Music Curation — What Retail Brands Need to Know

I’ll admit it: a good chunk of my early music discovery came from Shazam. I vividly remember being in Urban Outfitters back in the early 2010s and ‘Shazaming’ every single song that came on as I browsed. I’d go home and add them to my growing iTunes library (throwback).

Like the brand itself, Urban Outfitters’ overhead playlists were distinct, departed from the mainstream, and said “we have our finger on the pulse of the music scene.” They were moving with their customers — to the beat of the culture — and introducing music-loving shoppers like me to new artists along the way.

Whether you realize it or not, music and sound are defining your brand experience for customers. Plus, music curation has the ability to subconsciously influence consumer mood and behavior. According to a study from Sentient Decision Science and Made Music Studio, there’s an 86% correlation between a listener’s emotional response to sound and their desire to return to, or avoid, that experience. So if you’re hitting the wrong notes, you’re not going to inspire customers to come back.

The need for a bespoke music strategy is growing even more vital as we see shoppers make their return to in-store shopping. In May, online retail sales increased by 2.2% compared the same period in 2021, while in-store sales grew by over 13%. With the right music playing overhead, brands actually have the opportunity to maximize their impact on customers by building emotional connections, establishing brand presence and creating experiences that are worth the trip to the brick-and-mortar store. Here’s a few tricks as to how.


Stay True to Your Brand

Every element of the in-store experience — from lighting to architecture to color palette — is contributing to how shoppers feel about a brand. Music is no different!

Just in the way you can learn a lot about a person by what music they listen to, it goes the same way for a brand. The right playlist has the power to build atmosphere, enhance your brand experience and echo back your values, key attributes and personality. So think about your brand’s goals: Who are you now, who do you want to be, and how do you want shoppers to feel? Do you want them to feel perked up and confident beneath the bright lights of a Sephora? Or do you want them to feel a sense of underground rebellion in the depths of a Spencer’s Gifts?

Capturing the right “vibe” is key to authenticity, and ultimately boosting brand association. You’re not playing scream-o music in a Sephora, and bubblegum pop wouldn’t be right for a Spencer’s. In other words, keep it on-brand and don’t try to be something you’re not. Consumers can smell that from a mile away. 

Keep Playlists Fresh

We’ve all been subject to hearing the same looping holiday songs that fill stores past New Year’s. I’ve worked in quite a few service industry jobs in my lifetime, and let me tell ya: it doesn’t matter if it’s the queen herself, Rihanna, or king of the crooners, Frank Sinatra — any playlist on repeat is a special kind of hell that I do not wish upon anyone.

A successful, non-fatiguing music strategy is one that includes day-parted schedules and a cadence of frequent updates. No one day (or hour for that matter), week or month is the same for shoppers and employees. Even each part of the day — from morning to afternoon to evening — sees a range of energy levels and behaviors from customers. With the help of music curation experts, you can build an on-brand strategy that adapts to time of day, store occupancy level and energy levels.

Bottom line: avoid repetition and keep a healthy rotation. And while we’re at it: listen to your employees on the ground. Respect their time — and their ears!

Expand Your Musical Horizons

What got me into music curation in the first place — and nurtured my love and passion for it — is the power to amplify underrepresented voices while introducing, exposing and expanding musical and cultural horizons. Yes, there is a benefit to having big-label Top 40 artists on your weekly rotation, but what is it saying about your brand if you’re not exploring what else is out there?

Think about the ratio between what’s on the radio vs deep cuts. There’s a whole world of small-label and independent artists you could be elevating, and who could give your in-store experience an added flair. It’s also important to be mindful of the balance of all genders, races, genres, etc. Plenty of brands have the right idea. adidas keeps a monthly playlist of hand-picked “Store Drops” — a collection of releases playing in their stores globally — which is always rich with up-and-coming artists.

If you’re not confident in your exposure to new music and/or emerging artists, there are always experts that can help such as agencies, sonic experts, and music curators — that’s what they’re there for! Plus, musical experts will have the human touch your brand might be looking for — less algorithms, more humbling music experiences and a lot more great music to be introduced to.

There’s no one-size-fits-all music curation approach. It’s subjective, situational and unique per solution. Brands that have adopted bespoke music strategies know it’s not just background noise.

Rich, thoughtful soundtracks that truly amplify the brand’s personality, values and culture are what sets them apart from competitors. Music curation is like telling a story — so what’s yours?

Broox Carmona is a multifaceted producer, mix engineer, artist, singer-songwriter, DJ, and music curator and supervisor. As a queer non-binary audio nerd, their musical pursuits are as fluid as they are, moving through the world untethered by societal norms. They nurture their love for music via their proactive sensibility, curiosity and distinct artistic style. They have made it their life’s mission to break down barriers in the music space while amplifying underrepresented voices. In addition to being a Coordinating Music Producer with Made Music Studio’s Big Blue Music Group, Carmona is signed to Modern Music Publishing and has been featured on The L Word: Generation Q, Refinery29, Glamour, them and more. They have created audio experiences for clients such as Amazon Music, Frito-Lay, American Express and Fast Company.

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