How to Set the Tone With Music

By Erin Caslavka Deinzer, August 15, 2014

It’s happened to all of us: A song comes on the radio, and suddenly you’re transported back in time to a moment that’s inextricably linked to that music. For planners, who wouldn’t want to elicit the same reaction—to have a piece of music so intertwined with an event that simply hearing the melody will take the listener back to that meeting?

In all its varied forms, music has the ability to transform and inspire. It can make you want to jump up and dance, get you pumped up for a presentation or spend some contemplative time in deep thought. At events, it’s imperative that planners select not only the right songs, but also incorporate them into the day’s agenda as a complement, not a distraction, to the activities. Dominic Phillips, founder of DPEM Event Marketing, notes, “Whether it’s at the movies, a club or a restaurant, music sets the tone—and it’s essential to an event.” Here are five fresh ways to incorporate music into your next meeting.

1. Use music as marketing. Phillips was the planner for an event held in San Francisco for 2,000 Gen Y Scion owners. Based on advanced input from the attendees, DPEM created a radio station specifically for the gathering that allowed guests to tap into the event as they drove in their cars to and from the venue, as well as while their vehicles were parked in a display lot.

“Sales wasn’t the primary focus of this event,” explains Phillips. “The goal was to reinforce the community aspect of ownership. It was important to the success of the program for the Scion owners to own the event. Ultimately, it was a reinterpretation of marketing.”

2. Make it personal. How many times have you heard someone say, “They’re playing our song”? Whether it’s tied to the first time two people met, lyrics that resonate with the listener or a melody that conjures up a powerful memory, we all have our own theme song.

Planners can translate that personal connection for events by putting together a personalized playlist for attendees. David Robinson, director of catering and conference services at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, says most clients will customize a soundtrack. “Planners want to enhance a mood,” Robinson explains. “For instance, we might play energetic music as guests walk in, then change to more mellow tunes as everyone sits down to eat. At one company dinner, as each award was announced, that individual’s favorite song played in the background.”

3. Take requests. Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher—there’s no shortage of successful duos in the music industry. A similar ethos can be transferred to meetings. The next time you plan an event, reach out to your attendees and ask for their song suggestions. Not only will it help eliminate some of the pressure of single-handedly creating a musical score, you’re more certain to be on-target with what your attendees really want to hear. In the case of the car Scion event, Phillips created an events team made up of individuals from the online Scion community and asked them to recommend artists and DJs to be featured on the radio station.

4. Think outside the box. It might be obvious to have a mariachi band at an event with a Mexican theme. But why not consider pairing music with food to create a different kind of sensory experience?

Asa Christensen is senior catering and conference services manager at The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California. Working with the property’s in-house sommelier and executive chef, he helped one planner create a six-course meal for a group of 600. They designed a new spin on food and wine pairings by incorporating an auditory element. “Every wine is served with its own song to really pull out the personality of both the wine and the food,” explains Christensen. “Country, rock, classical—they are all played by a live band. We want to integrate the music into the event and paint a picture that will cover all the senses.”

5. Go local—but don’t overdo it. An endless loop of “Are You Going to San Francisco?” played over the loudspeakers at the city’s Moscone Center runs the risk of becoming annoying during a three-day convention. Still, if you’re hosting an event in an iconic city like San Francisco, creating a soundtrack that underscores the location of your destination makes sense. For example, if it’s in Chicago, go with blues tracks. New Orleans means Dixieland jazz, while Huntington Beach, California, is equated with surf music. And if you’re in Stillwater, Oklahoma, it’s definitely Red Dirt.

What’s your favorite event song to introduce speakers at events? Tell us on Twitter and use the #onesong hashtag.

Photo credit: Chris Savas

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