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Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?

Richard Lodge: My official job title is “music consultant” which often gets a slightly confused look from people when I tell them. I think there’s about a second when people try to work out who’s seeking consultancy for their music. Well, the answer is major hospitality and retail brands that need a professional approach to their in-store music. Essentially my job falls into three parts:

  1. Preparing the creative section of a pitch for a new business. I’ll usually devise a sample playlist and rationale backing up those song choices in relation to the brand and its audience.
  2. Meeting clients, discussing the brand identity and devising a music concept to be played in-store. This can either be with new clients or existing clients who are due a creative review. In fashion this can be quite often in order to keep up with the current collection/trend.
  3. Making and updating those playlists.

E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

RL: I am one of two UK based music consultants at Mood Media, sitting in the wider creative department under the UK head of creative. We also have a creative ‘hub’ in Barcelona and various teams around Europe and beyond that we can call upon for programming assistance and as a pool of endless music knowledge – especially useful when that key client has decided it’s going to run a ’80s themed Caribbean street party and only the best authentic Zouk playlist will do!

richard lodge

E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

RL: In terms of skills this probably fits into two categories, the first being an extensive knowledge of music. While you don’t need to know every obscure band, a good understanding of major genres and contextually where artists fit in the canon of popular music is key. Also this includes a sense of tempo and an understanding of the ‘intensity’ of each track; I am often asked to program across ‘day parts’ where an incremental ‘ramping up’ of the music is required. This is imperative in hospitality where a restaurant will need a livelier playlist for late evening as opposed to first thing in the morning.

A brand will often give some direction musically, but it’s then important to be able to expand upon this in both sonic and contextual parallels. A good example of this is we recently worked with a high street fashion brand that has its British heritage at its core. Musically they were languishing in “dad rock” territory, and while they wanted to retain some of the brand’s history it was essential they updated. I created a concept that painted a more vibrant multicultural take on British heritage, creating a playlists centred around British soul, R&B and reggae artists. Tracks were then taken from different eras with a sonic “through line” that pulled everything together. This also tied in nicely with the current re-emergence of Neo-Soul, and with artists like Jorja Smith winning a Brit Critics’ Choice award we were also bang on trend.

This leads onto the second main skill, which is an understanding of branding. It’s important to be aware of how brands see themselves and their customers. Also at the point when I’m brought in to advise, a brand will often have quite high aspirations of how music can elevate the customer experience and ultimately increase sales. As such it’s important to demonstrate a complete understanding of each brand; essentially they need to feel like we’re an extension of their creative/marketing team and we are able to convey their message succinctly to their customers.

E: Tell us about a typical working day…

RL: My days vary very much based upon priorities and the demands of my clients. I’ll often try and ‘book’ out chunks of time or whole days to concentrate on one creative task. For example if I’m working on a creative pitch I’ll usually need a day or more to develop this. Starting in the morning I’ll absorb as much as I can about a brand, fully immersing myself in the insight they’ve given, use and go through their website and socials to establish the aesthetic. By the end of the day I’d hope to have developed brand keywords, a sample playlist and then have worked on my part of the pitch presentation, complete with rationale. Similarly if I’m building a full playlist it’ll take a day or more where ideally all I’m doing is thinking about the concept and building the playlist from our music library.

Due to the consultative aspect I’m also out of the office a fair bit, these meetings will nearly always require a bit of prep whether it be examples of the brand’s current playlist or making sure I have a selection of playlist ideas at hand to use as a conversation piece when discussing new concepts.

On a more ‘down’ day I’ll spend time going through the promos I’m sent, we often are able to get good tips on upcoming tracks. It’s not uncommon for us to program a track a month or more before it hits radio and ultimately the charts, for some clients this can be a big plus and certainly gives a bit of kudos to the more mainstream brands. I’m also responsible for completing the monthly and bimonthly updates for each of my clients, so sourcing new tracks (via blogs, charts, various online tastemakers) adding them to our music library and programming them takes up a good chunk of time.

E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?

RL: When I first started in the role, the appeal was undeniably the fact that it involves listening to music all day. However, I quickly realised that I had a strength in working with clients and developing branded concepts. And this side of the job is now by far my preferred aspect. I’m often involved in meetings where a client will very bashfully explain they don’t know how to talk about music and find it hard to articulate what they want. When I then explain that none of that is required of them and I’m able to demonstrate how I turn their marketing ‘keywords’ or brand identity into ‘real world’ musical examples, there’s certainly some job satisfaction from the sense of relief at that moment. Of course beyond that, I really enjoy diving into a brands DNA; their history, archetypal customer and demographic through to the aesthetic of the stores and the products themselves. Every brand has a story, and stories can always have a soundtrack.

With regards to what sucks, sometimes my role involves a mission of education. I still find it baffling the level of disregard some clients have for music, seeing it as a necessary evil, or something to find at the cheapest possible price. While I understand the need to look after the bottom line, we now live in a world where the biggest spending demographic attributes massive value to the ‘experience’. And the brands that will survive are those that understand this. You now need to offer a greater incentive than the product, to visit a store and music surely plays a part in this. It’s always important to remember a consumer now visits a store because they WANT to rather than HAVE to.

E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

RL: The million dollar question! On a personal level, I am essentially free from any form of measured performance metric or KPIs, lucky me! Very often the measure of my success is purely that of an improved client relationship or anecdotal feedback from a customer/member of staff in-store. This can obviously be a little frustrating as you’re unlikely to get the gratification of a job well done. Also people are more likely to complain when the music isn’t right as opposed to lavish praise when it’s spot on. It’s very much a ‘no news is good news’ situation.

On a wider scale we’ve a huge amount of insight with regards to the effects of music on the consumer and how getting the music right can really increase the time spent in store and, most likely, spend. We also find a lot of our clients run their own trials and measure customer feedback as part of a bigger in-store experience piece. But often it’s difficult to extract the effect of music from the wider picture. The difficulties in directly equating the type of music with sales is of course a disadvantage to us when up against procurement who see a zero-sum game and a fat bonus for cutting costs, but I see us in the same place as store designers. Try telling a store designer that they’d save money if they didn’t have wallpaper/lights/decoration etc.

E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

RL: I will literally scour ever corner of the internet in order to find new music, and I’m fortunate enough to be sent tip offs by a number of record labels, management companies, artists etc. I’ll also use streaming analytic tools now and again if a client attributes particular value to the popularity of artists on their playlist. However, beyond this, it’s the brand information and insight that a client sends me, before the concept pops out of my head.

E: How did you land in this role, and where might you go from here?

RL: I’m sure like a lot of people that have slightly leftfield jobs; I ‘fell’ into the role. However, I’d inadvertently been preparing for it for years. I got VERY into music in my teens and learnt guitar and started playing in bands almost immediately. Then music at university followed by working for a few record labels and spending time as a session guitarist and producer. I also DJ regularly and run a music blog, so by the time I saw the job ad I’d immersed myself in a huge amount of music and covered a load of genres which set me up perfectly for the role.

With regards to a next step I’ve been keen to look at content marketing solutions that Mood can offer its current clients. We’re very much seen as specialising in music, messaging and visuals (screens) in-store, however within our creative team we have the abilities to deliver even more content, whether this be stream playlists, podcasts or YouTube videos. I think it’s key for use to diversify our business and use our position as music experts to advise our clients how they can make the most of their sonic identity across different platforms.

E: How much have we moved on since muzak?

RL: Honestly, in 2018 I’m not even sure if anyone knows what muzak is anymore. But for the uninformed, it’s both the name of elevator music, invented in the ’30s to relax people riding the first elevators in skyscrapers and a generic term for the basic instrumental music they used to play in shops. Obviously the major difference now is we can essentially use any track ever commercially released in our playlists. But really, the real change now is how brands understand that music is another tool at their disposal to communicate with their customers and project the brand’s image. This means we now spend time developing these audio identities, rather than expecting every brand to have a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

E: Do you have advice for anybody who wants to work in your field?

RL: I would say that so much of the skills needed for this role were learnt before I even knew such a role existed, not much help in terms of advice there! But if you’re someone who has a deep, broad understanding of music and enjoys recommending music to your friends (and they actually like your choices!) then I see no reason why you wouldn’t excel at this job. I really do mean a broad understanding of music though, too often people who are ‘into music’ know every detail about Japanese Shoegaze and have a first press vinyl of ‘insert obscure indie band name here’ but known nothing else, and even worse have a disdain for anything with to tiniest amount of mass appeal. Not ideal when you’re asked to put together a teen house party style playlists for a massive retail chain. I would also say that some marketing knowledge would be of use for obvious reasons, not least that you’ll often be talking to marketeers and being able to speak their language is a big plus.

Music in advertising: