Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Have Marks and Spencer made a sound decision?

So Marks and Spencer have decided to switch off background music in all their UK stores.  The news has certainly received some high profile coverage across the press and an overwhelming level of customer response.

I would agree that removing badly delivered, ill thought out music can only be a good thing, but is removing all music from retail and leisure spaces really the best or most proportional response?

Unless sound systems are carefully designed, delivered with the correct audio equipment and the most appropriate music content, they can indeed have a destructive effect on the very environment they are meant to be enhancing. Does this mean however that background music should be removed from all retail and leisure spaces, or do we just need to get smarter about how and what we play to those customers we are trying to attract?

What we can't argue with is the growing body of evidence that supports the fact that audio affects your mood and emotions and as such can change the way you react and behave. Our brains receive so many subtle cues from what our ears pick up, that a great deal of our conscious and unconscious moods and behaviour are attributable to what we hear. Even recent medical research has proved that playing appropriate music during operations can have a positive effect on both surgeons and those that they treat; those patients who listen to music during and after an operation will feel less pain and have a speedier recovery, even if they had been under general anaesthetic! That’s quite amazing.

I think much of the issue is not with having music per se, but with the fact that many retail and restaurant chains have just commoditised it. The delivery of ‘background music’ during many store roll out processes, has become yet another bulk purchase to be sourced and delivered within or under budget, just like any other fixture or fitting.  Any focus on the sound system quality, appropriateness of the music or the impact it has on the target customers has all but become lost along the way.

So is a space without any music really the right way forward? Very often CGA Integration are called to add sound to a space that is suffering from what we call “the library effect.” This is where our client’s guests cannot relax, they feel uncomfortable and find themselves whispering to each other; everyone is very conscious of each and every sound they make and can hear. This in turn creates the wrong kind of atmosphere, it certainly does not help to bring our client’s Brand to life, which by contrast is what well chosen, expertly delivered audio can do.

Above all, what all this really indicates to me is the need to review how we use music. We need to stop, think and take ownership of the soundscape within our space. We need to think about what sounds we currently have and what sounds we want to add, to deliver where we want to be.  

So how can you best use music and audio to help you successfully deliver your Brand?

Getting this right may involve a large investment in hardware as you move away from cheap speakers, as however good the playlist, unless you have quality speakers the music will just sound like it is coming from a 1970’s phone handset.  It may also require you to appoint a quality music profiler to ensure that you get the right music for your venues. There are some great music profilers out there, but as with everything, you will need to find the one who can best understand your Brand, so they can interpret your Brand personality and personify it into a music playlist. It may also mean you investing in sound system design. Many interiors are now designed with a minimalist or industrial look which creates a very harsh acoustic environment. If the sound system is not designed in the right way, even with well selected musical content, this can mean that the end result can be uncomfortable for your guests and staff alike, which Julian Treasure discusses here in ‘a quiet coffee.’

Most of all, what I find really interesting about this news story is the sheer volume of coverage it received and the level of consumer response it generated across all forms of the media. If audio does not affect people so strongly would we really have witnessed  such a response?