Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Your Experiences

I am starting to compile a comprehensive guide to places and spaces with good or bad 'music design'. We have all been in places which sound totally awful, with bad music played at loud volumes or the clatter of cutlery ruining our experience. Likewise, we have been in places which sound good, where we feel relaxed and comfortable. If you have any memories or comments from such experiences and would like to share them, please post them below and we can build a guide to musical environments around the world.

Please post the following details:
Name of Location,
Place of Location,
Your experience - good or bad music design, what it made you do, how it could be better.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Music Design: The Definition

I have been trying to formulate the definition for what exactly 'music design' is. So here goes -

Music Design is the selection of music to fit in with the characteristics of a particular space in which it is played. The process of music design occurs when the activity of listening to music is considered to be secondary behind a more important task being done at that time. This is a relatively new phenomena introduced with the popularity of recording media and the ubiquityu of music through loudspeakers several decades ago. Before this time, music design did not really exist as music was heard either in concert halls (symphonies for the privileged few) or as part of a live communication within sections of society (tribal music, folk music) where 'listening' was always the primary activity.

There are lots of examples of music design in our world today, such as:

1. Music design for a car journey (e.g. music selected as 'driving music' which fits the journey and passengers, but is secondary to the primary activity of driving the car'.)
2. Music design for a dinner party (e.g. background music to fit the primary activity of eating and socialising that fits the type of guest attending).
3. Music design for background music in a commerical premises (e.g. Muzak, in-store radio, Open Ear where music is secondary to shopping, eating or drinking).
4. Music design for film (selection of existing music tracks to fit the environment created by scenes in the film)
5. Music design for advertisments. i.e. selection of existing music to fit a TV or radio advert
6. Music design for bars usually selected by a DJ but always secondary to drinking and socialising (NB. this is not the same as listening to a DJ in a club which I would class as being the primary activity of a club-goer and in the last 20 years has been accepted as a 'performance'.)
7. Listening to music on a walkman or iPod (although a bit of a grey area). The best example of this at the moment is LCD soundsystems composition of a track designed to be used for Joggers with Nike shoes and an iPod.

This is NOT to be confused with these which are not music design
1. As stated above, DJs in a club
2. Listening to music at home (primary activity is listening)
3. Going to a concert
4. Sometimes listening to music on a walkman or iPod

The reason I believe the term 'music design' must be accepted as a credible practice is because it is an extremely valuable skill for those who are good at it. In much the same way as interior designers gain credit for their ability to create inhabitable spaces, 'music designers' should exist and be given credit for their ability to expertly design music to fit in with its surroundings, including the style and visual design of the space, the people who use the space and the brand or business which owns the space. The same can be said of 'music designers' in film and TV who are not composers or producers, but rather use different skills altogether to source and select existing music which fits perfectly with a scene or represents a product perfectly.

Good music design for commerical premises can helped generate much more business for that space by helping create an atmosphere that makes people stay longer, enjoy the experience, spend more and be more likely to return. On a much more personal level, good music design for activities such as jogging can help keep one more motivated, and good music design at a dinner party can make conversation easier as the atmosphere is more relaxed. Bad music design has the opposite effect and has a serious detrimental effect on mood, behaviour and motivation.

One of the reasons I feel that music design is not properly valued at this point is because of the overwhelming preference we have for visual stimuli in our lives. Sound is much more of a subconscious thing and not immediately obvious unless you train yourself to focus on aural stimuli. However, many studies show just how important sound is in effecting our behaviour, mood and mental health.

To take a parallel example, film studies always explains that sound is of equal importance to visuals. This is one of the reasons the cinema industry still exists as one has the opportunity to experience hi-fidelity sound on a 10.2 (or larger) surround sound set up. When asked, your average cinema goer would attribute their love of cinema down to the larger screen, but I believe it is an equal combination of the large screen and sound which creates the experience and makes going to the cinema attractive.

To sum up, I believe the ability to design music to fit in with a certain activity or space is a very important and much undervalued skill. With the term 'music design', I hope to introduce to a wider audience the importance of good music design in the aural environments that we all live.

Bad to Good Music Design

Ok, I have been extremely busy and been unable to post in the blog. However, I will endeavour in 2007 to post on a weekly basis. I have been continuing my search to find places and spaces with good music design. With my company Open Ear, we have been doing a trial at Chow Restaurant in Glasgow. This was a modern, young, hip and sophisticated Chinese restaurant located in the heart of the trendy Westend of Glasgow which was characterised by extremely poor music design. Music such as the greatest hits of those loveable divas Shania Twain, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears created a musical identity more akin to McDonalds than to a trendy restaurant.

With Open Ear, we trialed a new music design for Chow which has been working to great effect. We compiled music ranging from cutting edge folk/electronica, understated jazz and authentic oriental music from South Korea to create an atmosphere that was most conducive to its surroundings. Direct from the assistant managers mouth - "Using music selected by Open Ear has helped us create a more relaxed and welcoming environment that fits perfectly in our surroundings. We immediately noticed that customers have been more likely to stay for a coffee at the end of their meal, which has to be a good thing."