Background Music: More Than just Dealing with Environment Noise

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An Interview with Jerry Chen of Express Melody

Background music if you ever paid close attention to the music that plays while you are out in a restaurant, hotel, or shopping centre? If done correctly, it should make you feel something rather than just preventing the clinking of silverware against plates or suitcases rolling across a lobby floor.

Jerry Chen, Managing Director of Express Melody (EM) is on a mission to educate businesses of all types about the benefits that well-chosen background music can bring to customer satisfaction and the bottom line.

Founded in 2013 EM provides a connection between musicians and businesses. Artists upload song to EM and those songs are made available to hundreds of businesses. Artists do not pay a fee to upload songs and are paid royalties when their music is used.

EM works with restaurants, hotels, and shopping malls, and other businesses to determine what type of music will work best for the environment and atmosphere they are trying to achieve.

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Chen (second from left) and the EM staff.

Feels Like Home

As Chen explained, the match between business need and background music is crucial to striking the perfect balance.

He points to Starbucks as a shining example of what environmental music can do at its best. No matter where you are in the world, walking into a Starbucks gives you a feeling of being at home. They achieve this not only through the music selection itself but through how the sound travels through the store.

“It comes down to how people feel, and acoustic panels help a lot, Chen says. “Panels can act as a curtain to block out conversation from other tables. If they are placed under the table, they can create a homey feeling that brings in more repeat customers who have a good experience.”

No matter what the industry, satisfied customers equal higher revenue. A customer will likely never point to environmental music as a factor in return visits. In fact, if it’s done properly, they will not explicitly notice it at all.

Rather, the subconscious effect of carefully chosen music executed with acoustic precision will affect customers on a much deeper level.

“Music is often seen as not being important as that because you see it and you do not see industry players focusing on it,” Chen says. “By the same token, if the music is not done well you are not able to ignore it. You can close eyes to avoid something you do not want to see, but can’t close your ears.”

A Growing Market in Background Music


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U.S. brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s know the importance sound has on the customer experience. In fact, they have worked for decades to optimise that experience. Southeast Asia, however, is just coming on board with that ideology, Chen says.

As such, now is a great time to be in the business of environmental music. EM is currently one of the top providers of this service in and around Singapore. Chen hopes that will change soon as the company eyes to be the leading player in the entire Southeast Asia market.

“Southeast Asia is a very exciting market,” Chen says. The growth is strong and going up. I would love to see more competition because then you know the market is seeing such sound solution as a norm.”

For years, businesses in Singapore and surrounding areas would play whatever music they felt like. This was often music that was easy to access on services like Spotify or SoundCloud. They are now coming around to understanding what U.S. and European businesses have known for years.

The most popular types of songs relate to the type of business being conducted in the establishment. For example, a restaurant serving Vietnamese food would want music to match.

“When you are eating your Pho or your spring rolls, the restaurant wants you to feel like you are there,” Chen says. “It’s a similar concept with Thai songs for Thai restaurants.”

Cutting Edge Research

As traditional retailers face increasing competition from online stores, the need to improve the consumer experience is greater than ever. EM plans to partner with Soundzipper to expand upon its strong foundation.

EM has already determined how to help businesses select music. Soundzipper can provide further reach into how soundscape can bring about better buying experiences to consumers.

“Businesses can’t fight with online prices, but they can but good quality panels bring in the perspective of how people feel,” Chen says. “People can forget what you sell or what you say people can forget, but can’t forget what they feel.”


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And those feelings are powerful enough to change consumer behaviour. Chen observed how customers interact in stores that have curated background music vs. those that do not. The difference is however striking, he says.

“We are able to observe their transformational behaviour from an initial window shopping intention into an eventual actual purchase,” Chen says. “You see same person or group or couple and their walking pace changes depending on the music that’s playing.”

No matter how far this technology goes, Chen says there will never be a magic formula for finding a song or playlist that appeals to the masses.

“There’s no such thing as one music to suit everyone,” Chen says. “You can only target the influencer or decision makers and make sure that your brand experience is consistent throughout all the outlets countrywide, regionally and internationally.”


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