Dim lighting, a comfortable temperature, and aromatherapy all stimulate the senses and contribute to a client’s spa experience, but music is arguably one of the most important details, as it has the power to set the mood for the entire treatment. “Music plays an integral role in the guest’s sensory experience at a spa,” says Allen Klevens, CEO of Prescriptive Music. “Humans are universally drawn to music, because it offers a method of communication rooted in memories, emotions, and moods. Music also releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain that plays a key role in relaxation and happiness.”
It’s important for spa directors to take clientele and location into consideration when choosing music. ZaSpa at Hotel ZaZa (Dallas), which has a fun, eclectic vibe, plays a selection of non-traditional music from artists like Coldplay, R.E.M., and Sarah McLachlan. Similarly, some spas are opting to allow their clients to choose the music they want to listen to with the help of a music menu. “A guest can select the temperature in a treatment room and what oil scent to use, and we are now teaching spas to offer a music menu as an option,” says Klevens. “It truly enhances and personalizes the treatment.”
At La Prairie Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park (New York City), for example, clients can browse an extensive music catalog and choose an album of his or her choice to be played during their treatment. Albums range from instrumental and nature sounds to vocal albums from artists such as Norah Jones and Jack Johnson. “Spa music is evolving into a more multifaceted sound,” says John Gelb, president of At Peace Music. “It’s no longer simply New Age music. Customers are getting accustomed to a more eclectic mix of music styles, but relaxation still rules the day. If the music doesn’t aid relaxation, it’s not spa music.”
Music menus are becoming increasingly popular, but most spas still opt for more traditional music like soothing instrumental tunes or nature sounds. “We ask our guests if the music is to their liking before their service begins,” says Veronique Paquet, spa director at The Greenbrier Spa (White Sulphur Springs, WV). “Some people prefer the soft flute notes, while others prefer the rhythms of the piano or simple sounds of nature. It is important to offer a variety of music options in order to customize the spa experience.” According to Daisye Suduran, spa director at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans, it’s even important to carefully choose instrumental music and soothing sounds, as playing music that might be recognizable to clients can also be detrimental to the spa experience. “I do not play anything that might be recognized by guests, as it might evoke a negative memory for them,” she says. “For example, I don’t play Pachelbel’s Canon, because it might have been the music at a client’s wedding and that same client might now be going through a divorce. I also avoid any startling sounds and thunderstorm music, as it may have negative vibes for our local New Orleans clients.”
One of the most effective ways to create the perfect spa soundtrack is to team with one of the numerous private label music companies that work exclusively to advise and assist spa directors on the issue of music. Music programmers at Prescriptive Music, for instance, work closely with spa directors to create a custom soundscape based on several factors, including the spa’s clientele, theme, and location (creating music that includes Native American flutes for a Southwest spa or ocean sounds for a beachside spa, for example). The company then sends the spa director a sample of approximately 50 sounds that might work for the spa that can range anywhere from Indian chanting to African beats to classical music. Once the concept is approved, the company creates playlists for various areas of the spa, including treatment rooms, lounges, and the reception area.
Brad Pressman, president of Private Label Music, says that the decision of what style of music to incorporate into a spa’s daily sound also depends on the mood of the spa. He recommends that spas play music that coincides with the time of day. “We often have our spas day-part their music—play softer tunes in the morning, slightly more upbeat grooves in the afternoon to keep things going, and then return back to quieter tracks in the evening as people wind down from their day,” he says.
In the past, spa directors relied heavily on the help of these private label music companies to inform them about what types of music are available, but due to advanced technology, many are now approaching these same companies with specific music requests. “Today, people are traveling more physically, as well as virtually,” Pressman says. “On these virtual trips, via devices like iPods, it has become easy for people to discover more about music from different parts of the world.”
In addition to complementing the ambience and mood of the spa, customized music is also a great addition to a spa’s retail area. “At The Greenbrier Spa, we offer listening stations in our relaxation lounges, as well as our boutique, which allow guests to preview a wide variety of music we sell at the spa,” says Paquet. Another effective way to retail spa music is by matching a specialized treatment with a playlist and offering clients an accompanying CD for purchase, which encourages clients to bring the spa experience home with them. Private Label Music worked with Ojai Valley Inn and Spa (CA) to create a playlist and accompanying CD for its Kuyam treatment, which is a communal mud treatment that combines the therapeutic effects of cleansing desert clay, dry heat, and inhalation therapy. The CD contains Native American music with a guided meditation by a Chumash Indian. “If clients hear music during a treatment that transforms them and relaxes them, it stands to reason they would want to repeat this feeling,” says Pressman. “If they can take the music home with them to be enjoyed at another time, it completes the visit.”
While allowing clients to bring the spa experience home with them is an obvious benefit, Gelb feels that spas should focus more on creating the perfect soundscapes for inside the spa to encourage clients to return rather than have the customers play the music at home once they’ve left. “Spa music, like most music, evokes special feelings for times and places in a person’s life,” he says.
Advances in web-based technology have allowed private label music companies to rapidly grow and expand their ways of bringing music to spas and their clients. Private Label Music recently introduced music download cards, which are fully branded spa albums housed on a microsite. The company builds a microsite for each spa wanting this new digital album, and each guest receives a card with a website address and unique pin code good for a free track from that spa’s branded album. If the guest wants to purchase the album, he or she uses a credit card, the album downloads to their computer, and the spa gets a royalty back for each purchase. “As more music is created and spas take advantage of getting this music to their clients, spas are becoming the new distributors of music to a varied audience who might not have expected to discover new sounds there,” he says.
It’s no secret that music serves many different purposes for people, whether it is motivating them to exercise, helping them get through a bad breakup or negative life event, or evoking happy thoughts. But at the spa, music’s main purpose is to provide a soothing atmosphere for clients to fully relax. “Music has the power to transport someone to another place in time or simply provide diversion from the day-to-day thoughts that can weigh the mind down,” says Paquet. “At The Greenbrier Spa, we rely heavily on music to set the stage for immediate relaxation.”