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Author Archives: Music Concierge

Until relatively recently, you knew what you were getting from the Great British country-house hotel: white linens and waist-coated staff, chintz and pelmets, tweed and brandy. Barring the view from the windows, the template was generally the same, whether you were in Hampshire or Herefordshire.

Now, things have changed. In the last few years the world of the country-house hotel has been transformed by the arrival of bold and imaginative properties that have set new standards in design and experience. Places like Lime Wood (Hampshire), Dormy House (Cotswolds), Barnsley House (Cotswolds) and The Pig (throughout the South) have redefined rural luxury, injecting a distinct contemporary sensibility into a sector more closely associated with tradition.

But this is an evolution, not a revolution; a sensitive rethink, rather than a radical overhaul. Successfully updating the country-house model takes more than chucking out the chintz and ditching the traditional for the sake of it. The best country hotels get the balance right between looking to the future and cherishing the past.

The cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work anymore. Location has always been important, of course, but today’s travellers want to feel that the hotel they are staying in had a palpable sense of place – that it has grown naturally from its setting, not just been dumped there. A truly great country-house hotel belongs where it is; it couldn’t exist in the same way anywhere else.

It’s a tough tightrope to walk, involving thousands of decisions that are all too easy to get wrong – a bad call on the design, a misjudgement on the menu, or a poor choice on the playlist can all burst a guest’s bubble. With so many elements to consider, it’s no wonder it has taken Heckfield Place six years to get around to opening.

Gerald Chan, the owner of the grand Georgian family home and 400-acre estate in Hampshire recognised that, if he were to launch a new, modern-minded property into the this freshly evolved and increasingly competitive country-house landscape, every sensory detail had to be perfectly judged – furnishings, art, books, food, music and more. Chan spent significant time recruiting the right creative team: ex-Aman manager Olivia Richli as launch GM; Petersham Nurseries chef Skye Gyngell to take charge of Marle and Hearth Restaurants and the extensive kitchen garden; Ilse Crawford protegé Ben Thompson on design duty – and Music Concierge to set the scene with sound.

Of all the sensory touch points that shape the guest experience, sound is perhaps the easiest to overlook, but it’s arguably the linchpin that ties the other senses together and breathes life into the atmosphere. Sound is also the easiest element to overdo – when you’re creating a soundscape it can be tempting to cram in attention-grabbing tracks that you love to hear in isolation, but which sound brash and indulgent when they become part of a soundtrack on-site.

At Heckfield Place, designer Ben Thompson deployed a a calming palette of muted greys, greens and blues to provide a rustic feel that complemented the Georgian building and sat well with the bucolic setting. A restrained, effortlessly elegant look that didn’t attempt to outshine its surroundings. We followed suit with the soundtrack, developing a delicate and distinctive blend of contemporary classical and delicate folk-oriented vocal tracks that support the Heckfield mood: elegant, relaxed and pastoral – underlining, not overpowering, the natural beauty of the landscape.

To enrich the atmosphere of the Moon Bar, the hotel’s intimate nightspot, we injected a dose of rock ’n’ roll into the air to keep the evening energy up. In the screening room bar attached to Heckfield Place’s full-size, Dolby surround-sound cinema, we made sure that the playlist made thoughtful references to cult film soundtracks where the eagle-eared might hear the work of Nino Rota, Bernard Hermann, or Lalo Schifrin. The Little Bothy Spa, set to open fully in 2019, has a soothing classical sound interspersed with spoken-word English literature to relax both body and mind. Despite the subtle shifts in sound, in every area of the hotel, our aim was the same – to elevate the mood and cultivate the beauty of the moment.

Often the most successful elements of a hotel are its smallest touches, not its boldest statements. At Heckfield, there is a thoughtfulness behind every detail, from the corn-dolly do-not-disturb signs to the cocktails mixed from estate-grown ingredients. One of the most distinctive touches is the vinyl library. You can tell a lot about a person from their record collection, after all.

As well as creating Heckfield’s audio identity, GM Olivia Richli asked Music Concierge to put together a collection of albums that would reflect the hotel’s personality and surprise and impress its guests. Hopping between genres and across eras, the Heckfield collection is a something-for-everyone selection of iconic British masters, rock legends, soul giants and classical greats. A harmonious marriage of contemporary and traditional executed with care and near-obsessive consideration – just like Heckfield Place itself.

 

The Silo, Cape Town

After two years of fierce hotel-on-hotel competition, in which hundreds of the world’s most remarkable properties have gone head-to-head, the first cycle of Sleeper magazine’s AHEAD awards is set to culminate on 28 January – with simultaneous ceremonies in London (Ham Yard Hotel)  and New York (Crosby Street) and a livestream on the AHEAD website.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, eight awards events took place across Asia, Americas, MEA and Europe, crowning the best hotels by category in each region. Now, the cycle is ending with AHEAD’s first ever global showdown, when the regional champions are pitted against each other to determine what are, quite simply, the best designed hotels in the world.

As with previous AHEAD events, Music Concierge were asked to curate the soundtrack for the grand finale, but what we’re most excited about is seeing so many hotels we’ve worked with on the shortlist for an international title – including our clients Gleneagles and Nobu Shoreditch, who both took home gongs at the recent London awards.

And the fun doesn’t end on the 28th – the next AHEAD cycle kicks into gear in Singapore on 7 March, when the first Asia leg of 2019–20 sees a whole new set of hotels battling it out…

The rapid rise of aparthotels is celebrated at this year’s Serviced Apartments Awards 2019.

Now in the award’s fourth year, journalists, architects, designers and operators will come together at Park Plaza Riverbank in London on 14 March to acknowledge category leaders such as Best Interior Design and Best Service Provider.

The serviced apartments sector is thriving through the convenience, price point, and millennial approach to design it brings to the hospitality market. The awards recognise excellence globally at the individual, team and corporate level.

Music Concierge were asked by organisers Serviced Apartment Summit / International Hospitality Media to provide the soundtrack to the event and after-party and we were delighted to oblige.

https://www.servicedapartmentawards.com/

The relationship between music and mood is well-documented. The sound of your surroundings can lift your spirit, focus your mind, steer you to sleep or prime you for action – often without you consciously noticing the change. But can music make you perform better at sport? With the help of Music Concierge, Tottenham Hotspur is currently in the process of finding out.

In May 2018, Spurs opened the doors to The Lodge – a state-of-the-art 40-bedroom accommodation offering to accompany the team’s world-class training centre in Enfield. The training centre exists to get the players in peak condition on the pitch. The Lodge is designed to look after them off pitch; not merely offering the first team a place to stay before games, but providing them with a precision-engineered environment totally focused on enhancing their well-being, team spirit and performance.

When the first guests – the Brazilian national team on their way to the World Cup in Russia – set foot in the purpose-built crescent building last summer, they were welcomed into a setting where every detail had been considered. The Lodge is designed to be the optimum environment for players to spend time between training sessions, free from the stress, distraction and unpredictability of everyday life. By spending time in surroundings where everything is geared towards their wellbeing, the players are mentally and emotionally primed to perform the second they step onto the pitch.

That means all the facilities you might expect – teched-up gym, hydrotherapy spa with hot and cold recovery pools, relaxation lounge, cinema room that doubles as both an exercise studio and a venue for team talks.

Biophilia abounds, with plant life and greenery exerting their calming, oxygenating influence both throughout the building and surrounding it.

Areas such as the dining room and garden are designed to foster team spirit and camaraderie, with communal tables and a firepit encircled with bean bags.

Lighting has been coordinated to shift in temperature depending on the time of day and the activity being performed. And, when Harry Kane and co head to bed, they walk down a 30ft corridor illuminated by a play of star-like lights mapping out the movement of the ball in some of the greatest goals in history.

In short, everything has been done to encourage Tottenham’s players to relax, bond, and focus when they’re in residence before a game – and that, of course, includes the sounds that they hear. As the Lodge neared completion, the club approached Music Concierge to complete the aural piece of the jigsaw. Management were determined to ensure that the sounds the players were exposed to as they progressed through the day worked in harmony with The Lodge’s other sensory stimuli to improve player’s wellbeing and gently steer their behaviour from dawn to dusk – a best-practice daily routine set in sound.

Drawing on our research into the psychology of music, the Music Concierge team have put together a programme specifically designed to shepherd elite athletes through the training day. From highly motivating morning sounds, to uplifting, positive music that encourage team socialising over lunch. The soundtrack creates a subtle emotional framework that brings rhythm to the day, culminating in soothing, restful compositions that kick in at set times each day to encourage rest and sleep.

 

Many of us travel to beach resorts in order to forget our lives for a little while, to leave our everyday stresses in the departure lounge, and to shift the pace of our days to a different, gentler rhythm. The most successful hotels are those that understand how to facilitate this transition, and give their guests the sensory cues they need to ease themselves into serenity.

One such resort is Zuri Zanzibar, a village-style collection of 55 villas and bungalows spread out beside the immaculate sands of Unguja’s northern shore. Built on principles of sustainability and social responsibility, the independent resort aims to create a feeling of being removed from the worries of the everyday world. It’s a place to let go and live in the moment – without foregoing the creature comforts of a luxury beach resort.

Another important dimension of the Zuri Zanzibar philosophy is the need to cultivate an authentic sense of place. The resort’s clientele – predominantly well-travelled individuals from Europe and Asia – demand the luxurious standards of a high-end resort, but they also expect a genuine ‘Spice Island’ experience. Zuri Zanzibar’s architecture and interior design draw their inspiration from the lush tropical surroundings and the local Swahili culture – as well as the island’s history as a key port on the trade routes with Arabia.

The Music Concierge team were called upon to ensure this distinctive sense of place was also reflected in the sound of the resort, and that, wherever guests went, they would be aurally encouraged to cast aside distractions and be ‘present’ in the moment.

By weaving together a contemporary musical identity from diverse cultures – a sort of ‘Afro-Euro-Arabesque’ – we developed a master-brand sound that could be used as the basis for seven distinct music channels in various zones within the resort. Adapted to suit the function of each zone and adjusted in tempo to match the time of the day, these carefully tailored channels help shape guests’ moods and memories as they move from place to place. At the same time it never distracts them from the most important thing: ditching mental baggage and being present in the moment.

When it opened at the beginning of 2018, all eyes were on The Murray. Already a Hong Kong landmark, the building first burst onto the skyline in 1969. Almost instantly, it won architectural acclaim for its modern façade and ahead-of-its-time sustainability (care of temperature-reducing recessed windows).

The Murray served as a government building for most of its life, and was earmarked for preservation as an important part of the city’s heritage when the residents moved on. So, when new owners Wharf Hotels announced in 2011 that The Murray would be reinvented as the 336-key flagship property in its modern-luxe Niccolo brand, expectations ran high.

In Hong Kong’s hyper-competitive hospitality landscape, a hotel has to tick a lot of boxes to make the luxury-travel hot lists. Niccolo’s brand builders knew this, so they went to great lengths to ensure that their headline hotel would deliver the contemporary urban chic that its style-savvy Asian and international audience demanded, and do justice to the iconic status of the building.

Foster + Partners were tasked with transforming the interiors. Music Concierge were handed responsibility for the sounds of the space. It was crucial that the audio brand identity we created for The Murray complemented Sir Norman Foster’s ultramodern design vision, and had the functionality to suit specific spaces.

The Murray’s lobby, for example, is a vast, largely open, two-storey space encompassing the reception area, the Tai Pan restaurant, The Murray Lane cocktail bar, and The Garden Lounge afternoon tea area – a single playlist had to respond to the mood, pace and design of all of them.

On the rooftop, Popinjays bar and restaurant stakes its claim on the Hong Kong night scene, with some of the best panoramic views in the city, a refined European menu and a see-and-be-seen fashionista clientele. Here, the soundtrack had to reflect the venue’s easy-going sophistication, and energise the evening for a cosmopolitan mix of locals and hotel guests.

The music of the Murray may not be the first thing you notice about the hotel, but every note has been engineered to underpin the sensory experience of stepping inside. The sound had to bring the space together, balancing the heritage of the building with the modernity of its Foster-designed fabric.

Less than a year after opening, The Murray has bagged itself almost every award going – from the top spot on Condé Nast Traveler readers’ HK hotlist to a feature on TIME’s ‘World’s Greatest Places 2018’. It looks like all those expectations have been more than met.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Barcelona guests and doormen in gold and white hotel lobby

First impressions aren’t made by sight alone. Every one of our senses contributes to the sum total of our experience. If one sense is out of sync, the whole experience can be diminished.

For a business like a hotel, which depends upon its customers feeling a certain way and picking up a certain vibe, taking a holistic view of the atmosphere you create and understanding the individual sensory components that create it can have a tremendous impact on your success.

One of the most successful and widely beloved luxury brands in the global hotel sector is Mandarin Oriental. It owes its reputation not simply to the fantastic locations of its properties, perfectly judged service across the board, or its invariably exceptional standards of design, but to the way all these diverse elements cohere to shape the overall guest experience. For every Mandarin Oriental hotel team, that experience is all.

With a hugely covetable location on the fashion-forward, city-central Passeig de Gràcia, Mandarin Oriental Barcelona is a flagship property for the group. Arguably the most luxurious hotel in a city full of fierce competition, it attracts an affluent, well-travelled and culturally attuned international clientele, who are drawn to its peerless service standards and perfect design balance of contemporary chic and period prestige.

To stay ahead of the game, the guest experience has to be pitch perfect. Which is why, when the Mandarin Oriental team identified that the hotel’s music had become the weak link in the experience, they were quick to address the issue.

The soundtrack from the hotel’s existing provider had become out of step with the design calibre of the hotel and the clientele it sort to cultivate, so we were invited to develop new sounds for each of the Mandarin Oriental’s key areas.

These included the dramatic open lobby space extending into all-day dining restaurant Blanc and the Mimosa garden; the two-Michelin-star restaurant Mimosa; the rooftop poolside Peruvian bar Terrat; the spectacular cocktail spot Banker’s Bar; and the spa. Each required a distinct soundscape that complemented the design of the space and the changing pace of the day, striking a balance between the Spanish location and international clientele, matching the fashionable vibe of the hotel’s setting, and expressing the upmarket, new-luxe identity of the Mandarin Oriental brand.

To address the needs of complex, multifaceted property such as this requires an in-depth understanding of how the space is lived day-to-day, taking into account the diverse and changing needs of users (for example, the lobby playlist needs to communicate a sense of theatre to guest arrivals, accommodate business guests conducting meetings, and create a buzz for diners lunching in Blanc – all at the same time). By spending time on site, engaging each of the restaurant managers and on-the-ground stakeholders, and experiencing the hotel as a guest would, we were able to develop a family of soundscapes that enriched the drama of the hotel’s design while meeting the needs and enhancing the moods of every type of guest.

Music Concierge’s collaborative approach to sound design has helped restore the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona guest experience to what it should be: an elevated, immersive expression of contemporary luxury in which every one of the senses plays a part.

Swire Hotels - Large chandelier in hotel lobby of Middle House Shanghai China

Shanghai has rapidly emerged as one of the most exciting destinations in China – but it’s taken a while for many of its hotels to cotton on. Until very recently, the hotel landscape was dominated by big-chain behemoths, delivering travellers the same high-end but homogenous experience with little innovation. Now, that’s starting to change, with imaginative, experience-led hospitality concepts making inroads into the culturally rich city.

At the vanguard of this evolution is The Middle House – the fourth opening for Swire Hotels’ ‘House Collective’, which has made such an impact in Beijing, Hong Kong and Chengdu with The Opposite House, The Upper House and The Temple House respectively. The hotel taps into China’s growing audience of affluent, entrepreneurial, cultured and creative millennials, as well as international travellers accustomed to the new breed of personalised luxury – sophistication without the starch.

Design is of course a big part of its impact – from the sleek gunmetal chic of its Café Gray Deluxe restaurant and bar and the lighter, laid-back ambience of its Italian outlet Frasca, to the contemporary Chinese Restaurant Sui Tang Li – but it’s the creative use of music that sets the mood of each space. We’ve worked with The Middle House to develop signature sounds for every area of the hotel, enhancing the see-and-be-seen vibrance of Café Gray, striking a contrasting retro note in the lobby, and matching the forward-thinking design of spa and 24-hour gym with a highly distinctive, future-focused sound.

Shifting in mood and tempo with the ebb and flow of the day, The Middle House’s audio landscape has been crafted alongside its physical design and audience mindset, ensuring that the customer experience was clearly defined from the moment it first opened its doors in April 2018. With the hotel already having had a significant impact on the Shanghai hospitality scene in just six months of launch, the argument for innovation is sounding even stronger.

Manor house exterior at night

November brings us the final events of the Sleeper Magazine’s AHEAD awards – the mammoth two-year international programme to celebrate the brightest lights in global hospitality.

Since early 2017, AHEAD (or to give them their proper title, the Awards for Hospitality, Experience and Design) have been honouring the most exceptional, spectacular and forward-thinking hotels and resorts in Asia, Europe, MEA and the America over four awards events each year – all of which Music Concierge has had the pleasure of soundtracking.

We’re currently polishing off the playlists for the MEA awards evening at Dubai’s Meydan Hotel on 14 November and the Europe event at Park Plaza  in London on the 19th. Each pitting around 40 shortlisted hotels head to head across 12 categories, these are the final two legs of the awards before the grand global showdown in 2019, when the best of the best will be decided.

Our fingers will of course be crossed for Music Concierge clients The Silo in Cape Town, Nobu Shoreditch, Adare Manor in Ireland (pictured above) and the Birnam Brasserie at Gleneagles, all of which are contenders…

Women raising their glasses and enjoying a meal in a restaurant

For brand marketeers, a well-rounded, immersive customer experience is pretty much the holy grail. In the hospitality trade, it’s what gets your customers through the door, keeps them at the table, and brings them back the following week – ideally with friends in tow.

Get every sensory touchpoint right, and you have a memorable brand and a successful business. Neglect or misjudge a single element, and you risk alienating your customer even before the first plate is served.

In August, food and drink marketing specialist Mark McCulloch invited Music Concierge founder Rob Wood to be interviewed for The Spectacular Marketing Podcast  – an essential listen for anyone in the bar and restaurant business. They explored how music can make or break a customer’s experience – not just in terms of content, but also the quality of the delivery system. They discussed the brands who are getting it right; and pinpointed the pitfalls that the ones getting it wrong often stumble into.

Listen now at Mark’s podcast website or stream from iTunes or Spotify.