Music has been present within hospitality for time immemorial. From the lute player in the medieval tavern to the DJ on the decks of corporate events, the art has pervaded the history of hospitality.
Of course the relationship hasn’t always been smooth. Whilst the days of rock stars destroying opulent rooms may be a thing of the past, Keith Moon driving a vehicle into a Holiday Inn pool whilst naked or Keith Richards and Bobby Keys throwing their television off a tenth floor balcony will live long in the memory.
Long before that hedonism and long after, highly-skilled yet lesser known musicians have plied their trade, free from the histrionics and fits of rage, within hotels across the world. These musicians don’t obliterate the rooms, they are paid by the hotel and for good reason too.
The need for music in hotels was eloquently summarised for me by Tom Sandall, the business development manager at Eight Ray Music. For Sandall, “professional performers can transform a hotel and enhance the experience of guests.” Happy guests are integral to a hotel’s success. Especially since the advent of social media and review sites like TripAdvisor, where everybody’s opinion is now broadcast to the wider world and one poor rating can be significantly damaging.
Happy customers are also the ones who return. The Angel hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, has found this to be the case. At the Angel, musicians such as pianists and harpists are used to provide background music in the restaurant and reception areas. Sometimes recruited from the local school, the music is a far cry from rock ‘n’ roll’s destructive past, but helps to demonstrate that you don’t need a budget rivalling Simon Cowell’s cheque book to put on good live music. “It’s a great idea to use live music, as it is much more engaging and attractive to customers and often a reason for them returning,” says Jo Nugent, sales and marketing manager at The Angel.
Music can add to a hotel’s personality and ensure the guests leave with a smile. As a reviewer for Luxurious Magazine, it’s the ones with personality that I remember best, and refer to the most. This personality might be a result of the decor, food, quirks in the service or a band playing great music in the bar or restaurant. What marks such qualities out is that they often seem surplus to requirement. Everyone expects a clean room, friendly service and decent food, but if the hotel has gone the extra mile people take note.
Such services take time and planning to perfect and get right. In regard to music this is very pronounced. The Abergavenny chose not to use an agency for their music, but if you don’t command the knowledge to put on good music then it’s hard to argue against using an agency. By good music, I don’t mean what you enjoy. I mean what the guests will enjoy.
For Sandall – who currently provides music to the likes of The Savoy, Claridge’s and The Four Seasons – this is just one of the things to consider before putting on live music. This gives him an acute awareness of what is required when it comes to hotels and live music.
When I spoke to Sandall, he highlighted the main things hotels need to consider before employing musicians. For a start, the music “has to expose the qualities of the hotel”, this means that the musician must be suited to the space they are positioned in. “A pianist in a luxury restaurant; a cool and contemporary solo act or duo in a modern boutique hotel; or a charismatic Jazz band in a prestigious hotel bar – the music has to reflect the qualities of the hotel spaces” he says.
Great advice, but maybe you feel your hotel doesn’t have the correct space for live music. As Larry Korman, CEO of Korman Communities, puts it “not every environment is suitable for live music entertainment”. One that is however, is Korman’s AKA Washington Square hotel in Philadelphia. If you don’t know the name, you could be familiar with its grand ballroom, which was featured in the Silver Linings Playbook film.
For Korman the music “livens up” the hotel, making it more “inviting”. Like Sandall, Korman is well aware that music is for the guests and that you need to be in touch with their needs when providing it. At the AKA, the music aims to help guests and residents “unwind and relax… and at times sing and dance along to their favourite hits”. To accomplish this, Korman’s musical director employs a quartet with an expressive vocalist, a jazz trio and a solo pianist.
As you may have guessed, budget isn’t an issue for the AKA. Their historic building has just undergone a $13m (£9.2m) restoration and puts on music Wednesday through to Saturday. It’s the result of the music that should be noted, with Korman asserting that the hotel has been “energised”.
Sandall probably wouldn’t agree with Korman’s assertion that not every environment is suitable – he’s organised bands for beaches in Ibiza, crammed into a tuk-tuk at Blenheim Palace and perched precariously on the stairs at Skinners’ Hall – to stunning effect.
Based on this, it’s perhaps not space or environment hotels should concern themselves with, but rather the effect live music will have. With any hotel, the cost of music is a factor and it’s important to assess whether the ROI will be worth it. Based on the AKA and The Angel’s positive experiences, and the extensive use of music across the hospitality industry, it’s safe to say it works.
I haven’t included or found any hotels who have experienced problems with their live music. There are almost certainly plenty. With the small sample here, the Abergavenny is perhaps the odd one out. Given that they handle their own music by sourcing it locally – allowing them to ensure quality.
When I asked Korman whether he ever had a problem with the musicians at the AKA, his response was defiant – “quite the opposite”. Why has his experience been so seamless? Korman employs a musical director in the form of Philadelphia legend Eddie Bruce. Korman can rely on the expertise of Bruce to select only professional and talented musicians for the hotel and it works, spectacularly well.
This is similar to the role that Eight Ray Music and Sandall play to numerous high-end hotels within the UK and beyond. If you’re unsure about providing music in your hotel then it’s always worth asking a professional first.
Obviously to employ an agency incurs additional cost but it dramatically decreases the chance of problems. The question that remains is – How much will music of this type cost within the UK? Whilst classical acts can vary dependent on the skill level, Sandall suggests a harpist would cost in the region of £300-£400 and a string quartet would be around £600-£800. If you’re looking for something slightly more upbeat, a solo acoustic act will cost £300 and a duo in the region of £500.
The night of the week, quality of the act, time of the year and event will all factor into the eventual cost, but the benefits of employing musicians is clear. Whether it’s return custom or an energised hotel, music can sharpen your brand and keep guests happy. Just don’t let the rock bands stay the night.
About the Author
Henry McIntosh is a freelance journalist and copywriter. For any questions regarding live music entertainment in hotels contact Tom Sandall on Tom@eightraymusic.com or 01491 526724.