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The Five Biggest Mistakes Luxury Hotels Make When Choosing their Background Music

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Written by Emily Chard

Head of Music and Library Services, MBC

Emily is passionate about music and helping brands build their musical identity. She has worked on top client accounts such as Armani Hotel Milan and Aman Hotel Group, curating bespoke playlists and creating unforgettable guest listening experiences.

Published July 2022

The concept of background music has gone through a complete transformation over the past 20 years. Gone are the days of 90s “muzak” where music’s sole purpose was to provide an inoffensive backdrop to the decor and avoid awkward silence.

With the revolution of sensory marketing, the music that a brand chooses to associate itself with now holds equal weight to the look and feel of its visual element and even, to an extent, the quality of its services.

In the modern day, for brands to truly connect with their customer base on the deepest level, all sensory aspects need to work in harmony. Indeed, music can no longer be said to be simply a “background” element, but rather must now be considered an integral part of a brand’s identity. So, it’s no wonder that so many customers can instantly be turned off of a luxury hotel if the music doesn’t match their expectations.

With that in mind, here are the five biggest mistakes aspirational hotels make when choosing their background music.

1. Letting the staff choose the music they like

You wouldn’t let the staff choose what furniture to put in your 5* hotel. You would, of course, invest in an interior designer to carefully craft the aesthetic. So why wouldn’t you take the same approach with your background music?

Even in situations where your staff may have excellent individual music taste, that does not mean that their personal preferences are aligned with your vision for your brand, nor that they are right for your customer demographic.

Hotels that take this approach are often left with a mishmash of competing styles as different members of staff take the reins depending on who’s working, when. This lack of consistency can be disastrous for luxury establishments that are under constant pressure to portray an infallible brand image.

Furthermore, staff can have a tendency to play music that suits their needs rather than focussing on your guests' experience. All too often have I been subjected to high tempo pop music early in the morning as staff energise themselves for the day ahead when soothing melodies would be far more appropriate as I sip my coffee and prepare my day's agenda.

2. Relying on generic playlists

There’s a whole host of generic playlists on YouTube and Spotify these days. At the time of writing this blog post the first result for “lounge music” on YouTube shows a video with 17 million views.

While these playlists are clearly successful in their own right, is this really what luxury brands should be seeking to offer their clientele? Something that can be heard any time, anywhere, whether that be in a local cafe or in a 1* motel? Going back to the comparison of interior design, you wouldn’t put an Ikea wardrobe in a 5* room, so why would you even consider doing the equivalent with your music?

Luxury brands should, I hope, be seeking to create something extraordinary, every aspect of which your guests will remember for the rest of their lives. Falling back on generic playlists doesn’t help to achieve this, but rather makes one element of their experience immediately mundane.

That’s not to mention that streaming sites use low quality formats which can have a huge impact on your guests' listening experience. (Spotify’s default is from 96kbps - the lowest quality MP3 format on the market. Compare this with 320kbps HD sound, or even 1411kbps ultra-HD, which is what we use as standard at MBC. The difference is night and day).

That’s why expertly and professionally curated playlists and a bespoke music solution is an absolute must for any aspiring establishment.

3. Not tailoring their music schedule to match guest behaviour

Most people don’t want to listen to house music first thing in the morning. The same can be said for very chilled out music during peak hours in a busy bar.

However, tailoring your music schedule to match the time of day and customer demographic is vital to not only creating a truly 5* experience, but also has a direct impact on your bottom line.

There is a huge body of research showing how music can have a profound impact on your guests' behaviour. For example, one 1993 study by Areni and Kim showed that customers spent significantly more on wine when played classical music that was perceived as being high-class. This wasn’t to say that a higher volume of wine being purchased, but rather that customers were subconsciously influenced to perceive the products on offer as being of higher value, leading them to select more expensive bottles. Equally, fast, lively music has been shown to encourage customers to sip faster and buy larger numbers of drinks in a bar setting.

So, think about what you want your guests to be doing at each time of day, and build a bespoke music schedule to match.

4. Not sorting out their licensing

This is a simple one. It’s illegal to play music in your establishment without the correct licensing. Doing so can lead to heavy fines and reputational damage, not to mention the fact that it’s robbing artists of their royalties payments and livelihood.

The easiest way to avoid this pitfall is to work with a professional company that provides fully licensed playlists, and who will handle all requirements when it comes to royalties.

5. Not taking into account the acoustics and sound system

There’s nothing worse than hearing music through tinny speakers. It instantly cheapens and experience and destroys the 5* ambience. Even the best music in the highest quality formats will sound like an old taxi radio if played through a bad sound system!

The quality and setup of your sound system have a direct impact on your guests' perception of your hotel’s quality, so it’s definitely worth investing in a professional audio consultation before you even start thinking about your playlist.

If you’re already stuck with a low quality sound system with no option to change, then think about avoiding bass-heavy electronic styles. Instead, stick to light, acoustic styles.

Equally, think about the acoustics of the space. Are there hard surfaces that will cause bass heavy music to sound echoey and “muddy”? Is there any sound leak from nearby areas that could cause an unpleasant clash? All of these details need to be thought through if you truly want to create the perfect 5* atmosphere.

At MBC, we’ve been helping luxury and aspiring hotels to develop their musical identity and bespoke music solutions for over 15 years. If you’d like see how we can help your brand, visit our website -

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