December 7, 2011Branding Background Music

Ever been in a restaurant or hotel listening to a mix of music that sets the mood during dinner or a spa treatment? It might be the work of entrepreneur and musician Allen Klevens.

Klevens is founder and chief executive officer of Prescriptive Music, a Los Angeles-based boutique-style music company that provides custom playlists for hotels, retail stores, and spas looking to stand out. Launched in 1999 from the founder’s garage, the company has gone through some twists and turns. It started out providing relaxation CDs for operating rooms and ended up serving the hospitality industry, abandoning CDs for software-based systems along the way.

But the transitions have worked. Prescriptive stands to generate $2 million in revenues in 2011, with a global client list that ranges from the Marriott and Four Seasons hotels to Cheesecake Factory and Wolfgang Puck restaurants to a small spa in Utah that wanted music that included yodeling (provided by a Scottish band). Don’t think piped-in elevator music. The playlists include everything from instrumental music to rap and R&B, all depending on the venue, and it can be altered on the fly.

“In order for us to do what we do, we have to have all the latest, coolest music,” said Klevens, who pays to license some music and accepts music from unsigned artists, who do not get paid but provide it for free in exchange for the exposure.

To bring new clients on board, Klevens explains that the idea is to use music to brand the property.

“I want to be part of the bottom line,” he says. “I can affect who walks into that hotel, who’s eating at that restaurant, and who’s coming back.”

The company has seen 30 percent revenue growth in the last six months alone as the hospitality industry rebounds from the recession. When the industry crashed in 2008, though, its own revenues were flat.

“We worked with every single one of our clients who had a problem,” Klevens said. “So if they needed a break, they needed something lowered during that recession period, we absolutely took every step possible because they were hurting, so if they were hurting and broke the contract, we would hurt. I would rather take less to have them continue on, and now they’re all back to where they were again.”

His company endured its own rocky times.

Klevens, now 39, trained as a classical pianist and worked at a retail piano store in Beverly Hills after college, where he realized he had a knack for sales and moved up to manager and found himself waiting on A-listers like Charlize Theron and Anthony Hopkins.

But the retail hours were getting to him, and after attending a medical conference with his father, who was in sales, he saw a vendor selling music CDs for the operating room, and doctors’ and dentists’ offices and decided to follow suit with better music.

On the side, he got together with friends and composers and created a four-CD set of relaxation music, which he sold a few copies at a time at health industry trade shows. Klevens was about to give up when at the the last trade show he attended, he met a woman who loved his music and called someone at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, an exclusive spa at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. She ordered 10,000 CDs, but said the packaging “sucked” and asked for branded packaging with the spa’s name on it.

That led to the revelation that he would have to create branded CDs for businesses, and he would need the money to do it. Klevens turned to his boss at David L. Abell Fine Pianos, which he had managed for 10 years, and told the owner, David Abell, he wanted to start his own business. In addition to being a mentor and a “mensch,” by Klevens’ account, Abell also had money.

“He said, ‘How much do you need? I said, ‘I need $100,000,’ and he took out his checkbook and he wrote me a $100,000 check, and he said, ‘If I never see this again it’s OK,’” Klevens recalls.

He was able to pay Abell back, and the company has been self-financed since then.

The pivotal moment was when the company partnered with Marriott in 2007, a partnership that spawned deals with other hotels. The company now has 11 employees, and while it doesn’t advertise, it has found that the best method has been word of mouth among hospitality executives who tend to move from one property to the next. Just as someone might hear a Prescriptive track featuring an unsigned musician and use the Shazam app to track down the artist, hotel executives do the same. But they often ask one another.

“It’s all people who say ‘We love it’ and ‘Who do you use?’” Klevens said.


Teresa Novellino writes for Portfolio.com

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