamentally wrong. On a basic level, luxury brands should sound unique and out of the ordinary, while mass-market brands probably should not sound obscure or bleeding edge. Hip brands are likely to need to sound considered and in the know, rather than familiar or everyday.

Brands need to be associated with music that will connect them to their audience. For example, Top 40 hits are unlikely to build loyalty with an audience for fine jewellery, whereas selecting music that immediately conveys beauty and heightens the emotional impact of the experience is likely to set a more favourable scene for a purchase decision, and sit well with an older, affluent audience.

The music’s energy and density needs to be well thought-out. Music can add instant energy to a space. Is that energy appropriate? If you are trying to grab attention it may well be, especially if you are focused on a young demographic. But if the music is too musically dense (ie busy and complex) people may find it unsettling or confusing. Going back to the luxury jewellery example, that experience is far more likely to be engaging and successful if the background music is unhurried, relaxing and easily digested, while also sounding appropriately high quality and captivating. What’s more, the slower pace will encourage longer browsing, which is important if what you are selling is at a high-end price point where decisions take time.

Finally, use music creatively to make your brand experience more immersive. Music is a wonderful art form that should tell a story and set the scene. There’s a whole world of music, eras and genres, as well as countless artistes and tracks to choose from, which can be curated to bring a concept alive. You may want to add theatre, sensuality, a sense of glamour or credibility to different types of concepts or campaigns. The right kind of inspiring music can achieve an emotional connection and change how people feel. The more emotive a campaign, branded space or experiential event is, the more likely the audience are to remember and talk about it.

So why not avoid the predictable or cliched? See if you can surprise and delight your customers with the music you use. It’s a creative tool that can be activated across different touchpoints and combined with other mediums, such as digital screens or scent, to wow the senses. If it can help a brand find a place in people’s hearts, then it needs to be heard.

Article reproduced with kind permission of Event Magazine
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Level Kids plays around with the concept of brand immersion…

Levels Kids is the multi-award winning children’s department store at City Walk Dubai. This is the second instalment of the Level brand in follow up to the now world-renowned Level Shoes based in Dubai Mall – the world’s largest store dedicated to footwear.

The Level Kids store is a truly unique sensorial retail journey that intertwines luxury fashion for kids together with enchanting experiences. Spanning over 10,000sqm of retail space with every floor designed for a specific age group, children from 0 to 12 are fully catered for, not just in terms of clothing, but also with interactive activities to create memorable experiences.

We helped to curate a signature sound for each floor of the store that intertwines the Level brand DNA with the target age group.

We also worked with the store’s creative team to design a bespoke selection of soundscapes that help bring the store journey to life. Whether that’s on the ground floor diving into an underwater world with a submarine; or creating a whimsical, dream-like journey with fairies, colour and blossom in the Enchanted Walk; or a changing selection of soundscapes to bring the store’s seasonal window concepts to life – the result is a ground-breaking fusion of immersive visual concepts, music and sound effects which makes the store experience all the more captivating.

In a highly evolved, fiercely competitive entertainment arena like Hong Kong, only the strongest food and drink concepts survive. That, of course, means they need a clear, compelling and coherent identity; every facet of the space – design, menu, sound, view, ethos – has to come together and make a targeted statement to a distinct audience group. That’s hard enough to do for one venue to worry about, but when you have five to consider, it’s a much more daunting challenge…

Creating a distinctive sound for an established hotel group with a well-rooted brand identity is a challenge in itself, but using music to build a new brand from scratch is a different story altogether. As anyone who works in the creative sector will know, constraints and ground rules can make the job easier. But working to an open brief, with no established route to follow, can be like climbing a mountain without a rope: a little intimidating and a bit risky, but hugely exciting and more than worth it when you reach the top.

Given such a dynamic market and audience, the triumph of Tastings Group, a family of five independent bar and restaurant venues in Hong Kong, is all the more impressive. Over the last eight years, the group has launched a steady stream of hits – each of them entirely distinct from their siblings. As a restaurant group, Tastings has more identities than Bowie.

About 18 months ago, the group contacted the Music Concierge team in Hong Kong to request our help in streamlining the soundscapes in four of their venues, beginning with one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – the HK icon that is Quinary – and later extending the project to include the lounge element of Michelin-starred VEA Restaurant, the colonially inspired bar The Envoy, and the hugely popular gin joint Origin.

Despite their family connection, each of these is founded on a clear concept and had the design credentials to back it up. Quinary is the sophisticated industrial-style cocktail bar where those in the know go for experimental cocktails and sensory spectacle. The Envoy takes its guests back the bygone era of British colonialism in Asia, fusing both culinary and decorative traditions with playful contemporary quirk. VEA’s skyline bar is the cocktails and small plates counterpart to the destination restaurant next door. Origin is the gin-loving speakeasy on Hong Kong’s hottest nightlife strip Lan Kwai Fong. Our challenge was to underline and enhance those identities through sound. In the cases of the first three, it made most sense for our approach to be led by the concept – to create playlists that harmonised perfectly with the visual design and food-and-drink philosophy.

For Quinary, this meant supporting the elegant contemporary-industrial aesthetic and future-focused mixology with fresh, unexpected and compelling new music that heightens the sheer sensory immersion that its cocktails provide. At The Envoy, we sidestepped the potential pitfalls of the colonial theme – it would have been all to easy to resort to retro clichés – and blended together contemporary tracks with samples of period jazz and a playful touch of 1950s American exotica. The result, like The Envoy in general, was sophisticated and historically inspired, but without taking itself too seriously.

When we got to Tasting Group’s newest enterprise, VEA Lounge, the existing deep house soundtrack matched the mood of the space – where guests would gather for pre-dinner cocktails before taking their tables in the restaurant, or while away the whole evening – but the playlist leaned towards the linear. Being solely genre-led, it lacked contrast and storytelling, and was difficult to engage with as a result. We took a more thoughtful approach, building on a contemporary jazz base and introducing intriguing juxtapositions – keeping it interesting without losing VEA’s atmosphere of refinement.

Origin required a different approach. Given the bar’s location amid a high density of bars and dining venues in one of the most vibrant nightlife strips in Central, a solely concept-led approach to the music would risk losing footfall to the neighbours. In this instance, the Music Concierge team had to carefully balance the commercial demands of the site with the integrity of the Origin brand, using music to create a fun, energetic and youthful atmosphere that was accessible to the Lan Kwai Fong crowd, but tempered with a sophisticated leftfield note – a case of fitting in but standing out.

The Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2017 arrives at King’s Cross

The annual Restaurant & Bar Design Awards are always a calendar highlight. After all, it’s not every day that hundreds of the world’s best dining venues, watering holes, clubs and cafés are put before a global panel of design, fashion and food experts to determine the most game-changing spacemakers in contemporary hospitality. For the world’s restaurateurs, bar owners, publicans, café keepers and the architects and designers they work with, October 5th is the most important date in the diary. For everyone else, it’s a chance to celebrate some of the most innovative design thinking on the contemporary bar and restaurant scene.

We’re thrilled to be invited to be the awards’ music partner in any case, but the theme of this year’s event, the awards’ ninth edition, is particularly close to our hearts.

After last year’s time-hopping ‘Street’-themed edition, #RBDA2017 has chosen to explore the concept of ‘Soundscape’ for the awards. Three of the most accomplished restaurant and bar designers have each been invited to create a dedicated installation exploring the intersection of sound and vision in F&B spaces. SHH are creating a project entitled #Soundbites; Design Command are working on #Ticktockblock; and Haptic Architects are creating what they’ve intriguingly titled #Absence. The three studios’ #RBDAsoundscape designs will be unveiled at the event in Granary Square, King’s Cross on 5 October along with unique sound designs from Jimmy Drew Sound Design.

Almost 1,000 venues entered the awards this year, and the nominee shortlist is now down to a still-extensive 236 F&B outlets of every style and budget, ranging from Wallpaper Bar* to Nando’s, and including contenders from Knutsford to Kolkatta. You’ll find the full list on the awards website.

Photo by Richard Lewisohn & London Interiors Photographer

The Silo is an innovative city hotel focused on local art and culture in Cape Town…

The Silo at the V&A Waterfront, perched above the much anticipated Zeitz MOCAA at the old grain silos – is a striking new addition to the vibrant Cape Town hotel scene. The architecture is a juxtaposition of an industrial feel with a modern take on what a luxury hotel could be. The interiors are bold and have a strong emphasis on colour, local culture and contemporary African art.

Our brief was to capture this unique aesthetic in music – and design a creative and engaging music concept that communicates originality whilst still appealing to a broad range of international and local patrons.

By combining interesting cult under-the-radar music references with bold, avant-garde contemporary tracks from Africa and beyond we created a concept that is as unique as the hotel itself. The music ebbs and flows throughout the day, providing the perfect backdrop to this one-of-a-kind property which has already made it on to Condé Nast Traveller’s 2017 Hot List.

The Silo

Europe’s premier, and indeed only, dedicated design event for the hotel industry kicks off on 21 November, bringing more than 170 exhibitors to Islington’s Business Design Centre to show off the latest products and furniture from some of the biggest names in design and interiors.

This year’s theme – ‘Loyalty: Lessons in Love’ – is driven by consumers’ growing appreciation of experience above material factors, and the importance of nurturing memories as a means of developing brand loyalty. A hotel than can provide a platform for positive experiences for guests will linger longer in the memory and increase the likelihood not only of repeat visits, but also of active brand advocacy on the part of the guest.

The set design of the Sleep event explores this focus on the experiential, considering every aspect of how the hospitality environment comes together to influence to loyalty; from interior design details and the nature of the service, to the menu in the restaurant and the music on the sound system.

That’s where we come in. At Music Concierge, we’ve spent over a decade exploring the triangular relationship between sound, brand identity and customer experience, so we’re very pleased to be working with Bang & Olufsen to create and deliver an event soundtrack based on Sleep’s loyalty theme. You can hear what we’ve come up with across the show floor – but the best place to catch it is the Sleeper Bar, designed by Russian architecture and interiors studio Sundokovy Sisters, so pick up a ticket here, and we’ll see you at the show.

Following the Miami showdown back in June, when the great and good of American hospitality duked it out for one of Sleeper magazine’s coveted Awards for Hospitality, Experience and Design, the hoteliers of Europe and the Middle East & Africa are under the spotlight this November, as the next two stages in AHEAD’s two-year quest to unveil the world’s best hotels get underway in London and Dubai.

The awards ceremony at W Al Habtoor City on 15th November, the MEA edition came conveniently smack in the middle of Dubai Design Week, when all discerning designer eyes were on the city. A shortlist of 47 hotels was whittled down to 12 winners, each representing the regional best-in-class across categories from best bar, club or lounge to best safari lodge or tented camp. Big congratulations to our clients Rove Hotels in particular who won New Concept and Event Space categories.

Five days later, the London leg, pitting 60 shortlisted hotels from Iceland to Italy for 12 awards takes place at the Park Plaza, bringing a bang-on-trend ‘future-retro’ theme to proceedings.

Music Concierge is shaping the distinctive sounds of both events and, although we don’t want to give too much away about the playlists before the party, let’s just say, with the London event in mind, we’ve spent much of the last month or two studying the sci-fi sonic stylings of the new Bladerunner…

And, for any Asian hoteliers out there, entries are open for the next round of AHEAD Asia in March 2018, so if your property has the design chops to stand head and shoulders above the rest, get your submission in before 30 November.

Shaping the sound of the creative workspace…

The way London works has changed. In recent years, a new workforce has emerged – itinerant freelancers, ready to unfold the laptop and work anywhere; small creative businesses of dispersed remote-workers; and energetic start-ups who need office space can’t spare the overheads for conventional tenancy contracts. To accommodate this paradigm shift, branded co-working spaces aimed at creative companies and individuals are springing up around the city.

One of the most trailblazing of these is Uncommon. With outposts in Highbury & Islington and Borough, it has barely been on the scene for a year, but is already leading the field. The Highbury branch came first. It began as a temporary co-working space set up in a converted warehouse to fill the time while it was waiting to be converted into apartments, but soon built up such a determined following of neighbourhood creative workers that it became a permanent fixture – and the foundation of London’s hottest co-working office brand. Today, it provides flexible membership options for individual creatives in search of inspiring space to work, as well as fixed office spaces for companies sized anywhere between two and 250 people.

Uncommon’s recipe for success is an inspired mix of contemporary-cool design and near-obsessive attention to sensory detail. The team behind the brand are passionately devoted to the art of space-making, and they have cultivated a meticulously researched understanding of the psychology of engagement, focus and motivation. That research is made manifest everywhere in the building: in the abundance of natural light and plant life (proven to improve mood and productivity); in the mind-centring, botanically inclined interior palette; in the scented air; and even in the seating (Uncommon’s research identified eight distinct types of chair were needed to suit every body type or working style and ensured it provided every one of them).

Sound is of course an integral part of this sensory landscape. Get the music wrong in a workspace and you can easily throw someone off their flow; get it wrong in a membership-based co-working collective, and you not only risk damaging productivity, but losing brand capital, members and money too. With what comes out of the speakers putting so much at stake, Uncommon asked us for help.

This was Music Concierge’s first project that demanded concentrated workspace music, and posed a fascinating and enjoyable challenge. As anyone who listens to music while they work will know, some tracks push themselves into the foreground, hijacking your brain and taking you away from the task in hand; others take a back seat, setting a mood and steering you towards a state of flow without demanding the attention of the conscious mind. When it came to creating the sound for Uncommon’s fixed-desk co-working spaces, our challenge was to deliver an unceasing stream of the latter – taking into consideration the fact that, with many Uncommon members working there day after day, the tolerance for repetition would be even lower than usual. That meant creating a set of extensive playlists that could be frequently refreshed, and which contributed to a fun-but-focused atmosphere that energised and inspired those who worked within it.

Uncommon also needed music for its coffee lounges, where at any given time its members might be working individually, having meetings or taking time out; and for its rooftop terrace in Borough, often used for after-work wind-downs and events. Each of these required a slightly different soundscape – from fresh and energising in the café to buzzy and upbeat on the roof – that had to be tailored as the mood evolved from the head-down-and-get-on-with-it ambience of Monday morning to the relax-and-kick-back vibe of Friday evening, but there was a common thread.

In every area, the music has several jobs to do: to help members work better; to match the bright, modern and positive design of the space; to capture and express the unique and original identity of the Uncommon brand; to inspire loyalty in existing members and to sell the space to potential new ones. That’s a lot of boxes to tick, but we’re very proud to have ticked them. Across all areas, in both its current sites, Uncommon now has a sound every bit as suited to the needs of its diverse members as its chairs.

If we ever need to move out of Music Concierge HQ, we know who we’d call first.